A Search for the “Lost” Birthdays

To celebrate our dear Laura’s 150th birthday, we’ve spent the past few posts talking about the different birthday celebrations that Laura took part in. We even took a moment to compare Laura’s birthdays with Almanzo’s ninth birthday talked about in Farmer Boy.

When I first started working on this series of blog posts, I assumed that I would need nine blog posts to talk about the birthdays described in each of the nine Little House books. I wrote the one about Laura’s Big Woods birthday, and then I moved on to Almanzo’s birthday described in Farmer Boy. When I picked up Little House on the Prairie to find Laura’s next birthday celebration, however, there was nothing to be found. It turns out that Laura’s birthday is not even mentioned in that book. That’s when I realized that her birthday celebrations never even come up as major topics in the later books. I thought, perhaps, there was nothing more to say on the topic.

Then I got curious. What was going on in Laura’s life around the time of her unmentioned birthdays each year? Is there any mention of her missing birthdays in her autobiography, Pioneer Girl? I decided to find myself some answers. And so the research continued.

Over the next few posts, I’ll be sharing with you some of the stuff I found.

A Birthday On the Road

wagon

The Society’s “new” 1880-1890 prairie schooner. This wagon looks similar to what the Ingalls family would have used to travel in.

The covered wagon that Laura and her family traveled in likely looked much like the wagon in this picture.

Since we know that Laura’s birthday is in February, locating the time of year for her birthday is actually pretty simple since it generally comes soon after the chapters about Christmas. When there’s no such Christmas context available, you just have to keep your eye out for descriptions of late winter.

Little House on the Prairie starts in late winter, when Pa, Ma, and the girls pack up their things into the covered wagon and take off for the west. They leave this time of year so that they can cross Lake Pepin on the ice. This means that Laura’s birthday probably would have come sometime around the beginning of their journey to Indian Territory in Kansas.

In fact, Wilder offers us her memories of her birthday “on the road” in her autobiography Pioneer Girl. The story of crossing the ice actually comes from her memories of traveling to Minnesota in 1874. She describes how she and her cousins all got scarlet fever in the late winter, right before her Pa and Uncle Peter had been planning to cross the lake and head west. Laura was the only one still sick when they finally ventured out on the frozen lake in their covered wagons (Pioneer Girl 55). After crossing the lake, they stayed in a little hotel in Lake City, Minnesota. It was in this hotel that Laura woke up on the morning of her birthday (59). She recalls how Pa had gone to town and bought her a “pretty little book of verses called ‘The Floweret'” (59). She was seven years old at this time.

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3 comments on “A Search for the “Lost” Birthdays

  1. Angel Chivers says:

    Thankyou Leah – really interesting

  2. Connie Ryle Neumann says:

    Laura mentions that same little book in a letter hidden in the archives of Denver Public Library, dated April 29, 1948. In response to the children’s librarian’s request for favorite childhood book memories, she wrote:
    “My father gave me a little book of verses called ‘The Floweret’ in 1872. It was published by Lee and Shepard in Boston. I still have the little book, but of course it is long since forgotten by others.”
    Laura would have been 5 years old in 1872 although she doesn’t mention the birthday. This letter is also included in “The Selected Letters of LIW” by William Anderson.
    Now my question is: Where is the copy of “The Floweret” that Laura said she still had in 1948? Hopefully it’s hidden in the archives at Rocky Ridge!

  3. Sue says:

    I just finished watching the pilot episode for Little House On The Prairie where the family is leaving Wisconsin in the winter on their way to Kansas. I watch the show everyday!!!

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