What Jenny's Reading

{March 22, 2015}   Pioneer Girl, Pt 4: Pa Ditches His Lease and You Can Buy a Wife in the Newspaper! (But Don’t.)

Happy Sunday!  I was super lazy all day yesterday and got almost nothing done, so I’m going to be running around like a crazy person all day today.  Here’s the next part of Pioneer Girl before I commence the madness:

Okay, now they’re in Iowa, not South Dakota. They are living at and maybe working in a hotel? Well, the girls are going to school. The teacher lived in the hotel and was younger, about twenty-one. There’s a story about how a bunch of the older boys would go in sometimes and cause a ruckus, and how everyone thought Reed, the teacher, wouldn’t be back the next fall. But Reed proved them wrong I guess, he spanked those jackass kids to teach them who’s boss. This reminds me a little of the story in Farmer Boy, about the nice teacher and the whip. I wonder if this is the inspiration for that story, or if teachers were always this badass with their awful students.

The people who owned the hotel, the Steadmans, had two awful boys that Laura and Mary disliked. Sounds like they were crappy kids and bad playmates. Mrs. Steadman was all, oh, if you watch the younger boy, I’ll buy you girls something lovely for Christmas! So they did it. And then the bitch didn’t fulfill her end of the bargain! Lady, that’s an oral contract, and you’re liable for that shit. You’re lucky that the girls were minors, and also, that you are dead. I hope you ended up paying for that evil transgression many times over in your life.

Yeah, that may seem harsh, but at the beginning of the chapter, Laura tells us that she was constantly hitting and shaking her baby. So she was a shitty person all around, and I stand by my opinion.

Then they all go the measles, but is that even noteworthy at this point? I mean, of fucking course they got the measles. Was there plague in the US at the time? Probably not, because they would’ve gotten that too I think.

Other things happen too, like the time the saloon almost burned down because some idiot was trying to pump water into a bottomless bucket (literally), and another man who Pa stopped from just randomly dragging his poor wife around by the hair while he lit things on fire with kerosene. But honestly, is any of this surprising?

Also I’m a little disappointed that so far no one’s talked about how they use the bathroom. I’ve said it before a lot of times, but I’m super curious about that one. What can I say? I drink a lot of water.

Oh, and then Laura tells us about a “dreadful thing.” This is a story about a girl’s boyfriend who was passed out drunk for maybe days (unlikely) and then came to, ordering one for the road. Then he lit a cigar and put it in his mouth before he’d swallowed the drink, and the alcohol ignited from the flame, burning his lungs and he died immediately. HOLY. SHIT. They should talk about this in those damn truth.com ads.

Little Grace was born during this time. Laura had trouble with her multiplication tables and stayed home to help Ma with the baby. Man, I feel you here again, Laura. Multiplication is the worst. Well, no, that’s wrong. Algebra is the fucking worst.

Some doctor and his wife try to buy Laura and apparently make her into their little servant, but Ma refuses. This is weird. Why would people think this is okay, to buy other peoples’ children? Laura was like nine years old here, maybe younger. Fuck you, doctor and wife.

The family moves again, heading further West. Pa goes to essentially break the lease with their landlord, and asks if he’ll allow them to pay what they owe in installments (I think). The landlord’s all, no, if you won’t pay me, I’ll just take your horses and sell them for the rent. This sort of makes sense. After all, there weren’t really bill collectors back then, were there? Or good ways to track people? How would this landlord know he’d be paid if he agreed? Well, that pissed Pa off, and he was all, oh, I always pay what I owe, except he wasn’t going to pay a “rich old skinflint.”


Maybe the guy was unreasonable. But I mean, you did take the lease and agree to pay, right? And now you just want to move, not because of trouble or anything but pretty much because you’re bored, and if you paid your bills you wouldn’t be able to. So okay then. They sneak out in the middle of the night. Shady, Pa. Super shady.

They go to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. I thought that’s where Plum Creek was? Did they go back to that godforsaken place? Maybe that was Iowa. Who knows? Anyway, they live with friends awhile, which is nice for them, and Pa works in town at a store. That is not much different than what he was doing before, so I don’t know why going west was so much better. Because they’re not in debt here, maybe?

These real townsfolk know just as much about having a good time as the fictional townsfolk did, though. Laura tells us that she was the best speller in school, and was very proud of this, and that one Friday night they had a spelling school for everyone to come and see.

No, they had lived there before. But I don’t think this was Plum Creek again? It’s so confusing, honestly. They traveled so many places! I need a good timeline of where they were living when.


Anyway. Some crybaby boy wants Laura to promise to marry him when they’re older, and she thinks about it seriously (as you do when you’re nine), but when the boy catches her playing with another boy (not a euphemism), he cries and Laura tells him she’d never marry him. Yeah, wait for your frost demigod, Laura. Don’t settle for this loser.

Now we meet the second of Laura’s three rivals, Genevieve Masters. Interestingly, the description of her sounds a lot like the young Nellie Oleson we met in the books. She’s haughty and looks down on “westerners” because she came from New York, was dressed nicer than everyone else, and cried (or sniveled, Laura says) when she didn’t get her way. But! Nellie Owens is here, too! Two Regina Georges in one place? It’s a wonder Walnut Grove didn’t implode with the force of an atomic bomb.

Or maybe not, as Laura tells us that the schoolgirls were all divided between Genevieve and Nellie, as both girls were leaders, but Laura refused to play along with that and suddenly ended up the leader of them all! Ha! Maybe Laura’s the real Regina George here? Genevieve invites her to eat cookies and Nellie gives her a pretty ring.

Genevieve apparently lives in Laura’s old house, where they’d lived originally. Not the dugout, I think the house Pa built. You remember, the grasshopper house. That must’ve been so weird for Laura, to go back to her old house, especially since that’s where her little brother died. I’ve never been back to a house I lived in, at least not inside. I think that would feel really strange, like sorting through clothes you wore when you were younger.

There was a summertime picnic, with lemonade and ice cream, except nobody told them the lemonade and ice cream cost money, so the girls didn’t get any. But Laura was okay with that, since Ma had brought her some lemon pie. But then it wasn’t in the basket, because Laura’s rotten teachers STOLE IT, THOSE BITCHES. Yes, that happened. Laura didn’t call them out, either, even though she saw them with it, because I guess you aren’t supposed to question your elders. Fuck that.

Laura’s telling this story from the perspective of a child, which makes sense as these are her recollections from her childhood. So sadly we only get bits and pieces of what are probably more interesting stories: Fanny and Matie, the girls who quarreled over Dr. Hoyt, and the Welches. This one is pretty interesting but we don’t get much of it at all: Mrs. Welch and her husband lived in Walnut Grove, and she asked her nephew to come work on their farm and live with them. Then her nephew’s parents came to visit, and Mrs. Welch kept persuading them to stay longer and longer, until finally when they were ready to go home they discovered they had no home to go to. They’d had a claim in New York, a nice place, that they’d mortgaged and as a caveat weren’t allowed to move away from it longer than six months. They’d been in Walnut Grove at this point longer than the six months, so the note was called in.

Laura tells us this story because she saw the signing of the deed, since at that point Pa was the justice of the peace for the town. I don’t know who decided Pa was the best person to make decisions on laws for other people, but whatever, that’s another story. Anyway, so Laura sees Mrs. Welch, Mr. Welch, and the Rays, who are the former owners of the property, come to sign the deed. Turns out that Mrs. Welch had secretly mortgaged the Rays’ property and prevented them from going back before their six months was up (the Homestead Act required that homesteaders not leave their claims for longer than six months at a time, or they’d be potentially subject to foreclosure). This is all because Mrs. Ray, Mrs. Welch’s sister, married the man that Mrs. Welch really wanted to marry.

I had to read this anecdote three times before I understood what happened there. I kept thinking first that the Rays were Mr. Welch’s parents, and then I thought they might’ve been Mrs. Welch’s parents, but I guess Mrs. Ray was the sister, and Mr. Ray was the man they’d apparently fought about. Wow. What a story of revenge, even if it makes Mrs. Welch seem like a genuine crazy person.

Oh, by the way, the reason Mrs. Welch was married was her husband had advertised in a newspaper for a wife. Who knew there was a pioneer version of eHarmony or Match.com?


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