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The Long Winter – the fictional story

noteOctober Blizzard. It is late summer and early fall on the Ingalls homestead. Pa hurries to get in his crop of hay and the first year’s harvest from the garden and fields. One October morning, Laura wakes to find that the temperature is near zero and there has been a blizzard during the night. The blizzard rages for three days, and following discussion with other homesteaders and predictions of a severe seven-month winter by an old Indian, Pa moves the family to town – to his well-built office building where they will be close to stores, school, and other people.

Winter in Earnest. Once settled in De Smet, Laura and Carrie begin school, only to be caught by another blizzard during the day and barely able to make it home safely through the whirling, blinding snow. The trains stop running when blizzard after blizzard keeps work crews from clearing the tracks, and both fuel and food are in short supply. Even with neighbors close by, the Ingalls family is isolated and left to the mercy of the storms and their own ability to contrive and survive until spring. Finally, when most of the town is near starvation, Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland make a daring trip to purchase wheat from a settler miles from town. Will it ever stop snowing?

notePublishing History. There are a few surviving letters between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane dating from 1937-1939, when Wilder was working on her Hard Winter manuscript. In June 1939, Wilder mailed her one hand-written copy of the manuscript to Lane, saying that she only had notes to go by if the manuscript was lost and she had to reconstruct it. Laura and Almanzo were about to leave for a trip to attend “Old Settlers’ Day” in De Smet, and Wilder wrote that Lane could “finish it” (the book) if anything happened to the Wilders on their trip.

In 1937, while outlining the De Smet Little House books, Wilder wrote that after Silver Lake would be a book about the Hard Winter of 1880-1881, “Only one winter- a chapter out of the whole story.” The final book in the series at that time was to be titled Prairie Girl, ending with Laura both earning a teaching certificate and becoming engaged to Almanzo Wilder. Although the Ingalls family didn’t live alone during that hard winter, Wilder wrote about the family as a solitary unit to show their struggle for survival on a more personal level.

The text of The Long Winter was copyrighted October 30, 1940 by Laura Ingalls Wilder for an original term of 28 years. The copyright was renewed by Roger Lea Mac Bride by 1968. Mac Bride renewed the copyright for 19 years in 1976. The Copyright Act of 1976 extended the renewal term from 28 to 47 years. 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 The Long Winter is protected by copyright until the end of the year 2035.

The first illustrations for The Long Winter were by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle for the 1940 publication. Illustrations for the uniform edition of the Little House books were by Garth Williams and published in 1954. Both are protected for 95 years, or the years 2035 (Sewell/Boyle) and 2049 (Williams).

Wilder donated the manuscript to The Long Winter to the Detroit Public Library. It is archived in their Burton Historical Collection.

Characters in The Long Winter.
* The Ingalls family: Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, Grace.
* Relatives mentioned: Aunts, Uncles, Cousins Alice and Ella and Peter
* Animals with names: Sam and David (horses), Ellen the cow, Black Susan (cat, mentioned), Prince and Lady (Almanzo’s horses).
* Residents and Friends in De Smet: Mr. Fuller (Gerald, hardware merchant), Almanzo Wilder and Royal Wilder, Mr. Harthorn (grocer), Mr. and Mrs. Boast, the old Indian, Judge Carroll and his partner, Mr. Power (tailor), Mr. Loftus (drygoods), Sherwood, Garland, Owens, Mr. Foster, Cap Garland, Florence Garland, Mary Power, Minnie and Arthur Johnson, Ben Woodworth, little Beardsley girls, Wilmarth boys, Mr. Barker (grocer), Mr. Couse (hardware), Mr. Mead, Mr. Hinz, Mr. Edwards, Mr. Ely (lumberyard), Mr. Gilbert (mail carrier), Railroad Superintendent, unnamed Railroad engineers and workers, Mr. Bradley (drugstore), Mr. Anderson (settler with wheat), Mr. Wilmarth (grocer).
Places Mentioned in The Long Winter.
* In Dakota Territory: De Smet, Silver Lake, Volga, Preston, Spirit Lake, Huron
* In Minnesota: Big Tracy cut
* Former homes: The Big Woods of Wisconsin, Plum Creek
* Oregon

Music from The Long Winter.
Songs (and the chapter in which they appear) include:
Chapter 4, “October Blizzard” — All the Blue Bonnets are Over the Border, The Big Sunflower, The Floating Scow of Old Virginia, Oh Boys Carry Me Along
Chapter 11, “Pa Goes to Volga” — The Old Chariot
Chapter 12. “Alone” — Down in Alabam’, The Highland Fling, Irish Jigs, Little Annie Rooney
Chapter 13, “We’ll Weather the Blast” — The Evergreen Shore, A Shelter in the Time of Storm, Sweet By and By, There is a Happy Land
Chapter 17, “Seed Wheat” — All the Blue Bonnets are Over the Border
Chapter 21, “The Hard Winter” — On Jordan’s Stormy Banks
Chapter 22, “Cold and Dark” — Bonny Doon, Home of the Soul
Chapter 28, “Four Days’ Blizzard” — Great is the Lord, It Will Never Do to Give It Up So, Song of the Freed Men, When I Can Read My Title Clear
Chapter 31, “Waiting for the Train” — The May Queen
Chapter 33, “Christmas in May” — Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

Chapter posts from my pioneergirl Facebook group, February-April 2020:
(c) Nancy Cleaveland.


The Long Winter, the fictional story