Almanzo: The Science of Horse-Training and Courtship

Last time, we discussed the story from Farmer Boy about Almanzo and the half-dollar. We explored the way that the lessons Almanzo learned through this episode would later influence his decision to venture out into the wintry Dakota prairies during the long winter of 1880 and 1881 to find the homesteader with the wheat. That very decision, however, also shows more of Almanzo’s qualities, including his perseverance and daring. These qualities of his first appear in the early tales of Almanzo.

Almanzo the Farmer

Almanzo driving his Morgan horses, Buck and Billy, at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri

In Farmer Boy, young Almanzo spends a lot of time with his young oxen, Star and Bright. In one chapter, he even daringly decides to hitch his sled behind the young animals to have them pull him and his friends through the snow. The experiment is a disaster, and the boys end up in a heap in the snow. But that upset doesn’t cause Almanzo to quit training his team.

Much later in the book, Almanzo hitches his team to his own bobsled and successfully drives them while hauling wood. Well, he’s successful only until the team starts falling into ditches full of snow. Even though the going is tough, Almanzo continues to persevere through the snowy mess. We are reminded of this instance of Almanzo’s early perseverance when, in The Long Winter, he and Cap have to repeatedly dig their horses and sleds out of the deep snow on the way to the homesteader’s place to fetch the wheat for the rest of the town.

There’s another time later on in his life when Almanzo yet again perseveres through the cold and the snow. In These Happy Golden Years, Almanzo comes twelve miles through the cold week by week to bring the young Miss Laura Ingalls home from the Brewster school. And he continues to do this even when Laura tells him that she doesn’t want to drive with him anymore after she’s done with the term. When he continues to come pick her up and bring her home anyway, Laura tells him that she didn’t think he would come after what she had said. In response, Almanzo protests, “What do you take me for? … Do you think I’m the kind of a fellow that’d leave you out there at Brewster’s when you’re so homesick, just because there’s nothing in it for me?”

And, with this story, we come to probably the most defining aspect of Almanzo’s character: his gentleness and patience. Ever since he first began training his young team of oxen, Almanzo has known that teaching young, spirited animals to love and trust you won’t happen if you’re always angry, loud, and impatient. Rather, it calls for a certain quietness and slowness. From his first interaction with Laura to the moment he asks for her hand in marriage, Almanzo proceeds slowly and patiently, giving her time to learn that she can trust him and love him. Even though she doesn’t seem to think much of him at first, by the end of These Happy Golden Years, Laura is convinced that she and Almanzo “belong together.” Who knows if she ever would have realized that if Almanzo hadn’t known the importance of treading quietly.

So, there you have it. Through her incredible story-telling techniques, Laura the writer is able to successfully re-introduce her readers to Almanzo as a young man and make them confident that this young man is just a older version of the farmer boy whom we once knew and loved.

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One comment on “Almanzo: The Science of Horse-Training and Courtship

  1. Kara says:

    So true! What a lovely encapsulation of Almanzo!

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