Homesteading Stories

I find homesteading stories fascinating. The challenge of housing, feeding and clothing a family, working the land, tending animals, and nurturing souls continually captures my imagination.  There is grace in the stories of daily life.

The first book I ever owned was Little House in the Big Woods.  Each birthday and Christmas my parents gave me the next book in the series until I had my first collection of books.  I thrilled in the details: a pig’s bladder for a balloon, homemade bullets, Pa’s fiddle, trips to town, maple syrup.  When I read the stories to my sons, I was shocked to realize that Laura’s family subsisted an entire year (!) on the fish from the creek.   Looking at the stories through adult eyes gave me a clear-eyed view of the hardships.  It is, however, the simple joys of life which linger in your thoughts after reading these.

When my boys and I started reading Ralph Moody’s Little Britches series, my first thought was, “Why, these are the Little House books from a boy’s point of view.”  Set in a Colorado town, the Moody family eked out a living however they could.  They heated their house from coal picked up by three miles of railroad tracks, sold chicken droppings to the neighbors for their gardens, grew and canned vegetables, delivered their mother’s home-baked goods to folks around town.   Life was a series of problems to be solved.  Everyone worked hard, doing what they could to contribute to the family.

While this book is primarily about the internment of Japanese in relocation camps, the first third of the book recounts the Sato family’s life building a berry farm near Sacramento.  They would harvest wild spinach leaves, cut shoe bottoms from old tires, buy two thousand pounds of rice (stored in 100 pound sacks) after the check from the strawberry growers arrived.  The mother kept the clothes mended; the father kept the tools repaired and engineered ingenious solutions from the raw materials in the barn. 

When I read that Susanna Moodie’s 1852 book, Roughing It in the Bush, was as well known to Canadian children as the Little House books are to American children, I put this on my stack of “must read”s.  Where it still resides, unread. 

From the back cover:   This frank and fascinating chronicle details her harsh –and humorous– experiences in homesteading with her family in the woods of Upper Canada. Part documentary, part psychological parable, Roughing It in the Bush is, above all, an honest account of how one woman coped not only in a new world, but, more importantly, with herself.

Now I want to cancel my plans for today and read this book.  [This title is a work in progress at Librivox..yay!]

Story-telling is a strong motif in each of these books.  The father or mother picked up some hand work in the evening and told stories, quoted poems, and read books aloud.  I think these authors write so well because they grew up in an atmosphere saturated with the spoken word.  The Bible, Shakespeare, Longfellow were companions during the dark nights.  The authors marinated in turns of phrase, rotating them over the fire of their imaginations, eating them bit by bit.  

I am always inspired by the hard work.  I can work hard in a spurt of energy (then collapse the next day), but these people worked with daily diligence over the long haul.  When the children rose, their parents were at work, and when they went to bed their parents were working.  Reading these stories revs up my engines, makes me long for the ache of sore muscles after a good day’s work.

What books or movies about homesteading do you recommend?  Have you read any books above?

[The learning life is a happy life:  After I wrote about homesteading, I found this video of urban homesteaders.]



11 thoughts on “Homesteading Stories

  1. I love the Little House books and am ready to read them again. (I do it every few years.) I’ve never read Little Britches but will put them on my list.  My Antonia is a homesteading book, isn’t it?  Although O Pioneers is probably more so. Have you read How Green was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn?  It’s not homesteading per se, but set in Wales and the hard work of the family reminded me of the Little House and other homesteading books.  I need to re-read it as well.Great photos of Gavin in your last post.  He is getting so big!Blessings,Sandy

  2. No Time on My Hands by Nellie Snyder Yost, about her mother, (you can see the quilt in a museum in Lincoln)  then Pinnacle Jake about her father.  Old Jules by Mari Sandoz is also great.  Two more great Nebraska authors to add to your Cather collection!  I loved Little Britches too.  I have added yet another book to my list of books to read, the Moodie one. 

  3. I’m looking for *O Promised Land* by James Street, recommended by a patient this morning.Here’s what Amazon says James Street writes meticulously researched historical fiction that introduces us to the daily lives of men and women who settled the United States, moving westward from the coastal areas. He includes encounters with Native Americans including historical characters who aided or impeded the settlers. The plot develops around a brother and sister orphaned by an Indian raid on their homestead and follows them through several generations with succeeding books including Tap Roots which was made into a movie in the forties or fifties. Street writes compasionately about the custom of indenture, relations between Native Americans and Africans, the struggles of ordinary people to establish a life on the frontier. Sounds like it would fit your bill :)And yes!! I loved the Little House series.  Still do!!

  4. Novels by Ole Edvart Rolvaag: Giants in the Earth; Their Fathers’ God; Peder Victorious. Norwegian immigrants on the Dakota prairies. I’ve only read the first of the trilogy.

  5. My Antonia, of course!  I think the motif of homesteading appears in a lot of my favorites: Wendell Berry all over the place, Sigrid Undset’sKristin Lavransdatter, and Willa Cather’s books.Wildflowersp, you are keeping my bookshelves full!  I’ve received, but haven’t started Body and Soul; now I need to search out Yost, Sandoz and Vossberg.  Thank you!And Miz Hidden Art, thank you for James Street.Welcome, Jbbs_Musings, and thank you for recommending Rolvaag.  I will put those books on my list.  I particularly like the flavor of different cultures.  I think that’s why I so enjoyed the book about the Japanese family near Sacramento.Has anyone out there read Bess Streeter Aldrich?  I loved her pioneer in Nebraska books twenty five years ago.  “A Lantern in Her Hand” and “Miss Bishop” are two I remember.Oh, I love discovering a new favorite author.  Might ones of these be the next one? 

  6. Another voice from Nebraska, but I also heartily recommend No time on my hands, by Nellie Snyder Yost, about her mother’s homesteading experience in Nebraska in the 1880s and onward.  It may be available only on interlibrary loan, since it was published in the 1970s.  

  7. Little House in the Big Woods – was also one of my first chapter books read.  I loved reading them as a child.  Then when I started my little family – I think the first chapter book I read to the boys was Little House in the Big Woods.  We sat in our newly made tree house and I read to Nathaniel and Elliot.  Elliot was under two years of age and sat beautifully through a long reading.  This was the beginning of hours and hours and hours of reading books to my boys.  I loved reading to them!Little Britches series – a wonderful find also.  We didn’t get all the way through the series simply because they were not available in our area and too expensive to buy at the time.There is a set of books (actually 4 sets) that I highly recommend.  They are by Edward S. Ellis.  They are the Deerfoot series.  I don’t have all the titles right now.  Not exactly the homesteading books that you are speaking of here but I feel I always have to make a plug for them – as few of my friends have ever even heard of them.  They were introduced to my family back in 1998 (when my youngest was 4) by my pastor’s wife.  She let me borrow all 12 of the books (just a few at a time as it took two years to read through them – as we saved them as the books to read before bedtime).  They were written in the late 1800s.  When she first recommended them to me – she was concerned that they may be too advanced for my boys but suggested that I try.  So I sat down with the first book and started reading.  Right away, that dry humor of that time period came out and immediately my boys were laughing heartily.  It was wonderful.  Maybe you can imagine how I felt – wanting to try something that was recommended but wondering if they would catch onto the humor – then on the very first humorous line – they were splitting gut.  It was a wonderful moment for me and the beginning of a long and precious relationship…reading through all 12 of those books

  8. What about Farmer Boy? i remember reading it to my children, how my son’s mouth watered hearing about all the eats and treats… i wanted him to hear how hard farmer boy worked (that was many years ago) … i remember the doughnut recipe i had to search for… where are those days (sic) 

  9. I loved Farmer Boy because it had Boy in the title.  When one of my boys balked at having the Little House books read to him, because they were “for girls” my nephew jumped in and corrected him, telling him how much he loved Farmer Boy, and, how much more my son would enjoy Farmer Boy if he knew the stories before it.Sisofjannyree, you don’t *own* the Deerfoot series do you?  I would love to read them.

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