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Little House on the Prairie Unit Study
Home | Little House in the Big Woods | Little House on the Prairie | Farmer Boy | On the Banks of Plum Creek | By the Shores of Silver Lake | The Long Winter | Little Town on the Prairie | These Happy Golden Years | The First Four Years

Chapter 1: Little House in the Big Woods

Sixty years ago, six year - old Laura lived in a gray log house in the Big Woods of Wisconsin.  They are completely surrounded by woods.  There are no other houses or other people for miles and miles. 
 
There are many kinds of animals in the Big Woods. There are wolves, bears, wild cats, muskrats, mink, otter, foxes, and deer.
 
There is a lake and a stream nearby.
 
Laura has a sister "Mary", baby sister "Carrie", father "Pa", and mother "Ma".
 
Laura slept in a trundle bed, next to Mary.  They had a bulldog, named "Jack", who kept guard over the log cabin.
 
One night, Pa carried Laura to the window to see the wolves howl at the "big, bright moon".
 
The house was comfortable. There was a large attic that  was fun to play in, especially when it rained. Downstairs there was a small bedroom and the Big Room.  The bedroom had wooden shutters on the windows.  There were two glass-paned windows in the Big Room, which also had a front and back door coming off of it.
 
There was a "crooked rail fence to keep the bears and the deer away."  There were also two oak trees in the front  yard.
 
One morning Laura woke to see (out of her window) a  dead dear hanging from a branch of one of the oak trees.  They had fresh venison for dinner.  Most of the meat had to be salted, smoked and packed away for  the winter.
 
Winter was coming soon. Pa couldn't count on finding wild game to kill for food during the winter.  Pa would still hunt during the winter, through the frost, snow, snowdrifts, freezing lakes and streams.
 
Bears would be hibernating in their dens all winter.  Squirrels would be curled up in their hollowed-tree nests. The deer and rabbits would be fast to get away. Plus deer were thin in winter, but had more meat on their bones in the fall.  So they had to store  food away in the little house before winter came.
 
Pa  skinned the deer. It was salted and the hides  were stretched  to make soft leather.  The meat was cut  up with salt sprinkled over the pieces, which were laid on a board.  Then they used a hollowed-out tree which Pa had put a little roof on top of, for smoking meat. Pa hung the meat with a string going through it, on nails in the hollow log.  They burned hickory chips over bark and moss to cause "good hickory smoke." The venison would not rot anywhere,in any weather.
 
Pa went to chop down more trees with his ax. He also took his gun into the woods.  When the meat had smoked long enough, they let the fire go out. Pa took the strips and pieces of meat out of the hollow tree. Ma wrapped each piece in paper, hung them in the attic, safe and dry.
 
One morning Pa left by horse and wagon. He came back with a wagon full of fish. The fish, some as big as Laura, were caught from Lake Pepin, with a net. They all ate fresh fish, and the rest  were of course, salted down and packed in barrels for the winter.
 
Pa's pig ran wild in the Big Woods.  It lived on acorns, nuts and roots.  Pa would butcher it as soon as it was  cold enough outside to keep pork frozen.
 
One night the pig was squealing. A bear tried to grab the pig out of his pen, but Pa scared the bear away when he tried shooting it twice, but missed the shots. The bear ran away unharmed, back into the woods.
 
Laura would have liked to have some bear meat though, but Pa said, "Anyway, I saved the bacon. " 
 
The garden behind the house grew all summer. There were carrots and cabbages.  In the cellar they stored: potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips and cabbages. In the attic they stored: onioins (in long braided ropes), wreaths of red peppers, pumpkins, yellow and green squashes. In the pantry they stored barrels of salted fish. And on the pantry shelves they stored yellow cheeses.
 
Uncle Henry came to help Pa butcher the hog. He brought Aunt Polly's sharpened knife.  They made a bonfire and heated a big kettle of  water over it.  The pig pen was nearby.  Laura plugged her ears with her fingers because she didn't want to hear the pig squeal as it was being killed. "After that, Butchering Time was great fun."
 
Uncle Henry and Pa were "jolly".  There was spare ribs for dinner. Pa promised the girls they could play with the bladder, which he blew up like a balloon. They played games like volley ball and kick ball with the blown-up bladder. He also gave the girls the pig's tail, which was roasted, sizzled, fried and sprinkled with salt. They ate all the meat off the bones, knowing there wouldn't be another pig's tail until next year.
 
The hog was scalded in hot water.  They laid it on a board.  Then it was scraped with knived until all the coarse bristles came off the skin.  They the hog was hung in a tree.  The insides were taken out, and it was left hanging to cool.  Then it was taken down, and cut up.
 
From this hog came: hams, shoulders, side meat, spare-ribs, belly, heart, liver, tongue, and headcheese.  The dishpan that was full of bits and pieces would be made into sausage. The meat was laid on a board and sprinkled with salt. The hams and shoulders were pickled in brine, then smoked.
 
Pa said, "You can't beat hickory-cured ham."
 
Uncle Henry went back home after dinner.  Pa went into the Big Woods to do more work.  Laura and  Mary helped Ma with carrying wood and watching the fire. Ma put lard in big iron pots on the cookstove.  Ma skimmed out brown "cracklings"....she would use them to flavor "johnny-cake" later.
 
Ma made headcheese. She scraped and cleaned the head carefully.  She boiled it until all the meat  fell off the bones.  Then the meat was chopped into fine pieces and seasoned with pepper, salt and spices.  It was mixed with pot-liquor and cut into slices after it cooled.
 
The little pieces of lean and fat that  came off the larger pieces were made into sausage.  Sausage balls were put in a pan out in the shed to freeze.  These were good to eat all winter.
 
When Butchering Time was over there were:  sausages, headcheese, big jars of lard, a keg of white saltpork out in the shed, smoked ham and shoulders in the attic.
 
Now Laura and Mary had to play in the house. It was too cold outside. The fire was kept going non-stop in the cookstove.
 
The attic was a  "lovely place to play".  The pumpkins were their tables and chairs. The red peppers and onions "dangled overhead."  Hams and venison hung in paper wrappings.  The bunches of dried herbs for medicine combined with all these other scents gave the place a "dusty-spicy" smell.
 
Laura and Mary played house with their dolls.  Mary was older  than Laura and she had a rag doll named "Nettie."  Laura had a corn-cob wrapped in a handkerchief as her doll, which she named "Susan."  Laura played with Nettie sometimes, if Susan wasn't looking so as not to hurt her feelings.
 
The best times were at  night.  Pa greased his traps (small, middle, big traps) by the fire. He dipped a feather in bear's grease and told  the girls jokes and stories as they sat near him.  Then he'd take his fiddle out its box and start to play.
 
The girls would listen along with their bulldog named "Jack" and their cat named "Black Susan".