The First Four Years
The First Four Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder
This tale begins where These Happy Golden Years ends. It tells of the struggle of Laura and Almanzo Wilder during their first years of marriage and is the next chapter in the story begun in Laura’s childhood eight books earlier. Its events occur before those described in On the Way Home—Laura’s diary account of the little family’s adventures when they moved by wagon from Dakota Territory to Missouri in 1894. The manuscript of The First Four Years was discovered among Laura’s papers. She had penciled it in three orange-covered school tablets bought long ago from the Springfield Grocer Company for a nickel each. Laura wrote the first drafts of her previous books in the same way. My own guess is that she wrote this one in the late 1940’s and that after Almanzo died, she lost interest in revising and completing it for publication. Because she didn’t do so, there is a difference from the earlier books in the way the story is told. An important part tells of the birth and childhood of Rose, Laura and Almanzo’s daughter. Rose was my dearest friend and mentor. I met Rose when I was a young boy and later became her lawyer. My wife and I were close to her for many years. She gave me the manuscript of this book for safekeeping, and after her death in 1968, I brought it to Harper & Row (now HarperCollins). After considerable thought about the countless children and adults who have read the Little House books, and concern for what Rose and Laura might have wanted, the editors at Harper and I all agreed that Laura’s original draft should be published as she had first written it in her orange notebooks. Rose grew up to be a famous author who carried on Laura’s pioneer spirit by having many adventures in America and abroad. She wrote a number of fascinating books about this country and about faraway places like Albania, and she became well known the world over. But Rose grew up in a time when ladies did not consciously seek fame. She chose to shed light on the lives of others instead of her own, and so this book about her mother, her father, and herself had to wait until after her death to be published.
Rose (who became Mrs. Rose Wilder Lane) led a full and busy life. After her mother died, she wrote the setting for On the Way Home. She also wrote a number of magazine articles, some of which were published as the Woman’s Day Book of American Needlework. She worked at length on a major book yet to be published, and she was sent to Vietnam as a war correspondent in 1965 when she was seventy-eight years old! Rose read constantly and knew more about any subject I can think of than any person I ever knew. A week before she was to set off on a world tour at age eighty-one, her heart stopped suddenly, at her home of thirty years in Danbury, Connecticut. The night before, she had sat up in jovial and lively conversation with friends after making them a baking of her famous bread. But what happened after those events described in both The First Four Years and On the Way Home—after Laura, Almanzo, and Rose reached “The Land of the Big Red Apple”?
There in the Ozarks, Almanzo built by hand, with care and precision, a charming country house on land that Laura later named Rocky Ridge Farm. They lived and successfully farmed right there for long and happy lifetimes, Almanzo’s ending in 1949 at age ninety-two, and Laura’s in 1957 at age ninety. Their home was made sturdily to last for always, and the lucky people who go to Mansfield, Missouri, may see that happy home with its fossils in its chimney rock, much furniture handmade by Almanzo, and many other treasures. Pa’s violin, Mary’s organ, and Laura’s lovely sewing box are there as well as some of Rose’s possessions. Rocky Ridge Farm is now a permanent nonprofit exhibit. If you go, the curators, who loved and knew the Wilders personally, will take you around and tell you details that may not be in the Little House books, to help you better to know Laura, Almanzo, and Rose. We all wish there were more of Laura’s stories. We have come to know and cherish their qualities of character and spirit. They have entered our lives and given them m
Roger Lea MacBride