Mises Daily Articles
The Little House Books: A Pioneer Chronicle
[The Freeman, 1972.]
These books were first published nearly forty years ago when Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her sixties. The eighteenth printing in cloth was run in 1970, and now we have the first paperback edition. Laura (I just can't bring myself to call her Mrs. Wilder) wrote the first book in the series without any plans to continue, but the enthusiastic response of young readers prompted her to keep going until the stories reached the time of her marriage to Almanzo Wilder on August 23, 1885 — eight volumes from a woman who as a young girl told her Pa that she could never write a book!
Laura was born in 1867, and lived for ninety years, most of that time with her husband on their farm near Mansfield, Missouri. Their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who died in 1968, is well known to libertarians as the author of The Discovery of Freedom, a book that inspired Henry Grady Weaver's The Mainspring of Human Progress. Rose displayed her sturdy pioneer stock when at the age of 78 she was sent to Vietnam as a correspondent!
What is so fine and enjoyable about these "Little House" books? First, they take the reader out of his own world and into different places and earlier times, into the Iives of the pioneers on the prairie in the 1870s and 1880s. What thrill there is in reading about the milkman or the neighborhood grocer. Second, they make the reflective reader thankful for all the blessings we enjoy in the United States today. Laura writes of the fun she had as a girl on the prairie and the happy times with her family, but she does not romanticize her experiences. Life was hard in those days in an untamed land.
There were empty stomachs when crops were destroyed by fire, drought, locusts, or storm. Sickness might mean death because doctors and medicine were scarce on the frontier. Everyone except the very old and very young had to work. The pleasures were simple — no radios, automobiles, televisions, and the like. There was little money on hand, so Christmas presents for the children might be a penny and a stick of candy. There were happy times and terrible times, each a part of living.
Third, and most important, these books can help us recapture the spirit of the pilgrims, patriots, and pioneers who founded this nation and made it great. Part of that spirit is the taste for independence and a sense of individual responsibility.
Laura's family didn't expect anyone else to take care of them. They took care of themselves and recognized that having freedom means the freedom to fail as well as to succeed. Another part of this great spirit is not to bemoan one's fate or complain about not getting one's "fair share" of the world's goods. Another, is a sense of community where so much is accomplished on a voluntary basis, everyone pitching in to contribute whatever he can in time, talent, and money.
In answer to inquiries about herself and her books Laura wrote,
The Little House Books are stories of long ago. Today our way of living and our schools are much different; so many things have made living and learning easier. But the real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong. Great improvements in living have been made because every American has always been free to pursue his happiness, and so long as Americans are free they will continue to make our country ever more wonderful.
It is no easy matter for today's children to learn these truths, but so long as these books are read the lessons will not be lost.