Posted by: Hannah | 02/07/2014

book 1, chapters 2 & 3

After the lovely response I got to my first chapter recap of Little House in the Big Woods, it was really hard not to just rush ahead and write a new post! Every day! But I made myself hold back, because that would have been crazier than leaving behind my established farm and packing up my young family to head off into the uninhabited west with nothing between me and ruin but a fiddle and a bulldog.


I’m recapping two chapters this time, because chapter three is not very long.

Tie on your sunbonnet and away we go!

Chapter 2 – Winter Days and Winter Nights

Right away, we find out that Pa works outside the home, as a fur trapper. He’s gone all day, apparently, setting and then checking his traps in the snow and “bitter cold”. For some reason I’m obsessed with the little unsaid details here. Does Ma pack him a lunch? How does he stay warm? How many animals does he trap in a day? I guess Laura never knew as a girl, and so we the reader don’t get to find out, either. It’s funny – ask any modern five year old what their parent does for a living, and unless it’s something immediately resonant like “firefighter” or “doctor” I’ll bet they only have a very vague notion, too.

Pa comes rushing home early one day to get the horses and sled, because he shoots a bear and even Pa can’t carry that sucker home on his back. He tells of coming upon the bear, holding a recently-slaughtered pig in his front paws. He shoots the bear and then, because “there was no way of knowing where the pig came from nor whose pig it was“, he brings home the pig, too.

This bothers me. There weren’t that many houses in the area, and common practice in those days was to let pigs be free-range – Pa himself does this, as established in chapter 1. I would think it would actually be quite easy to find out whose pig it was. I picture the family in the next house over, missing upwards of forty pounds of meat to see them through the winter, and I’m kind of pissed at Pa.

Moving on! In this chapter we also find out about Ma’s workload, as a pioneer mom. And holy smokes, by the end of the chapter I kind of wanted a cup of tea and a lie-down. Check out Ma’s regular chore schedule, not including things like processing hogs or raising children:

“Wash on Monday,
Iron on Tuesday,
Mend on Wednesday,
Churn on Thursday, 
Clean on Friday,
Bake on Saturday, 
Rest on Sunday.”

Sweet baby jesus, that’s week in and week out. And while some of those chores wouldn’t be so bad in, say, May or June, I’m thinking that “wash on Monday” was one ever-loving pain in the pioneer ass come February when the snow “drifted and banked against the house” and it was so cold indoors that “in the mornings the window panes were covered with frost”.

We find out that in winter the cream is not yellow, so the butter Ma churns is not a pretty colour. And god forbid we should have to eat white butter! Ma gets around that little problem by making edible dye out of grated carrots and milk, cooked together. She also moulds the week’s butter into pats with a strawberry print on the top. That Ma! So fancy. I love it that 50+ years later adult Laura remembered that Ma put all that extra effort into making the food for the table look nice. Is this why some moms make those fancy themed lunches for their kids? If I thought I’d still be getting kudos in five decades I would totally invest in some Bento boxes.

When Ma is finished her day’s work, she makes paper dolls for the girls and gives them scraps of fabric to dress them in. When Pa comes home and his day’s work is done, he pretends to be a “mad dog” and chases the girls around the house, growling and snapping at them until they scream. This proves that men winding kids up right before bed is actually hard-wired into the “Y” chromosome and they simply cannot help themselves.

We also hear for the first time Pa’s nickname for Laura, and his favourite compliment for her, too – all in one sentence.

You’re only a little half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up, but by Jinks! you’re as strong as a little French horse!”

He calls her Half-Pint for the rest of the series, but this is the only time as far as I recall that the nickname is actually explained. It’s cute and endearing, and establishes the special bond between Pa and Laura that is one of the central themes of the series. Mary, after all, never gets a special nickname.

In this chapter Pa sings a multi-verse version of “Yankee Doodle”, and he also tells the story of Grandpa and the panther, which is a cautionary tale about not riding your horse through the Big Woods because panthers are waiting in all the trees to drop on you, like Winnie-the-Pooh’s fierce jagulars. Oh, that Pa! I picture him walking his trap lines and muttering stories to himself under his breath so he’s ready to go after dinner.

“They were cosy and comfortable in their little house made of logs, with the snow drifted around it and the wind crying because it could not get in at the fire.”

Chapter 3 – The Long Rifle

This is maybe one of the most boring chapters in the whole series, except for the one in (spoiler alert!) Little House on the Prairie where Pa builds a door.

About the only thing to be said for this chapter is that it illustrates neatly that the Second Amendment was not nearly as scary in the days before automatic weapons. Pages 45 – 53 contain nothing but a description of how Pa cleans and loads his single-shot rifle. That’s it! It takes FOREVER.

“Whenever he shot at a wild animal, he had to stop and load the gun – measure the powder, put it in and shake it down, put in the patch and the bullet and pound them down, and then put a fresh cap under the hammer – before he could shoot again.”

Within this chapter Pa also tells the story of the time he, as a nine year old, went alone into the Big Woods to bring back the cows for the night. He plays along the path, and ends up getting caught in the woods after dark. He gets scared, and runs home in terror, ripping off his big toenail (OUCH) and probably nearly giving himself a coronary. The cows are fine – they got home on their own, which cows will do, because they are creatures of habit – but Grandpa cuts “a stout switch” and thrashes Pa for the heinous crime of playing in the woods and getting frightened out of his wits.

I get it, because living in that kind of harsh environment it would be very important for children to learn early on that rules were made to be followed… but on the other hand I think wow, that’s some hardcore commando parenting, right there. I must re-read this bit to my own children as a cautionary tale the next time they lose screen time for a day.

Next up – Christmas!! I love the Little House Christmas chapters. They are uniformly awesome.



  1. So many thoughts. How much wash do you think she really did in the winter? I’ll bet there was a whole lot of “you can wear that for another week”. Also, with all the crap she had to do, she still COOKED EDIBLE DYE so the butter WOULDN’T BE WHITE? Pull back a little, pre-Martha Martha. LOL at the men winding up the kids before bed. And about the pig – wasn’t the ‘next house over’ really freaking far? It can’t have been as simple as running next door to say hey, missing a pig, can it? Michael Landon wouldn’t steal a pig if there was any other way! And once when Angus was three-ish, someone asked him where his Daddy worked and he said “in the car”. So, yeah.

    • It’s true that the houses were far apart, but can you imagine if Pa’s pig was the one that went missing? This is the man who walked three hundred miles for work (see “Banks of Plum Creek”, if I make it that far) so I’m thinking a bit of a hike for the ol’ pig was possible.

      Besides, I never trusted Michael Landon. He has shifty eyes.

      • OH NO YOU DIDN’T! *throws down*

  2. Did you know that today is Laura’s birthday?
    I love this blog series. Fun ‘reading’ the books again through you. 🙂

  3. I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO THIS ALL WEEK. And you did not disappoint! Yes, that is the most boring chapter ever. And then he made another bullet zzzzzzzz. I want to say Allison’s comment again, because YES. “Ma didn’t like anything on her table that wasn’t pretty”. Way to set the bar high there, MA.

    Oh Pa. Of course he’s a pig stealer.

    When Jake was in pre-K he was asked to draw a picture of his family and say what everyone did. “Dad goes to work and Mom goes to yoga.” BUT JAKE I DO MORE THAN JUST YOGA. I also bake cookies ffs.

    I remember that story about Grandpa so much because he was running through the forest barefoot, scared out of his mind, tore off his gd toenail, and then had to CUT HIS OWN WHIPPING TOOL BEFORE GETTING BEATEN WITH IT? Although when I read it as a kid it did not seem that shocking. Which is kind of horrifying, really.

    I had like three glasses of wine before commenting on this, woooo. I love this series so much!

    • Now, you adorably-Friday-night-wine-tipsy darling, you can add “churns own butter, makes edible dye” to your list of other duties, i.e. going to yoga and baking cookies.

      I also didn’t find it hard to accept Pa as a pig thief. Wonder what that says about my cynicism levels?

  4. […] to manage while carrying a gun, too. This is completely contrary to the lesson he taught us back in Chapter 2, when he told us the story of Grandpa nearly getting eaten by a panther because he didn’t […]

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