Welcome to Round Two of Kelly’s Ferguson’s guest blogging stint on our tumblr, where she shines a light on our Middle Read, Hattie Big Sky. Visit here for Round One.
In my last post I discussed Judy Blunt, Willa Cather, and Laura Ingalls Wilder as influences for my book, My Life as Laura. I had not yet read the “middle read,” Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson.
As a lover of the “Little House” books and Montana, it came as no surprise to me that I tore into Hattie Big Sky. I have no doubt that if Hattie Inez Brooks and Laura Ingalls Wilder had met somehow, they would have been BFFs. When the Ingalls family stops moving west and settles in South Dakota, Laura mourns that she would never get to see Montana. When I moved to Missoula in 2006, I liked to believe I was helping Laura live out her dream, but I have to say Hattie one-upped me by running her own homestead.
Hattie homesteads in 1918, during World War I, while the Ingalls family pioneers during the late nineteenth century. The similarities, though, in many ways are uncanny. If Caroline Ingalls had turned up with a roost of chicks for Hattie, that wouldn’t have surprised me a bit. Likewise, the next time I read Little House on the Prairie, it would seem natural if Rooster Jim had a jig off with Mr. Edwards into the sunset. Hattie and Laura both face the near impossibility of raising a cash crop on the prairie. Blizzards, hailstorms, drought, or fire could destroy a year’s work in a flash. Both characters also experience the closeness of friendships forged by people in small, isolated town all working towards the same dream.
Hattie Big Sky deals with the darkness of humanity more than the Little House books. Nellie Oleson tested Laura’s character, but she never had the power to come and take away the claim. Hattie has to fight the culture of World War I, and the paranoia against German citizens. When the Ingalls family had their “good neighbors,” the Nelsons in Walnut Grove, there was no quarrel with Scandinavians. Laura pretty much gushes over Uncle Sam. Hattie isn’t so sure. By 1917, homesteaders had a better idea of why this “free land” wasn’t so free, and how the railroads had manipulated people with false promises.
Hattie’s story is based on a story about Kirby Larson’s grandmother homesteading. Interestingly, Little House character Eliza Jane Wilder (known more infamously as Lazy Lizy Lousy Jane to Laurafans) was the “lady homesteader” of De Smet, South Dakota. Women could file a claim so long as they were single. Eliza Jane’s portrayal in Wilder’s world is less than flattering. For those interested I’ve fleshed out a bit of the “real” Eliza Jane in my blog.
Here I’ll stop, because I hate spoilers. But I have shelved Hattie Big Sky in the prairie section of my books. Here, at least Hattie can hang out with Laura, along with school chums Mary Power and Ida Brown. I’m sure they would have all exchanged name cards.