Wednesday, December 21, 2016

In Defense of "Little House"

Author Laura Ingalls Wilder

 During a recent interview with the
   National Museum of the American Indian Magazine,
 Native American writer, Louise Erdrich 
claimed she wrote childrens' books
 "out of frustration" with the
 "Little House On The Prairie" series of books
 written by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Ms. Erdrich believes these books, 
much beloved by generations of 
American children and adults alike, 
are "full of racism" and
 "the valorization of those who took 
Native lands without a thought."

 While I am familiar with Ms. Erdrich's work,
 it seems she is not even vaguely familiar
 with the story of the Ingalls family
 or the "Little House" series of books,
or many of the other prolific
 writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Pa Ingalls building the "Little House On The Prairie"
Illustration By Garth Williams

Here is the letter I  recently e-mailed
to the Editor of NMAI Magazine
in defense of Laura and "Little House"

Dear Ms. Thrasher,
  As a supporter of the National Museum of the American Indian, I always look forward to receiving your magazine in my mailbox. However, after reading the interview with writer Louise Erdrich in your Winter 2016 edition, I was truly disappointed by her insinuation that the "Little House" book series by Laura Ingalls Wilder are "full of racism". 
The reference made by interviewer Phoebe Farris in regards to the Ingalls family  as "European settlers" is also inaccurate.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was an American citizen. She was born on February 7, 1867 in Pepin, Wisconsin. Her parents were American citizens. Her father, Charles Ingalls, was born in New York State, and her mother, Caroline Quiner Ingalls, was born in Wisconsin.
 In the second book of the series,"Little House On The Prairie" the Ingalls family left their home in Wisconsin and traveled to Kansas, or what was then called "Indian Territory"  because Pa Ingalls had learned that the government had recently opened up the land there to settlers.

Throughout the entire "Little House" series, Pa Ingalls is presented as a fair-minded man who sought to be on friendly terms with his neighbors on the frontier, including the local Indians, despite the fact that he realized too late that he and his family were actually squatting on land belonging to the Osage tribe.
 Nevertheless, Pa sincerely hoped for a peaceful co-existence with them.  Early on in the book, one of his concerns was that he had unknowingly built his family's log cabin too close to a trail frequently used by the neighboring Osage tribe.

However, as a result of the expanding population of white settlers on their land, some of the tribes in Indian Territory grew increasingly angry and wanted to wage war against them.

 In the book, the lives of Laura and her family and the other white settlers were saved by a noble Osage chief named Soldat du Chene.  (There was an actual Osage chief by that name.)
After preventing a massacre of the white settlers,  Soldat du Chene led the people of his tribe along the trail by the Ingalls cabin, having been forced out of Indian Territory by the government. The entire Ingalls family sadly watched them go, especially Laura, who wanted to adopt a little Indian baby riding by on a pony.  Only a few weeks later, she and her family were also forced out by the government.

  In addition to making Soldat du Chene the unlikely hero of "Little House On The Prairie", in the sixth "Little House" book entitled, "The Long Winter" an elderly Sioux warrior comes to warn the white settlers in DeSmet, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota) of the impending brutal winter weather which would last from October to April.

Whether the story of the Indian's warning is actually true or not, that Laura would include this dramatic episode in her book, I believe says something about the prolific mindset of this much beloved American author.

Pa and Laura twisting wild hay
to burn as fuel to keep warm after
the town's supply of coal
ran out during 
"The Long Winter"


The "Little House"  books were written as part of the history of America's westward expansion as seen through the eyes and memories of someone who lived through it. Laura believed that the stories of her close-knit, pioneering family should be preserved and shared with future generations.  And, although these books do reflect the cultural and societal norms of that time and place, which includes the fear and prejudice expressed by some of the white settlers on the frontier, I do not believe these books were written to promote or to encourage racism against American Indians or anyone else.

Thank you for reading this e-mail. 

Sincerely Yours,
Pamela Kelly

*Often called the ninth "Little House" book,
 "The First Four Years" 
was not a part of the original series. 
 The outline of this
unfinished autobiographical novel, 
found among Laura's personal papers after her death,
 was published just the way it was written, in 1971. 

On A Personal Note...
As someone with Cherokee ancestry
 flowing in my veins,
I am very proud of a museum 
in our nation's capitol which honors
the histories and unique cultures of
 America's many indigenous peoples.  
  While much of what happened in
the last centuries between white Americans and
the American Indian tribes, which once vastly
populated this nation, was downright
ugly and disturbing, we cannot change
 what happened in the past. 
 What we can do in our 21st century
tech world of today is learn from the past,
 appreciate the lessons-both good and bad-
which the past teaches us, and try hard, as both
individuals and as citizens of this great nation,
not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Sometimes, all it takes is a change of heart,
and a willingness to see that although someone is
of a different race or skin color or culture,
beneath the surface of every one of us is a
hopelessly flawed human being.

"There but for the grace of God, go I."
-John Bradford

 Suffering passes,
while love is eternal.
That's a gift you
have received from God..."
-Laura Ingalls Wilder

The original site of the
"Little House On The Prairie"
Independence, Kansas

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