The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.
—Laura Ingalls Wilder
Charles Ingalls, or Pa, as his children lovingly called him, taught us a great many lessons on living a good life. He was a man of character, strength, good morals, and fortitude. These lessons are echoed in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writing as illustrated in Laura’s beautiful quote above. Pa lived a life that was deeply anchored in his faith.
He lived life with his characteristically joyful gusto, that blazing pioneer spirit that dreamed big dreams, and envisioned a better life for his family. Pa Ingalls certainly taught us a lot about life. His legacy lives on like the trails he blazed, his hard-working skills, and the simple life he created with his family.
1. Faith and an Unbreakable Spirit – Pa had rock-solid faith. The Ingalls survived crop loss, blizzards, fires, grasshopper plagues, and many other setbacks but they were determined to stay positive through it all. When his crops were ruined in the storm, he cried out to God, yet still trusted him to make a way for the family. Pa and Ma were devoted to the church and community, and the real Charles Ingalls served as School Commissioner and Justice of the Peace in De Smet, South Dakota.
Pa had a hopeful perspective that encouraged everyone. He was optimistic and brightened everyone’s outlook on life.
2. Marriage, Family, and Love – Pa Ingalls loved his wife and his family passionately. He protected them fiercely, and provided for them in any means that he could. He taught them lessons by the way he lived, and with his heart-to-heart talks with them by lantern-light.
3. Cash on the Barrel – Pa taught us to be frugal and wise with our money and to owe no one a debt. In one episode after Hanson’s Mill is closed and he is out of work, Pa says the family will no longer charge at Oleson’s store, and that it will be “cash on the barrel” (cash only) for purchases.
4. Selfless Concern for Others – Pa had concern for the well-being of others, particularly those who were the most vulnerable. In the TV series, he sets a great example of this by adopting Albert, James, and Cassandra (played by Melissa Francis). Pa is highly sensitive to his environment and is generous with his time and energy for the good of others.
5. The Simple Life – “Well all’s well that ends well,” Pa replied (Little House on the Prairie). Material possessions come and go. The Ingalls had to uproot themselves a number of times, leaving many possessions behind, but one thing always remained the same; as long as they were together, they were home.
Pa showed us in words and deeds that the best things in life are free. He lived a quiet, simple life full of contentment and peace.
6. Contentment Is True Wealth – In the Season 2 episode called “The Richest Man In Walnut Grove”, we hear Mr. Oleson and Pa talk about a wealth that is deeper and more meaningful than monetary wealth, “Charles, I think you’re the richest man in Walnut Grove.” Mr. Oleson says. “I know I am.” Pa replies.
Although money is scarce and times are tough, it is the simple pleasures of home that bring the Ingalls joy and happiness.
7. Hard Work and Keeping Your Word – In the Season 1 episode called “A Harvest of Friends”, Pa teaches us the meaning of hard work when he goes to work repairing a roof and stock feed for the local feed store. After he is injured, and has to stay in bed and cannot complete his repairs by the due date, he ignores the doctor’s orders and finishes the job anyway. He keeps his word, and in the process his friends all pitch in to help him lift the heavy feed sacks.
Pa also works hard at the lumber mill and builds a lot of things his family needs. . All built by hand with his skill as a woodworker, such as rocking chairs, baby cradles, a wooden saddle for Laura’s horse, and the traps he uses to catch fish.
8. Music Soothes The Soul – “…and he took his fiddle out of its box and began to play. That was the best time of all.” (Little House in the Big Woods) Pa always played his fiddle for his family. He sang, danced, and played songs both bright and jolly and sorrowful and slow. He brought joy to the Ingalls’ home and to the friends that came to visit through his music.
In a 1937 letter to her daughter, Laura describes her father: “Pa was no business man. He was a hunter and trapper, a musician and poet.” You can learn more about Pa and his fiddle here.
9. Gifts from the Heart & Resourcefulness – The Ingalls gave gifts to each other that were not only resourceful (using only what they had on hand, and not wasting anything), but they also put a lot of thought into their gifts. They were mostly handmade gifts that they knit, built, sewed, baked, or crafted. In “Christmas at Plum Creek,” the girls receive one shiny Christmas penny each, and some red knitted mittens.
Pa even made things that they needed by hand. “Everything from the little house was in the wagon, except the beds and tables and chairs. They did not need to take these, because Pa could always make new ones.” (Little House in the Big Woods)
10. Bravery and Courage – “He liked a country where the wild animals lived without being afraid.” (Little House on the Prairie) Pa brought his family by covered wagon to unsettled land. They had to cross rivers to get to their new homestead. In the Pilot episode of Little House on the Prairie, we see Pa leap out of the wagon to help pull the horses across the water. He almost falls beneath the wagon. He faces those rough waters to get his family to safety. Pa was the epitome of bravery.
Charles Ingalls taught us these and many more lessons. He spoke to us all in his words, actions, heart, and spirit. He was a wonderful husband, father, friend, and pioneer.
What is your favorite life lesson learned from Pa Ingalls? Now you can relive all of these moments when you purchase the beautifully remastered TV series on blu-ray, DVD or Digital HD! Or keep everything in one place with The Complete Series Gift Set, which includes 48 discs and eight hours of bonus material.