I was talking with Hillary Corbett a couple of weeks ago about the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, which I am rereading with my 10-year old. I mentioned how well they are holding up over time, and Hillary observed that you see different things in them when you read them as adults. Little incongruities raise new questions, some of the events have a different cast once you’ve taken a few history classes.
For me, what I notice is what a real character Pa is. Clearly Ingalls wanted to honor him, and I can understand that. For example, he is an incredible carpenter with skills ranging from being able to build a log cabin to being able to carve a delicate wall bracket. Second, he’s a musician with hundreds of songs in his repertoire. Third, he obviously has a sixth sense about how to communicate without words, with animals and with Native Americans. But there’s a little dark side, too, he’s really restless and can’t seem to stay in one place more than a couple of years, even at the expense of his family’s comfort and prosperity he seems very impulsive about moving around. Ma clearly doesn’t like it but she always just goes along, which really bugs me, too.
Hillary said she’s curious about Dr. Tan in Little House on the Prairie. He’s the first black man Laura sees, and he is said to be “a doctor with the Indians.” What’s up with that? Were the Osage in the practice of hiring African Americans to provide them with healthcare? Was it a government program? And has anyone researched him as a person?
Here’s my burning question: why did Pa go to Osage territory? Who is “a man in Washington” who told him it would be OK to settle there, which it clearly wasn’t. Did he feel guilty when he realized that the government was going to honor its Indian treaty, is that why he was so anxious to leave even before the soldiers came to resettle them?
There are a LOT of web sites about the little house books, here are two I found in which the authors appear to know what they’re talking about:
http://www.pioneergirl.com (click on “my blog” at the bottom)
http://extras.denverpost.com/books/chap141.htm (an excerpt from Miller’s “Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder” )
About Dr. Tan–turns out he’s really Dr. George Tann and is buried in the Mt. Hope Cemetary in Independence.