Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Following up on "What Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE"

On July 3, 2008, my blog post was "Selective Omissions, or, What Laura Ingalls Wilder left out of LITTLE HOUSE."  In a nutshell, it was about a speech she gave wherein she said some things were not appropriate reading for young children, so, she left them out of her book. The example she gave was of a family named the Benders. She said they were murderers, that many bodies were found on their property, and that Pa had joined a group of men from town to go find them. 

Soon after I uploaded that post, I got comments saying that Laura and her family were not actually living in Indian Territory when that whole incident with the Benders took place.

I suggest you go to that post and read it, and then come back here and continue reading...

A few days ago, I was reading a blog called Condensery, specifically the post titled "Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Bloody Benders." There, I learned that Rose (Laura's daughter) had actually written up that Bender story and included it in Pioneer Girl, which was the unpublished memoir of Laura's life, co-written by Laura and her daughter. The Pioneer Girl website says that the hand-written manuscript is not available for viewing or study, but that it is available via microfilm. Here's an excerpt, from the blog from laura ingalls wilder to cyberbessie linked to from Condensery.

One night just about sundown a strange man came riding his horse up to the door on a run. Pa hurried out and they talked a few minutes. Then the man went away as fast as he had come, and pa came into the house in a hurry. He would not wait for supper, but asked Ma to give him a bite to eat right away, saying he must go. Something horrible had happened at Benders.

Ma put bread, meat, and some of those good pickles on the table, and Pa talked while he ate. Mary and I hung at the table's edge, looking at the pickles. I heard Pa say "dead," and thought somebody at benders was dead. Pa said, "Already twenty or more, in the cellar." He said, "Benders-- where I stopped for a drink. She asked me to come in."

Ma said, "Oh Charles, thank God!"

I did not understand and felt confused. Mary kept asking Ma why she thanked God, and Ma did not answer... Then Pa said, "They found a little girl, no bigger than Laura. They'd thrown her in on top of her father and mother and tramped the ground down on them, while the little girl was still alive."

I screamed, and Ma told Pa he should have known better.

I'd really like to see the original manuscript! Laura, in her speech, said she left out the whole Bender story because it wasn't fit for children. Did Rose put it in? And then what... Was it cut at the publishing house? Details are a little (or a lot) murky...  Made all the murkier because the Ingalls family wasn't even in that area when the Bender family murderers were exposed! 

The ins and outs of the LITTLE HOUSE saga....  There's always more to learn. I'm glad to have come upon Condensery's blog and this post in particular.


Kate at Condensery said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation, Debbie - this is endlessly fascinating to me. I wonder what Laura and Rose felt they had to gain from the potential inclusion of this story in Pioneer Girl.

Anonymous said...

I've viewed the University of Missouri's microfilm reels of "Pioneer Girl" and three handwritten drafts of Little House on the Prairie (one complete manuscript and two partials).

I'm 98% sure the original handwritten version of "Pioneer Girl" does not mention the Bender clan at all -- that must have been a later addition. I do recall a reference to the Benders in one of the Little House drafts, but it was vague enough that you'd need to be familiar with the history in order to attach any significance at all to the relevant line. I can try to track it down the precise wording if it's of interest.