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A ruminant mammal of the deer kind, of several species, found in the colder part of both hemispheres, having horns whose branches are palmate below, and cylindrical above, and having also a hairy muzzle. The woodland reindeer (Ranyifer Carabou) is found east of Lake Superior, from Hudson’s Bay to the Northern United States. The bare-ground reindeer (R. [or Tarandus] Groenlandicus), of smaller size, is found on the shores of the Arctic Sea in both hemispheres. — Webster, 1882

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer… – Clement Clarke Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas”

Laura and Mary Ingalls would have probably known the story of Santa Claus and his reindeer during the time they were living in Indian Territory, but there is no mention of reindeer in Pioneer Girl, the handwritten manuscript for Little House on the Prairie, or any other published Little House book. In Pioneer Girl, Mr. Brown brings the presents across the roaring creek that Santa can’t cross, and in Little House on the Prairie, it’s Mr. Edwards who meets Santa in Independence and is deputized to bring the Ingallses’ gifts.

Rose or Laura likely added Santa’s reindeer to the Christmas chapter in Little House on the Prairie because young readers would have been so familiar with the poem, “The Night Before Christmas.” Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was introduced several years after the publication of Wilder’s Indian juvenile. In Little House on the Prairie, Mary and Laura believe Santa will be unable to visit because there is no snow, with Mr. Edwards later explaining that Santa traveled with a pack-mule in the west (see Chapter 19, “Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus”). One has to wonder if Laura and Mary thought that no children living where there was never any snow were ever visited by Santa.

The reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) is the first animal covered in Pa’s Big Green Animal Book, Hartwig’s The Polar and Tropical Worlds: A Description of Man and Nature in the Polar and Equatorial Regions of the Globe, published in 1871. Four pages are devoted to the reindeer, including the illustration shown above. One thing Mr. Hartwig mentions is that reindeer are powerful swimmers, so roaring Walnut Creek wouldn’t have been an obstacle for them, but perhaps Santa’s sleigh wasn’t waterproof?

Click HERE to read Hartwig’s book in its entirety.


reindeer (LHP 19)