“I am beginning to learn that it is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder was a world famous author, but today she is better known for the television series that originated from her Little House books. In fact, many city dwellers in America got their first glimpse of small town America thanks to the books and stories by Wilder. Her family sporadically lived in Missouri during her childhood, so she could never really call anyplace home for an extended period (which allows Missouri to claim her). But the countryside of the Show Me State and a railroad advertisement touting Missouri as “The Land of the Big Red Apple” made enough of an impression on her that she ultimately chose to make her adult home in the Missouri Ozarks. Her best-selling books about westward expansion still make her a household name today.
THE EARLY YEARS
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born on February 7, 1867, in Wisconsin. She spent time during her childhood in a number of states, including early years in north-central Missouri. Her family moved by covered wagon to Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, the Indian and Dakota Territories, and Chariton County, Missouri, which meant that she could not call one place home for an extended period of time. She did return to the Show Me State as an adult after a series of tragedies, including
the death of an infant son.
RISE TO FAME
Laura Ingalls met her husband Almanzo Wilder while living in Dakota Territory where she worked as a teacher. When she was twenty-seven, the family moved to southwest Missouri and the small town of Mansfield. Laura yearned to write, so she began putting together articles for a number of publications, including McCall’s Magazine, Country Gentleman, the St. Louis Star, and the Missouri Ruralist.
The couple had a daughter named Rose who urged her mother to tell the stories of life on the prairie. So Laura put those stories on paper and called the book Pioneer Girl. The success of those books pushed Wilder to write a series of
adventures surrounding two girls named Laura and Mary, which became known as the Little House books.
SHOW ME SUCCESS
After writing Little House in the Big Woods in 1932, she went on to write a story about her husband’s childhood adventures called Farmer Boy. Her next book—Little House on the Prairie—was written in 1935 and was her claim to fame. It was loosely based on her time in Indian country after the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered 160 acres of land to families that settled in the West. She once remarked, “I had no idea I was writing history” when she penned the books. The novels were popular with critics and were bought up quickly by her fans. The stories remained popular and grew to even greater fame more than two decades after her death when the television series Little House on the Prairie debuted.
Ingalls Wilder continued writing books in the Little House series, including On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years in the following years. She died at the Rocky Ridge Farm in 1957, three days after her ninetieth birthday. The town of Mansfield has developed an entire industry surrounding the popularity of the Little House books, where an average of 45,000 visitors annually make a trek to Laura’s farm at Rocky Ridge.
*Laura and her husband briefly moved to Florida, but the women did not accept her because she was a “Yankee.”
*Laura met the snobby and cruel girl she called Nellie Owens at a church in Minnesota.
*Ingalls Wilder’s farmhouse carries a National Historic Landmark designation.