We first meet Almanzo Wilder in the second book of the Little House series, Farmer Boy. After a couple hundred pages with him, his baby oxen, and his longing after his father’s young colt, however, the book ends. We don’t see Almanzo again until Laura Ingalls Wilder briefly mentions him in her fifth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake. By this time, however, he’s no longer a boy living with his parents in New York. Now he’s a young man—a homesteader, braving the rough Dakota prairie with his older brother, Royal. According to Laura’s fiction, nearly ten years have passed by this time. This begs the question: is this young man the same character that we once knew as the 9-year-old farmer boy? Has Laura, as a writer, successfully tied in the young character with his older counterpart?
Thanks to her literary genius, Laura certainly has accomplished this. Let me prove it to you.
As I’ve searched the books, I’ve come across some pretty strong thematic parallels between events from Farmer Boy and from the later books, including The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years. Through these parallels, Laura reminds us that Almanzo the young man is the same character we once met back in New York state.
The most obvious connection between Almanzo the boy and Almanzo the man is Almanzo’s very lifestyle. While Almanzo’s older brother Royal decides that he wants to be a storekeeper, Almanzo chooses to pursue the life of a farmer. At the end of Farmer Boy, he explicitly chooses this lifestyle over the life of a wheelwright’s apprentice. As Almanzo’s father says in the final pages of Farmer Boy, “[As a farmer, y]ou work hard, but you work as you please, and no man can tell you to go or come. You’ll be free and independent, son, on a farm.” This is the life that Almanzo chooses when he says definitively, “I want a colt.” In response to this, Almanzo’s father gives him the colt Starlight to train, allowing Almanzo to start off his own career as an independent farming man.
Ten years later, we see that Almanzo has definitely been pursuing his childhood dream of being a farmer. Now, he has his own homestead, and he has continued to train horses—similarly to how he once trained the young oxen, Star and Bright and later the colt Starlight. In Little Town on the Prairie, the townspeople of De Smet even say that he has the “best team in the country.” When Pa Ingalls declares that “[Almanzo] has it coming to him…. That young man knows how to handle horses,” it becomes completely obvious to us readers that the young Almanzo of the early books has achieved his dream of becoming an independent farmer and horse trainer. This certainly is the same character we once met way back in Malone, New York.
His early training to become the independent, farming, and horse-taming type also led to a number of qualities in Almanzo’s young self that Laura would incorporate into the later books. And one of these qualities would play a big role in his courtship of the young Miss Laura Ingalls.
Come back later for more on the Almanzo of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series!