Our family loves the Little House on the Prairie series. But it has a decidedly girlish slant, given that the main character is female. Granted, the father is a solid masculine figure, but wouldn’t it be great if there were a series that had a boy as the main protagonist?
Enter Little Britches! We picked this book up while visiting Denver at the Littleton Museum and Homestead. It chronicles a few years in the life of a pioneer family who leaves New England to make a go of it out in Colorado on the prairie.
Ralph Moody was eight years old in 1906 when his family moved from New Hampshire to a Colorado ranch. Through his eyes we experience the pleasures and perils of ranching there early in the twentieth century. Auctions and roundups, family picnics, irrigation wars, tornadoes and wind storms give authentic color to Little Britches. So do adventures, wonderfully told, that equip Ralph to take his father’s place when it becomes necessary.
Ralph and his father are the main characters, and it is simply amazing to read about the grown-up things he was doing as early as 9 years old: breaking and training horses, herding cattle, riding bucking broncos (and mules), helping bring in the hay.
Life was rough there–Ralph almost dies about four times–and heartbreaking things happen throughout the course of the story. I won’t ruin it, but suffice it to say that there were some bad dudes out on the frontier back in those days.
At the same time, there was a much better culture for becoming a man. Boys nowadays sit in classes all day until they’re 18 years old, then to make a living typically go to college for another four or five years. And yet they don’t learn a tenth of practical skills that Ralph learned by age 10.
One hope we have in buying land is to give our children an upbringing that includes homesteading aspects of the pioneer days. Oh sure, we’ll use modern technology for many things: power screwdrivers, tractors, etc. etc., but we will also be exposing them to working with natural materials, building things, caring for animals and seeing them be born and die, giving them responsibilities to help them grow as human beings.
So I’m grateful for Little Britches and the portrait it paints of life one hundred years ago. For fathers and sons, I can’t recommend the book enough.