After re-reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder as an adult, I have a different view of Charles “Pa” Ingalls than I once did.
In my child’s mind, Pa was fun and spontaneous and always looking for adventure.
As an adult I still see Pa as those things, but also as a little bit irritating and maybe somewhat irresponsible at times. From what we read in the books, he was always looking for the next adventure or opportunity, instead of finding stability for his family. Then again, maybe traveling from place to place was how he was finding financial stability for his family – he had to go where the work and food was.
It had to have been hard for him to stay still, I realize that. He was a person who was always looking for a new experience. When more families pushed into the west to find new experiences, he wanted to join them.
Pa reminds me a lot of a family member of my husband’s who is always seeking a new opportunity that she is sure will bring her riches. Each scheme fails and she’s left right where she started. In some ways, this is Pa.
He moves the family to the prairie, but the government threatens to move them out so he leaves and moves on to Plum Creek. They are there several years but as soon as Pa is offered another opportunity to build a new life in a new land, he’s gone again, moving his family hundreds of miles across the country.
Living with him must have been hard for his wife and children, more so his wife Caroline. Even though the books are more fiction than non-fiction, it’s clear that Laura probably wrote some truth in the pages when it came to her parents and her father’s constant urge to move the family. There were many times Laura described her mother as worried or tired and who wouldn’t be when their spouse is constantly coming home with a new idea and when they live in unpredictable places where life can change on a whim?
“Laura knew that Ma had never wanted to leave Plum Creek and did not like to be here now; she did not like traveling in that lonely country with night coming on and such men riding the prairie.” – On the Shores of Silver Lake.
When Pa did come back from his trips, he always had some crazy story about why he was delayed or what happened during the trip. The stories were most likely true — except that far fetched one on Plum Creek when he fell in a snowbank/cave and had to stay there for three days until he was able to dig his way out and then found out he was right up the hill from their house. Come on, Pa, really? You were in town hanging out with the blacksmith or the general store owner. Don’t lie, dude. *wink*
He also left his family alone in some dangerous situations where angry Native Americans (I mean, the Ingalls were building homes on their land half the time, so of course tthey were angry), wolves, rowdy railroad workers, or other threats could have harmed them.
Despite Pa’s propensity to launch the family into an insecure situation, it was clear he loved them. I don’t believe he was always rushing off to something new simply for himself. Sometimes he might have been, but mainly he was taking new jobs, trying new things in farming, and moving to new places to help provide a better life for his family, not gain riches and fame for himself.
Even if he was doing it for his family, it couldn’t have been easy never knowing when he might come home and suggest they move again.
Luckily, Pa sacrifices his desire for adventure more than once for Caroline and his girls, something Laura touches on in The Shores of Silver Lake.
When Laura’s cousins leave to go further West, both she and Pa look after them wistfully, wishing they could follow them into adventure. Pa, however, says he won’t continue into the west because a town his being built where they are now and with a town will come a school. Caroline always wanted her children to attend school and Pa says he promised her he would calm down and settle down so the children could be educated.
In the end, it was the love of Caroline and his girls that kept him at least a little bit grounded.
Have you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series? What is your impression of Charles Ingalls based on these books? Was his desire for adventure a detriment or a benefit to his family? Did he drag them all over the country too much, even if he did do it for the right reason?