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smittykins

Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" Series

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Hello, 

I just spent about two and a half hours reading this whole thread. Wow. Just, wow! 

 

I've always wondered what was the real reason the Ingalls kept moving? In those days you were tied to the land. You couldn't apply online to Amazon then get an interview and move. If the resources on your land was depleted, you went to look for economic oppurtunity elsewhere, such as better land.

 

I grew up with the tv show, then just read the books as an adult a few years ago. Still, I thought, well, the Great Plains were tough when they were first settled. The native grasslands were never farmed before. There was no resources to help the settlers establish their homesteads. I thought the mistake the Ingalls made was they just moved around a relatively small geographic area. If they would of went to Oregon or California, that's farm heaven, much milder climate, more natural resources than the Great Plains. I made excuses for them.

 

But reading the "in between the lines stuff", it's piecing together. The Ingalls family was definitely a few clowns short of a circus. They could fill an entire season of "The Jerry Springer Show!" All of the sneaking out in the middle of the night, leaving behind debts, Charles feeding his face in TLW while his family is starving. Ohhh, if I was Ma I would have busted his head with a iron skillet if I found out. Laura working like a team horse to send Mary to college. I can see going to a school for the blind to learn independant living skills, but seven years???? And Ma did seem a bit "off." Needless to say, I got Pioneer Girl on order. Thanks for the tip. Yeah, if you're poor white trash, all the vineyards in California won't help you if you're sneaking off in the middle of the night to avoid bill collectors. 

 

I read later that Laura's relationship to her family was "strained." I thought why, they were the "perfect" family. No wonder, in reality they were a bunch of freaks.

 

Thank God Michael Landon was perfect. Just kidding!  <ducking>

 

Serious though, if Landon knew the backstory to the books, or he and Ed Friendly were able to "read in between the lines" I can understand why Landon made the show with the "perfect" Ingalls family. How could he make a tv show last nine seasons with a bunch of dysfunctional nutcases? My childhood and adult work ethic was formed by "Little House on the Prairie". Well, thank you Michael, for what you did. 

 

I still like the history though. LIW is an incredibly strong person to survive the harsh life of a pioneer. Her family tried but they certainly are no saints. Still good children's book, as the darker stuff will go right over their heads. But as an adult, you just sit there and say "wow!"

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Charles feeding his face in TLW while his family is starving. Ohhh, if I was Ma I would have busted his head with a iron skillet if I found out. 

I'm wondering how that was found out. Like, maybe Laura, Almanzo, and Rose were eating pancakes one morning and he mentioned Pa coming by for pancakes and ham during the long winter and Laura is all "Say What?!"

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Charles feeding his face in TLW while his family is starving

 

This keeps getting mentioned but my memory of the book is it happening only 2 or 3 times.  That's not a lot of food spread out over a long winter.

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I wouldn't mind Pa filling his face across at Almanzo and Royal's place, if he THEN didn't come home and take his full share of the biggest potato and bread. Even as a kid that came across as totally greedy.

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On the other hand if the family had lived in England at the time these books were set she'd have probably been out working in the local rich man's house as early as 13 and sending most of her wages home - if she'd been a boy she might have been working down in the coal mines at an even earlier age.  Children didn't get to stay children long when they were growing up in a poor family.

 

This is very true.  Poor people have always had to work, even as kids.  But you don't see a lot of them writing an entire series romanticizing the experience and entirely omitting the more unpleasant or troublesome details, then spending their later years complaining about how soft people have gotten comparatively because they weren't all plucky and independent like Pa.  Remember that these books were first published during the Depression when a lot of people really weren't living all that much better than she had as a kid.

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I would assume that the family smelled the syrup and bacon on Pa when he came home. But Pa worked hard, so a proper lady wouldn't begrudge him the extra food. *Gag*

 

I always wondered why he didn't take some home to his family.  Didn't the next book say that Carrie still suffered from headaches due to malnutrition during that period? 

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Poor people have always had to work, even as kids.  But you don't see a lot of them writing an entire series romanticizing the experience and entirely omitting the more unpleasant or troublesome details, then spending their later years complaining about how soft people have gotten comparatively because they weren't all plucky and independent like Pa.

 

 I agree that the books didn't cover every detail of their lives and no doubt even with what is covered things were changed and romanticized  but even reading them as a child I never formed the impression that they had had an easy life where nothing unpleasant ever happened.  I'm sure most biographies and "fiction based on fact" for children didn't include every excruciating detail of someone's life - I doubt they'd have gotten many readers, let alone repeat readers if they did.

 

As to what the Wilder's may have said to others outside the books and what their politics were that's not really relevant surely to what a child reading the books would take away from the experience? 

Edited by CherryAmes
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While I don't begrudge the Ingalls' their "Christmas in whatever month it was" I cannot imagine the smell in that house afterward, after 7 months of pretty much not eating...

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You and me both!  I can only imagine there were some serious digestive issues going on (not to mention how they managed during the blizzards when they couldn't make it to the outhouse...).

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As a teenager I remember wondering how the women of the family (well any woman of the time really) coped with their periods.  If the books were being written today as opposed to the 30s and 40s I wonder if this would have been touched on at all.  Hmm, on a not unrelated topic do any of the books mention visits to the outhouse?

Edited by CherryAmes
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Plus there were all the times they lived in one-room cabins/claim shanties/the dugout at Plum Creek.  I'm sure some of her education was...up close and personal. (Ewww...)

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Plus there were all the times they lived in one-room cabins/claim shanties/the dugout at Plum Creek.  I'm sure some of her education was...up close and personal. (Ewww...)

No doubt all of the surviving Ingalls children were in the room when their younger siblings were conceived. And supposedly, potty breaks on the wagon trips consisted of stopping the wagon and squatting somewhere. Remember that underwear for women was mostly unheard of in those days.

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As a child, I always hated Ma and loved Pa, as well. He seemed like that adventurous, understanding, youthful father who didn't reprimand you over silly things and was very kind. Now, re-reading the books and being older, I think he was a free-spirit, but not as honest and wonderful as Laura portrayed him. She did a fantastic job of making him seem that way, though, especially for young readers.

Knowing what I know about Pa now, I wonder how LIW felt about writing him as a jovial patriarch who just had a touch of "wanderlust." I wonder if she really saw him that way (I doubt it, because of Pioneer Girl.) and how it felt writing him that way..

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I am getting more and more anxious to read Pioneer Girl!  After the revelations others have talked about (why the family really left Iowa, and what really happened to Jack) I can't wait to see what else the book says about the family.

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I'm waiting to see if Pioneer Girl will reveal how Pa *really* was and show life on the prairie in a more hard, realistic view.

I love the original books from young Laura's POV. It'll just be interesting to read Pioneer Girl.

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On September 27, 2014 at 4:08 PM, sgittinger said:

I wouldn't be surprised if Ma didn't give her the talk and let her learn from the animals. Would make for an interesting wedding night.

When Laura told Ma she was pregnant with Rose, Ma said,"If you're going to dance, you have to pay the piper."

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On 8/26/2016 at 2:54 AM, bunnywithanaxe said:

When Laura told Ma she was pregnant with Rose, Ma said,"If you're going to dance, you have to pay the piper."

That line always made me laugh, because it's as if Laura was saying, "aw damn it" about being pregnant.

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Recently, my mom gave me The Little House Treasury, which is the first three books(excluding Farmer Boy)with the original Helen Sewell illustrations.  One interesting thing is the beginning of LHotP has the line "There were no people.  Only Indians lived there," which was changed to "There were no settlers" when readers objected.

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On 7/29/2014 at 8:27 PM, kikismom said:

The Ingalls actually lived in Burr Oak, Iowa for a while; which is never mentioned---possibly because they skipped out on the rent they owed. In Laura's original manuscript Prairie Girl, she tells about how they packed and crept out quietly in the dark and left before dawn, and how Pa called the landlord a "mean old skinflint"---for expecting them to pay their bill.

 

How about when they leave "Indian country" because the soldiers are coming to throw them out and Pa storms into the house in a snit and insists on leaving the next day, and how the plow is left in the field because they "didn't have room in the wagon"? Researchers say the Ingalls homestead was not on Indian or government restricted land; some miles from it in fact. And hundreds of thousands of settlers took plows, Pa did when they left other places. So...why? All I know is they bought all that stuff on credit. And he decided they had to leave right away...

 

Later in that same manuscript, things become curiouser and curiouser. Remember how the books say that when the railroad men left camp, Pa "saved" the old man in the claim shanty and sent him on the last wagon East? Remember they were all alone at Silver Lake? And Pa spent the winter "searching for which claim would be the best one to file on in the spring" ?

Well, Laura never mentioned how she really knew Almanzo came from a prosperous family in Minnesota----because Pa read about it in Almanzo and Royal's letters from home in their claim shanty while they were gone for the winter. What was Pa doing in someone else's unoccupied home? He wasn't looking for more sick old people to rescue--he knew everyone was gone, and you don't find people looking in the envelopes of other people's mail.

 

Then he tears down the railroad company's buildings to use their lumber to build his storehouse on Main St. Which is really odd because Pa didn't own that lot on Main Street. He just built on it with lumber he didn't pay for. Guess who owned that town lot?

 

Eliza Jane Wilder!

Remember how Eliza picked on Laura and Carrie "for no reason" and said bad things about Pa? The lot was eventually paid for...two years later...and the sale paper says the buyer was Caroline Ingalls, not Charles. (I'm just guessing Pa didn't want any assets in his name that the bank could seize .)

 

So was the real Pa Ingalls a pioneer, or just another dead-beat dad?

I know I'm unlikely to get a response 2+ years later, but what is your source of info regarding Pa's intrusion into the Wilders' home and appropriation of EJ's property.  I have looked online for corroboration but couldn't find any.  I have also combed through the footnotes in Prairie Girl (edited by Pamela Smith Hill), to no avail.

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I know this thread has been dormant for ages so no one will likely see this, but as a LIW-phile, I had to chime in about the constant griping (here and on other forums that discuss LIW/the LHoTP books) about Pa eating pancakes with the Wilder brothers during the long winter. I have re-read the series (and Pioneer Girl as well) several times as an adult and I definitely have come to see that Charles Ingalls made many, many stupid decisions over the years that did not help his family at all, but the fact that so many people get angry over him eating with the Wilders in TLW and call his decision "greedy", "selfish", "atrocious", etc. kind of boggles my mind.

Have all those people read the book more than once? It was obvious that Pa was the only member of the family that still had any kind of an appetite left after months of the same endless, boring diet, because he was not only sharing in the active chores that the others in the family were doing (grinding wheat, twisting hay), but was also struggling through the blizzards each morning and night to do the farm chores, and, on top of that, doing extremely demanding work dragging his poor horse through breaking snow hills to bring back enough hay to get them through to the next blizzard in between storms. Of course, the women in the family were also starving and would have been thrilled to see a steaming plate of pancakes and ham, but even if Pa had brought the food home (another issue, which I will address in a minute), I am completely certain that Ma and the girls would have either urged Pa to eat it all himself or would have given him the vast majority of the food, not because "proper ladies wouldn't begrudge a man food" (as someone said upthread), but because they a) knew he needed it more to keep up the very limited strength he had to haul hay and keep the farm animals alive and b) probably would not have been able to eat more than a mouthful or two themselves because the rich food, after a very scanty and limited diet and minimal physical exercise for months on end, would not have been easy to digest. As for Pa being "greedy" by then coming home and eating his full share of food there after eating heartily with the Wilders, I think it is mentioned several times in the book that any time anyone tried to give up extra food for Pa or didn't want to eat their fair share, he was very firm about making sure they ate their fair share. If he had offered extra food to the girls or to his wife, they would almost certainly have refused first because a) they felt, logically, that he deserved his fair share and if possible, the largest share of food given the extra physical work he had to face and b) Laura mentioned many times that even though they were, technically, starving, they didn't really feel hungry because they were so weak, listless, and bored of the same repetitive diet.

As for the people who keep mentioning how awful it was for Pa to not bring the extra food home to his family... how would that have worked, exactly?? If you went to visit a neighbour and that neighbour offered you a cup of tea and some cookies, would you pour the cup of tea into your thermos and wrap the cookies up in a napkin to take them home to your family? It would be considered extremely strange and rude to do so, because the food was offered to you as part of the social connection you are making with your neighbour, not as a take-home gift. The Wilders invited Pa to eat with them as part of their social visit - sharing a meal or offering food to visitors was a normal and polite social activity that they were able to luckily maintain even given the terrible weather circumstances, and so they were glad to extend that courtesy to Pa when he visited. If he had said "No, thank you, I have to leave now and go home to my family, but I'll just take that food you offered me 'to go'", that would not have been socially acceptable in any way. Even if you were to say "Screw social conventions! His family was starving and he saw available food; he should have humbled his pride and asked for some to take home!", that would not really have worked, either, because while the Wilders had enough pancakes/extra food to feed one extra person (Pa), it did not mean they had enough to send home for a family of six. Also, would they then be responsible to give out pancakes and ham to other starving families when they came to Royal's shop, too?

Pa was lucky that he was able to buy wheat from the Wilders even though Almanzo was determined not to sell it, and he was lucky that the brothers were hospitable enough to not get angry over him barging in to essentially steal the wheat they'd been hiding and offer him a visit and a meal instead. He took advantage of the meal, as anyone in his situation would, but he put providing for his family by convincing them to sell him the wheat first. If they had denied him the wheat that would essentially keep his family alive for a few more days, I don't think he would have then sat down and said, "Oh, well, I guess I might as well eat some of your pancakes anyhow before I go home and tell Caroline that we're entirely out of food with no hope of getting anymore since the secret wheat stash turned out to be owned by a stingy teenager."

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Even with all the suspicion of Charles being a drinking deadbeat, when I read the books I still see him as Laura does, and to me that's good story telling. 

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I read this thread over the weekend it prompted me to reread OTBOPC.  I couldn't make it through the first chapter in light of what I read about Pa.  Everything was so sad even the happy times because all I could think about was how poor they were and how Pa wasn't the great provider.  But gol darn, he saved the Christmas oysters.

I live outside Chicago and about a mile away is Otter Creek.  Somewhere I read that Pa lived near Otter Creek outside Chicago.  Wonder if it's the same place?

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I got Caroline by Sarah Miller from the library. It's Little House from the point of view of Ma. 

Hope it's good. If not, I'll probably still enjoy it by picking it apart. HeeHee.

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@Snow Apple, I liked Caroline up until the end. I wish it had finished either sooner or later, which I hope will make sense to you once you get there.

Edited by Qoass
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On 11/6/2017 at 8:37 AM, Qoass said:

@Snow Apple, I liked Caroline up until the end. I wish it had finished either sooner or later, which I hope will make sense to you once you get there.

Thanks for the warning. I'm at the part where they met Mr. Edwards. I'm found myself skipping a lot of scenes in the first half because it dragged. Mr. Edwards perked it right up already now that we're in familiar territory. 

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I never realized there were so many negative views on Pa! I may have wondered on some of his decisions but all throughout the books I get that Laura loved her Pa and was willing to overlook his flaws, aren't we all guilty of that to a point? My dad is certainly no saint but I love him all the same. 

Some of the comments made me cringe! Really folks, those were hard times but you took what life offered and made do. 

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I highly recommend Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser. It spends a little too much time on Rose Wilder Lane but I understand she was important in getting Laura’s books written and published. What’s interesting is that it reflects that the Ingalls family were never really able to raise themselves out of poverty. Laura did it but not until she was elderly. We learn so much more about Laura’s time in Mansfield before the books. It also made me realize how much I dislike Rose. I emphathize with her battle with depression but that’s as far as I go as to giving her any type of leeway. The book makes her seem like a thoroughly unlikeable person. 

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On 12/12/2017 at 3:37 AM, MakingBacon said:

I highly recommend Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser. It spends a little too much time on Rose Wilder Lane but I understand she was important in getting Laura’s books written and published. What’s interesting is that it reflects that the Ingalls family were never really able to raise themselves out of poverty. Laura did it but not until she was elderly. We learn so much more about Laura’s time in Mansfield before the books. It also made me realize how much I dislike Rose. I emphathize with her battle with depression but that’s as far as I go as to giving her any type of leeway. The book makes her seem like a thoroughly unlikeable person. 

I’ve just read this book. I found it interesting that the first thing Fraser does is mention that when Ma died, Laura had not seen her for twenty years (since Pa’s funeral) and later seems to think there is nothing in this. I totally disagree.  Twenty years is a lifetime and had she really wanted to, Laura could easily have visited her Mother and Mary,  I have always thought that something happened or was said at the time of Pa’s death and funeral. He did die quite young (in his 60s) and I’ve long wondered whether Ma (in her grief or otherwise) took it out on Laura, blaming her. After all, when Laura left home to marry, the Ingalls family lost their hard worker and money earner. They relied on Laura for all the help, be it financial or physical.  It’s very telling that after she married, Pa had to sell the Homestead, just as they had turned it into a “real home”.  We know Ma didn’t like Almanzo (“I do believe he wants to break your neck and I hope he breaks his own first”). When she first sees Laura with him beside her and stands “petrified”.....well of what? Easy....of the idea of her daughter, on who they rely so heavily, being carried off by some man instead of staying home forever, teaching, sewing, doing all the chores etc.  I think once Laura had left they just couldn’t cope, hence the sale of the Homestead, and when Pa died (from heart complications, probably brought on by years of poor nutrition, (they lived on a horrendously imbalanced diet at times), exhausting work, poverty, failures etc, Ma had to face a future of coping with a blind daughter and managing alone.  I always wondered if she said something to Laura along the lines of ‘If you hadn’t left and married that man, and had stayed here to help, Pa wouldn’t be dead now’.  I can just hear her saying it. People say stuff in grief.  But whatever happened, after that funeral, Laura never saw her Mother or Mary again.  Speaks volumes!!  As does the fact she didn’t attend their funerals.

Edited by Dee03
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I just started the book so I guess I can't comment from a factual point of view but some families just aren't that close emotionally. Even now in the time of planes, trains and automobiles, my mother only saw her siblings every several years and did not attend their funerals. No bad blood, just not that into each other.

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On 11/12/2017 at 0:09 PM, Lyanna19 said:

I never realized there were so many negative views on Pa! I may have wondered on some of his decisions but all throughout the books I get that Laura loved her Pa and was willing to overlook his flaws, aren't we all guilty of that to a point? My dad is certainly no saint but I love him all the same. 

Some of the comments made me cringe! Really folks, those were hard times but you took what life offered and made do. 

This is one of my favorite threads on PTV, just because it's highly entertaining to dissect the "Little House" myth.  I still love the books, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't get something out of these beloved figures being held under a microscope.  YMMV, of course.

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I find that dissecting is interesting, but some of the comments seemed a little far out, the assumptions about Pa.... Even after reading the books after these negative views on Pa, I don't feel it

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I finished Prairie Fire this weekend and disliked it for the reasons @MakingBacon listed. I really wanted it to be about Laura Ingalls Wilder rather than about life in the era LIW lived in. I learned a lot but it wasn't what I was hoping for.

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On 12/17/2017 at 8:08 PM, Dee03 said:

 We know Ma didn’t like Almanzo (“I do believe he wants to break your neck and I hope he breaks his own first”). When she first sees Laura with him beside her and stands “petrified”.....well of what? Easy....of the idea of her daughter, on who they rely so heavily, being carried off by some man instead of staying home forever, teaching, sewing, doing all the chores etc.

I didn't blame Ma at all for feeling as she did about Almanzo.  The books make the age difference slighter than it actually was but in reality Almanzo was 10 years older than Laura which means she was still only in her mid teens when a man in his mid 20s came courting!  I'd have been less than happy about that too if I'd been Ma.   

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On ‎12‎/‎28‎/‎2017 at 2:44 PM, CherryAmes said:

I didn't blame Ma at all for feeling as she did about Almanzo.  The books make the age difference slighter than it actually was but in reality Almanzo was 10 years older than Laura which means she was still only in her mid teens when a man in his mid 20s came courting!  I'd have been less than happy about that too if I'd been Ma.   

It wasn't unusual for men to be married to much younger women during Laura's lifetime. I think she probably wrote about her childhood honestly but Rose and the book publishers changed things because no one wanted to read about a less than heroic Pa. Laura would be horrified to learn that her life story had changed to accommodate the tv series.

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One interesting fact that the Prairie Fire unearthed is that there's no documentation of what Pa was doing nor where he was from the time he married Ma in 1860 to Mary's birth in 1865. As the book pointed out that this was one of many families living hand-to-mouth who left only the barebones documentation or even surviving letters but still it's a bit curious. Not only is it possible that Pa may have deliberated avoided service during the US Civil War despite being young and able-bodied but also considering that he and Ma DID have five children from Mary to Grace, he may not have even been in the same place as Ma for a good part of their early marriage. I mean, in that place and time, babies were considered a matter of course within the first year of marriage unless there were known impediments or distance involved.

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9 hours ago, kathyk24 said:

I think she probably wrote about her childhood honestly but Rose and the book publishers changed things because no one wanted to read about a less than heroic Pa.

But that doesn't really address them changing things to make it seem like Almanzo was still a teenager when he first met Laura.  I don't blame them for changing it so Almanzo was more a contemporary of Cap Garlands but that doesn't change the point being made.  Laura was only about 14 when she first caught Almanzo's eye.  I know a ten year age difference wasn't all that unusual back then but I don't believe for one minute that most parents would have been happy about an adult man coming calling on their teenage daughter!  I think the reason they accepted it in the end was because Laura was very strong willed and just about the last person in the world to be taken advantage of!  Nothing I've read about their marriage indicates to me that she ever took second place to Almanzo and I assume her parents were well aware that she could hold her own.

With regard to the idea that there was some resentment that Laura married and left the family I would be surprised if that were the case.  Let's face it back then the goal of most parents was to marry their daughters off.  Laura did bring in some money with her teaching but I don't think that this was a situation that the Ingalls would have expected to go on forever!  

Edited by BlossomCulp
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Girls were considered old maids if they weren't married by around 18 or 19, so it isn't surprising that older boys and even young men would show an interest in teenagers.

I'm about halfway through Prairie Fire, and I have waffled back and forth on how I feel about it so many times, I've gotten whiplash.  For a bit, I'll be really interested and enjoy it, but then it'll piss me off.  I went fairly quickly through the first bit, until Laura and Almanzo got married, and have liked all the bits at Rocky Ridge, but Rose is a piece of work.  I wonder how her life would have gone if there had existed a diagnosis and medication for bipolar disorder (which she clearly has).

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On 12/30/2017 at 10:34 AM, Blergh said:

Not only is it possible that Pa may have deliberated avoided service during the US Civil War despite being young and able-bodied but also considering that he and Ma DID have five children from Mary to Grace, he may not have even been in the same place as Ma for a good part of their early marriage.

I don't know about avoiding military service, wouldn't blame him a bit if he did, but Mary may have been the first child to live not the first child of the marriage.  Miscarriages and children dying at birth or shortly after were all too common in that era and it's not the kind of thing that I could see Ma ever discussing with her girls - or even if she did it would not be something Laura would be likely to pass along partly because that kind of thing was far from unusual and also because it was a little too personal.

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On 12/30/2017 at 8:37 AM, BlossomCulp said:

 I know a ten year age difference wasn't all that unusual back then but I don't believe for one minute that most parents would have been happy about an adult man coming calling on their teenage daughter!

“Teenage” was not a concept that really existed until the mid-twentieth century. My own great-grandmother married at 16 to a man in his mid-twenties and this was in 1914. If Laura was old enough to teach school, she would’ve been considered old enough to marry.

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Laura wasn't old enough to teach school though, at least not the first school she taught at.  Didn't they have to fudge things a bit so she could get the school?  IIRC she was only 15.

With regard to how old a girl typically was when she married, according to this article it was generally between 20-22.  

http://classroom.synonym.com/age-marriage-us-1800s-23174.html

Another good article about how old women were when they married basically makes the point "it's complicated" and that it's a bit of a myth that women married very young "in the olden days".  

https://historymyths.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/myth-136-women-married-very-young-in-the-olden-days/

And specific to North Dakota, according to this study: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2762733?seq=9#page_scan_tab_contents

the average age of marriage in 1890 was 26 for grooms and 22 for brides but they qualify that by indicating that out of the marriages studied 25% of them had brides younger than 20.  

It was interesting to read these articles and they made the very valid point that early marriages were more common in places where land was available easily.  But even with that most of the time women were still not as young as common mythology would have us believe nor was the age difference, generally, as great as one might have assumed in most circumstances.

Edited by CherryAmes
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