Sunday, March 18, 2007


The 2004 HarperCollins edition of Little House on the Prairie is marketed as a "FULL-COLOR COLLECTOR'S EDITION."

Shown here is page 139. These Indians have entered Laura's house, unbidden.

The text describes them on page 137 with these passages:

"The naked wild men stood by the fireplace."

"Laura ran toward Ma, but just as she reached the hearth she smelled a horribly bad smell and she looked up at the Indians."

And, on page 138:

"Around their waists each of the Indians wore a leather thong, and the furry skin of a small animal hung down in front. The fur was striped black and white, and now Laura knew what made that smell. The skins were fresh skunk skins."

Based on the setting and time period, and specific references in the text, I think these two Indian men are Osage. Below is something to think about, as you look at this illustration and read the accompanying passages...

"A horribly bad smell"

Laura realizes the smell is from the skunk skins. Apparently, these men are unskilled hunters. They've killed skunks, and skinned them. In that process, they ruptured the glands that hold the pungent skunk odor. But they are, apparently, immune to that odor. They seem not to notice it, or perhaps they don't care. Either way, Wilder deftly and powerfully constructs Indian people as barbaric, savage, primitive. It is an inaccurate and inappropriate representation, in text and illustration.

2 comments:

cannot said...

Hi, my family is reading these stories and I was wondering about the Indian descriptions. Did the Osage normally wear skunk skins or was this part of some joke they were pulling of the white settlers?

Unknown said...

I actually find the "Little House" books very interesting. The characters often make very racist remarks. I've heard they're making a sanitized, less racist version. I don't think that is a good idea. I think it is important to know how racist people were back then, and that times were different.

Laura herself is very conflicted about the removal of the Indians, there is an interesting scene where she tries to ask about it but her parents shut her up.