Thursday, August 25, 2016

Top 10 Pioneer Books

Pioneers – those hardy souls who left behind family and all that was known to them to explore unknown reaches and try for a chance at a better life.  I have been intrigued by pioneers and explorers since I was a child.  The following are my top pioneer picks in no particular order.

  1. The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck – Two modern day brothers decide to travel the Oregon Trail with an old fashioned schooner and team. This was a hilarious road trip tales as well as including a great history on the original pioneers who took the Oregon Trail.  I loved it!
  2. Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon – The first three books of the Outlander series are about Scotland and its history; book four changes to the frontier life as the Frasiers’ settle in the United States in the 18th century.  Jamie and Claire arrive in the United States via shipwreck.  Jamie eventually decides to start a settlement, Frasier’s Ridge in North Carolina.  Building a cabin, settlement, and the hardships of making it all work are all described in vivid detail.  I especially love how Claire uses her 20th century doctor knowledge to become a skilled 18th century healer.  Overall, this is the story of Jamie and Claire carving out a life on the frontier.
  3. Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati – Into the Wilderness is a continuation of Last of the Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper.  It is the story of Nathaniel Bonner (Hawkeye and Cora’s son) and Elizabeth Middleton, a 29-year old English spinster who has moved to a remove New York mountain village to join her family in 1792.  Will her refined English ways be able to handle the trials of living on the frontier?
  4.  Little House on the Prairie Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Lyrical series that explores the
    many moves and lives of the Ingalls family from Wisconsin to Kansas to Minnesota to South Dakota.  The Little House Series is descriptive and wonderfully told from a child’s point of view.  It describes the lives of pioneers in great detail thinking that kids won’t know what is meant otherwise.  This is perfect for us that are so far removed from the time to teach us how pioneers lived and did their tasks.  The love of the Ingalls family helps them through trials and tribulations.  They lived during changing times and Wilder was able to immortalize family, friends, and a way of life.
  5. Pioneer Girl by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Pioneer Girl was Laura’s original book written for adults that eventually was turned into the Little House series for children (and her daughter Rose’s books for adults).  This publication has pictures, maps, and notes that meticulously detail the real journey of the Ingalls and answered many burning questions I’ve had since childhood.  This is a grittier tale than the Little House series.
  6. Free Land by Rose Wilder Lane – As I discovered in Pioneer Girl, Rose Wilder Lane helped her mother by editing her original adult novel, Pioneer Girl, and then helped her edit them to children’s books.  Lane then used the stories to write her own adult novels.  Rose Wilder Lane was a very famous author in her day, but has been eclipsed in modern times by her mother.  Lane’s pioneer books are worth a read, especially for lovers of pioneer tales.  Mary and David Beaton are newlyweds that travel to the Dakota Territory to homestead 300 acres.  Isolation, blizzards, and cyclones are just some of the trials they face.  Their story is very similar to the real life stories of Almanzo and Laura Wilder and Charles and Caroline Ingalls.
  7. Young Pioneers by Rose Wilder Lane – This novel was originally published as Let the Hurricane Roar.  It tells the story of David and Molly.  They are newly married and just 18 and 16 when they head west with the blessing of their families.  They have a rough time in the newly settled west when a grasshopper plague hits.  You can think of this book as an adult version of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Bank of Plum Creek.
  8. My Antonia by Willa Cather – Willa Cather perfecting captured the pioneering spirit in two of her most famous works, My Antonia and O Pioneers.  In My Antonia, Jim Burden is raised by his pioneering grandparents in Nebraska.  His nearest neighbors are the Bohemian Shimerda family and their daughter, Antonia.  Antonia and Jim have many adventures together and experience the trials and joys of the pioneer life.
  9.  O Pioneers by Willa Cather - O Pioneers is the story of Alexandra Bergson.  She is strong woman who takes over the family farm after her father’s death and makes it a success in Nebraska during pioneer times.
  10. A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich – A Lantern in Her Hand is the story of a mother, Abbie McKenzie Deal.  As a young woman, Abbie dreams of a singing career, but instead marries a neighbor boy and Civil War vet, Will Deal.  Newly married Will and Abbie Deal move to Nebraska to start a family.  It’s a hard life starting a new farm and family while living in a soddie.  Abbie lives live sacrificing all for the sake of her children.  All of Abbie’s life is packed in this one novel, but I love her reflections as an old lady on her life and decisions.

What is your favorite pioneer book?  What elements of a pioneer’s tale draws you to the story?

For a travelogue of my visit to two pioneering sites – the settings for Little House in the Big Woods and On the Banks of Plum Creek, check out this post.


  1. Laura, thank you for this wonderful list. Surprisingly (as I admire pioneers), I've only read two of these books, #4 and #8. I think the Little House books are probably my favorite pioneer books.

    1. Nothing replaces the Little House books! They are definitely my favorite pioneer books. A Lantern in Her Hand is my Mom's favorite pioneer book and I've enjoyed reading it at different stages of my life. I really loved reading it now that I'm a mother.

  2. Having grown up as a bonnet-head, I loved pioneer stories! Great list. Yes, you pretty much nailed all my favorites--I actually prefer the Outlander series books once Jamie and Claire move to the new world. I've heard great things about Into the Wilderness, and have it on my TBAcquired list :)

    Young Pioneers is also on my TBR list along with O Pioneers.

    I just read Centennial for the first time this summer, and that would be on my Pioneer list. Also, I loved The Oregon Trail so much last summer, I got an audio copy to listen to with my husband on our recent road trip. Great book!

    1. Oregon Trail is an excellent audiobook. I loaned it to my mother and can't wait for her to read it and tell me what she thought.

      I have not read Centennial yet - I've had that on my TBR list for quite awhile. I need to move it up my list!

      I also love Outlander once they move to the new world and live on the frontier. I wish they spent more time at Frasier's Ridge the last couple of books!