Laura Ingalls Wilder for Boys: Little Britches by Ralph Moody

Little Britches Series by Ralph Moody
From the McCook, NE Gazette
From the McCook, NE Gazette

Carl Henry, Ralph Moody, and Dutch Gunter
Carl Henry, Ralph Moody, and Dutch Gunther from Littleton, CO website


After reading the entire “Little House” series to my son Mohan (eight books in all) I went in search of a similar series for boys. After much searching, I found a recommendation on a the website of a Christian home-schooler (it could have been this one) for the Little Britches series by Ralph Moody.

Ralph vs. Laura

Ralph was born a little more than 30 years after Laura Ingalls Wilder, in 1898, in New Hampshire. His family moves to Colorado in search of a better climate for his ailing father who likely has contracted lung disease while working in coal mines. While Laura is an observer, particularly of her natural environment, Ralph is an adventurer, a doer, a closer observer of people and an entrepreneur. The events that punctuate his childhood (an accident on a horse-drawn plow that almost kills him at age eight) in Little Britches; a scheme to haul abandoned railroad ties that presents another near miss with death, via a railroad train, in the same book; a gig guiding cattle through town with his classmates as hired hands; peddling baked goods to army wives after his father’s death (in Man of the Family), to name just a few, pack more excitement into a single chapter than we get in the entire “Little House” series.

Ralph the Entrepreneur

Ralph the entrepreneur is incredibly hard-working, resilient, and compassionate. Through his adventures he handles a great many difficult characters with grace. Among these characters, his cantankerous and verbally abusive grandfather in Maine in The Fields of Home may be the worst, but others include a tenant farmer who beats and is finally murdered by his mustang in The Dry Divide; and a free-riding road companion in Shaking the Nickel Bush. Ralph is able to recognize latent skills in the people he encounters, from the harvest hands in The Dry Divide who turn out to be expert carpenters, hay pitchers, and saddle men; to the restauranteur’s brother in The Horse of a Different Color who turns out to be not just a butcher but adept in the slaughterhouse and at the drafting table; to the telephone operator Effie in the same book who turns her telephone chat into business for Ralph and help for farmers in foreclosure.

Diverse Careers

Ralph’s work as a hauler, delivery boy, salvager of collapsed Medford bridge material, launderer, farmer, stunt rider, traveling cowboy artist, farm hand, wheat hauler, stock man, bank agent, contract purveyor of meat and then retail butcher (to name a few!) engage us in a great diversity of worlds and to economic times that are removed in time but not dissimilar in the pace of change and the struggles of daily life. Ralph moves quickly from opportunity to opportunity and makes a number of trips from wealth to penury and back again. He’s doesn’t get caught in any of it but simply takes stock, watches for the next thing, and moves on.

Spreading the Word

These books are contagious and I have trouble understanding why they aren’t more well known. One reason may be that they are not classified as children’s books. My husband and I are quite careful about content for our six-year-old (the Harry Potter series rates as too scary, after book two) and these books, in our judgement, were entirely appropriate for our child, though some of the business dealings in the later books get harder for a child that age to follow (and hence a little boring). There are some debates about the order in which these books should be read. Here’s the order I’d suggest. Also, these books (like the “Little House” series) are in my estimation suited to both girls and boys.

Questions for Enthusiasts

Here are the questions I’d have for Ralph Moody enthusiasts. Why did Ralph leave Gould Farm? What was his experience with city life after his marriage to Edna? (The series stops at the marriage, so we never know). Anyone know anything more about the delightful uncle Levi? How was it that Ralph died at his sister Elizabeth’s house in Medford, and not at the home of one of his children? Is Elizabeth still living, and/or are any of her descendants still in the area? I would welcome email from anyone who has more info

Resources:

The best biography of Ralph Moody is from the city of Littleton, Colorado. I’m hoping someone there might one day provide me some more detailed info about Ralph’s life, and his descendants.

Wikipedia entry on Ralph Moody.

Another Ralph Moody fan appears to have located Gould Farm in Maine (the farm that’s featured in the Fields of Home book.

Christian Science Monitor article about John Gould, Ralph Moody’s first cousin and also a writer.

Misc:
Harry Nutting and picture of him, Annie Nutting, and their home (where Ralph weeded Danelions in 1909 or 1910 after his father’s death). Ralph Moody day in McCook, NE. Two comments from Mike Edwards fill in a lot of detail about why Ralph left Gould farm, when he came back East, and where he died.

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Houston W. Rice

All of our six children read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and the Little Britches series of Ralph Moody’s life up to age 21. I believe the latter contributed to their having four Masters Degrees and three PhD’s, covering medicine, law, engineering, business management, education, and accounting.
Ralph Moody taught an adult education course in writing in the Palo Alto, California, area. We talked to a man who took his course. An earthquake occurred during one class session. Moody paused during the quake, but continued his lecture without comment when it ended.
Has anyone contacted the Hazel Bendt family of the Home Ranch, or The Fields of Home neighbors?

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Beautiful story. Houston. Thanks for sharing, and glad your family has benefited so much from these books! Love the story of Ralph Moody and the earthquake. Look forward to hearing from anyone about the Bendt family or Fields of Home neighbors.

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Thank you for this very good piece of information on Ralph Moody. During the 1960’s the two (or may bee trhree) books where translated into the Dutch language. I read them from the obile library, and purchased them later on. What I like so much in the books is the describing of the relationship between the father and son Ralph, the role of the mother. And here resiliency, giving birth to her youngest child, some months after the death of her beloved man, the astonishment of her children, and the highly moral decision to leave Colorado with all her children, in order to save a man who confessed a murder to her (from death panelty) As a child I loved to read how practical and clever the Ralph and his brothers and sisters were. For instance when they plucked cherries on “stelts”, walking poles, among the grown ups.I also loved reading about the friendship between children and grow-ups like Raplhp and cowboy Hi. I don’t know whether the other books have not been translated into Dutch at all. And until recently I did not know that more books in the Little Briches serie existed.

Marianne W. van Bork, Leeuwarden Friesland the Netherlands

Marianne W. van

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Hi Marianne — Thanks for sharing the things you love about these books. I don’t know if the others have been translated into Dutch. I also love the childrens’ ingenuity and the important moral decision to leave Colorado. I always wonder about what happened in Ralph’s later life, and what became of Grace (his older and equally bright if not brighter sister). Thanks again, and take care. Rachael

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Susan Pearce

I enjoyed reading what you said on this page. Moody’s books are so enjoyable and I highly recommend them. I noticed what was said about Moody being born about 40 years after the birth of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was actually born in 1867, so she was born a little more than three decades before Moody was.

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Thanks, Susan. I will make that correction! Thanks for your careful reading.

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Deniza

Hi, our family is currently reading “The Fields of Home,” having already read the previous 4. We are in love with these books, and I would so like to know what happened to mother, and Gracie, and the rest of his siblings. Did you get any emails with details regarding the rest of the family? If you did, would you mind sharing with our family?
We are a homeschooling family with 3 children, but only 2 are in school. We are reading the Little Britches series simply because they are delightful and they offer wonderful character building lessons.

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rlburger

Hi Deniza —

Glad to hear you love these books as much as we do. I haven’t gotten any information on the family yet, but will let you know when I do further research — have visited the Medford Historical Society and got some info that I need to follow up on.

Take care, Rachael

(I just finished reading “Shaking the Nickel Bush” aloud for the 4th time and just started “The Dry Divide” for the second time — that’s a sad one, but a lot of drama.

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peri

hi – I was not sure my sons would share my childhood enthusiasm for the “Little House” books when I first started reading “Little house in the Big Woods” to them but was surprised to have them continue to beg me to read them a chapter at bedtime. I have noticed each chapter always has just enough tension, such as a sense of danger in the woods, or jealousy between the sibs, to really grab their attention; and they love the “cozy all-is-well-in-the-world moments” too. It has really given me a new appreciation for her writing!

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