Laura Ingalls Wilder: In a little house on a prairie, she never lost her dream of a better day.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and her own little house on the prairie.
Laura Ingalls Wilder and her own little house on the prairie.

Laura Ingalls Wilder understood hard work, hard times, and hardships, and the memories of most of them, sooner or later, found their way into her Little House on the Prairie books.

A sister went blind. A brother died in infancy. To help with the family’s dwindling finances, she began teaching at the age of fifteen even though she had not finished high school. By the age of eighteen, she had married a South Dakota homesteader, Almanzo.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Time and again, her dreams of a better day shattered around her, but Laura Ingalls Wilder remained undaunted.

The couple raised chickens and cattle while tending their fruit orchards and wheat fields, and, time and again, they were broken by hail, a devastating infestation of grasshoppers, and five straight years of unquenchable drought.

One daughter, Rose, was born. A son died twelve days after his birth, and Laura Ingalls Wilder buried him on an empty prairie without ever having given him a name.

Their house burned down. Her husband’s barn, filled with hay and grain, went up in flames. And Almanzo, suffered from a bout with diphtheria. He survived but was stricken with a stroke of paralysis that left him with a crippled foot.

The Wilders tried Florida but did not like the heat and humidity and wound up deciding to try again in Missouri because the Frisco Railroad was advertising the territory as the “Land of the Big Red Apple.”

They returned first to South Dakota, worked until they had saved a hundred dollars, and traveled in a two-seat hack – with Laura’s coop of chickens – for fifty-five days and sixty hundred and fifty miles until they reached Mansfield, Missouri. Almanzo bought forty acres of rough and rocky farmland just east of town and planted his first crop of corn. Rose picked huckleberries and blackberries and sold them in Mansfield for ten cents a gallon. Laura earned extra money by taking in boarders and cooking for railroad officials and the town banker.

They scratched out a meager living and made sure that their daughter was well educated. They wanted her to have a chance to find a better life that had always eluded them. Rose worked on magazines in San Francisco and sold articles to several magazines, including Ladies Home Journal, Harper’s, Saturday Evening Post, and Good Housekeeping. She also wrote biographies for such illustrious men of the day as Jack London, Henry Ford, and Herbert Hoover.

She sat down one day and wrote her mother, asking Laura to write down some of the old stories that she used to tell when Rose was just a girl. Since Laura had nothing better to do at the time, she began writing her memories and sending a few of them to her daughter.”

A letter came back from a publisher, Harper and Son, that said, “These are good, but put some meat on them.”

Some say that Laura Ingalls Wilder personally fleshed out the first of her Little House on the Prairie books. Some insist that Rose added the heart and soul to those novels about the hardships of pioneer life on the prairie and the Big Woods. It doesn’t really matter.

Already in her retirement years, Laura Ingalls Wilder became one of the most celebrated of American authors.  She was asked: “How did it happen that you would start writing a series of books when you were in your sixties.”

“Well, I didn’t start writing a series of books,” she said. “I just starting writing one.”

Fortunately, she had more than one story to tell.

Within two decades, her Little House books had been read by more than a half billion children and translated into forty languages and dialects.

Her philosophy had always been a simple one. “The true way to live,” she said, “is to enjoy every moment as it passes, and surely it is in the everyday things around us that the beauty of life lies.”

She loved gazing upon the world around her and always kept her windows uncovered. “I don’t put curtains over my pictures, “ she said. “They’re never the same for two hours together, and I like to watch them changing.”

As the royalties from her books began to increase, she asked a friend, “Do you know any people in this area who need help?”

“Why?” the friend asked.

“Well,” Laura replied, ‘I have more money than anyone has a right to have.”

Money was a long time coming.

She could not wait to give it away.

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  • The wonderful back story, many do not know. I was greatly impressed by her tales.

    • She captured a moment in time and preserved it for all of us.

  • jack43

    I have never understood why her series is considered children’s reading. I read the whole set in my adult life and found it interesting as well as inspiring. She (whether that be Laura or in collaboration with her daughter) made everything come to life and entertaining, even the mundane details of living on the frontier. Hard times were simply challenges and she relished in her parent’s ability to master them. She obviously learned their lessons well. I still remember a line from the first, The Little House in the Big Woods, when her father was out hunting one day and heard the report of another hunter’s rifle in the distance. It was time to move. Civilization was encroaching. What a concept so masterfully portrayed.

    • The father would never have survived in a neighborhood with curb and gutters. Come to think of it, I have the same problem.

  • Tianna Xander

    I loved her stories as a child and still love them today. The world has lost something over the years. People no longer care for others the way they used to. If these were required reading in our schools, perhaps we would be lucky enough to get just a little bit of that back, or maybe that’s just another dream.

    • Laura had a real quality about her writing and her stories. It was a much more romantic time, even when life was hard and difficult. People had values, and they passed them on. People still have values, but now, I fear, we are too busy to pass them on.

  • My son has enjoyed reading the Little House on the Prairie books, and I have enjoyed them a second time through him. Thank you for sharing more of Laura’s life with us, Caleb!

    • An author’s life is often more fascinating than her books, and Laura had really great books.

  • Lana L. Higginbotham

    She is one of the best. Her influence stirred my early writings.

    • What I tend to forget is that we read Laura Ingalls Wilder because we consider her books to be historical. For her, she was writing about the life she knew and lived.

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