Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek

“On the Banks of Plum Creek” is an autobiographical novel written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The book was first published in 1937 and is the fourth in Wilder’s nine book series for children. The events of “On the Banks of Plum Creek” begin in 1874, and pick up where “Little House on the Prairie” leaves off. The fourth novel recounts their attempts to make a new life in Minnesota after vacating a homestead in Kansas that was not legally open to settlement.

The novel repeatedly explores the themes of family life, the pioneer spirit, man vs. nature, and individual sacrifice. Wilder relates the difficulty her family faced as new settlers including the challenges of living in a sod dugout house as well as their ongoing problems with harsh weather conditions such as drought, prairie fires, blizzards, and the repeated grasshopper infestations which destroyed all of the family’s crops.The book also explores the highly divided work roles of men and women at the time. Ma and Pa each have separate roles and different work to complete. Ma works in the house completing all food preparation. She also sees to the arrangement of the home’s furnishings. Ma is also in charge of the family’s sewing and instructs Mary and Laura in the construction of quilt blocks. Pa works on the farm caring for the animals as well as planting, tending, and harvesting the crops. Today “On the Banks of Plum Creek” and its companion volumes continue to both inspire and challenge readers and their understanding of the American frontier and pioneer life.  

Think Like a Historian

Observe a Primary Source Item and Record Your Thoughts

  • What is happening in the photograph or letter, diary, etc.? What just happened, or what is about to happen?
  • Describe the people you see in the image. How do they relate to each other and to the photographer? If there are no people in the image, what is the subject of the photograph?
  • Look for details that show when the photo was taken – time of day, season, and year. Do the people in the photograph look different than people today? How are their clothing, shoes, and hair styles different? Also look for differences in things like transportation, housing, equipment, and general infrastructure.

Think about the Creator, Audience, Context, Relationships

  • What is the author/creator's point of view? What was the author's purpose?
  • Who is the intended audience for this primary source material?
  • Explain how the source tells its story.
  • What was happening locally, regionally, or nationally when this primary source material was created?
  • How does this item relate to other content in this Primary Source Set and/or the rest of the Minnesota Digital Library collection? Compare and contrast two resources.

Finally, using the clues you have observed, try to figure out why the source was created. By asking these questions, you have begun to understand the what, who, where, when and why of the primary source material – and ultimately, the story it tells.

Additional Tools

Discussion Questions & Activities

1. Look at the 2 cartoon images that deal with the grasshopper infestation in Minnesota. One of the images references the "Irrespressible Conflict" that farmers faced and the second image shows crows and grasshoppers hungrily eyeing a field that is being sown with wheat seed. One of the grasshoppers remarks, "That's wheat by and by." In the face of such devastation brought by the grasshopper swarms, why would some people make light of it? Can using humor help people cope? 

2. If you were a pioneer, what jobs and tasks would you want to complete on your homestead? Do they match how we traditionally divide work between men and women? Can girls work in the field and boys work in the house? 

3. The Ingalls family travelled across the midwest using a horse drawn covered wagon. These covered wagons were generally 4 feet wide and 12 feet long. Ask students to first make a list of everything they would like to take with them if their family was moving. Use masking tape to mark out the wagon's dimension on the floor. Then discuss how easy or difficult it would be to fit everything on the list into the wagon. What has to be inlcuded? What could students leave behind?

eLibrary Minnesota Resources (for Minnesota residents)

1. "Fiction of the 1930s: Modernism for the Masses." American Decades, edited by Judith S. Baughman, et al., vol. 4: 1930-1939, Gale, 2001. Student Resources in Context. Accessed 29 Sept. 2017.

2. "Laura Ingalls Wilder.Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 13 Aug. 2017. Accessed 29 Sep. 2017.

3. "Little House On The Prairie's' Wilder Women." Talk of the Nation, 18 Aug. 2009. Student Resources in Context. Accessed 29 Sept. 2017.

4. "Overview of Laura (Elizabeth) Ingalls Wilder." DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Research in Context. Web. 29 Sept. 2017.

5. "Pioneer life.Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 13 Jun. 2013. Accessed 29 Sep. 2017.

6. Wommack, Linda. "Little Houses' in the Heartland Showcase Laura Ingalls Wilder Artifacts and Heirlooms." Wild West, vol. 24, no. 5, Feb. 2012, pp. 66-67. EBSCOhost, .

Additional Resources for Research

1. Atkins, Annette. Harvest of Grief: Grasshopper Plagues and Public Assistance in Minnesota, 1873–89. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1984.

2. Cartwright, R. L.. "Grasshopper Plagues, 1873–1877." MNopedia, Minnesota Historical Society. http://www.mnopedia.org/event/grasshopper-plagues-1873-1877 (accessed November 21, 2017).

3. Fraser, Caroline. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York: Metropolitan Books, Henry Hold and Company, 2017.

4. Keeler, Christy G. "Little House Teacher's Guides."