Popular Science

How to survive the 'Little House' books

The Ingalls family almost died. A lot.
Flash fire

Pixabay

Flash fire

Just one of many brushes with death in the Little House books

IN THE LITTLE HOUSE BOOKS, real-life pioneer girl Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) chronicled her family’s life on the American frontier. Young readers, who continue to gobble up Ingalls’s stories today, will remember the vivid descriptions of a now-lost time, from traveling in a covered wagon to playing ball with a pig’s bladder. Adults who revisit the series, on the other hand, may notice grimmer aspects.

Laura softened her tale for a young audience, and fudged some facts to make the narrative more consistent. But the books are still based on her family’s real story, which included racist attitudes, poverty, hardship—and a disturbing number of near-death experiences.

Although Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace do survive the series, they sometimes do so through sheer luck. Popular Science chose one brush with death from each original book (with the exception of Farmer Boy, which does not cover the Ingalls family) and compared the family’s survival technique to today’s best practices.

1. Don’t slap bears

As a young child, Laura Ingalls lived in the woods near Pepin, Wisconsin. Her chronicle of this time, Little House in the Big Woods, contains several incidents in which wild animals threaten the lives of family members. There’s the story of a panther attacking her grandfather, and an incident when her father faces off with what looks like a bear—but turns out to be a stump.

Then Laura has her own encounter. One night when Pa Ingalls is in town trading furs, Laura and her mother go to the barn to milk the family cow. They see the animal blocking the fence, so Ma slaps the cow's shoulder to make her move. Except that it’s not their cow—it’s a bear

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Popular Science

Popular Science1 min read
String Theory
THE CHEAP YO-YOS OF YOUR youth spun simple physics into fun. Fling down the plastic body, then snap it back up with a gentle tug on the string. Or let it sleep and roll along the floor to “walk the dog” before calling it home. Competition-grade model
Popular Science2 min read
Lane Brains
No matter how hard you try to spin the house balls at your local bowling joint, they rarely curve. That’s because they are simple spheres built for durability, not fancy moves. But a small handful of companies—among them Storm Bowling—create gear tha
Popular Science1 min read
Science Helped Us Build Better Sports Bras
BARBARA EBERSBERGER, VICE PRESIDENT OF APPAREL AT REEBOK When the first exercise bra debuted in 1977, it resembled two jockstraps sewn together, which is actually what inspired it. More than 40 years later, despite all the R&D put into shoes and othe