Do you remember the early episodes of the TV series Little House on the Prairie? They always ended with a voice over of Melissa Gilbert (who played Laura) saying “If I had a book of remembrances….” Guess what? She did! I don’t know when she began keeping her journal, but by the time the Wilders moved to southwest Missouri she had a writing desk (it’s where she hid the $100 saved to buy a farm) and she kept a journal of their journey in a 5 cent Memorandum book. Long after the Little House books were published, after Laura Ingalls Wilder’s death in fact, that journal was discovered and published under the title On the Way Home. I rescued my copy from a YMCA book sale.
The first chapter was written by the Wilder’s daughter Rose who was also a writer. In it she explains about the drought and the financial crisis in South Dakota and how her parents had saved some money to start an orchard in “the Land of the Big Red Apple.” In order to preserve their funds to buy the farm, Almanzo Wilder bought a box of asbestos fire-mats to sell or trade for food on their journey.
Laura wrote entries almost daily, beginning July 17, 1894 when they set out till August 30 of the same year when the family arrived in Mansfield, MO. Rose Wilder Lane then takes up the narrative again to share the $100 bill so carefully hidden couldn’t be found on the day they were heading to the bank to buy the land. Had it been discovered and stolen on the journey? Had Rose taken it herself and lost it or destroyed it (she was 6 or 7 at the time)?
It seemed their dreams were dashed. Rose recalls her mother saying “What can’t be cured must be endured.” Several days passed and the family was actually packing up the covered wagon to move of and search for a means to make a living elsewhere when Laura found the money in a crack in the desk. The land was purchased and a house was built –the same house you can visit today, the same house where the Little House books were all written.
On the Way Home contains several black and white photos of the Wilder family, their farm, and even the writing desk. If you’re truly interested in Laura Ingalls Wilder, you’ll be please to know her original work Pioneer Girl has finally been published by the South Dakota Historical Society. This is considered her true autobiography (the Little House books were fictionalized, with some event occurring out of sequence and some people combined into one character, etc.). I’m currently on the waiting list at the library to read it. Who knows, maybe some day I’ll be able to rescue my own copy.
You can see all my rescued books by clicking here.