Navigation Menu+


1. An animal of the genus Bos, especially the common species, B. taurus, including the bull, cow, and ox, in their full-grown state. The flesh of an ox, bull, or cow, or of the bovine animals generally, when killed. In this, which is the original sense, the word has a plural, beeves. 2. The flesh of an ox, bull, or cow, or of bovine animals generally, when killed. In this sense, the word has no plural. — Webster, 1882

Pierson says he bought the finest bunch of fat cattle, this week, ever brought into Kingsbury county. He bought them of A.S. Mitchell of Volga, and will serve them up to the beef-eaters of De Smet. – Kingsbury County News, July 13, 1888

Cooley and Garland started for Soo City, Tuesday, with two car loads of beef. – Kingsbury County News, June 1, 1888


Beef (cow), from Webster’s Dictionary, 1882. 1. neck; 2. shaking-piece; 3. chine; 4. ribs; 5. clod; 6. brisket; 7. flank; 8. loin; 9. rump;, 10. round; 11. leg; 12. foot; 13. udder; 14. shin; 15. shank.

In the Little House books, the Ingalls family rarely eats beef. In Little House on the Prairie (see Chapter 13, “Texas Longhorns”), Pa accepts a piece of beef as partial payment for helping the cowboys watch their herd while in the vicinity, and Laura delights in eating the “tough, juicy” steak Ma cooks in the fireplace. Whether Ma cooks the beef directly over the coals or in a cast iron pan is unclear. The next time the family eats beef is in The Long Winter (see Chapter 21, “The Hard Winter”), when Mr. Foster butchers one of his oxen and Pa pays a dollar for a four-pound roast. Ma sears the chunk of meat to seal in the juices and makes a pot-roast; she makes brown flour gravy and the roast lasts a whole week, “for flavoring at least.”

Although no beef is consumed by the family in On the Banks of Plum Creek, it is repeatedly mentioned as the gold standard of prosperity that a bumper crop of wheat will provide. There will be enough money to eat beef every Sunday. All dreams of wealth vanish when grasshoppers destroy the wheat. This is in contrast to well-to-do Wilders, who eat roast beef both summer and winter in Farmer Boy. Laura may have eaten beef more often than the two times Wilder mentions in her fiction. In a March 1937 letter to daughter Rose, written while the two were working on the Plum Creek manuscript, Laura wrote that when the family moved back to Walnut Grove after their time in Burr Oak, Pa worked for a while in a tiny butcher shop in town, and in a time before refrigeration and when ice wasn’t available, Pa would take some of the “last chance” meat (meaning it was about to spoil) in payment for his wages, so the family had plenty of meat. This may have included some beef.

Roast Beef. One very essential point in roasting beef is to have the oven well heated when the beef is put in; this causes the pores to close up quickly, and prevents the escape of the juices. / Take a rib piece or loin roast of seven or eight pounds. Wipe it thoroughly all over with a clean wet towel. Lay it in a dripping-pan, and baste it well with butter or suet fat. Set it in the oven. Baste it frequently with its own drippings, which will make it brown and tender. When partly done, season with salt and pepper, as it hardens any meat to salt it when raw, and draws out its juices, then dredge with sifted flour to give it a frothy appearance. It will take a roast of this size about two hours time to be properly done, leaving the inside a little rare or red–half an hour less would make the inside quite rare. Remove the beef to a heated dish, set it where it will keep hot; then skim the drippings from all fat, add a tablespoon of sifted flour, a little pepper and a teacupful of boiling water. Boil up at once and serve hot in a gravy boat. Some prefer the clear gravy without the thickening. — Fanny Lemira Gillette, White House Cook Book (Chicago: R.S. Peale & Co., 1887), 96-97.

Beefsteak. The first consideration in broiling is to have a clear, glowing bed of coals. The steak should be about three-quarters of an inch in thickness, and should be pounded only in extreme cases, i.e., when it is cut too thick and is “stringy.” Lay it on a buttered gridiron, turning it often, as it begins to drip, attempting nothing else while cooking it. Have everything else ready for the table; the potatoes and vegetables dished and in the warming closet. Do not season it until it is done, which will be in about ten to twelve minutes. Remove it to a warm platter, pepper and salt it on both sides and spread a liberal lump of butter over it. Serve at once while hot. No definite rule can be given as to the time of cooking stedk, individual tastes differ so widely in regard to it, some only liking it when well done, others so rare that the blood runs out of it. The best pieces for broiling are the porter-house and sirloin. — Fanny Lemira Gillette, White House Cook Book (Chicago: R.S. Peale & Co., 1887), 97.

Pot Roast. (Old Style) This is an old-fashioned dish, often cooked in our grandmothers’ time. Take a piece of fresh beef weighing about five or six pounds. It must not be too fat. Wash it and put it into a pot with barely sufficient water to cover it. Set it over a slow fire, and after it has stewed an hour salt and pepper it. then stew it slowly until tender, adding a little onion if liked. Do not replenish the water at the last, but let all nearly boil away. When tender all through take the meat from the pot, and pour the gravy in a bowl. Put a large lump of butter in the bottom of the pot, then dredge the piece of meat with flour, and return it to the pot to brown, turning it often to prevent its burning. Take the gravy that you have poured from the meat into the bowl, and skim off all the fat; pour this gravy in with the meat and stir in a large spoonful of flour; wet with a little water; let it boil up ten or fifteen minutes and pour into a gravy dish. Serve both hot, the meat on a platter. — Fanny Lemira Gillette, White House Cook Book (Chicago: R.S. Peale & Co., 1887), 98-99.


Twenty-five cents a pound. In Little Town on the Prairie, Pa sells the heifer to make some money to help send Mary to college. He says he ought to get “all of fifteen dollars” for the calf.

In The Long Winter, Pa doesn’t butcher his milk cow or the heifer calf, even when the family is down to eating only brown bread and precious little of that. Mr. Foster butchered his oxen, though, and he sold everything down to the gristle for twenty-five cents a pound.

Seems to me that if Charles Ingalls had butchered and sold even just the heifer calf during the Hard Winter, he could have made a lot more than the $15 he was excited to be making just a few months later. Sixty pounds of meat/gristle at 25 cents per pound is $15. A year old heifer is going to weigh, oh, at least 500 pounds, depending on its breed and what it’s been fed (precious little other than hay, in the case of Charles Ingalls’ heifer).

But think of the good gravy to go on the brown bread and how Carrie’s mouth watered at even the thought of beef! – From my old blog, dated April 16, 2006.

The cost of beef varies, of course, depending on quality and availability. It was quite the expense for the Ingalls family to pay 25 cents per pound for their 4-pound pot-roast during the Hard Winter, as this was over double the price of a fresh beef roast advertised in the Yankton Press and Daily Dakotaian before that winter. After the Hard Winter, Charles Ely wrote back to friends in Winona that during the winter blockade months, any available beef sold for from 20-25 cents per pound, eggs were a dollar a dozen, and pork and bacon cost 18-26 cents per pound. A Dakota correspondent to the Salt Lake City Tribune wrote that fresh beef was available longer than any other meat, but it, too, disappeared by mid-February. The Brookings County Press of May 5, 1881, reported that “several parties killed their last cow in order to live.”

A couple of later notices about beef in De Smet may be of interest. In February 1887, A.P. Aspinwall killed a beef cow and netted $38 after selling the quarters and hide. In the summer of 1889, Peirson and Cooley advertised “25 pounds of beef for one dollar” at their meat market.


Yearling. A young animal one year old, or in the second year of his age. — Webster, 1882

Although yearling beeves are mentioned as owned by the Wilders and seen by them at the County Fair, in Farmer Boy (see Chapter 22, “Fall of the Year”), Wilder writes that each year, Almanzo’s father kills a yearling beef and the leather is used to make the family’s shoes. Yearling leather was softer, more flexible, and more finely-grained than leather from older cattle, and it was more durable than leather from veal.


beef (FB 22; LHP 13; BPC 19, 24; TLW 21; PG)
     fat (FB 15, 22), see tallow
     hindquarters (FB 9) – the posterior portion (rear) as opposed to the anterior (nearer the head)
     pot-roast (TLW 21)
     quarters of (FB 22) – The split carcass of beef (from neck to pelvis, cut along the backbone, separating the carcass into two halves) yields four quarters: two forequarters and two hindquarters. In Farmer Boy, cuts of beef are stored in the freezing cold in the woodshed attic, while whole quarters of beef are hung from the woodshed rafters.
     roast (FB 6, 21)
     steaks (LHP 13)
     yearling (FB 18, 21-22, 27)