A book by Rhoda Wooldridge
I’m doing a project for by blog where I visit historical places, do a reading from a book on the topic, and write about it. When it came time to visit a place designed to look like a nineteenth century farmstead, I wasn’t sure where to go. On one hand, books like the Little House on the Prairie series are widely known and generally used for something like this. I wanted to go a different way, so I recalled a series by Rhoda Wooldridge that I came across when I was looking for a physical copy of a book on Fort Osage that I had read. Rhoda is a local author from where I live (now deceased) and as far as I can tell, her books are all about this area. With it being a book about the hardships of that time period, local, and specifically about running a farm, I knew it was the one. I’m not even mentioning the book being about the tail end of an epidemic, considering the world we live in now in 2021. I was able to get a library copy of it online, and here we are.
This book has a bleak outlook from the onset. It takes place in the antebellum period in Western Missouri, sometime in the 1840s. A family of farmers is ripped asunder when a local Cholera outbreak sadly kills the family’s mother and father and one of the children. The oldest daughter, Hannah, is left to basically become the “new mother” to all of the other young children. With her brothers taking on tasks their father used to, nobody really has time to grieve and rest. Hannah, through sheer determination tries her hardest to keep everyone together when the locals consider breaking the family apart.
When the six Harelsons are left orphans after their parents die in a cholera epidemic, the general feeling among the neighbors is that the children must be separated and farmed out to various families in the area. But twelve-year-old Hannah has different ideas. The farm that their father homesteaded is a productive one; with the help of her younger sister, Marty, the girls can manage the household; and if Joel goes fur trapping to raise money to pay off the mortgage and Nat runs the farm – why, then, perhaps they can save their home and keep the family together. Reflecting Hannah’s courage, the youngsters all join in the effort.
But life on the Missouri frontier was not easy, even for adults, and the children find themselves beset with thieving Indians, a severe blizzard and illness. Further grief is brought upon them when a couple entrusted with the temporary care of their baby sister, Angie, disappears into the Osage country. With a true pioneering spirit, Hannah learns to cope with a variety of hardships and experiences a well-deserved sense of pride when, with the coming of spring, she realizes that their struggles has been worthwhile.Synopsis
As with all of Rhoda Wooldridge’s books, they are all sadly out of print, although not impossible to find secondhand. This book, being from 1964, was especially tough to find and I had to settle for “checking out” a library copy of it online. I really wish some company locally would republish them, as they could help a new generation of children understand what life was like back then. This would be especially cool for the local area seeing that the book is about it. I didn’t find anything particularly ahistorical or offensive about the material, so it’s not like the book holds anything like politically incorrect baggage or anything.
If you can track this down, its an interesting book, and I may ultimately try to read some more of them if I can find them. I believe there are seven books in the series, so it will be fun to see where the story of this family goes. Despite all of the baggage of the deaths in the beginning of the book, it’s not a sad book, but one that is pretty uplifting. I can’t say this is for everyone, as this is basically a kid’s book, but if you can enjoy it without that ruining the experience for you, it’s entertaining.
This review is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK.