Wilder Wednesday – 4th of July

The music was so gay; the bandsmen in their blue and red and their brass buttons tootled merrily, and the fat drummer beat rat-a-tat-tat on the drum. All the flags were fluttering and everybody was happy, because they were free and independent and this was Independence Day.
~Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

FB flag

Illustration by Garth Williams, in Farmer Boy, c. HarperCollins

Flags and songs and speeches, fried chicken and lemonade, horse races and fireworks: the 4th of July scenes in the Little House on the Prairie books had it all. Although there are mentions in other books, the two most detailed descriptions of the day are in Farmer Boy and Little Town on the Prairie, and it seems that Laura’s daughter Rose wrote in some of the nationalism of these scenes as she edited.

In the books, Independence Day was always glorious. The sun always shone on that day, and everybody reveled in their freedom and pride in being American. Of course, life isn’t always like that.

Take the 4th of July in 1881, for example. This is the year of the Independence Day Laura described in Little Town on the Prairie. In her version, the town gathered around the flagpole, where the Declaration of Independence was read and Star Spangled Banner was sung. There was free lemonade and horse races, and politician handed out firecrackers. All under a shining sun with a happy crowd.


The 38-star flag flew over De Smet, and the rest of the nation, in 1881.

In actuality, July 4, 1881 was a wet, gloomy day in De Smet, South Dakota. Any readings, speeches, or singing took place inside the hardware store. There was no Pledge of Allegiance, because it hadn’t been written yet – that would come about a decade later. And the crowd wasn’t happy all day, either; President Garfield had been shot 2 days earlier. News of this tragedy and worry for the President’s life (he lived 80 days before dying of infection from the wound) would have dampened the spirits more than the rain.

pres shot

But telling that story is depressing. Laura and – even more so – her daughter and editor, Rose, wanted to instill a sense of nationalism in the children who read the Little House books. Talk of rainy holidays and assassinations wouldn’t do that as well as the glorious, flag-flying, exuberant scenes that made it into the books. I’m sure Laura did enjoy fried chicken and lemonade, rousing speeches and songs, and horse races and fireworks on various Independence Days. She drew on these experiences, combined them, and gave us an iconic vision of what the 4th of July should be.


May yours be as glorious.


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