A trip with Laura Ingalls Wilder

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While many are familiar with The Little House on The Prairie tales from Laura Ingalls Wilder, many have never read the diary she kept while traveling from South Dakota to Mansfield, Mo., in 1894.
The opening chapter to Laura’s fascinating diary is written by her daughter, Rose, who was very young at the time of this journey.
Rose tells of preparing for the journey during the summer of 1894, as her father painted the covered wagon in the shade of the big empty house they were about to leave.
Preparation. Her mother baked two dozen hardtacks for the journey.
“They were as large as a plate, flat and hard. Being so hard and dry, they would not spoil as bread would. It was a hard tack to gnaw, but it tasted almost like a cracker,” she explains.
Since the family needed to travel with haste, hoping to get to their new home and settled in before winter, there would be no stopping for work.
Invention. Thinking ahead, Laura’s husband purchased a box of asbestos fire mats to trade for food along the way, or to sell for 10 cents each.
These were unheard of, but a great new invention.
Looking like pasteboard edged with a tin strip, these mats could protect a house from fire or a pot from burning dry. They could be thrown in to a roaring fire and never burn.
Pack it all. Rose tells of packing everything they owned under the bedsprings first, followed by things that they would be using along the journey.
“My father tied down the back curtain. Outside it he fastened the hencoop while the hens fluttered and squawked inside the wire netting, but they would soon be used to traveling.”
Laura’s diary tells of battling constant dust on the journey, sometimes 3 inches to 5 inches deep on the road, with the breeze on their backs, “so all the time we are in a smother of dust.”
‘Soft and quiet.’ Arriving in the town of Topeka, driving on “asphaltum pavement” proved to be an amazement for the travelers.
“It is lovely to drive on, so soft and quiet that it doesn’t seem real. It gives like rubber to the horses’ feet. The caulks on their shoes make dents in it and slowly the dents fill up till the place is smooth again,” Laura noted in her diary.
Just beyond Topeka, Laura writes, “We camped by a schoolhouse in the southwest corner of Douglas County. There was good grass for the teams and a pump gushed out delicious cold, clear water. This is the best farming country we have seen yet, prairie with natural groves here and there and timber along the creeks. As we came along, one man came to us and wanted us to stay here and rent. We are going on to Missouri but we may come back here if we do not like it there. Land here is worth $20 to $40 an acre.”
The next day, Aug. 16, setting out early, Laura notes the wheat crop is bountiful “and the corn crop is pretty good. There is a coal bank where men mine the coal and sell all they dig for $1.25 a ton.”
Next week: The travelers witness farming struggles along the way.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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