Laura Ingalls Wilder is a well-known American author. Her "Little House" books are based on her childhood remembrances.
She was born in 1867. Her father was Charles Ingalls and her mother was Caroline Quiner Ingalls. They were both from pioneer families who lived in the mid 1800's. Her mother became a teacher at age 16 earning about $3 a week which she used to help support the family of nine.
After her parents' marriage they moved to a log cabin in Wisconsin. Mary was their first child, and two years later Laura was born in the Big Woods. When Laura was three they moved west to Kansas. Pa built a house of logs with a dirt floor. Baby Carrie joined the family. The next year they decided to return to Wisconsin.
When Laura was 7 they packed the covered wagon and moved to Minnesota. The town was Walnut Grove and their 172 acre farm was by Plum Creek. Until Pa could build a house, they lived in a dugout, a cavelike area carved out of the earth.
They were glad to move into their new house which had real doors and glass windows. Mary and Laura shared a room in the attic.
Disaster struck one summer day when swarms of grasshoppers came and devoured the wheat crop and all the vegetation. Many people left the town and returned East.
That summer Pa walked 200 miles east to find a job. At the end of the summer he returned home. A son, Charles Frederick was born. That spring millions of grasshoppers hatched from the eggs which had been laid and for a second year the crops were ruined. They packed the wagon and back-tracked to the east to stay with family; 13 people in one farmhouse. That summer baby Freddie died. He was a sickly child and only lived nine months.
Their next move was to Burr Oak, Iowa where they would live in and work for a hotel. Then they lived for a while above a grocery store in Burr Oak. Finally they were able to move to a brick house outside of town.
That spring Ma had another baby they named Grace.
One day a rich neighbor, Mrs. Starr came to see them. She wanted to adopt Laura. What a relief it was to the child when Ma politely said, "No". Pa got the urge to move again, so back they went to Walnut Grove.
When Laura was 12 Mary became very ill with meningitis.* She had a stroke which caused her to become blind. The family was devastated and Laura had to accept more responsibility. She became Mary's
"eyes" and would describe things around them.
able to get a job as a store manager for the railroad in
Dakota Territory. The family followed him later by train and they lived
in the railroad camp. Few men had brought their families with them.
winter came, the workers went back east to their families, but
the Ingalls family was able to live in the surveyor's roomy house on
the banks of Silver Lake. Pa had been hired to protect the property.
As immigrants* came through the area,
they would find a place to sleep at the Ingalls' and Ma cooked for
them. Pa looked for land to homestead* near De
Smet. In the spring the family moved into town and Laura, age thirteen,
began to teach Carrie and her friends in their home. She was De Smet's
bitterly cold when winter came to South Dakota as the
temperature dropped to 40 degrees below zero. Sometimes Laura had to
thaw the frozen ink before she could do her lessons.
they ran out of coal Pa and Laura twisted strands of hay to
make sticks for fuel. The food supply dwindled. Families were near
starvation. Almanzo Wilder and his brother were able to bring wheat
seed to the townspeople, and they once again had loaves of brown bread
to live on. (In "The Long Winter" Cap Garland, a 19-year-old from town is identified as the young man who went with him.)
moved out to the homestead and Laura had a sewing job in town.
In six weeks she had earned $9. She would help to send Mary to a school
for the blind in Iowa.
next winter Laura went to live at a small settlement and taught
five students. She earned $40 in the two months she was there.
eight weeks Almanzo, who was ten years older than Laura, came every
Friday afternoon with his horse-drawn sleigh and took her home. On
Sunday he returned her to her job. They didn't talk much during the
trips, but their love for each other began to grow.
Almanzo, nicknamed "Manly" by Laura, courted her for three
years and they were married when Laura was 18 years old. They farmed
and their first wheat crop was hailed out. They had to move into a
shanty and there baby Rose was born.
parents quit farming and moved into De Smet where Pa became the town
Laura and Manly became very ill with diphtheria* and Rose had to stay with Ma and Pa until they recovered.
Manly went back to work in the field too soon and suffered a mild
stroke. His legs were partially paralyzed and his health was never the
a second child, a son, who only lived a few weeks. He was
a sickly child and they feared they would lose him. They never
gave him a name.
when she was three years old Rose accidently started a fire
and the house burned to the ground. Because they had suffered so many
losses, they felt they had to leave. They went to Minnesota where
Almanzo's parents lived. They stayed a year and a half and then spent a
short time in Florida. After they returned to De Smet Manly did odd
jobs and Laura worked as a dressmaker. It was a difficult time.
told them about the beauty of the Ozark Mountains. They
packed all their belongings in the wagon and headed toward Missouri.
After 45 days they had traveled 650 miles and arrived in Mansfield.
Three weeks later Manly had found some land and put a down payment on
40 acres. Laura named it Rocky Ridge Farm.
was a small log cabin and the previous owner had left 400
little apple trees ready to be planted. Manly cut down trees to clear
the land and sold some of the wood. They started a garden, raised
chickens, and sold eggs. Rose rode her donkey Spookendyke into
Mansfield to go to school.
To increase their income, the family moved to town where Manly
delivered goods and Laura cooked meals for the railroad men.
Laura received word that Pa was dying. It had been nearly
eight years since she had seen her family. She rode trains to return to
De Smet to see them and to be with her father before he died.
Laura became a successful poultry* farmer and began to share her ideas
in weekly articles in a farm magazine, the "Missouri Ruralist".* Later
she wrote articles for other newspapers.
went to live for a year with her aunt Eliza Jane, Almanzo's
sister, to finish school. She graduated at the top of her class. She
moved to Kansas City to work. There she met and married Gillette Lane,
a newspaper reporter.
Rose became a newspaper woman in San Francisco. She asked her
mother to come for a visit. They had not seen each other for four
years. Laura rode a train west to see her daughter. She remained in San
Francisco for two months. Later Rose and Gillette divorced. Rose
traveled extensively and became a famous writer.
years of work, the Wilder's home was finished. It was a
two-story house with ten rooms and four porches. Laura was content in
it. She began writing about her pioneer days in magazine articles.
Ma died at the age of 84, but Laura did not go back to De
Smet for the funeral. Mary, her blind sister who had lived with her
parents all her life, went to live with her sister Carrie and her
bought her parents a car, a Buick they named Isabella. Four
years later she built them a modern rock cottage across the ridge from
the farmhouse. It even had a furnace and electricity. When her parents
moved into the rock cottage, Rose occupied the farmhouse. (In the mural
below you can see the rock cottage on the left and the white farm house
with the chimney across the road.)
Ma's death and then Mary's death, Laura began to think
more and more about writing down her childhood memories. She was 63
years old when she began to write about her life as a pioneer. She
wrote for months and titled the manuscript Pioneer Girl. She
took the tablet to Rose and asked her to type it. They shortened the
story and renamed it When Gramma Was a Little Girl. Her story
was rejected by a publisher.
a revision it was accepted with the new title Little House in
the Big Woods. Children loved it and wanted more stories. It was
awarded a Newbery Honor.
(Look at the years 1938, 1940, 1941, 1942, and 1944 to see all the
honors her books received.) The Newbery Medal is awarded every year by
the American Library Association for the most distinguished* American
children's book published the previous year.
The next year she published Farmer Boy, the story of a year in
Manly's life. Next came Little House on the Prairie. On the
Banks of Plum Creek was about the hard times in Minnesota. Laura
was now a famous author.
Rose moved to Connecticut and the Wilders moved back into the farmhouse
which now had electricity.
After visiting Old Settlers Day in De Smet and seeing old friends
again, Laura wrote By the Shores of Silver Lake. Her next books
were The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These
Happy Golden Years. Laura was 76 years old when she wrote her last
book. Her books were translated into many languages and even into
The Wilders had a very large mailbox. Some days she would receive 50
letters from children who had read her books. She answered every letter
In Detroit a library was named in her honor, and in California a
library named its children's room the "Laura Ingalls Wilder Room".
Manly had a heart attack and a few weeks later he died at
the age of 92. He and Laura had been married 64 years. The "Man of the
Place" was gone and Laura was lonely.
After his death she wrote another book First Three Years and a Year
about the early years of their marriage, but she did not publish it
because it was so sad. It would be published 14 years after her death
titled The First Four Years.
On her 84th birthday Laura Ingalls Wilder received nearly a thousand
cards, letters, and telegrams. She was determined to live past the age
of 90 just as Manly had done. She did. She died three days after her
This biography by Patsy Stevens, a retired teacher, was written in 2009.
"Little House on the Prairie" TV series was produced from 1974
to 1983. It was based on the Little House books by Laura Ingalls
Wilder. The family members portrayed* were real people; Laura, her
parents, and her sisters, but the episodes contain some fictional
characters and events which never happened. The popular series was
syndicated* and the Hallmark Channel airs the episodes daily. Melissa
Gilbert portrayed Laura Ingalls Wilder.
The facts in this story were found in the book
Laura Ingalls Wilder: Storyteller of the Prairie (Lerner Biographies)