In Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, is the following letter. Nordstrom was the editorial director at Harper from 1940 to 1973, and she was Wilder's editor. The letter writer's name is not provided in Dear Genius. Here is Nordstrom's response (page 53 and 54)
October 14, 1952
Your letter to Mrs. [Laura Ingalls] Wilder, the author of Little House on the Prairie, came several weeks ago. We took the liberty of opening it as we do many of the letters that are addressed to Mrs. Wilder. Often we can send the writers the photographs and biographical material they want. Mrs. Wilder is now in her eighties and we try to handle much of the correspondence here.
We are indeed disturbed by your letter. We knew that Mrs. Wilder had not meant to imply that Indians were not people and we did not want to distress her if we could possibly avoid it. I must admit to you that no one here realized that those words read as they did. Reading them now it seems unbelievable to me that you are the only person who has picked them up and written to us about them in the twenty years since the book was published. We were particularly disturbed because all of us here feel just as strongly as you apparently feel about such subjects, and we are proud that many of the books on the Harper list prove that. Perhaps it is a hopeful sign that though such a statement could have passed unquestioned twenty years ago it would never have appeared in anything published in recent years.
Instead of forwarding your letter to Mrs. Wilder I wrote her about the passage and said that in reprinting we hoped that she would allow us to change it. I have just received her answer. She says: "You are perfectly right about the fault in Little House on the Prairie and have my permission to make the correction you suggest. It was a stupid blunder of mine. Of course Indians are people and I did not intend to imply they were not." We are changing the next printing to read "There were no settlers."*
We appreciate your letter, but we are terribly sorry that ___ could not have the book for her eighth birthday. The new printing will be available for her ninth one though, and we are making a note now to be sure that you receive a complimentary copy. As a children's book editor, I was touched by your not wanting ___ to know only the Saggy, Baggy Elephant and I was therefore all the more upset by your very reasonable complaint against Mrs. Wilder's book.
I am sorry this is not a better letter and I am particularly sorry that I have not written you long before this. I wanted to wait, though, until I had written Mrs. Wilder and received her answer.
The asterisk above is actually a numeral one in Dear Genius but I can't do footnote numbering in Blogger so used an asterisk instead. That asterisk corresponds to a note at the bottom of the page that says
The passage in question appears in the opening chapter. As revised it reads as follows: "There the wild animals wandered and fed as though they were in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no settlers. Only Indians lived there."Hmmm... And, WOW!!! Reading all of that, I wondered what the original text said. I posted a query to LM_NET (over ten thousand librarians subscribe to LM_NET) hoping someone had a copy of the 1935 edition.
A few hours later, I had a reply (thanks, Sonja!). The 1935 edition read "a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no people." Wilder and Nordstrom changed people to settlers.
I ordered a copy of the 1935 edition and when it arrives, I'll study it closely. I wonder if additional changes were made?
I'd like to see the letter Nordstrom responded to. I wonder if the person who wrote the letter to Wilder objected to more than just that one passage? That passage appears very early in the book. In the copy I'm looking at right now, it is the fifth paragraph of the book. Perhaps the letter writer read that far and quit reading to compose her letter. I'll write to Leonard Marcus to see if he has more info. He is the editor of Dear Genius.
For now, let's go back to Nordstrom's letter.
Nordstrom says "we" (her staff, I assume) feel as strongly as the person who wrote the letter. Suggesting that Indians are not people is not ok with Nordstrom. But! There are many passages in it that equate Indians with animals. Wilder's Indians yip and yap and howl at each other. What about all those passages?
My question is, why not discontinue the entire book? If I had met with Nordstrom, would she have made more changes to the book? Or pulled it?
[Note: I've written about Little House several times. If you're interested in my (Native) perspective, scroll waaaay down to the bottom of this page and see the set of links at the bottom.)