Primary Resource: Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Mariah on the Move

Flickr: Creative Commons–Mariah on the Move by Pete Markham (2008, Lake Elmo, MN)


Winters in the Dakotas are cold, but some are extremely cold. The winter of 1883-84 was one of the extreme ones.

That winter Laura Ingalls was teaching during the week at a country school outside of DeSmet, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota). The school was far enough away she boarded with the family of one of school board members. But Almanzo Wilder picked her up on Friday so she could be home with her family over the weekend. One Friday was especially cold.

“All day the snow blew low across the prairie and toward night it grew colder still….

With my mind made up to staying, I did not listen for the sleigh bells as I always did when four o’clock drew near. I usually heard them while they were still some distance away, but disappointment had so dulled my hearing that I was completely taken by surprise when there was a dashing jingle of bells at the door….

I dressed warmly, high necks and long sleeves in both underclothes and dress, two warm petticoats woolen stockings, and high shoes. I wore a heavy coat, a thick, wool, knit hood, two thicknesses of woolen veil over my face the ends wrapped tied around my neck.

There was a heavy blanket under the buffalo robe over our laps and tucked tightly in around us and a lighted lantern underneath among our feet which added a great deal to the warmth….

About every two miles the frost from the horses’ breath would become frozen over their nostrils so they could not breathe. Then we would stop and Mr Wilder would climb out into the cold and the snow, cover each nose with his hands an instant and then he could strip the ice of[f], climb back into the cutter and we would go on. At times he would slip one hand beneath the robes, out of the wind into the warmth from the lantern, for a few minutes.”

–From Pioneer Girl, Laura’s autobiography written in 1930 and published in 2014.

I am so glad for cars with heaters!!

Does anyone know why Almanzo, as well as other settlers, put bells on sleighs? Were the bells just for fun, or did they serve a purpose?

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