Navigation Menu+

Commentators on the Ac’s

Charade performed by Charles Ingalls at the second literary meeting in De Smet.

“It is simple,” Pa told them, when all had given up guessing. “It is common-taters on the ax, a-c-t-s.” -manuscript, Little Town on the Prairie

In Little Town on the Prairie (Chapter 19, “The Whirl of Gaiety”), Pa carried off the honors of the evening with his charade: He played it alone, in his everyday clothes. Walking up the central aisle, he carried two small potatoes before him on the blade of his ax. That was all.

I’ve always thought that the explanation of Pa’s charade ought to be changed in the published version to reflect what is in the manuscript. “It’s Commentators on the Ac’s,” says the book. The manuscript – to me – is much clearer: “It is common-taters on the ax, a-c-t-s.” Charles Ingalls’ charade was a rebus, defined as a device that uses pictures to represent words. Charles Ingalls acted out his pictures, and Laura Ingalls Wilder used words to describe the rebus. “Common taters” (potatoes) as a homonym for the word “commentators.” The word “ax” is a homonym for “Acts” in the “Acts of the Apostles,” the fifth book of the New Testament in the Bible. Saints Paul and Peter are the two apostles most mentioned in Acts, and Pa mentions that a better understanding of Saint Paul could be gained from reading (the Acts).

Maybe Charles Ingalls did carry off the event honors with this charade, but truth of the matter is that Reverend Brown was known for his charades. Reverend Brown used to leave “little charade tableaux” set up for the editor of his local newspaper, and the editor would then describe them in the paper so that all could enjoy the joke. In Ohio years earlier, the following appeared:

Rev. E. Brown perpetrated a “rebus-ical joke” in our sanctum during our absence on Monday. He placed one of Simcox’s large potatoes on the legal volumes of Swan and Critchfield, and labeled it, “A Common Tater on the Laws of Ohio.” -Medina County, Ohio, newspaper, 1875

One of the most celebrated charades reported by the editor was supposedly the time the good Reverend walked into the editor’s office – this time after the family had moved to Wisconsin – wearing his everyday clothes, carrying two small potatoes before him on the blade of his ax. These he set carefully on the editor’s desk, then he turned and walked out the door.

The editor reported that he could hardly beat that stunt of Brown’s!

Sound familiar?


“Commentators on the Ac’s” (LTP 19)