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Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie?

Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie

Think about you’re studying a e-book that you simply beloved as a toddler, maybe you’re studying it to your younger baby, or that you’re studying it for the very first time. You come throughout the phrases “the only good Indian was a dead Indian.” Do you set the guide down in horror, shocked by the cultural insensitivity of the writer? Do you decry the writer as a racist and vow to by no means learn one other phrase?  What would you say should you knew that these phrases are discovered in the beloved e-book Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder?

Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie?

In recent times the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder have been accused of being culturally insensitive and even racist, notably Little House on the Prairie. In an article with the jarring title “Little Squatter on the Osage Diminished Reserve”, Francis Kaye states “Wilder, writing as honestly as she knew how, spun a tale that, because of her very decency, makes ‘ethnic cleansing’ appear palatable.”

As Amy Fatzinger writes in her dissertation Indians in the House, Wilder raises “a great issue that was still problematic in the 1930s, when Little House on the Prairie was written and remains so today: the Euro-American preemption of lands occupied by Native Americans.” And, Wilder makes use of the voice of 7-year-old Laura to take action.

The questions then come up, is that this as a result of Wilder is culturally insensitive or is she merely writing from her perspective, having been born in 1867 and writing in the 1930s?

Teachable Moments

Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie

Fifth graders from Cleaveland Conventional Magnet Elementary Faculty in Wichita, Kansas studying Little House on the Prairie.

Studying Little House on the Prairie with youngsters at present requires rationalization. I name them teachable moments. Earlier than we start to learn the guide in my classroom I take a number of moments to speak about Wilder’s actual life and the historic accuracy of her books. There’s the fact as Laura wrote in her books and there’s the fact of her actual life. In any case, Laura was solely two when her household left Wisconsin and barely three once they arrived on the prairie. Clearly, she was forged as older than that in each Little House in the Huge Woods and Little House on the Prairie. Laura’s tales come from an oral custom. Her father was a storyteller and Laura herself stated that her first books have been an try and protect the tales she grew up listening to.

That isn’t to say that Wilder didn’t do her analysis as she wrote her books. However, we should keep in mind, this was earlier than the Web. Wilder lived in rural Missouri, distant from libraries or universities with giant reference sections. She didn’t have info at her fingertips. Laura needed to rely on letter writing or lengthy, sluggish journeys to do on-site analysis as she did for Little House on the Prairie. Consequently, a few of her writing isn’t correct. And naturally, she was writing historic fiction, not an autobiography. However, to know Laura’s story, we should perceive the historical past behind the story.

The historical past behind Little House on the Prairie

Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie

Map of the Osage Diminished Reserve

What do readers have to know when studying Little House on the Prairie? I’m not going to aim to provide an entire historical past of the Osage individuals or the unhappy legacy of the systematic removing of Native People by the authorities of the United States. Right here’s some info that may put issues in perspective as you learn.

Little House on the Prairie begins with the Ingalls household leaving their little home in Wisconsin. Laura says “They drove away and left it lonely and empty in the clearing…They were going to Indian country.” However, they didn’t go there instantly. Charles Ingalls bought his farm in Wisconsin in 1868. He moved his household first to Chariton County, Missouri after which on to Montgomery County, Kansas in late 1868 or early 1869. They have been a part of an unlawful rush of settlers into the Osage Diminished Reserve generally referred to as Indian Territory. Few individuals immediately understand, and maybe Laura herself didn’t know, that a part of Kansas was as soon as referred to as Indian Territory.

We often consider Oklahoma as being Indian Territory. Nevertheless, starting in 1808, the Osage tribe ceded a number of tracts of land to the United States authorities. The Treaty of 1825 established the Osage Diminished Reserve, a piece of land about 50 miles large and 125 miles lengthy in what’s now south-central and southeast Kansas. In 1868, the Osage have been dealing with dire financial circumstances. The federal government had not paid them what was owed as a consequence of the nice debt incurred by the Civil Conflict and searching was turning into scarce because of the settlement of the western frontier. The Osage have been pressured as soon as once more to barter with the United States and signed the Sturgis Treaty. This treaty stated that the Osage would promote their land to the Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Galveston Railroad and purchase land from the Cherokee additional south and transfer there.

Squatters on Indian Land

Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie

Osage males in conventional gown

Information of the impending opening of Indian Territory reached land-hungry settlers again east and triggered an unlawful land rush into the space. Congress refused to ratify the Sturgis Treaty, fearing a backlash from their constituents who favored free settlement of the land underneath the Homestead Act of 1862. The Ingalls household was a part of the wave of squatters or unlawful settlers who entered and established houses in Montgomery County. Whether or not Pa knew this or not is open for debate, however it’s extremely unlikely that he would have been unaware of this reality. In Little House on the Prairie Ma tells Laura that “Pa had word from a man in Washington that the Indian Territory would be open to a settlement soon. It might already be open to settlement. They could not know because Washington was so far away.” Pa was almost certainly betting that the authorities would permit squatters to say homesteads as soon as the Osage have been eliminated.

When most of the settlers arrived in Indian Territory, the Osage individuals have been off on their annual searching journeys additional west and it might have appeared that the land was unoccupied. Though the land that Pa selected was clearly subsequent to a well-used path, he most popular to think about the land as unsettled. In the early pages of Little House on the Prairie, Laura quotes Pa as saying that animals wandered “in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no settlers. Only Indians lived there.” As did all of the settlers, Pa selected to disregard the incontrovertible fact that the land and every part on it belonged to the Osage individuals. He freely minimize logs to construct a home, hunted wild recreation for meals and furs, dug a nicely and broke the land for farming. When the Osage returned from their journey they discovered their house and their lands occupied by all types of settlers who, in their minds, have been stealing from them.

Ma’s worry and the “Minnesota Massacre”

Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie

Osage lady and man

Beneath the provisions of earlier treaties, the Osage had the proper to cost squatters lease in the event that they needed to. Laura tells a number of tales of Indians coming to the Ingalls’ residence and demanding meals and different items. They often simply got here and took no matter they needed. The Osage noticed it as amassing lease. Ma noticed it as an intrusion by uninvited visitors. Ma was terrified of those visits. Wilder says that Jack, the Ingalls’ bulldog, hated the Indians and Ma stated she didn’t blame him. Laura asks Ma, “Why don’t you like Indians, Ma…This is Indian country, isn’t it? What did we come to their country for, if you don’t like them?”; However why was Ma so afraid of the Osage? To ensure that readers to know Ma, it is advisable to perceive the place she was coming from.

Earlier than shifting to Kansas, the Ingalls lived close to the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. In late 1862 throughout the Civil Struggle, many males left their households in Minnesota to struggle in the warfare. Native militias stretched to their limits, have been unable to guard their communities. The federal authorities denied any duty for shielding the settlers in Minnesota. The Indians in the space noticed this as a chance to retake land that they felt belonged to them. The Sioux Rebellion or Dakota Wars resulted in the looting and burning of homesteads and the killing of white settlers in the space, together with ladies and youngsters. The newspapers have been filled with graphic accounts of what was then known as the “Minnesota Massacre.” Undoubtedly Ma had learn these accounts. Wilder mentions the “Minnesota Massacre” in her account of Mrs. Scott’s hatred for the Osage: “The only good Indian was a dead Indian. The very thought of Indians made her blood run cold. She said, ‘I can’t forget the Minnesota massacre. My Pa and brothers went out with the rest of the settlers…Ma made a sharp sound in her throat, and Mrs. Scott stopped. Whatever a massacre was, it was something that grown-ups would not talk about when little girls were listening.”

Serving to youngsters perceive

Historical Perspective or Racism in Little House on the Prairie

Dr. Laura McLemore as Laura Ingalls Wilder. Laurapalooza 2012.

How can we assist youngsters develop an understanding of the historic perspective in Little House on the Prairie? I recommend we speak about whether or not Ma’s fears have been justified. Ask if individuals have an unjustified worry of different races as we speak. Does racism nonetheless exist and in that case, is it discovered in each race? This previous yr my class talked about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri and the media’s portrayal of occasions there. Talk about how it might really feel to have strangers stroll into their house uninvited and take no matter they needed. How would they inform the story to another person? These sorts of questions will assist youngsters perceive the historic perspective and that proper or flawed, individuals have their very own perception methods, then and now.

Moreover, it’s useful to level out that Wilder presents a extra favorable perspective utilizing Pa as a counterpoint. Pa is portrayed as being barely extra accepting of the Indians. For instance, in chapter 21 of Little House on the Prairie, Pa should go to Independence to promote his furs. When Ma expresses concern about the Indians being so close to, Pa comforts her by saying “They are perfectly friendly’…He often met Indians in the woods where he was hunting. There was nothing to fear from Indians.” Later Pa balances Mr. and Mrs. Scott’s hateful declaration when he makes this assertion about Soldat du Chêne: “That’s one good Indian.’ No matter what Mr. Scott said, Pa did not believe that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.”

We might really feel at the moment, given our 21st-century sensitivity, that Ma was mistaken to worry the Osage or that Mr. and Mrs. Scott have been racist. And we’re proper, in our occasions they’re. However I recommend that somewhat than banning books or refusing to learn them, we use them as a platform for analyzing the historical past of the United States. What higher approach to study our historical past than by studying a basic like Little House on the Prairie and utilizing it as a platform for dialogue?

Suggestions from the web site editors

We advocate studying Bury My Coronary heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian Historical past of the American West by Dee Brown. The chapter about “Little Crow’s War” offers essential context to the Dakota rebellion in Minnesota. Different worthwhile books are Via Dakota Eyes: Narrative Accounts of the Minnesota Indian Conflict of 1862 edited by Gary Clayton Anderson and Alan R. Woolworth and Over the Earth I Come: The Nice Sioux Rebellion of 1862 by Duane P. Schultz.

There have been many desirable books written about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter and editor Rose Wilder Lane. We invite you to go to our Beneficial Studying part to seek out books for youngsters and younger adults and for adults. These books discover totally different areas of Wilder’s life and work, typically bringing new and sudden interpretations to a variety of subjects. They embrace basic titles and newer works.

You might also have an interest in an entertaining and academic documentary movie about Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is acceptable for all ages. The DVD incorporates an fascinating bonus featurette about Native People and African People on the prairie.

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Laura McLemore

An educator since 1983, Laura McLemore was destined to a lifelong love of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her mom learn Little House in the Massive Woods in second grade and named her second daughter after the beloved writer. McLemore portrayed Laura Ingalls Wilder for the first time in 1993. Since that point she has shared Wilder’s life throughout the Midwest. Laura lives in Maize, Kansas and is a fifth-grade instructor.

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