Saturday, July 15, 2006

On the Way Home

The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Memoir, Children's

Unlike her Little House on the Prairie books, On the Way Home is a copy of the diary that Laura Ingalls Wilder kept during their journey from the Dakota Territory to Missouri. There is a short frame provided by her daughter, Rose, but other than that this is unedited. It is interesting for two reasons: Laura was a farmer's daughter, and this shows in her extensive descriptions of the crops she sees along the way, and there are some delightfully snarky comments here and there. ("There were a number of children and pigs. One could scarcely tell them apart.")

Rose Wilder Lane's comments at the beginning and the end provide some much-needed context for the diary. There had been drought on the prairies for seven years. There were "panics" - what we would call recessions and depressions, complete with bank failures that happened in the days before federally guaranteed funds. There were mobs of people commandeering railroad cars, with the result that railroad shipping and traveling were unpredictable. And lots of people were scrambling to move somewhere - anywhere - where they could make a living.

When they lost the farm, Laura sewed to make money, and Almanzo took odd jobs. When they got a hundred dollars together, they hid the bill in Laura's writing desk and took the wagon to Missouri. (During the trip, the bill slipped into a crack, which is an incident Rose records because Laura hated to think of the terror they felt when they couldn't find it.) Laura's observations are more in the line of primary source documents than a story, but it is worth a look if you are interested in the time period or in Laura's life after the Little House books.


No comments: