Dakota Gatorade

Haymaker’s Punch, Switchel, or Ginger Water?Perhaps we of the 21st century would liken it to Gatorade, Dakota-Style. I’ve tried it many times in many recipes. It’s a startlingly pleasant yet curious concoction which some might call “an acquired taste.” 

Call it what you will, but here’s a little background on this go-to refreshment for hardworking farmers in the heat of summer. Just ignore the part of the article that tries to claim no one had ice.If the events in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s FARMER BOY are any indication, I think those “Wilder boys” would vehemently disagree: 


http://www.free-times.com/restaurants/switchel-up-your-summer-sips-052516

Context is Crucial, Part ONE

Pardon my snark. But this kind of stuff comes up a LOT in the world of LIW fandom, and I feel it necessary to address the topic.

A blogger, identity unknown to me, wrote a piece which excoriates LIW’s parents and accuses them of virtually “pimping” their second daughter to work outside the home in various capacities for the sole benefit of alleviating their (as the blogger perceives it) financial ineptitude. Further, she charges that in so doing, the Ingalls family de-prioritized Laura’s education in favor of Mary’s. I smell trouble. In the form of a woefully uninformed opinion being asserted as fact. And then some. Here is the blog entry, with my comments, below:

http://littlehousediscussion.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-pimping-of-laura-ingalls-wilder.html?m=1

Well, once again, a blogger with virtually zero understanding of the experiences of the vast majority of Americans during the late 19th century asks legitimate questions but then takes a little turn into indignant ranting as she spouts off with woefully uninformed and incomplete arguments. And does so by conflating LIW’s actual experiences with her fiction, then takes it all out of context and flings blame all over the place.

Um, people work. And many, many children, even today, start earning money as pre-teens. Speaking from personal experience, some of us had to work at a young age to supplement our struggling parents’ income. Some of us also LIKED THE OPPORTUNITY TO EARN MONEY, even if we couldn’t turn around and spend our earnings frivolously. I can’t be the only kid who was thrilled to take home $5 or $10 an evening for a quick babysitting job and then save up for a new pair of shoes or the school field trip that was beyond my parents’ budget otherwise!
Ingalls, Carrie, Mary, and Laura id126 LIWHA

Again, speaking from experience: Families rally around the person with the biggest perceived hardship. You do special crap for the person who has suffered the most. Mary didn’t “just” go blind. She was deathly ill and it almost killed her. At 14. That means she got a second chance. Should they have just stuck her in the rocking chair permanently? What, patient and studious, tougher-than-meningoencephalitis Mary wasn’t deserving of some book-larnin’? She couldn’t attend regular school. And she had few prospects of a life remotely “normal” for the time. Of course giving her an opportunity for some better education was a priority! Besides, “College” education at the time was not what it is today. She wasn’t going to Oxford. She was going to a school focused heavily on practical skills and learning as much independence as possible. Mary’s education was similar to a modern high school education, with some voc tech, modified for visual impairments.

And Laura could have delayed marriage, if she had wanted to, don’t you think? Maybe she didn’t think it was practical. Maybe she wanted autonomy that she perceived she would have with the dashing “old bachelor” who treated her well, handed her the reins, built her a customized home, and–this likely had some influence–came from a hard-working, financially-stable family which was considerably wealthier than hers. She probably didn’t think it wise to pass up the opportunity to marry a really decent chap who came with those perks. Maybe she lamented her choices or even resented her parents at some point later. Or not. But I don’t think blaming Chaz & Co. gets us anywhere. Life in that era was HARD. And very, very few homesteaders succeeded in the eyes of anyone who didn’t live that life, too. Success is relative in any case, but not starving to death while facing the reality of that life was considered pretty successful by many Homesteaders. And a lot of them would have a thing or two to say to this blogger:

http://littlehousediscussion.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-pimping-of-laura-ingalls-wilder.html?m=1

Just How Cold Was It? 

17 February 1936: The coldest temperature recorded in South Dakota history. 58 degrees BELOW ZERO, at McIntosh, SD.
Author Laura Ingalls Wilder would, a few years later, immortalize a different weather system, known as the Hard Winter of 1880-1881, in her book, THE LONG WINTER. In that book and others, Dakota winters were described as experiencing temperatures in the -30s or -40s (Farenheit); sometimes, she said, the thermometer would simply freeze and no longer work at all.
In this age of central heating, snow tires, fiberglass insultion, Polartec  cold-weather gear, and satellite weather forecasting, extreme temperatures of that nature will still make us shudder. Imagine facing an air temperature of -58F  without our modern comforts, and compounded with the reality of food and fuel being in very short, often sporadic, supply. I’m willing to bet even the bison (what few remained on the High Plains at the time) felt their dense wooly coats weren’t quite adequate.

By the time of this 1936 event, Wilder had long since moved out of the state, but her sister Carrie (Ingalls) Swanzey was living 242 miles to the SW of McIntosh, in the somewhat milder Black Hills region at Keystone, South Dakota. I hear from the folks at the Keystone Historical Society that winter in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore is certainly snowy, and at times blustery, but nothing compared to the legendary whiteout blizzards of the Hard Winter. Perhaps someday this New Hampshire native (who’s shoveled a fair amount of snow and chipped countless inches of ice off her driveway over the years) will brave a little jaunt to Dakota in one of the months that ends in -uary. Maybe.

Stay warm!

Discovering Almanzo Wilder: Rachel McMillan Guest Blogs

Newly-minted Laura fan Rachel McMillan guest posts on blog of longtime Laurati, Melanie J Fishbane. Obsession with the Manly One ensues:

Melanie J. Fishbane

Rachel McMillan and I met through social media. We’ve travelled in the same circles for a number of years, but didn’t physically meet until this past summer when I finally was like, “Dude, you write, I write. We like the same things. We should have food and drink together”–although I probably didn’t use “dude” but I’m sure she would approve.

Since then we’ve explored Niagara on the Lake, Leaskdale, and Norval, and talked about Maud, Dean Priest, and–yes–Almanzo Wilder. Watching Rachel discuss re-reading the Little House series on Facebook and then falling in love with Almanzo Wilder was not only delightful, it also reminded me of my past posts on the subject and what I hope to discuss this summer in Laurapalooza (if they love my proposal enough and if the money all comes together.)

daisy and rachelRachel  works in Educational publishing in Toronto. She is an aspiring author and spends a lot of…

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130 Years Ago Today: Almanzo Wilder’s Homestead Proof, 12 September 1884.

Here’s a little something pleasant for your perusal this fine, but chilly, September morning:

Almanzo James Wilder’s Homestead Proof, testimony dated exactly 130 years ago, 12 September 1884.

A.J. Sheldon, a nearby neighbor, sets his hand to testify on “our” A.J. Wilder’s behalf that, indeed, he is qualified, being a citizen of the U.S., over the age of 21, who has never made a previous homestead entry (at least, not to conclusion) and kept continuous residence on this section of land (NE 21-111-56), with a dwelling:

“about 12 ft. square, 2 doors, 3 windows. Stable. frame. Well of water. cellar. acres broken & cultivated. some trees. Value at least $300.00.”

You see, early this morning, I received a Google alert from New Zealand, which looked like this: http://foreignaffairs.co.nz/2014/09/12/homestead-testimony-of-almanzo-wilder/

Unfortunately, the link didn’t want to load all the images, so while the description was intact, the actual document was not in view.

But, with a little hunting and pecking, the National Archives record (National Archives Identifier: 595419) came up rather quickly, because I know you want to SEE it…with the original handwriting, syntax, capitalization, punctuation, and signatures intact…

http://research.archives.gov/description/595419

07135_2003_001.tif

Let’s note a few details, shall we?

Since the Homestead Act of 1862 required that the claimant remain in continuous residence for six months out of each year for five years, Sheldon’s purpose as witness to Wilder’s claim was to testify that Wilder had indeed fulfilled the various stipulations of the Act, prior to receiving his patent (deed) to the land. It was also required that the land be “improved,” i.e. cultivated, and that no evidence of precious minerals, oil, or the like, was present. The witness had to be someone living nearby to the claimant, so as to be a reliable authority on the claimant’s, er, claims. That witness also needed to swear his own statements were true, and that he did not hold a personal stake in the claimant’s success. Like Wilder, Sheldon also was a farmer, and one whose statements appear to be articulate as well as thoughtful. A reliable fellow for the task at hand, Sheldon supported all of the necessary requirements for Wilder. To wit:

Sheldon lists his own address as SW 10-111-56 (that is, SW quarter of Section 10, Township 111, Range 56), putting him within an easy distance of Wilder’s homestead. He states he is “well acquainted with Almanzo J Wilder, the claimant…“for about 5 yrs. he had taken his land at Yankton about 3 weeks before I met him.” 

He further attests Wilder “was temporarily absent at times working on the R.R. and visiting in Minn. not more than about 2 months at a time.”  

and:

“crops on (in?) past 4 years. breaking 5 yrs. acre(s) cultivated. about 20 acres of wheat this year. 1884.”

The best part?  Sheldon’s answer to the following:

“Question 10. Are you interested in this claim, and do you think the settler has acted in entire good faith in perfecting this entry?”  

“no. nor am I in any way related to claimant. think he has acted in good faith. AJ Sheldon”

A good neighbor. I’m sure Almanzo was relieved to get that little detail squared away. Because our man had some serious courting to get to! And, while we know that Miss Laura E. Ingalls would soon become Mrs. A.J. Wilder (“Bessie” as our man of the hour called her), I bet fellow researcher Nancy Cleaveland* could tell us all about helpful Mr. A. J. Sheldon’s own property, his place and family of origin, his own homestead, and what he did with the rest of his life. Probably, she has a photo of him somewhere, I reckon. Except, “I wouldn’t bet on a woman.” Wouldn’t be proper.

Finally, while that little house and its builder are both long gone, Kingsbury County still holds a great deal of charm for the visitor who revels in a hot Dakota summer. Here’s what the property looked like just a couple of years ago on a stunning Sunday afternoon:

DSCN2232

Nice warm thought on a not-so-warm morning. You’re welcome.

_____

*She’s reliably the most likely person to have researched him, simply because no one, and I mean no one, has spent more time squirreling out the nitty-gritty details of every soul who once settled in Kingsbury County. I say that with the utmost respect. NC is my research hero. And a generous friend, to boot.