If you are a fellow Little House geek you all know about the china shepherdess. For the rest of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, the china shepherdess was practically a character who made an appearance in every one of the Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was a china figurine, Ma Ingalls’ most prized possession probably because it was the only pretty thing she owned, who travelled across the mid-west with the Ingalls family in their covered wagon. She was the last thing Ma always unpacked, always with great ceremony, each time the family moved into a new home.
In Little House on the Prairie, the second book in the series which tells about the Ingalls’ journey to Kansas and the log house Pa built for the family, the china shepherdess lived on the fireplace mantel. In other books she stood on a wooden bracket. In Little House in the Big Woods Laura tells us exactly how Pa made the wooden bracket and describes the detailed flowers he carved on it. In later books she stood on the top shelf of a whatnot. The lower shelves of the whatnot contained china figurines Laura and her sisters received as Christmas gifts in one of the books, Carrie had a china dog and Laura and Mary each had a china jewel box.
In Michael Landon’s TV production of Little House on the Prairie (a total bastardization of the original stories but a great show nevertheless) the china shepherdess was displayed on the fireplace mantel and looked like this:
For years when I read the Little House books, before I ever even saw the TV show, this is also how I imagined the china shepherdess. After all it was the 70s and Holly Hobbie was big back then.
Just recently I did some research and discovered that the china shepherdess no longer exists. I guess it finally broke and I only hope poor Ma was not alive to witness it. There have been replica’s made based on Laura’s description in her books and what was common at the time and I was disappointed to see that they look like this:
I’m not sure what I was expecting. I guess something that looked closer to my own china shepherdess. Because the other day I realized I had one of my own. And considering the country life the Ingalls family lived, I guess I figured the china shepherdess, despite Laura’s description that it was fragile and delicate, should have been a lot more hardy like the one my grandmother had at her house. It was a figurine that my grandmother actually made herself. She eventually made her way to my house and sits own her own bracket (sans carved flowers):
She actually may not be a shepherdess. She could be a Dutch milkmaid for all I know. But she looks pretty hardy and I’ll bet she could totally kick Ma’s china shepherdess’ ass.