The Revised Texts Wins Design Award

The South Dakota State Historical Society’s third Pioneer Girl Project installment, “Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts” written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal, has been selected for the Association of University Presses Scholarly Typographic award.

The annual AUPresses Book, Jacket and Journal Show, is in its 57th year of honoring academic publishers around the world. This year a virtual display of all winners can be found at design.up.hcommons.org.

“I was especially pleased to discover designers who find ways to break free from traditional typography—not just to call attention to themselves, but to enlighten the content, or simply to delight the reader,” said Stephen Coles, a juror for the 2022 awards.

For generations, the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder have defined the American frontier and the pioneer experience for the public at large. “Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts” presents three typescripts of Wilder’s original “Pioneer Girl” manuscript in an examination of the process through which she and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, transformed her autobiography into the much-loved Little House series. As the women polished the narrative from draft to draft, a picture emerges of the working relationship between the women, of the lives they lived, and of the literary works they created.

Koupal and other editors of the Pioneer Girl Project provide a meticulous study of the Wilder/Lane partnership as Wilder’s autobiography undergoes revision, and the women redevelop and expand portions of it into Wilder’s successful children’s and young adult novels and into Lane’s bestselling adult novels in the 1930s. The three revised texts of “Pioneer Girl,” set side by side, showcase the intertwined processes of writing and editing and the contributions of writer and editor. In background essays and annotations, Koupal and her team of editors provide historical context and explore the ways in which Wilder or Lane changed and reused the material.

“‘Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts’ makes fresh observations that are sure to jump-start new debate and discussions centered on the writer-editor relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane,” writes Wilder scholar and bestselling author William Anderson. “The annotations provide great documentary background and reveal the behind-the-scenes work that led to the now classic Little House series.”

Wilder and Lane’s partnership has been the subject of longstanding speculation, but “Revised Texts” is the first work to explore the women’s relationship by examining the evolution of surviving manuscripts. Showcasing differences in the texts and offering numerous additional documents and handwritten revisions, the editors create a rich resource for scholars to use in assessing the editorial and writing principles, choices, and reasoning that Lane employed to shape the manuscripts for publication. Readers can follow along as Wilder grows into a novelist that “no depression could stop.”

Wilder (1867-1957) finished her autobiography, “Pioneer Girl,” in 1930 when she was 63 years old. Throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s, Wilder utilized her original manuscript to write a successful series of books for young readers. Wilder died in Mansfield, Missouri, at age 90 on Feb. 10, 1957.

Koupal is director and editor-in-chief of the Pioneer Girl Project. She received an M.A. in English from Morehead State University in Kentucky and did postgraduate work in American literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She founded the South Dakota Historical Society Press in 1997. Koupal is also the editor of “Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder.”

The South Dakota Historical Society Press is committed to producing books reflecting the rich and varied history of the Northern Great Plains. “Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts” is available for $49.95 plus shipping and tax and can be purchased through most bookstores or ordered directly from the South Dakota Historical Society Press. Visit http://www.sdhspress.com or call 605-773-6009. For distribution information, contact orders@sdshspress.com. Find out more about the Pioneer Girl Project at pioneergirlproject.org. For information about membership in the State Historical Society, visit history.sd.gov/membership.

Jeff Mammenga

 

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Fairies in Nature

In 1915, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a series of poems about fairies for the “The Tuck’em In Corner,” a children’s poetry column that ran semi-regularly in the San Francisco Bulletin. Wilder’s poems focused on two particular fairies, “lovely Drop-O-Dew” and “little Ray O’Sunshine.” Drop-O-Dew, she explained in a note, was “the Fairy who helps take care of the flowers. All night she carries drink to the thirsty blossoms; bathes the heads of those who have the headache from the heat of the day before, straightens them up on their stems and make[s] their colors bright for the morning.”1 Ray O’Sunshine worked in the daytime, coloring the apples and making the roses red.2 These fairies represented the natural forces at work in the spring and summer. Wilder would again offer a fanciful explanation for a natural process in Little House in the Big Woods: “In the morning the window panes were covered with frost in beautiful pictures of trees and flowers and fairies. Ma said that Jack Frost came in the night and made the pictures” (Big Woods, pp. 26–27).

Wilder explained why she preferred such magical images of natural processes in a column for the Missouri Ruralist called “Look for Fairies Now.” She argued that children needed tales of fairies to help them see beyond the surface and to use their imaginations. In the olden days, she explained, farmers left some of their harvest for the Little People who “worked hard in the ground to help the farmer grow his crops.” Perhaps this idea was just superstition, she continued, “but I leave it to you if it has not been proved true that where the ‘Little People’ of the soil are not fed the crops are poor. We call them different names now, nitrogen and humus and all the rest of it, but I always have preferred to think of them as fairy folk who must be treated right.”3

In Big Woods, Wilder illustrated how fairy images could spark a child’s imagination. When Ma suggests Jack Frost as the maker of the frost, Laura instantly has a picture of him “as a little man all snowy white, wearing a glittering white pointed cap and soft white knee-boots of deer-skin” (Big Woods, p. 26). Laura’s active imagination is one of the reasons young readers find her so appealing as the book’s protagonist, unlike her sister Mary who is often without imagination or humor. Wilder urged readers to help their children see the “deeps beyond deeps in the life of this wonderful world of ours.”4 It is much the same advice that Albert Einstein supposedly gave a parent many years later. “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”5

As both Einstein and Wilder knew, fairy tales gave people another way of viewing their world and of seeing “the magic of nature.”6 Wilder ended her column with a fairy poem in which the fairies go around the world bringing light and color:

“And all the happy children,

In islands of the sea,

Know little Ray O’Sunshine,

Who plays with you and me.”7

“Have you seen any fairies lately,” Wilder asked her readers, “or have you allowed the harsher facts of life to dull your ‘seeing eye’?”8

Nancy Tystad Koupal

Notes

  1. Wilder, “The Faery Dew Drop,” San Francisco Bulletin, Feb. 10, 1915, p. 11.
  2. Wilder, “The Fairies in the Sunshine,” ibid., Mar. 17, 1915, p. 13.
  3. Wilder, “Look for Fairies Now: The ‘Little People’ Still Appear to Those with Seeing Eyes,” reprinted in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks, ed. Stephen W. Hines (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007), pp. 62–63.
  4. Wilder, “Look for Fairies Now,” pp. 64–65.
  5. Einstein, quoted in Sally Ketcham, “Fairy Tales, Folklore, and the Little House in the Deep Dark Woods,” in Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2017), p. 212.
  6. Ketcham, “Fairy Tales,” p. 219.
  7. This poem, untitled in the column, originally appeared as “Where Sunshine Fairies Go,” San Francisco Bulletin, Mar. 19, 1915, p. 11. Stephen W. Hines collected Wilder’s poems in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Fairy Poems, illus. Richard Hull (New York: Doubleday, 1998).
  8. Wilder, “Look for Fairies Now,” p. 65.

Crinolines Again, 1915 Style

Six years ago, I posted a blog about crinolines that included a number of 1860s political cartoons poking fun at women wearing hoopskirts and petticoats. In spite of the ridicule, the fashion resurfaced in the 1880s, when Laura Ingalls Wilder battled her hoopskirts on the way to school as a teenager. I concluded the blog with the observation that the style “just keeps coming back” and suggested that the poodle skirts of the nineteen fifties, “held out by all those stiff mesh petticoats so that they would swirl around the dance floor,” were just “a shorter version of the same style.” Recently, as I scrolled through the pages of the San Francisco Bulletin, I noticed that voluminous petticoats had enjoyed a brief resurgence in 1915, too. While I was not surprised, I was amused to find that the male political cartoonists again lampooned the fashion for some of the same reasons they had decades earlier.

Cartoonist Maurice Ketten critiqued the style on February 17, suggesting that the return to grandmother’s crinolines made finding a seat in a public place a difficult feat. A month later, Rolf Pielke took a different and perhaps more modern tack, lamenting the loss of the sheath skirt. In an article that accompanied his cartoon, he suggested that the “au-natural figure” and “the long-and-lithe-like lady” in the sheaths were more pleasing to the masculine eye than “the flounces and charms of the plump baby doll.” He concluded that the return to “frills and fullness and flounces” proved “that women dress for themselves and not for men, as cynics would have us believe.” For their part, women had learned that the fuller skirts kept men at a respectful distance, a need that was obvious to any woman “who had been pinched, groped, or harassed on crowded streets or public transit.” Women also found the “bell-like shape” to be airy and cool.2 With both men and dress reformers continuing to push for greater simplicity, the crinoline resurgence was short-lived. By the 1920s, skirts had gotten even shorter and more sheath-like than before.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. “On the Zone, on the Street, on the Cars in Every Quarter the Graceful Flounces Are Now Seen,” San Francisco Bulletin, Mar. 22, 1915, p. 11.
  2. Emily Remus, A Shopper’s Paradise: How the Ladies of Chicago Claimed Power and Pleasure in the New Downtown (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2019), p. 43.

Wind and Snow

On the Great Plains in January and February, the wind howls through the open spaces, sending snow and tumbleweeds scudding across the prairie. In town, the wind hurls itself at buildings, searching for a way in through any crack or cranny. Or so it seems to those of us who listen and watch as nature blasts and rattles the windowpanes. Laura Ingalls Wilder characterized the wind as doing “its best to blot out the town” of De Smet. In her autobiography, Wilder’s ability to give personality and malign intent to such natural elements foreshadowed the antagonistic role that wind and snow would assume in The Long Winter. In Pioneer Girl, however, Wilder immediately foretold the end of the story: “Here in his ages long war with the elements,” she wrote, “Man won though it was a hard, long battle.”1 In editing her mother’s autobiography, Rose Wilder Lane omitted this line, recognizing that Wilder had gotten ahead of her story.2

Wilder did not make the same mistake when drafting the novel she originally called “The Hard Winter.” She used each human encounter with a storm to increase the tension surrounding the battle with nature, as in this scene from Chapter 13: “‘I beat the storm to the stable by the width of a gnat’s eyebrow,’ [Pa] laughed. ‘It just missed getting me this time.’ . . . Pa sat by the fire in the front room and warmed himself, but he was uneasy and kept listening to the wind.”3 For all her ability to thus personify the storm by giving it human traits and motives, Wilder recognized that human beings could not successfully “battle” the storm but must simply endure it. As yet another blizzard rages “loud and furious” toward the end of The Long Winter, Pa reminds Laura that the storm “can’t beat us! . . . It’s got to quit sometime and we don’t. It can’t lick us. We won’t give up” (p. 311).

Pen and ink drawing for The Long Winter, Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle, 1940. Detroit Public Library

Hunkering down to outlast another winter on the Northern Great Plains, I take comfort in the fact that the Ingalls family and many others before and after them have refused to give up as wind and snow swept across the landscape. Like them, I’m grateful for a warm shelter and a cup of hot broth when the wind rattles the stovepipe and sends its frigid fingers around the windowsills and into the cracks.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, ed. Pamela Smith Hill (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2014), p. 210.
  2. Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal et al. (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2021), pp. 290, 293n19.
  3. Wilder, “The Hard Winter” manuscript, p. 119, Rare Book Collection, Detroit Public Library, Detroit, Mich.

A Thousand Thanks

Pictured, left to right, South Dakota Community Foundation Senior Program Officer Ginger Niemann, South Dakota Historical Society Press Marketing Director Jennifer McIntyre, Pioneer Girl Project Director Nancy Tystad Koupal, South Dakota Historical Society Foundation CEO Catherine Forsch, South Dakota Historical Society Press Director Dedra Birzer, South Dakota Historical Society Press Managing Editor Cody Ewert.

At Thanksgiving and Christmas time, my family often use the Norwegian phrase tusen takk to express gratitude. It literally means “a thousand thanks.” In this holiday season of 2021, I want to offer such a profusion of thanks to the many readers of this Pioneer Girl Project blog and of the Pioneer Girl books. It has been a pleasure to interact with you over the last eleven years, and I look forward to many more years to come. Tusen takk!

Likewise, I want to thank all those who donate to the South Dakota Historical Society Foundation in support of the Pioneer Girl Project. Your generous financial gifts continue to make it possible for us to research and publish books about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her writings. Specifically, I offer my appreciation to the South Dakota Community Foundation for its support of and faith in Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts. A thousand thanks!

Nancy Tystad Koupal

It has arrived!

Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited and annotated by Nancy Tystad Koupal and the Pioneer Girl Project editors is now available to readers worldwide—visit our orders page for more information.

For generations, the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder have defined the American frontier and the pioneer experience for the public at large. Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts presents three typescripts of Wilder’s original Pioneer Girl manuscript in an examination of the process through which she and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, transformed her autobiography into the much-loved Little House series. As the women polished the narrative from draft to draft, a picture emerges of the working relationship between the women, of the lives they lived, and of the literary works they created.

Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts makes fresh observations that are sure to jump-start new debate and discussions centered on the writer-editor relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane,” writes Wilder scholar and bestselling author William Anderson. “The annotations provide great documentary background and reveal the behind the scenes work that led to the now classic Little House series.” Wilder and Lane’s partnership has been the subject of longstanding speculation, but Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts is the first work to explore the women’s relationship by examining the evolution of surviving manuscripts. Showcasing differences in the texts and citing numerous additional documents and handwritten emendations, the editors create a rich resource for scholars to use in assessing the editorial and writing principles, choices, and reasoning that Lane employed to shape the manuscripts for publication. Readers can follow along as Wilder grows into a novelist that “no depression could stop.”

Jennifer McIntyre

Art on the Prairie

Driving across the plains was mesmerizing. All along the horizon, the vast sky melted into the wide expanse of rolling prairie. What a boundless landscape! I was heading west to my first artist residency at the Homestead National Historical Park (HNHP) in Beatrice, Nebraska. This was the blank canvas I was looking for—a wide open space with new vistas, new challenges and, most important of all, the opportunity to create something new.

The artist residency program at the HNHP is one of fifty such programs offered through the National Park Service. Artists are invited to live and work on site to experience and interpret the unique themes of their respective parks.  During my 2010 residency at the Homestead National Historical Park, I caught a glimpse of what life was like as a prairie homesteader. I spent two weeks sketching the native prairie in the105 degree August heat and researching the daily lives of these pioneers. I read their journals and viewed vintage photographs of family life on the plains. I discovered that, like me, these pioneers were seeking new opportunities on the boundless prairie landscape.

As a result of my time at the HNHP, I was able to create a body of work that I titled The Homestead Series. The twelve watercolor paintings that comprise this series were complete just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Homestead Act. Soon the twelve paintings were touring the Midwest to celebrate this landmark event. One of the venues that exhibited the Homestead Series was the Cultural Center in Pierre, South Dakota, home of the South Dakota Historical Society Press. There, Nancy Tystad Koupal, editor of the Pioneer Girl series, saw the exhibit. What a thrill to receive her phone call asking if I would be interested in creating the Pioneer Girl book covers!  My prairie vista suddenly expanded to include South Dakota and the most famous homesteader of all, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Since then, I have created all four cover images for the Pioneer Girl series. My Inspiration for the first three of these paintings comes from Wilder’s beautiful descriptions of the prairie in her Little House books and from my time spent hiking through the abundant grasslands that surround my Iowa home. Each image represents a season, both literally and figuratively, in Wilder’s pioneer life, with the first three featuring spring, summer, and fall on the Ingalls family’s South Dakota homestead. For Dakota Twilight, the watercolor I created for Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts, the prairie is dressed in its colorful autumn array, bathed in the soft light of a midwestern sunset. Laura and her sisters are eagerly heading home across the fields for supper. It’s the end of another day exploring a boundless prairie where there are always new vistas on the horizon.

—Judy Thompson

Note:  The Homestead Series will be on exhibition at the Homestead National Historical Park until November 2021.  You can also view the Homestead Series on Judy’s website.

Rose Wilder Lane Writes about the Hard Winter of 1880–1881

Over twenty-five years before Laura Ingalls Wilder published her book The Long Winter (1940), she shared her memories of Dakota Territory’s Hard Winter of 1880–1881 with her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. Lane, in turn, chronicled them for the readers of the San Francisco Bulletin in a newspaper serial called “Behind the Headlight: The Life Story of a Railway Engineer.” The serial ran in the Bulletin in twenty-four installments during October and November of 1915. It is difficult to track down copies of the Bulletin in these days of closures and short staffing due to COVID-19. Luckily, the Pioneer Girl Project obtained copies of the serial years ago, and the upcoming Fall issue of South Dakota History allows modern readers to explore the first four installments, set in Minnesota and Dakota Territory.

As Wilder told her husband Almanzo in 1915, Lane “went all around hunting up engineers to talk with” before writing the story. Her interview subjects included an engineer who “fired” on a train for the Chicago & North Western Railway on its run from eastern Minnesota into Dakota Territory from 1880 to 1885. Wilder claimed that Lane shared “some of what [the engineer] told her and some that I told her” in the Hard Winter portions of “Behind the Headlight.”1 The first four chapters of the serial thus provide a slice of Dakota Territory’s railroad history while previewing some of Wilder’s unique contributions to that history.

Here is a sneak preview of part of Lane’s first chapter:

It has been a good many years since I sat in a cab, and my nerves are not what they used to be, but I could take a special over the mountains yet, easier than I could write this story. I know how to handle a throttle, but I am awkward with a pen.

It is my observation that men are divided into two classes—the do-ers and the say-ers. You find a man who does things and usually he is not much good at writing about them. It works the other way around pretty often, too. I have read a good many stories about railroading, but I do not remember one that seemed to me to give the right idea of the work. . . .

It was work for young men who wanted excitement. It was pioneering work, adventurous and dangerous.

I do not remember the time I did not want to be an engineer. I used to hang around the depot in the little middle western town where I lived when I was a boy, and wait for the train to come puffing in. The engineer, a big, gruff fellow, always black with oil and coal dust, was a sort of demi-god to me—not an ordinary, commonplace man like my father and the other small storekeepers I knew.

If I had ever seen him washed up and in everyday clothes probably the shock would have changed my whole idea of railroading. But I never did. The first great event of my life happened when one day he lifted me into the cab and let me see the steam gauge and throttlebar at close range. I think I was about twelve at the time.

From that day on we were good friends. There was a great fascination for me about the engine, a big, black, powerful thing it seemed then, though it would be mighty small nowadays. The engineer, whose name was Burke, sometimes let me help him oil it, and he explained how it worked.13 I would have missed Christmas rather than fail to be at the depot when he drove it in.

13. Burke may be C&NW Roadmaster James Burke, who worked out of Burns Station (later Springfield) in central Minnesota near Walnut Grove. As roadmaster, Burke appears to have overseen repairs to the train tracks, and he took charge of snow shoveling operations on the western lines during the winter of 1881. Marshall (Minn.) Messenger, 29 Apr. 1881; Wilson to Koupal, 20, 24 May 2021.

You can find the rest of the story in the Fall issue of South Dakota History.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. Wilder, West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder to Almanzo Wilder, San Francisco, 1915, ed. Roger Lea MacBride (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), pp. 115–16.

The Terrifying Sound of a Tornado

A boom of thunder brought me out of a deep sleep before dawn this morning, and I listened tensely to see if the unmistakable sound of a tornado would follow. As a young girl—eleven or twelve—in Mitchell, South Dakota, I had found myself outside and running to a house across the street as the mechanical roar of an outsized John Deere tractor filled the night sky from every direction. It was my closest encounter with a tornado on the prairie, and I was terrified. My mother and my aunt raced behind me with a baby or toddler under each arm, and my father and uncle scooped up the remaining small children and herded us all into the neighbor’s basement as the sky crackled with electricity and the mammoth tractor rumbled on. In the aftermath, two things happened. We spent the next morning driving around the western part of Mitchell surveying the damage the tornado had done, and my father decided that it was time to jack up our house and put a basement underneath it. The family’s helter-skelter dash toward the neighbor’s house was, as he put it, a “rather stupid thing to do.” As a result, during my teen years, I spent storm events huddled in our new basement worrying about my father, who was always the last to head downstairs. Like Charles Ingalls in the summers of 1884 and 1885, Dad liked to watch the weather, confident in his own ability to reach safety before the storm hit.

Laura Ingalls Wilder described the sound of a tornado as “a dull roaring” that “filled all the air.” Just as I did, she heard “that awful roaring pass over [her family’s] heads and on.”1 To me, the twister sounded like a huge tractor grinding through the night sky, but others have likened it to the thunder of a waterfall or “the buzzing of a million bees, and even the bellowing of a million mad bulls.” Since the invention of the locomotive, people have most commonly compared the noise to the roar of a freight train. A tornado “is a very long, whirling tube of air, an enormous acoustical instrument,” but scientists still don’t fully understand how it produces sound.2 Like the growl of a grizzly bear or the crack of lightning, the sound of a tornado remains “among the most terrifying natural sounds on Earth,” according to science journalist Matt Simon.3

The August 1884 tornado was one of the first to be captured on film. South Dakota State Historical Society

As their roar suggests, “cyclones,” as Wilder called them, are destructive natural forces. In late August 1884, for example, a tornado near Huron “demolished everything in its path, leveling buildings as if they were pasteboard.”4 Weeks later, barns and sheds “were torn to atoms and scattered over the prairie” as another cyclone carried away stacks of grain and shredded houses “into kindling wood.” The tornado also swept up a woman and her eight-year-old daughter, leaving them badly injured in a nearby field.5 More recently, six people died during a tornado in Spencer, South Dakota, in 1998. Five years later, an F-4 tornado destroyed the town of Manchester, just a few miles west of De Smet.6 Each tornado season, we watch as television news stations chronicle similar devastation across the Great Plains.

On this late summer morning, however, the thunderstorm rolled on across the plains without producing a tornado, and I thankfully went back to sleep, but the sound and power of tornadoes haunted my dreams.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal et al. (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, forthcoming 2021), p. 438.
  2. Thomas P. Grazulis, The Tornado: Nature’s Ultimate Windstorm (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001), p. 11. See also Brian Palmer, “‘A Peculiar Moaning Sound’: How Did People Describe the Sound of a Tornado before the Advent of Trains?” Slate, May 22, 2013, slate.com.
  3. Simon, “A Tornado’s Secret Sounds Could Reveal Where It’ll Strike,” WIRED, May 8, 2018, wired.com.
  4. News item, De Smet Leader, Aug. 30, 1884.
  5. “Tornado near Huron Dak,” ibid., Sept. 6, 1884.
  6. Michael Klinski, “Spencer Tornado: Twenty Years Ago, Six People Died during Storm,” Sioux Falls Argus-Leader, May 30, 2018, argusleader.com; “Manchester Looks Back at Devastating F-4 Tornado,” June 25, 2017, Huron Daily Plainsman, plainsman.com.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pioneer Heroine

In her final Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder showcased her independent spirit and almost defiant self-reliance. For instance, in These Happy Golden Years, Laura—clad in an attractive brown dress—joins Almanzo on a buggy ride behind the colts. When Almanzo boldly puts his arm around her, Laura immediately startles the horses with the whip, causing them to bolt. “You little devil!” Almanzo says as he uses both hands to get the horses back under control. He then challenges her: “Suppose they had run away,” he says, but she replies that there was nothing for them to run against. “‘Just the same!’ Almanzo began, and then he said, ‘You’re independent, aren’t you?’ ‘Yes,’ said Laura” (THGY, pp. 166, 168). In her study of the pioneer heroines of regional fiction, Ruth Ann Alexander characterized these fictional protagonists as “usually quite independent of their mothers, they identify with male activities in homesteading, ranching, and small-town life, and they triumph through exercising their own wits and resources.”1 In her autobiography and her novels, Wilder portrayed herself with all the traits of this classic heroine of adolescent pioneer fiction.

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder is even more overtly independent. During thunderstorms in the summers of 1884 and 1885, she separated from her mother and sisters who huddled in the cellar and aligned herself with the riskier behavior of her father, who stayed outside to watch the storms approach. “I didn’t like to go into the cellar,” she wrote, “and I wanted to see the storm. I thought I could get to safety as quickly as Pa could. And I proved it.”2 While Laura does not insist on staying outside with Pa in Wilder’s draft of These Happy Golden Years, she does express “a strange delight in the wildness and strength of the storm winds, the terrible beauty of the lightening [sic] and the crashes of thunder.”3

Nancy Tystad Koupal

1.) Alexander, “South Dakota Women Writers and the Blooming of the Pioneer Heroine, 1922–1939,” South Dakota History 14 (Winter 1884): 306.

2.) Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal et al. (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, forthcoming 2021), p. 438.

3.) Wilder, “These Happy Golden Years” manuscript, p. 202, Rare Book Collection, Detroit Public Library, Detroit, Mich.