Seeing the Original

I flew into Springfield, Missouri, in a thunderstorm and all but kissed the ground as I deplaned. My fellow weak-kneed passengers agreed that it had been the worst flight in our collective experience. It was an inauspicious beginning to what proved to be a magical trip.

The next morning, Pam Smith Hill and I drove the roughly forty-five miles to Rocky Ridge farm near Mansfield, Missouri, for our first look at the original, handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript. The trip was the culmination of weeks of negotiation and preparation. We had earned the right to publish the manuscript, and we were working our way through various typescripts and digital copies to determine what constituted the core text. Outside of the staff and board members of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, no one had seen the original manuscript in decades. We were excited.

We also had permission to photograph a number of artifacts in the museum collection to illustrate passages of the annotated edition. Pam had prepared the list, and professional photographer Keli Tetzlaff and her boss Angela D. Smith of Springfield accompanied us. With the help of staff member Kathleen Forte, we began in the museum, photographing Pa’s fiddle and other treasures and then moved to the Wilder farmhouse to see Wilder’s writing desk and the small, sunny room in which she did her writing. She had launched her journalism career in this house, writing columns for the Missouri Ruralist, and she penned the later novels here as well. (She had written the early ones in the stone house that her daughter built for her and which we would visit later.)

The scale of everything was so tiny that I felt like a giantess. The small alcove off the living room that formed the author’s library served as a frame for a photograph of Pam and me that proved the point: we modern women were much taller and, in my case, broader than the diminutive Wilder. Again, the exquisite Prairie-style architecture and detail of the house made a deep impression on me, as it had on my first visit to the author’s home ten years earlier. It was so modern for the time period and yet so classic. The beautiful W. H. D. Koerner painting of homesteaders in a covered wagon added a bright splash of color to the warm woods and muted fabrics of the sitting area.

Last of all, we met with museum director Jean Coday, who opened the vaults and brought out the aging tablets that contain the handwritten story of the young Laura Ingalls Wilder. The lined pages of these inexpensive pads of paper have toned over the years and become somewhat brittle, and although they have been treated for acidity, they are fragile. We pulled on white gloves and touched them carefully. Seeing the originals made clear some of the puzzles in the digital copy we were using to create the core text. In the era before computers, there had been no easy way to insert corrections or add text, and Wilder had used the cut-and-paste method, pasting in one edge of a slip of paper that contained additional handwritten text and thereby creating a flap that covered the original text but could be lifted up to continue reading. Or she had drawn lines or directions to additions on the back of a page or later pages. All in all, we learned a lot about the text in a few minutes of examination.

As we drove back to Springfield at the close of an intensely busy but successful day, we were tired but invigorated. We were, in fact, looking forward to the months of study, writing, and editing that loomed ahead of us.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

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22 thoughts on “Seeing the Original

  1. I am thrilled to learn of a new book written by Laura Ingalls Wilder! The books she wrote really mean something to me, and hopefully to the many children in my classes I have read them to.
    Went to DeSmet last summer, and when I went into the Loftus Store I just cried and cried….thinking of Almanzo and the hard winter, I guess. The kind man who owns the store said it happens all of the time!
    This wonderful book will mean a great deal to one who really cherishes the words and life of the Ingalls and Wilder families.
    Thank you!

    • I truly understand. It was just magic going into Laura and Almonzo’s home in Mansfield. ITs beyond words, the books have told us exactly what we see so well that its overwhelming when we do see it. Laura gave us a treasure I’m sure she had no idea she would give.

  2. I can’t wait to read the book! Last time I was in DeSmet, there was a sign in the Surveyer’s house advertising it, and that was over 20 years ago! I’m so glad it’s FINALLY coming out!

    • I wonder if that was the same book? The sign may have been about the manuscript, but this is the first time the manuscript has been approved for publication. Either way, we’re glad you are as excited as we are about this book!

      • I don’t know. SIgn just said ” ‘Pioneer Girl’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder, coming this year.” Now that I think about it, though, it may have been in the museum at Walnut Grove, and not in DeSmet. I made a Laura Pilgrimage and went to DeSmet, Walnut Grove, and Mansfield all during the same trip. At any rate, it will be good to read it. I grew up savoring the Little House books and wore out several sets by the time I reached adulthood. I still go back and reread them occasionally. They remind us of a simpler time and of values that many of us have lost along the way.

      • William Anderson wrote a biography about Laura called Pioneer Girl. Maybe that was what the sign was for.

      • Pioneer Girl-The Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder-was written by William Anderson and illustrated by Dan Andreasen. It’s written for children and I believe it came out in the latter 1990′s. It recounts the life story of LIW, from her childhood in WI to her old age at Rocky Ridge in Mansfield, MO.

  3. It was a pleasure and a joy to meet you and to work for my supervior Mrs. Forte so that she would be free to assist you in the historic home and down at the bank in taking your last photos of the visit. I’m anxious to see the photos of the Rock House as the lighting was perfect that day and they are so rarely taken. My very best to you all in this endeavor!

    We look forward to the book being made available to the fans that have waited so very long!

  4. I have to admit to my breath catching at the first sight of the notebooks that Laura wrote in. I have been a LIW fanatic since I was a young girl, and I’m…well, let’s just say that I’m not quite so young any more. :-) I’m so excited about the publication of this book.

  5. In the Spring-Summer 1983 LORE there was an announcement that Pioneer Girl was to be published at the request of Roger MacBride. William Anderson and Barbara Walker did the annotations. Microfilm and HH copies aside, a lot of us have been waiting almost thirty years for it.

  6. I have 3 different Pioneer Girl versions photocopied from the Herbert Hoover library holdings. Is the Mansfield version different, or is it the one on the micorfilm?

    • Gina,
      Yes, there are many different versions of the original manuscript in various places throughout the US. One of the great things about our forthcoming publication is that it will help pinpoint the various versions and their place in the progression of Laura’s writing and how they compare to the original version.
      Thanks.

  7. How wonderful to anticipate this new book….I live just down the road from Rocky Ridge….in the woods and hills out of Macomb…..I’m a recent transplant from South Dakota, and just love it in these Ozark Mtns., as Laura did. Best of all good things for you and this publication.

  8. Thank you, thank you, for bring Laura’s original writings out of the vaults and into our hands. I am 49 years old and have just read the Little House books for the first time this summer 2012. I have become very inspired by them and interested in learning more about the places, Laura, wrote about and her life. I visited De Smet, S.D. July 20-22, 2012 and will visit the Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, MO. September 14-16, 2012. In my amateur research and quest to lean more, I found this information about the Pioneer Girl project. I am ecstatic that I’m not too late to anticipate a “new/old” work to be released on an amazing person of history. Laura has so much to offer a modern day woman about being grateful in life for the little things; like butter on a potato et cetera.

  9. Have never made it to her home in Missouri, but it is on my bucket list! Would love to do the whole Laura loop as Dee talked of above. Hmm…how long until retirement????

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