I started working on this post when a reminder came through for the author’s December 28th birthday so I’m taking the fact that I’ve finally finished it up means I’m making progress with my To Do List.
The Caddie Woodlawn House is located in Dunn County, Wisconsin. That’s the county directly North of Pepin and many people who make the trip to either Caddie Woodlawn’s House or Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthplace in Pepin, Wisconsin, will do both. The late lamented Little House Store in Lund, WI carried merchandise for both. Personally I’ve never made the trip yet because when the choice is to stay in Pepin a little while longer and go North, so far I’ve always wanted to stay in Pepin more.
Carol Ryrie Brink was a professional author who wrote books both for children and adults, poetry, and plays. Her most famous book was Caddie Woodlawn based on the real life stories her grandmother told her about growing up on the frontier of Wisconsin. The Caddie Woodlawn House is where her grandmother really lived. Brink herself never lived in Wisconsin, but she spent childhood summers visiting relatives. When Brink decided to write about her grandmother’s stories she was living in France with her husband, but she vividly remembered her grandmother’s stories and added to her information with letters and questionnaires sent back and forth from her grandmother to France. The Brinks returned to Wisconsin and somewhat to their astonishment found the old family house still standing right where her grandmother described (legal records confirmed its identity). They also talked to old timers in the area, confirming some of her grandmother’s stories and adding others. Some of the stories are absolutely real, others are borrowed from other old timers, and some are made up. The book was published before her grandmother’s death and the real Caddie had the satisfaction of knowing her stories wouldn’t be forgotten. Caddie Woodlawn won the Newbery Medal in 1936 and continued to be a best seller up to the 1980s. Brink wrote a sequel called Magic Melons in 1944. Like Laura, her books featured a spunky heroine who loved being a pioneer. Unlike Laura, Caddie’s family had to make a choice to stay in Wisconsin or not when her father unexpectedly inherits the family title when his older brother dies without an heir (there was bad blood with the family because they cut him off after he married beneath him). There is a more fantasy and less everyday experience in these stories than in Laura’s books, but they are a good read. Regrettably Brink did include a scalp belt which while common in literature of the day, has been researched and shown to be a wholly fictional device (in any story). This among other things has brought protests against the books.
I looked around to find a video of their site and while the opening and part of the narration of this one talks about ghosts, I wanted to share it because it does a great job of showing the park and what there is to see.
If you have visited the park yourself, share what it was like. Otherwise you may want to consider adding a Caddie stop on your next Laura Ingalls Wilder trip to Pepin.
For more biographical information see:
“Carol Ryrie Brink.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
For more on the story behind the book see:
Montgomery, Elizabeth Rider. “Remembered Yesterdays: Caddie Woodlawn–Brink, 1935.” The Story Behind Modern Books. New York, N.Y.: Dodd, Mead, & Company, 1949. 186-192. Rpt. in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Dana Ferguson. Vol. 149. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Literature Resource Center. Web. 10 Mar. 2014.
Note: The Story Behind Modern Books was originally published as a book and while I didn’t get it out today, I do have a copy of it. I think any Laura fan or children’s literature buff would want a copy for their collection.
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+,LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.