Jack, the family’s loyal bulldog, was a big part of Laura’s books. He has a chapter dedicated to him in By the Shores of Silver Lake, describing his final days. Jack passing away symbolized Laura growing up. Her childhood friend was no longer there and she realized the days of her youth were behind her. Laura was no longer a child, but a young woman who had a lot of responsibilities. A lot of readers do not realize the true story of Jack. The books, T.V. Show, and reality all tell a different story. Keep reading to learn about the differences between the three.
In Laura’s first three books Jack plays a big role. In Little House in the Big Woods, Jack is introduced as the “brindle bulldog” that guards the family when he thinks they’re in danger. He always growls when he hears a sound, plays with Laura and Mary, and makes sure the family is safe and sound. In Little House on the Prairie, Laura wants to let Jack go when Indians come to the family home. Pa had tied him to the stable while he went hunting and told the girls not to let him go under any circumstances. Laura tells Mary, “Jack won’t let them hurt us. We’ll be safe if we stay close to Jack” (Little House on the Prairie 135). Mary refuses to let Laura untie him, telling her Pa told them not to. Jack became more of a guard dog in this book simply because he was not used to Indians. He even barked at Mr. Edwards and trapped him up on the woodpile. These details show how protective he was of the family. In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura and her loyal sidekick do a lot of different things together. They explore the grasshoppers, help Pa drive the cattle, and play together in Plum Creek. Jack is not as tense in this book because the family is in a settled area with less dangers. In By the Shores of Silver Lake, Jack makes his last appearance. At the beginning of the novel we learn that Mary has went blind. The whole family, except Pa and Laura, had just gotten over scarlet fever. For weeks Laura has been taking care of her family. She feels bad that she’s neglected Jack. Now older, he “did not frisk about, cocking his head and laughing, as he used to” (By the Shores of Silver Lake 8-9). Late one night she gives Jack a good supper and fixes his bed so it’s comfortable for him. Laura tells him how good of a dog he is and bids him goodnight. The next morning the family finds out that Jack passed away. They bury him by the path that he used to run down with Laura to go fetch the cows. The loyal and brindle bulldog’s passing signified the end of Laura’s childhood. She was no longer the little girl that waded in the creek with Jack. She was now the daughter that Ma depended on.
Jack’s story in the T.V. show is more similar to the books. He is present when the family leaves Wisconsin and trots under the wagon all the way to Kansas. There is a time when the family thinks Jack is lost. While crossing a river, the water current becomes to strong and Jack is dragged away from the family. Pa goes out to look for him later, but Laura is completely heartbroken when he returns empty handed. The family is reunited with him a few days later when they find him near their camp. Throughout the first four seasons of the show Jack appears in many episodes. We usually see him right behind Laura as she’s running to play or sitting by the front door guarding the family from harm. In season 1, he had a big episode titled The Raccoon. In this episode, Laura and Jack get attacked by their pet raccoon and Pa almost shoots Jack because he believes he has rabies. Luckily, he realizes that Jack is completely healthy and all is well. The episode titled Castoffs marks Jack’s last appearance in the show. He has fox tails in his ears and Laura puts off removing them, deciding to visit a friend in town. When she returns home she finds Jack dead in the barn. Laura is devastated and refuses to bond with a stray dog that Pa brings home later on. As time passes she eventually befriends the new dog and names him Bandit.
Laura took liberties with Jack’s story when she wrote her books. In real life, Jack’s fate is quite different than the one she told. In all actuality, the real Laura had no idea what happened to her loyal friend. In Pioneer Girl, many readers were surprised to find out that Jack did not go with the family after they left their home in Kansas. The family realized they were settled on Indian Territory and started making plans to return to Pepin, Wisconsin. The man Pa had sold their Pepin home to had not made payments on time, therefore, the land and house returned to Pa’s ownership. The family sadly packed up their belongings and said goodbye to Kansas. While the family was in Missouri, Pa traded the horses, Pet and Patty, for bigger horses. Laura remembered the trade in her original manuscript, Pioneer Girl, and wrote “Because Jack wanted to stay with Pet and Patty as he always did Pa gave him to the man who had them” (Pioneer Girl 22). Despite what she wrote, Jack did not make it to Walnut Grove, nor was he neglected when the family was sick. The chapter Laura wrote about Jack’s death was purely fiction. She used it as a way to mark Laura’s transition from childhood to adolescence. Many visitors that come to De Smet ask about Jack and are completely surprised by his true fate. We will never know what actually happened to the loyal watchdog that Laura loved so dearly.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls and Pamela Smith Hill. Pioneer Girl. Pierre, South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2014.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1935.
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. By the Shores of Silver Lake. New York, HarperCollins Publishers, 1939.