Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks / Edition 1

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks / Edition 1

by Stephen W. Hines

Before Laura Ingalls Wilder found fame with her Little House books, she made a name for herself with short nonfiction pieces in magazines and newspapers. Read today, these pieces offer insight into her development as a writer and depict farm life in the Ozarks—and also show us a different Laura Ingalls Wilder from the woman we have come to know.



Before Laura Ingalls Wilder found fame with her Little House books, she made a name for herself with short nonfiction pieces in magazines and newspapers. Read today, these pieces offer insight into her development as a writer and depict farm life in the Ozarks—and also show us a different Laura Ingalls Wilder from the woman we have come to know.

            This volume collects essays by Wilder that originally appeared in the Missouri Ruralist between 1911 and 1924. Building on the initial compilation of these articles under the title Little House in the Ozarks, this revised edition marks a more comprehensive collection by adding forty-two additional Ruralist articles and restoring passages previously omitted from other articles.

            Writing as “Mrs. A. J. Wilder” about modern life in the early twentieth-century Ozarks, Laura lends her advice to women of her generation on such timeless issues as how to be an equal partner with their husbands, how to support the new freedoms they’d won with the right to vote, and how to maintain important family values in their changing world. Yet she also discusses such practical matters as how to raise chickens, save time on household tasks, and set aside time to relax now and then.

            New articles in this edition include “Making the Best of Things,” “Economy in Egg Production,” and “Spic, Span, and Beauty.” “Magic in Plain Foods” reflects her cosmopolitanism and willingness to take advantage of new technologies, while “San Marino Is Small but Mighty” reveals her social-political philosophy and her interest in cooperation and community as well as in individualism and freedom. Mrs. Wilder was firmly committed to living in the present while finding much strength in the values of her past.

            A substantial introduction by Stephen W. Hines places the essays in their biographical and historical context, showing how these pieces present Wilder’s unique perspective on life and politics during the World War I era while commenting on the challenges of surviving and thriving in the rustic Ozark hill country. The former little girl from the little house was entering a new world and wrestling with such issues as motor cars and new “labor-saving” devices, but she still knew how to build a model small farm and how to get the most out of a dollar.

            Together, these essays lend more insight into Wilder than do even her novels and show that, while technology may have improved since she wrote them, the key to the good life hasn’t changed much in almost a century. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist distills the essence of her pioneer heritage and will delight fans of her later work as it sheds new light on a vanished era.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“These writings provide a unique window into the thoughts and writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder, showing a side of her that many are unaware of.”—John E. Miller, author of Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder

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University of Missouri Press
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Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist

Writings from the Ozarks

By Stephen W. Hines

University of Missouri Press

Copyright © 2007 The Curators of the University of Missouri
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8262-6615-6



Favors the Small Farm Home

It Lessens the Investment, Improves Country Social Conditions, Makes the Owner More Independent of Poor Help, Promotes Better Farming Methods and Reduces the Labor of Housekeeping February 18, 1911

There is a movement in the United States today, wide-spread and very far-reaching in its consequences. People are seeking after a freer, healthier, happier life. They are tired of the noise and dirt, bad air and crowds of the cities and are turning longing eyes toward the green slopes, wooded hills, pure running water and health giving breezes of the country.

A great many of these people are discouraged by the amount of capital required to buy a farm and hesitate at the thought of undertaking a new business. But there is no need to buy a large farm. A small farm will bring in a good living with less work and worry and the business is not hard to learn.

In a settlement of small farms the social life can be much pleasanter than on large farms, where the distance to the nearest neighbor is so great. Fifteen or twenty families on five-acre farms will be near enough together to have pleasant social gatherings in the evenings. The women can have their embroidery clubs, their reading club and even the children can have their little parties, without much trouble or loss of time. This could not be done if each family lived on a 100 or 200-acre farm. There is less hired help required on the small farm also, and this makes the work in the house lighter.

I am an advocate of the small farm and I want to tell you how an ideal home can be made on, and a good living made from, five acres of land.

Whenever a woman's home-making is spoken of, the man in the case is presupposed and the woman's home-making is expected to consist in keeping the house clean and serving good meals on time, etc. In short, that all of her home-making should be inside the house. It takes more than the inside of the house to make a pleasant home and women are capable of making the whole home, outside and in, if necessary. She can do so to perfection on a five-acre farm by hireing some of the outside work done.

However, our ideal home should be made by a man and a woman together. First, I want to say that a five-acre farm is large enough for the support of a family. From $75 to $150 a month, besides a great part of the living can be made on that size farm from poultry or fruit or a combination of poultry, fruit and dairy.

This has been proved by actual experience so that the financial part of this small home is provided for.

Conditions have changed so much in the country within the last few years that we country women have no need to envy our sisters in the city. We women on the farm no longer expect to work as our grandmothers did.

With the high prices to be had for all kinds of timber and wood we now do not have to burn wood to save the expense of fuel, but can have our oil stove, which makes the work so much cooler in the summer, so much lighter and cleaner. There need be no carrying in of wood and carrying out of ashes, with the attendant dirt, dust and disorder.

Our cream separator saves us hours formerly spent in setting and skimming milk and washing pans, besides saving the large amount of cream that was lost in the old way.

Then there is the gasoline engine. Bless it! Besides doing the work of a hired man outside, it can be made to do the pumping of the water and the churning, turn the washing machine and even run the sewing machine.

On many farms running water can be supplied in the house from springs by means of rams or air pumps and I know of two places where water is piped into and through the house from springs farther up on the hills. This water is brought down by gravity alone and the only expense is the pipeing. There are many such places in the Ozark hills waiting to be taken advantage of.

This, you see, supplies water works for the kitchen and bath room simply for the initial cost of putting in the pipes. In one farm home I know, where there are no springs to pipe the water from, there is a deep well and a pump just outside the kitchen door. From this a pipe runs into a tank in the kitchenand from this tank there are two pipes. One runs into the cellar and the other underground to a tank in the barnyard, which is of course much lower than the one in the kitchen.

When water is wanted down cellar to keep the cream and butter cool a cork is pulled from the cellar pipe by means of a little chain and by simply pumping the pump out doors, cold water runs into the vat in the cellar. The water already there rises and runs out at the overflow pipe through the cellar and out at the cellar drain.

When the stock at the barn need watering, the cork is pulled from the other pipe and the water flows from the tank in the kitchen into the tank in the yard. And always the tank in the kitchen is full of fresh, cold water, because this other water all runs through it. This is a simple, inexpensive contrivance for use on a place where there is no running water.

It used to be that the woman on a farm was isolated and behind the times. A weekly paper was what the farmer read and he had to go to town to get that. All this is changed. Now the rural delivery brings us our daily papers and we keep up on the news of the world as well or better than though we lived in the city. The telephone gives us connection with the outside world at all times and we know what is going on in our nearest town by many a pleasant chat with our friends there.

Circulating libraries, thanks to our state university, are scattered through the rural districts and we are eagerly taking advantage of them.

The interurban trolly lines being built throughout our country will make it increasingly easy for us to run into town for an afternoon's shopping or any other pleasure. These trolly lines are and more will be, operated by electricity, furnished by our swift running streams, and in a few years our country homes will be lighted by this same electric power.

Yes indeed, things have changed in the country and we have the advantages of city life if we care to take them. Besides we have what it is impossible for the woman in the city to have. We have a whole five acres for our back yard and all out doors for our conservatory, filled not only with beautiful flowers, but with grand old trees as well, with running water and beautiful birds, with sunshine and fresh air and all wild, free, beautiful things.

The children, instead of playing with other children in some street or alley can go make friends with the birds, on their nests in the bushes, as my little girl used to do, until the birds are so tame they will not fly at their approach. They can gather berries in the garden and nuts in the woods and grow strong and healthy, with rosy cheeks and bright eyes. This little farm home is a delightful place for friends to come for afternoon tea under the trees. There is room for a tennis court for the young people. There are skating parties in the winter and the sewing and reading clubs of the nearby towns, as well as the neighbor women, are always anxious for an invitation to hold their meetings there.

In conclusion I must say if there are any country women who are wasting their time envying their sisters in the city—don't do it. Such an attitude is out of date. Wake up to your opportunities. Look your place over and if you have not kept up with the modern improvements and conveniences in your home, bring yourself up to date. Then take the time saved from bringing water from the spring, setting the milk in the old way and churning by hand, to build yourself a better social life. If you don't take a daily paper subscribe for one. They are not expensive and are well worth the price in the brightening they will give your mind and in the pleasant evenings you can have reading and discussing the news of the world. Take advantage of the circulating library. Make your little farm home noted for its hospitality and the social times you have there. Keep up with the march of progress for the time is coming when the cities will be the workshops of the world and abandoned to the workers, while the real cultured, social, and intellectual life will be in the country.

    The People in God's Out-of-Doors

    April 15, 1911

    I love to listen to the bird songs every day
    And hear the free winds whisper in their play,
    Among the tall old trees and sweet wild flowers.
    I love to watch the little brook
    That gushes from its cool and rocky bed
    Deep in the earth. The sky is blue o'er head
    And sunbeams dance upon its tiny rivulete.
    I love the timid things
    That gather round the little watercourse,
    To listen to the frogs with voices hoarse,
    And see the squirrels leap and bound at play.
    Then, too, I love to hear
    The loud clear whistle of the pretty quail,
    To see the chipmunk flirt his saucy tail,
    Then peep from out his home within the tree.
    I love to watch the busy bees,
    To see the rabbit scurry in the brush,
    Or sit when falls the dewy evening's hush
    And listen to the sad-voiced whippoorwill.

    From Mrs. Wilder's Nature Songs

The Story of Rocky Ridge Farm

How Mother Nature in the Ozarks Rewarded Well Directed Efforts after a Fruitless Struggle on the Plains of the Dakotas. The Blessings of Living Water and a Gentle Climate July 22, 1911

Editor's Note:—Among the stories received in the course of our farm home story contest, the following came from Mr. Wilder, with the request that it be published, if worthy, but that it be not considered an entrant for any prize. We certainly consider it worthy—one of the most helpful and interesting— and believe all contributors to this feature will approve of our giving it good position on this page since we cannot give it a prize. The list of winners will be found on page 5.

To appreciate fully the reason why we named our place Rocky Ridge Farm, it should have been seen at the time of the christening. To begin with it was not bottom land nor by any stretch of the imagination could it have been called second bottom. It was, and is, uncompromisingly ridge land, on the very tip top of the ridge at that, within a very few miles of the highest point in the Ozarks. And rocky—it certainly was rocky when it was named, although strangers coming to the place now, say "but why do you call it Rocky Ridge?"

The place looked unpromising enough when we first saw it, not only one but several ridges rolling in every direction and covered with rocks and brush and timber. Perhaps it looked worse to me because I had just left the prairies of South Dakota where the land is easily farmed. I had been orderedsouth because those prairies had robbed me of my health and I was glad to leave them for they had also robbed me of nearly everything I owned, by continual crop failures. Still coming from such a smooth country the place looked so rough to me that I hesitated to buy it. But wife had taken a violent fancy to this particular piece of land, saying if she could not have it, she did not want any because it could be made into such a pretty place. It needed the eye of faith, however, to see that in time it could be made very beautiful.

So we bought Rocky Ridge Farm and went to work. We had to put a mortgage on it of $200, and had very little except our bare hands with which to pay it off, improve the farm and make our living while we did it. It speaks well for the farm, rough and rocky as it was that my wife and myself with my broken health were able to do all this.

A flock of hens—by the way, there is no better place in the country for raising poultry than right here—a flock of hens and the wood we cleared from the land bought our groceries and clothing. The timber on the place also made rails to fence it and furnished the materials for a large log barn.

At the time I bought it there were on the place four acres cleared and a small log house with a fire place and no windows. These were practically all the improvements and there was not grass enough growing on the whole forty acres to keep a cow. The four acres cleared had been set out to apple trees and enough trees to set twenty acres more were in nursery rows near the house. The land on which to set them was not even cleared of the timber. Luckily I had bought the place before any serious damage had been done to the fine timber around the building site, although the start had been made to cut it down.

It was hard work and sometimes short rations at the first, but gradually the difficulties were overcome. Land was cleared and prepared, by heroic effort, in time to set out all the apple trees and in a few years the orchard came into bearing. Fields were cleared and brought to a good state of fertility. The timber around the buildings was thinned out enough so that grass would grow between the trees, and each tree would grow in good shape, which has made a beautiful park of the grounds. The rocks have been picked up and grass seed sown so that the pastures and meadows are in fine condition and support quite a little herd of cows, for grass grows remarkably well on "Rocky Ridge" when the timber is cleared away to give it a chance. This good grass and clear spring water make it an ideal dairy farm.

Sixty acres more have been bought and paid for, which added to the original forty makes a farm of one hundred acres. There is no waste land on the farm except a wood lot which we have decided to leave permanently for the timber. Perhaps we have not made so much money as farmers in a more level country, but neither have we been obliged to spend so much for expenses and as the net profit is what counts at the end of the year, I am not afraid to compare the results for a term of years with farms of the same size in a more level country.

Our little Rocky Ridge Farm has supplied everything necessary for a good living and given us good interest on all the money invested every year since the first two. No year has it fallen below ten per cent and one extra good year it paid 100 per cent. Besides this it has doubled in value, and $3,000 more, since it was bought.

We are not by any means through with making improvements on Rocky Ridge Farm. There are on the place five springs of running water which never fail even in the dryest season. Some of these springs are so situated that by building a dam below them, a lake of three acres, twenty feet deep in places will be near the house. Another small lake can be made in the same way in the duck pasture and these are planned for the near future. But the first thing on the improvement program is building a cement tank as a reservoir around a spring which is higher than the buildings. Water from this tank will be piped down and supply water in the house and barn and in the poultry yards.

When I look around the farm now and see the smooth, green, rolling meadows and pastures, the good fields of corn and wheat and oats; when I see the orchard and strawberry field like huge bouquets in the spring or full of fruit later in the season; when I see the grape vines hanging full of lucious grapes, I can hardly bring back to my mind the rough, rocky, brushy, ugly place that we first called Rocky Ridge Farm. The name given it then serves to remind us of the battles we have fought and won and gives a touch of sentiment and an added value to the place.

In conclusion, I am going to quote from a little gift book which my wife sent out to a few friends last Christmas:

"Just come and visit Rocky Ridge,
Please grant us our request,
We'll give you all a jolly time—
Welcome the coming; speed the parting guest."

My Apple Orchard

How a "Tenderfoot" Knowing Nothing about Orcharding Learned the Business in Missouri—Quail as Insect Destroyers June 1, 1912

This week the Ruralist's front cover illustration shows a 12-year-old apple tree with Mr. Wilder, the writer of this article, standing beside it. There was gathered from this tree at one time 5 barrels of No. 1 and 3 barrels of No. 2 apples as a result of his cultural methods.—Editor

When I bought my farm in the fall, some years ago, there were 800 apple trees on it growing in nursery rows. Two hundred had been set out the spring before, in an old wornout field, where the land was so poor it would not raise a stalk of corn over 4 feet high. This field was all the land cleared on the place; the rest of the farm was covered with oak timber.

I have always thought it must have been a good agent who persuaded the man of whom I bought the place to mortgage it for 1,000 apple trees when the ground was not even cleared on which to set them. However he unloaded his blunder onto me and I knew nothing about an orchard; did not even know one apple from another. I did know though that apple trees, or indeed trees of any kind, could not be expected to thrive in land too poor to raise cornfodder, so whenever I made a trip to town, I brought back a load of wood ashes from the mill or a load of manure from the livery barn and put it around those trees that were already set out in the field.

I cleared enough land that winter on which to set out the trees from the nursery, broke it the next spring and put in the trees after I had worked it as smooth as I could. The trees already set out were 25 feet apart in the rows and 32 feet between the rows so I set the others the same way. I dug the holes for the trees large and deep, making the dirt fine in the bottom and mixing some wood ashes with it.


Excerpted from Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist by Stephen W. Hines. Copyright © 2007 The Curators of the University of Missouri. Excerpted by permission of University of Missouri Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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