On the Banks of Plum Creek – the fictional story
The Dugout. The Ingalls family arrives at their new home after leaving Indian Territory and traveling across Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, and a long way into Minnesota. Pa trades the horses for land, and he trades the mule-colt and wagon cover for oxen and the growing crops. The family’s new little house is a sod dugout on the banks of Plum Creek. Charles Ingalls is going to be a wheat farmer!
Ma and Pa, Laura, Mary, and Carrie settle into their days on Plum Creek. Pa works at plowing in anticipation of planting more wheat next spring, and Mary and Laura have fun playing and exploring along the creek bank. The weather feels strange, though; the oldtimers call it “grasshopper weather.”
The Wonderful House. After spending a mild winter in the dugout, Pa plants a large wheat field, which grows beautifully. Banking on the sale of a large cash crop, Pa decides to build across the creek, a wonderful house made of boards. Much care is given to the planning and building of the new house, and in making it pleasant and cosy inside.
Because the family is so nicely settled, Laura and Mary attend school in town each day. Laura enjoys learning to read and she enjoys the company of the other children, except for spoiled Nellie Oleson, daughter of the town storekeeper. Like the Ingallses’ farm, the town itself is thriving, with a new church, businesses, and a railroad.
Grasshoppers! Shortly before Pa’s wheat crop is ready to be harvested, disaster strikes. A cloud of grasshoppers drops from the sky and the pests eat every growing thing. The crops are destroyed and Pa must go east to find work to pay for food for the winter and the lumber he bought on credit to build the new house. Even worse is the fact that the grasshoppers lay eggs which will surely hatch and mean no crops the following year.
There is little to look forward to during the winter, but one bright spot is the Christmas celebration at church, complete with the first Christmas tree Laura has ever seen.
The next year, grasshoppers do destroy the crops, and Pa must again leave home to find work. The story ends following a violent blizzard which traps Pa away from home. Almost as wonderful as Pa’s safe return is the news he brings: such cold weather means that there will be no grasshoppers the following year, and the family can finally be optimistic that better times are coming!
Publishing History. On the Banks of Plum Creek was published in the fall of 1937. There are several surviving portions of drafts of this manuscript, owned by the Laura Ingalls Wilder / Rose Wilder Lane Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. A copy of this manuscript is on microfilm at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, and in the collection of Western Historical Manuscripts at the University of Missouri at Columbia.
The text of On the Banks of Plum Creek was copyrighted October 11, 1937 by Laura Ingalls Wilder for an original term of 28 years. The copyright was renewed by Roger Lea Mac Bride in 1965 for another term of 28 years. The Copyright Act of 1976 extended the renewal term from 28 to 47 years. Mac Bride renewed the copyright again in 1993. Public Law 105-298, enacted on October 27, 1998, further extended the renewal term of copyrights still subsisting on that date by an additional 20 years, providing for a renewal term of 67 years and a total protection of 95 years. Currently, the text of On the Banks of Plum Creek is protected by copyright until the end of the year 2032.
The first illustrations for On the Banks of Plum Creek were by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle for the 1937 publication. Illustrations for the uniform edition of the Little House books were by Garth Williams and published in 1954; his illustration copyright was renewed in 1981. Both are protected for 95 years, or the years 2032 (Sewell/Boyle) and 2049 (Williams).
Characters in On the Banks of Plum Creek.
* The Ingalls family: Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie.
* Animals with names: Jack (brindle bulldog), Pet and Patty (Indian ponies), Bunny (the mule-colt), Pete and Bright (oxen), Spot (cow), Sam and David (the Christmas horses).
* Neighbors: Mr. Hanson (who the farm is purchased from), Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and daughter Anna, Johnny Johnson (the herd boy).
* Residents and businesses in town: Mr. Beadle (store and Post Office), blacksmith shop, Mr. and Mrs. Oleson (store), Mr. Fitch (store).
* At school: Eva Beadle (teacher); the Kennedy family: Christy, Nettie, Cassie, Donald, and Sandy Kennedy; Willie and Nellie Oleson, Maud.
* At church: Reverend Alden (pastor), Mrs. Tower (Sunday School teacher) and Mr. Tower.
Places Mentioned in On the Banks of Plum Creek.
* Areas traveled through: Indian Territory, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota.
* In Minnesota: “Town” (no name given), Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
Music from On the Banks of Plum Creek.
Songs (and the chapter in which they appear) include:
Chapter 21, “Nellie Oleson” — Ring-Around-a-Rosy, Uncle John
Chapter 24, “Going to Church” — Jerusalem the Golden, There is a Happy Land
Chapter 26, “Grasshopper Eggs” — All the Blue Bonnets are Over the Border, The Battle Cry of Freedom, The Campbells are Coming, I Wish I Was in Dixie’s Land, Life Let Us Cherish, Oh! Susanna
Chapter 30, “Going to Town” — The Girl I Left Behind Me, Home Sweet Home, My Old Kentucky Home, Old Folks at Home, Wait for the Wagon, When Johnnie Comes Marching Home
Chapter 34, “Marks on the Slate” — When Johnny Comes Marching Home
Chapter 36, “Prairie Winter” — Jesus Holds My Hand, My Sabbath Home
Chapter 37, “The Long Blizzard” — Bean Porridge Hot
Chapter 41, “Christmas Eve” — Captain Jinks, Lilly Dale, Polly Put the Kettle On, Weevily Wheat
On the Banks of Plum Creek, the fictional story