Making the drive from the Dakotas to Missouri, I passed the exit for De Smet, South Dakota, aka the town where Laura Ingalls Wilder’s By the Shores of Silver Lake through The First Four Years are set. This awoke a deep nostalgia in me, and the urge to revisit the series starting with Little House on the Prairie. (Sorry, Big Woods. I wasn’t in Wisconsin.)
Rereading Little House was a strange visit. On one hand, some parts were as charming as my childhood memories of Laura’s pioneering life. Then again, I’m astounded the Ingalls managed to stay alive for the entire book, much less the series. As protective as Pa is of his family, he has no qualms about putting them in dangerous situations to begin with.
I’m not the first and I won’t be the last to point this out, but I kept a running tally of all the ways they could have died on the prairie:
- The ice cracks the day after the Ingalls crossed over the frozen Mississippi River in their covered wagon from the big woods of Wisconsin to the Indian Territories aka Kansas.
- Then they ford a rising creek where their horses almost drown.
- While building the walls of their log cabin, Ma narrowly avoids getting crushed to death by a rolling log.
- Their cabin is encircled by a pack of wolves at night and they don’t have a real door — only a quilt nailed across the door frame.
- Pa and their nearest neighbor Mr. Scott dig a well and narrowly avoid being overcome by fumes underground.
- Pa, Ma, Mary and Laura contract “fever ‘n’ ague” aka malaria and it’s unclear who is taking care of baby Carrie while the rest of the family is delirious and bedridden. (Baby Carrie gets ignored during this chapter.)
- The chimney attached to their wooden house catches fire.
- The prairie surrounding their wooden house catches fire.
- A panther visits them.
- The U.S. government is in the process of “resettling” the Indians from their land, and meanwhile the Ingalls are homesteading illegally on Osage land, though they don’t realize this until the end of the book. It’s amazing every encounter the family has with an Indian doesn’t end badly…