We could learn a lot about liberty from our pioneer forebears, argues Meghan Clyne. And an exemplar of this model of freedom and self-reliance can be found on our children’s bookshelves, in the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder:
Who in America’s past, then, can show us the way to a mature, sustainable democratic life — one defined not by the rebellious seizure of liberty, but by the consistent and wise exercise of it through a dedication to self-reliance? The answer is the men and women who extended the freedoms articulated in Philadelphia and secured at Yorktown out to the Pacific Coast: the pioneers.
Their history has, sadly, been under-appreciated. This is due in part to the fact that the academy — which does most of the work of professional history — dismisses them as plunderers and marauders, despoilers of pristine environments and native civilizations. But it is also because the pioneers’ history is complicated, and does not lend itself to easy summary through the deeds of a few extraordinary figures. The history of the pioneers is, for the most part, the story of average people who pursued typical American desires: greater prosperity, breathing room, adventure, religious liberty. In fact, it is their very ordinariness that makes them such promising examples for today’s Americans seeking models of self-reliance and self-government.
Fortunately, there is one pioneer life that has been preserved in exhaustive detail — a life with which many Americans, though not enough, are already familiar. This life belongs not to someone known for authoring a governing document, achieving heroic feats on the battlefield, or amassing a staggering fortune. Rather, she is known and beloved precisely for giving Americans a sense of ordinary pioneer lives through the example of her own.