Through the years, I have read several times about the theory that Laura Ingalls Wilder had a ghost-writer of her Little House books, her daughter Rose. In On The Way Home parts of the book were written by Rose, and parts were taken from a diary kept by Laura of the family’s trip from DeSmet, South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri in 1894. As I read them, I noticed a difference in writing styles.
Of course, some will attribute this to the fact that Laura was keeping a diary and not writing for entertainment. Still, I think this book and the subsequent West From Home speak to the fact that Laura could write well and her style was different than that of her daughter.
On The Way Home is just as I said, a printing of the diary that Laura kept as the family was traveling from their home in DeSmet, South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri where Laura and Almanzo would live out the rest of their days. Rose provides an introduction to the diary, detailing the years of struggle the family had. There were illnesses, crop failures, and finally a “panic” where Coxey’s Armies of the Unemployed stormed through town after town on their way to Washington. Rose also provides a coda to the diary itself, as Laura’s account stops once the travelers arrive in Mansfield.
Both the introduction and coda are important because they serve to give the diary the setting for the time period and what a real risk Laura and Almanzo were taking, striking out with another family for a land they didn’t know. Rose’s account of how they ended up with the land that would become Rocky Ridge Farm is also interesting as it really serves to give the trip a feeling of completion.
The diary itself is uneven reading. As fascinating as I found some of it, such as reading about some of the people they meet along the way and the experiences they have, there are other parts that are tedious. Laura faithfully reports things like the current prices of crops or goods as they travel through various towns, temperatures and weather conditions through the day, what time they set out each morning, and what time they set up camp for the night. This can be tedious at times, although it’s interesting to realize the differences between their time to ours.
There are sometimes funny observations in her text, such as Mrs. Cooley and I went to the house to buy milk. It was swarming with children and pigs; they looked a good deal alike. I also marveled that she could so easily tell the various trees apart by looking at them, and will note things like camped under a sycamore tree when many people would not know the difference.
What really makes On The Way Home worth owning is the pictures. There are photographs in here of Laura, Almanzo, Rose, DeSmet, and Mansfield in addition to those of Rocky Ridge Farm. There are other pictures reprinted of the places they traveled through, taken from various private collections and historical societies.
On The Way Home is a short read, coming in at just 101 pages, including Rose’s part. It’s something easy to breeze through in a short time, and can really spark some great conversations when shared with your children. I would recommend it for ages nine and up as I think that’s the best level to be reading these books. I enjoyed it when I was that age, and I’m still enjoying it all these years later.