Rocky Ridge Farm – A Laura Ingalls Wilder Story
By T. L. Tedrow
Chapter One – On the Road to Missouri, Part 2
Manly, like many Americans at the turn of the century, thought that America was getting too crowded. Call it fear of the unknown or fear of losing what they owned, but a new wave of people with “alien ways” were coming into America, destined to change the country forever.
Millions of immigrants were headed to America. With strong willing backs and a hunger to be satisfied, they yearned to live in a country with a free-enterprise system, where the people had the right to choose their own leaders.
America’s prairie land was a welcome mat to the world. Open land as far as the eye could see. Oceans of glory where a sod-buster could circle a section of land as his own. The land-grant system and the competition of the railroads to settle customers along their lines literally opened up the heartland of America.
Railroads had acquired the right-of-way and needed settlers to make a profit and goods to carry over their rail lines. The Chicago & Northwestern Railway put ads and flyers at the immigrant arrival centers that proclaimed:
A Union Pacific Railroad leaflet said, “The immigrants are hauled in their own sleeping cars attached to the regular passenger trains.” They were offered free berths, a 150-pound free baggage allowance and special cross-country rates.
The competition for immigrants was so fierce that the Northern Pacific Railroad bragged,
“The neighbors in the Fatherland may be neighbors in the new West.”
To induce immigrants to come they built temporary reception houses, offered “ready-made” homes for “only ten percent down and ten equal annual payments,” and donated a section of land in every railroad colony for churches.
Entire congregations were brought from England and neighborhoods were transplanted from Europe by the shipload. With the flamboyant advertising and the benefits of the Homestead Act of 1862, is it any wonder that they came to a country offering such incredible opportunities?
Manly knew his family had arrived in America only a generation before, but like human beings everywhere, he didn’t like to leave the door open once through it. He’d been born in America and as far as he was concerned, his roots were back in New York State and no other place.
Rose tugged at her Mother’s dress. “Where do they come from Mama?”
Laura straightened the braids on Rose’s hair and smoothed her dress. Jack yipped and she scratched his head.
“Where do they come from? Why, they’ve come from everywhere on Earth. The newspaper said that millions of people are coming to America looking for work. They’re coming from Italy, England, Scotland, Germany, Poland, Ireland, Hungary, Russia, Norway and …”
Manly “giddiyapped” the horses a little too quickly, jolting them back. “Excuse me for interrupting the class but how can you tell the difference in all these folks? They all look kind of strange to me.”
Laura shook her head, “I just look and listen. That man who just passed us was from France. I could tell by the language. ‘Bonjour’ is hello in French.”
“And where’d you learn how Frenchies speak?” Manly asked, eyeing an approaching wagon.
Laura gave Jack a piece of beef jerky from the sack under the seat. “When we crossed the river, I heard one of the riverboat captains speaking that beautiful language. I asked him what he was speaking and where he was from. He was from Paris, Paris, France. Can you imagine that?”
Manly grabbed a piece of beef jerky for himself. “I could imagine it would seem a whole lot better if he were still there.”