During The Long Winter, Laura recounts how the town ran out of coal to burn for heat, and even the lumber yard in De Smet sold out of all its sawn boards, those boards being a luxury at the time, to the local banker who is planned to burn them in his stove for heat.
Pa came up with a solution on what to do when the coal ran out. He went to the Big Slough returned with a wagon full of hay. He figured out a way that he could twist the straw together tightly in order to make something similar to a log of wood, which they could then burn in the stove for both cooking as well as to keep the house warm during all the blizzards that happened over The Long Winter.
Laura later joined Pa, helping him make these sticks of hay to burn, so the family wouldn’t freeze to death.
But how much of this story about twisting hay is actually accurate?
It seems to be extremely accurate, and that is what the family had to do during The Long Winter. Laura recounts the story about twisting hay in her original Pioneer Girl manuscript, which would later become the Little House on the Prairie books, including The Long Winter.
The details from Pioneer Girl also confirm that not only were they making these sticks of hay, but that they had to keep doing them all through the day because the hay burned so quickly that they were constantly having to feed the fire with what they called sticks of hay.
For more on the weather during that long winter, there is a very in-depth book covering the hard winter of 1880-81.