Though I won’t call any story the very best I’ve ever read, this Rose Wilder Lane book ranks high on my list of favorites. It was first published in 1932, under the title of Let the Hurricane Roar, and the main characters were Caroline and Charles. Caroline was shy and quiet, and Charles was a homesteader who played the fiddle. Does that remind you of any other pioneering family chronicled in novels?
In 1976, after a television series inspired by Rose’s mother’s Little House books became popular, a television movie called Young Pioneers was adapted from Let the Hurricane Roar. The novel was then reprinted under it’s changed title, and the characters became Molly and David, names used in Rose Wilder Lane’s other pioneer novel, Free Land. My well-read paperback has the new title and character names, so those are the ones I’ll use here.
The short novel is told from Molly’s viewpoint, in a simple style that begins with the line: “While they were children playing together, they said they would be married as soon as they were old enough, and when they were old enough they married.”
Some may question whether sixteen-year-old Molly and eighteen-year-old David were really old enough to marry and set out as homesteaders on the vast prairie, but that’s what happens.
David is able to find work hauling supplies for a railroad construction crew, and earns money while searching for a homestead. He finds an abandoned claim with fifty plowed acres, plus a sod house and barn,and he files on the homestead. The couple move into their new home right before winter sets in, and Molly gives birth to their son on her seventeenth birthday.
When spring comes David is able to re-plow the rotted sod on his plowed acres and plant the first wheat crop in that part of the country. And oh how that wheat grows. David estimates a yield of forty bushels to an acre, and with wheat at a dollar a bushel they will soon have two thousand dollars – a fortune in the 1870s.
The couple plan for their future, and begin to despise their one-room sod home and worn belongings. Two weeks before harvest time David drives to the nearest town and buys lumber, window glass, and a mowing machine on credit. A few days later their wheat crop is destroyed by a plague of grasshoppers.
An attachment is placed on the team of horses – they can’t be taken out of the area until David’s debts are paid. So David walks a hundred miles to find work, satisfied that Molly and the baby will be looked after by their nearest neighbors until he returns in October.
But David is injured and can’t come home, and the neighbors decide to return to the east by means of a hunger-weaken team of oxen. The neighbors can’t leave until Molly has a safe home for the winter, but how can she keep them from starting out, when they have only limited time to travel before the winter blizzards start?
During a humiliating day in the nearly-abandoned town shy frightened Molly asks strangers to allow her to work for them in exchange for room and board. She has doors slammed in her face, then receives a grudging offer to stay with a family as a charity case. Against the advice of those around her Molly returns to the homestead with her baby, to spend the winter cut off from the world until spring. And that’s when the troubles start …
Many readers enjoy comparing Rose Wilder Lane’s pioneering novels and short stories to the book series written by her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. They ponder which story ideas came first, and if there was competition and resentment between the two writers who were earning their living by retelling the same family history. That can be a fascinating topic to explore, but I never let the back story drown out the fact that Young Pioneers, a/k/a Let the Hurricane Roar, is a superbly written book.
The reader is privy to Molly’s thoughts and emotions. During her darkest times – when she is about to give birth without the help of a knowledgeable woman, and when blizzards prevent her from leaving the house to get needed fuel to burn – the land and weather become her enemy, a cruel Thing trying to destroy her.
How can a mere girl of seventeen or eighteen stand up against the unstoppable forces of nature? By tackling each obstacle as if she really is strong and brave enough to get through the hard times.
If you enjoy pioneer stories I highly recommend this book. Shoot, I recommend it even if you don’t like pioneer stories, for some novels are too wonderful to be pigeon-holed into one category of literature. If you like a good story then find yourself a copy of Molly and David’s adventures as the Young Pioneers.