Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Relative of Laura Ingalls Wilder Keeps Legacy Alive

Follow this link to read an article and view photos from Beth Ingalls-Leisses's trip to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Branson, Missouri. Beth toured some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead sites this summer with a group of Laura Ingalls Wilder enthusiasts.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura--New Video Trailer on YouTube

Dean Butler and Legacy Documentaries are getting ready to release Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura at the end of the month. Dean recently uploaded a new video trailer on YouTube to promote the upcoming release of this highly anticipated documentary.

While I have been waiting for months for the release of this DVD, I don't think I realized just how wonderfully done it would be. Garth Williams's illustrations from Farmer Boy have been animated, passages from the book are narrated by Katherine Cannon (Father Murphy and Beverly Hills 90210), and there are interviews with Little House historians William Anderson and Barbara Walker.

You can view this trailer here. Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura will be available exclusively at The Wilder Homestead in Burke, NY.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Following the Railroad: How the Iron Horse Changed the American Landscape (Part 1) Indian Country

Engraving by Vaningen Snyder and borrowed from

Here is another article that I had written for Prairie Fans a couple of years ago. With any luck, I will continue along with this series next month.

Following the Railroad: How the Iron Horse Changed the American Landscape (Part 1)
Indian Country

By Cheryl C. Malandrinos

In Donald Zochert’s biography titled Laura, he tells of a visit Charles Ingalls received from his sister Docia. Her husband, Hiriam was working for the railroad and Docia asked if Charles would be interested in moving to Dakota Territory to work with him. Even though his wife, Caroline was reluctant to leave Walnut Grove, she agreed to go.

The family settled into the Silver Lake Camp in 1879. According to William Anderson’s book The Story of the Ingalls, Charles performed clerical work for the railroad. During the winter, his family stayed in the Surveyor’s House and Charles traveled to Brookings in early 1880 to take a homestead, which would become the Ingalls farm. Charles had also been purchasing town lots in De Smet and in the fall of 1887 Charles, Caroline, Carrie and Grace settled permanently in De Smet, making it — as promised to his wife — their last move. Mary was away from home during this time, studying at the Iowa College for the Blind.

The railroad played a substantial role in the events that unfolded for the Ingalls family in the late 1800’s. Towns like Brookings and De Smet popped up across the country as the railroad worked feverishly to connect the East and West Coasts. Let’s take a look at how the railroad changed the American landscape.

There were many obstacles to building a transcontinental railroad — financing, selecting the most practical and economical routes, and the Civil War to name a few. But perhaps the greatest challenge to connecting the East and the West was Indian Country. This part of the United States was the only portion left unorganized after the Compromise of 1850. Indian Country ran from Texas to Canada and from the Missouri border to the Rockies. And it was obvious the U.S. Government intended to remove this obstacle to make way for the railroad.

In March of 1853, Congress authorized surveys to find which was the “most practical and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.” And in August of the same year, President Franklin Pierce sent the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, George Maypenny to Indian Country to see if the tribes would agree to a territorial government which would relinquish their title to some or all of the land. Interestingly enough, Maypenny did not visit with the tribes located in the areas that were favored for the transcontinental railroad routes. Instead he spoke to the Omaha who resided between the Missouri and the Platte; and then moved south to speak with the Oto and Missouri, the Sauk and Fox, the Kickapoo, and the Delawares who were north of the Kansas River. Most of these tribes had been pushed across the Mississippi a few years earlier and were promised by the White Father that these new lands would be theirs “as long as the grass shall grow or the waters run.”

Most of the tribes signed the treaties Maypenny offered them, but about half of the nations refused to acquiesce to the pressure from the U.S. Government and instead accepted reduced reserves. Maypenny sometimes accepted partial cessions when tribes were especially stubborn. He also agreed that the ceded lands would be “administered by the United States in trust for the ceding nations; that the acres should be sold at public sale to the highest bidder and that they should not be offered at the usual minimum price of $1.25 until after the lapse of three years.”

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois had a strong interest in the transcontinental railroad and he wanted the route to run through Chicago, which he saw as a great economic advantage for his State and home town. But this meant the railroad would have to run through Indian Country. To solve the problem, Douglas introduced a bill in January of 1854, calling for the organization of a huge new territory, known as Nebraska — west of Iowa and Missouri — which would open this portion of the country up to white settlement.

As Douglas suspected, the South opposed the bill because it made way for another free state. This new territory would be north of the Missouri Compromise line and therefore, closed to slavery. But Douglas added a provision to the bill stating that whether Nebraska was free or slave would be decided by the territorial legislature – a policy known as popular sovereignty. But Southern Democrats wanted more, so Douglas wrote an additional clause which withdrew the antislavery provision of the Missouri Compromise and also created two territories out of the area — Kansas and Nebraska. Few believed Nebraska would be open to slavery, but by having two territories instead of one, there was still hope that Kansas would become a slave state. The final draft of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed into law in May 1854 with the full support of the South and partial support from the Northern Democrats. The only portion of Indian Country left untouched was the section between Texas and the thirty-seventh parallel.

White settlement into the territories of Kansas and Nebraska was slow, and when the decade ended, only 107,206 people resided in Kansas and in Nebraska there were a scant 28,841. The Kansas-Nebraska Act did not put an end to the slavery question, nor did it promote emigration. But it was successful in removing the obstacle created by Indian Country. It seemed a railroad to the Pacific was inevitable.

This article copyright © 2006 Cheryl C. Malandrinos and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.

Resources used for this article:

* Donald Zochert, Laura (New York: Avon Books, Inc., 1976), pp. 130 – 131.

* William Anderson, The Story of the Ingalls (The Laura Ingalls Wilder Family Series) (Anderson Publications, 1971), pp. 10 – 11, 14 – 15.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 433.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 432.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 432.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 435.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 436.

How to Get from Here to There in the 1800's

This article originally appeared on the Prairie Fans website. That site has been redesigned and the article is no longer available there, so I am posting it here. the tie-in into Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie is intentional.


How to Get from Here to There in the 1800’s
by Cheryl C. Malandrinos

When I think of transportation I imagine planes, trains, buses and cars. But travel options were limited for the pioneer. And while modern day plane crashes, train wrecks and automobile accidents do occur, the lack of technology left the pioneers more prone to regular injuries than his modern day counterparts. Let’s explore the three basic methods of transportation that were available during the 1800’s and the difficulties each one posed to pioneer families like the Ingalls.

Wagons and Stage Coaches

Ever wonder just how long it took Charles Ingalls to get from Walnut Grove to Mankato? According to Mapquest the towns are just over eighty-two miles apart. Under good road conditions a wagon could travel a whopping nine miles an hour, so the trip to Mankato would take more than nine hours out of his day. And while the television roads leading in and out of Walnut Grove may have been in perfect condition, it was closer to reality for the roads to be covered in mud or horse excrement. Heavy rains caused wagons to get stuck in quagmires, which cost drivers a great deal of time as they struggled to free their wheels.

The stage coach rides portrayed on television were also very different from the way things were in real life. On television we see the happy passengers chatting and enjoying their trip to wherever they had to go. But bad roads and drunk or impatient drivers caused frequent turnovers, and the passengers were often bounced out of their seats. For the unfortunate person who got stuck riding on top, this could mean a nose dive from the roof onto the ground.

Another challenge that drivers had to deal with was traffic jams. While most people think of these as modern day occurrences, the busy city roads were often crammed with wagons, carts, and carriages for nearly an hour. Policemen would come out with their whistles and direct traffic until the roads were cleared.


In a few episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Charles Ingalls or other members of Walnut Grove took the train to travel great distances, like the infamous trip to Chicago that signified the end of Mary’s engagement to John Jr.

Seeing a train rumbling down the tracks was exciting for nineteenth-century Americans, but people riding on trains in the 1800’s did not always experience the carefree rides that the Ingalls family did on TV. In addition to the fear of derailments and boiler explosions, passengers complained about the ashes and cinders spewed from the smokestacks, which often singed their clothes. People complained about the large number of livestock being run down and the possibility of accidents involving pedestrians at railroad crossings.

No one could deny the impact the railroad had on the American landscape and economic structure, but whether or not the impact was a good one is a discussion for another essay. Suffice to say, the Ingalls family was given the opportunity to travel farther, in a shorter amount of time after the first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869.

Ships, Boats and Canals

While none of the Ingalls family could utilize the waterways from Walnut Grove, MN, steamboat travel was very popular after 1810. But even though passengers loved the conveniences offered while onboard, steamboats were not the safest means of transportation. Between 1811 and 1850 some 166 boats burned, 206 blew up, and 576 struck obstacles and sunk.

Stuck wanting to avoid steamboat disasters and uncomfortable rides on stage coaches; people began flocking to canal travel, which flourished in the 1830’s. Canal boats were small and could not offer the amenities of steamboats, but passengers didn’t have a fear of drowning in the shallow canalways. Due to the fast growth of the railroad however, canal travel became antiquated quickly and construction of new canalways stopped in 1840.

When thinking about methods of transportation in the 1800’s, a modern person like me is thankful for technology. After all, I did change jobs once because driving an hour round trip was too much. Laura Ingalls Wilder had the opportunity to experience some of that technology in her lifetime. I often wonder what she would have thought of modern day transportation, and if the elderly Mrs. A. J. Wilder would have been willing to ride in a jet plane to go visit her relatives.

This article copyright © 2005 Cheryl C. Malandrinos and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.

Some of the information contained in this article can be found in the following resource: The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800’s by Marc McCutcheon

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Survey!!!

Dean Butler and Peak Moore Enterprises is releasing a Legacy Documentaries production titled Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura. This DVD that will be sold exclusively through the Wilder Homestead in Malone, NY covers the life of a young Almanzo before he met and married Laura Ingalls. Dean visited the Wilder Homestead several times with his crew to shoot scenes depicting Almanzo's early life and this DVD promises to be a great collector's item. Laura Ingalls Wilder biographer William Anderson also contributed to this documentary and some of Garth Williams's illustrations from Farmer Boy have been animated to provide a real look into Almanzo's childhood. Dean spoke highly of the talented actors who portrayed Almanzo and his family in the reenactments for this documentary and original music was composed that perfectly matches the time that Almanzo spent growing up on his father's farm.

Stay tuned to Laura's Little Houses to read my upcoming interview with Dean where he'll talk about Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, his passion for keeping Laura's legacy alive, and new projects that are sure to be a big hit with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie fans!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Featured Book of the Month

There are new titles coming out about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family all the time. It makes it hard for a writer with an interest in sharing Laura's story to come up with a unique idea that will be attractive to publishers. But that's exactly what Laura Ingalls Wilder biographer, John E. Miller did with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town: Where History & Literature Meet.

As a review by Library Journal says, "Taking concepts such as place and community, freedom and control, and love and affection, Miller considers how they operate in Wilder's novels of prairie life..."

The amount of research Miller put into this book is evident and there are almost twenty pictures, maps, and diagrams--some of which I had never seen before.

Focusing on Wilder's By the Shores of Silver Lake and Little Town on the Prairie, Miller proves how Laura's novels are just as historically valid as nonfiction accounts of the time period because these are Wilder's experiences as a young pioneer girl growing up on the prairie--living history.

Other interesting portions of this book include:

* Miller's discussion on the controversy over Rose Wilder Lane's involvement in writing the first eight novels of the series

* The similiar historical contributions of Harvey Dunn and Laura Ingalls Wilder, though Dunn was a painter and Wilder a novelist

* And fact and interpretation in Wilder's novels

All this and more makes this one of the most interesting Laura Ingalls Wilder biographies I have ever read.

And the Survey Says...

The results are in for our favorite couples survey. Hands down, Caroline and Charles are your favorite couple from Little House on the Prairie. They received 44% of the vote. Laura and Almanzo (34%) and Nels and Harriet (12%) came in next. Also receiving votes were Mary and Adam, Grace and Isaiah, and Nellie and Percival.

Thanks for voting. Don't forget to vote in our current survey about whether you will purchase the new LHOP Complete Series on DVD Mega-Pack.