I read the whole “Little House” series ( about a young midwestern girl in the late 1800’s) when I was a in elementary school. I decided to read The Long Winter again this year because it seemed fitting. It HAS been a long winter here in the midwest!
This is a tale of a family near starvation, of a town crippled by lack of food when blizzards keep the supply train from reaching the settlers.
The first blizzard hits unexpectedly in October 1880. (which is early for a blizzard by any standards) Anticipating a bad winter, the Ingalls family moves to De Smet, population 80, from their shanty a mile outside of town.
Blizzard after blizzard follows. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway, which serviced South Dakota and elsewhere across the Midwest, shuts down its supply trains in January as the snow piles too high for trains to pass through, at one point 12 feet in depth. Townspeople in De Smet carve tunnels to get from one building to the next.
By Christmas, the grocery store no longer has food and the family runs out of coal and kerosene. The Ingalls twist hay into sticks for fuel and switch to axle grease to light their home. “Winter had lasted so long that it seemed it would never really end. ” wrote Laura.
Then they run out of flour. To make bread, they grind wheat with a coffee mill. I have been wanting to start grinding my own wheat, but it is certainly a different thing when you HAVE to grind your own!
The family has to go down to two meals a day to save fuel. It is potatoes and sourdough bread that keep them going. It reminded me of the book Tobacco Road (where they eat nothing but turnips)
I can’t imagine living like that. I would like to think that I would have the same attitude as Laura did though. She was grateful for what they DID have.
These books were inspirational to me as a kid and I found the same is true for me as an adult. Maybe even more so.
The REAL Ingalls family