Little House Lawsuit Settled

Who owns “Little House on the Prairie”?

Little House on the Prairie store
Little House on the Prairie store
January 25, 2011 The Associated Press reported a settlement had been reached between Friendly Family Productions, owners of the television series “Little House on the Prairie”, and the non-profit museum in Independence, Kansas which owns and operates the site of the Little House described in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book, “Little House on the Prairie”.

The owners of the television series claimed ownership of the name “Little House on the Prairie” in a federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles in 2008. The lawsuit wanted the museum to change its trademark, website and store names. Friendly Family Productions said it had no issue with the museum using the words “little house on the prairie” to describe the site or the museum, because that descriptive use does not infringe on their trademark. They, however, objected to the use applied to merchandise for sale in the store and on the website, as well as having the name “Little House on the Prairie” used on merchandise, in what they consider an unlicensed use of the name.

The Little House on the Prairie, Inc., is a non-profit organization operated by Bill Kurtis and Jean Schodorf. Kurtis told the Montgomery County Chronicle, ““The Little House site and museum will continue with minimal change.”

A settlement was reached January 24, 2011 in New York, but its contents were not disclosed. The agreement reached will not become final until signed by all parties in early February.

Though neither party is allowed to discuss the specifics of the agreement, it should be noted the website of the Kansas museum is no longer available.

The Long Winter

Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Long Winter

Long WinterWhen I lived out west for ten years or so, and it never snowed and summers were brown and winters were rainy, the book I most read and reread when I was homesick was “The Long Winter”. I can’t say it’s my favorite of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, but it is the one whose atmosphere and descriptions most reminded me of home in Minnesota.

You see, we love our lakes and the rich green of summer, but it’s the crisp whiteness of winter, with the sparkle of the snow and bite of the air that really defines my home state for me. Though “The Long Winter” takes place in South Dakota, the winters are not far different. I’ve never had to twist hay to stay warm, nor gone hungry, but I have had to struggle through snow drifts up to my waist while a wind as sharp as a knife cut through me as I carried heated water from the house to the livestock in the barn. And, yes, I loved every minute of it.

But who could have loved The Long Winter? Who could have loved the isolation and endless storms? Who could have loved the snow that measured as much as eleven feet deep and buried houses and towns? Curiously enough, the people who loved it were the ones who lived it. In a history of that winter of 1880-1881, written in 1904, it says, “…it is the almost universal testimony of the pioneers that they have never gotten more real enjoyment out of a winter than they did from the winter of the big blockade.” Reflecting upon that winter, Laura wrote in 1917, “There is something in living close to the great elemental forces of nature that causes people to rise above small annoyances and discomforts.”

History of South Dakota
History of South Dakota by Doane Robinson available at Amazon.com
It began in October, with a great blizzard, the history by Doane Robinson says of what came to be called The Hard Winter. It was the first winter for many pioneers in this land, as Laura’s own account of the town of De Smet makes clear. “…this first winter of its existence it was isolated form the rest of the world from December 1 until May 10 by the fearful blizzards that piled the snow 40 feet deep on the railroad tracks.” Robinson’s history describes, “Early in January on many lines train service became utterly impracticable. It was before the invention of the rotary snow plow, and the constantly accumulating masses of snow blown back and forth by violent winds filled the cuts to a vast depth. More than eleven feet of snow fell during the season and all of it remained in the country, there being no thawing weather. Hundreds of snow-shovelers were employed by the railways leading to Dakota. They would attack a drifted cut, and shovel the snow out and into great banks upon either side. The winds of that night would possibly fill the enlarged cut to the brim, and another day’s work would simply result in raising the banks higher, making place for deeper drifts. In this way mountains of snow were built up over the tracks in the very places where the greatest effort was made to open them. Even in the open places it was no uncommon thing to find the telegraph wires buried under the snow,” Robinson wrote.

Though they had the disadvantage of not having supplies brought from the East, as many of their pioneer neighbors did, the Ingalls did have the advantage of long acquaintance with winters in nearby regions, including on the Minnesota prairie in Walnut Grove (“On the Banks of Plum Creek”)  only 110 miles away from De Smet, South Dakota. They knew how to survive and adapt.

“On the 2nd of February, when it appeared that nature had exhausted all of her resources in supplying material for drifts, a snow storm set in which continued without cessation for nine days.  In the towns the streets were filled with solid drifts to the tops of the buildings and tunneling was resorted to to secure passage about town.  Farmers found their homes and their barns completely covered and were compelled to tunnel down to reach and feed their stock. Among the homesteaders, “straw barns” were very popular, affording a cheap and comfortable protection for stock and these became hidden under the general level of the snow on the prairies and a favorite method of reaching stock stabled in this way was through a well sunk directly down from above, through which provender was carried in. The supply of fuel and necessities for living were soon exhausted. There were few mills in the country and flour soon was not obtainable, but there was wheat in abundance and it was ground into a sort of graham in coffee mills.

“The farmers burned hay and in the towns the lumber from the yards, small buildings, bridges, fences, particularly the snow fences along the railways, were burned.” All winter long the Ingalls family twisted hay to keep warm. In her memoirs, Laura said, “When the thermometer stands at 25 to 40 below zero and a blizzard wind is raging, it takes a great deal of twisted hay to keep an unfinished shack warm enough to live in.”

“One of the great inconveniences was the lack of oil for lighting. The country was new and the production of lard and tallow only as yet nominal. The kerosene at the stores lasted but a few days after the trains stopped, and many families were compelled for several months to sit in darkness,” said Doane Robinson. Laura described the button light Ma made in “The Long Winter”, adding in her memoirs, “…we did not use the light in the evenings, but kept it for an emergency…”

“In every town the business men organized themselves into relief committees to see that there was an equitable distribution of such supplies as could be secured, and they extended their relief work over all of the adjacent territory so that all were supplied, and, while there was great hardship, there was very little real suffering,” Robinson wrote. All of which fits Laura’s account of those times.

One thing left out of Laura’s book, “The Long Winter”, which she included in her unpublished memoirs was the presence in their house of another couple, George and Maggie Masters. The history by Doane Robinson describes situations like these, “Several families would colonize in one habitation to save fuel.” In the case of the Ingalls, the wife gave birth during that winter. Laura, in her unpublished memoirs, said, “Maggie Masters’ baby was born in her room upstairs with only Ma and Mrs. Garland to help her. There was no doctor to be had.”

George Masters, the husband, considered himself a paying guest and refused to share the work. “Times like these test people, and we were getting to know George Masters,” Laura wrote. “We had not asked him and Maggie to live with us, but they were out of money and had no other place to go, so they stayed on. This was all right and they would have been welcome, but instead of taking hold and helping with good spirit, share and share alike, George gave himself all the airs of a boarder, because he had promised to pay his share of the living expenses when work opened up in the spring… Pa did all the chores while George sat by the fire… George lay snug in his bed until his breakfast was ready. He was always first at the table… he would not deny himself even for Maggie–as we did, because she was nursing the baby.” Clearly, even after all the years, Laura was no fan of George Masters, though “in justice” she did admit he paid them the following year, but didn’t count the value of the Ingalls’ milk, potatoes, hay, and work. And, yes, he was a relative of Genevee Masters, the girl who became part of the much-loathed combination character Nellie Oleson.

Young Pioneers
Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane available from Amazon.com

Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, used this story of shared habitation during a hard winter, to an extent, in her novel, “The Young Pioneers” (originally published as “Let the Hurricane Roar”).

Though Laura’s story of the Hard Winter ended in the spring with the warming Chinook winds, for the area the melting snow brought catastrophic floods as “the prairies became one vast lake” with destructive flooding to towns and cities as the rivers flooded.

Given the severity of the winter, one would think those who survived it, and those who had thought to settle this land, would have been deterred, but no. “It would seem that the terrible winter and the great disasters following would have had the effect of suspending immigration to Dakota, but no such result followed. Everywhere the prospective settlers were gathered, awaiting the raising of the blockade that they might flock in and, except in the flooded section along the Missouri, the territory was blessed with an abundant harvest.”

Tidbits about Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little bits and pieces of information and trivia about Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some you may know, some you may not…

Based on the arrival in America of Edmund and Francis Ingalls in 1628, and at the rate they and their families reproduced at an average of ten offspring per generation over the next 3+ centuries, it can be conclusively proven that every single person on the planet is, in fact, an Ingalls.

The only original “Little House” as described in Laura’s books that is still standing is the Surveyor’s House from “By the Shores of Silver Lake.” It is not, however, in its original location. The house was moved into the town of DeSmet, South Dakota.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Almanzo Wilder were quite small in stature, especially by current standards. Laura was 4 feet 11 inches tall, and Almanzo was 5 feet 4 inches tall. They were not, however, much below average for the time they were born. As part of my research into Civil War Missouri I’ve been through a considerable number of records which indicate few women in 1865 were more than 5 feet tall. You can browse these records on my Civil War St. Louis website. If you visit Laura and Almanzo’s Rocky Ridge home in Mansfield, Missouri you’ll see the custom-made counters in Laura’s kitchen are built quite low to be comfortable for her to work at.

Searching back through Almanzo Wilder’s family history yields no other person named Almanzo. A name origin source says Almanzo is an Old German name meaning “precious man”.

The School for the Blind Mary Ingalls attended in Vinton, Iowa is still open and in operation.

Carrie Ingall’s husband, David Nevin Swanzey, named Mount Rushmore.

Laura Ingalls Wilder spoke Swedish. A neighbor in the Big Woods taught Laura Swedish as a child.

Laura had two sets of “double cousins”. Double cousins are cousins from families where the parents are brothers and sisters from the same two families. In this case Charles “Pa” Ingalls married Caroline “Ma” Quiner. Pa’s brother Peter Ingalls married Ma’s sister Eliza Ann Quiner, having at least 6 children. Also Pa’s sister Pauline Ingalls married Ma’s brother Henry Quiner, having at least 7 children. These children were Laura, Mary, Carrie, and Grace Ingalls’ double-cousins.

Laura’s mother, Caroline Lake Quiner, lost her father, Henry Newton Quiner, when his ship wrecked in a storm on the Great Lakes in October 1844. Hurricane force winds from a storm October 19, 1844 also pushed waters into the city of Buffalo, New York causing disastrous flooding and numerous deaths. About a month after her father’s death, Caroline’s mother gave birth to another child, son Thomas Lewis Quiner. This is the Uncle Tom who told the story of the expedition to the Black Hills.

more to come…

Register and login to add tidbits of information of your own about Laura and Almanzo.

Beyond the Prairie: True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Beyond the Prairie: True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder

reviewed by Deb Houdek Rule

Beyond the Prairie
available from Amazon

Beyond the Prairie: True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, released on DVD November 23, 2010, is a made-for-TV movie from 2000 which intended to return the story of Laura and the Little Houses to their true origins. The Little House on the Prairie television series had drifted radically from the books and so this movie planned to take the story of Laura from age 14 to adulthood back to the “true” story.

“True” is apparently a relative term.

First an admission: I didn’t make it to the end of the movie. The promos for it, back in 2000, had me completely intrigued. They made a big thing of showing an accurate version of Laura’s engagement ring as a clue that “they know the real story”, but from the beginning the flaws and diversions from reality screamed at me too loudly. It wasn’t so much the major diversions from the storyline in the books which bothered me as the smaller indications that the entire production failed to understand Laura, her family, and her story.

I’m a television person. I’ve worked in television for thirty-odd years, with a film school education before that. So what I saw said to me those putting this production together had no love for, nor understanding of, the subject. A movie of this sort is far more involved that the story and script. It’s possible the script writer had a love for the Little House stories, but from his IMDB listing, I think it rather more likely he was a contract script writer hired because he did western historical work. Nevertheless, no matter how good and accurate the script, what we see on the screen is the product of a huge number of others and if they’re not all in sync and in understanding of the subject, you’ll see their interpretations of what the story is or should be. Casting. Costuming. Set decoration. All these, and more, go into the story as we see it.

Case in point: The movie starts in the Ingalls home on the prairie in South Dakota. You see the characters you’d expect to see in period costumes. Except — and this is a huge ‘except’ — any reader of Laura’s books knows immediately this is NOT a home Caroline “Ma” Ingalls would have made. How would we know? The curtains were crooked. The hems at the bottom of the curtains looked like they were sewn by someone who had no knowledge of sewing. They were crooked, shoddy, wrinkly, and a bit grubby. In that moment they blew the “true” scenario away and showed they didn’t understand Laura or her family.

The casting was… odd. Richard Thomas as Charles “Pa” Ingalls could have been okay but something has happened to his voice and the deep, harsh, raspy voice in no way said this was the Pa who twinkled and sang along with his violin. No insult to the actress who played Laura — she could have been fine in the role — but she didn’t play it as the Laura we know from the books. The script and direction would be at fault there. Her costuming was wrong, wrong, wrong. She wore a scruffy man’s hat. What was that about? Did no one but the scriptwriter read any of the books? Her hair was short, loose, and stringy. And, worse, she was a blond. As anyone who has read the books knows that is a major, significant no-no.

So what we saw from the start was a visualization of Laura’s Little House stories that converted them from people who lived as clean, hard-working people with intelligence and skills, though they were poor, into a generic stereotypical view of poor pioneers as being unskilled and quaint just as artificial as a fake ‘distressed’ antique finish on a new piece of furniture. It was insulting to us who have read Laura’s works, and to Laura and her family.

Even as I write this there are three very positive 5-star reviews on Amazon for this DVD movie (which is part 1 only, part 2 which I never saw came out two years later). Decide for yourself and add your own review here in the comments section.