The True way to Live: Laura Ingalls Wilder

“I realized I had seen and lived it all—all the successive phases of the frontier, first the frontiersman, then the pioneer, then the farmers and the towns.”

–Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder entered this world on February 7, 1867, near Pepin, Wisconsin. During her many years, she led an amazing life, for she was a pioneer, teacher, author, and a journalist. She was best known for her book series, Little House on the Prairie. Many children enjoyed reading her accounts and tales of life in the woods and open prairies, and years later, families eagerly awaited to watch the TV show based on her volumes.

Caroline and Charles Ingalls
On their wedding Day
February 1, 1860

Her parents Charles Ingalls and Caroline Lake Quiner made their home in the woods outside of Pepin, and this was setting for her first book, The Little House in the Big Woods. As children, the family moved across America’s heartland, and they lived in numerous places, Walnut Grove Minnesota, Burr Oak, Iowa, and the Osage Indian Reserve in Kansas. For a time, the family even lived in a dugout in Minnesota. Finally, the family eventually settled in the Dakota Territories in 1879, near De Smet, South Dakota. Charles and Caroline remained in their home for the rest of their lives.

From right: Caroline, Carrie, Laura, Charles, Grace, and Mary
1891

Laura had four siblings; she had an older sister, Mary, and two younger sisters, Carrie and Grace. She also had a younger brother, Charles, but he died when he was nine months old. After a fever, Mary became blind, and when she was older, she was sent to a school for the blind. This influenced Laura’s decision to become a teacher since her family required an extra income to help Mary attend the school.

Laura portrayed her mother Caroline as a gentlewoman that was well-educated. Her mother had also been a teacher. Her father, she maintained was cheerful and friendly, but often reckless. She included her family in her manuscripts and shared their adventures with her readers.

Although the family had to move from place to place, the children learned from home and attended schools when given the opportunity. In 1882, at the age of fifteen, Laura became a teacher and received her teaching certificate. That same year, she took a job at the Bouchie School, a one-room schoolhouse, in a little settlement and taught there for three years. The school was about twelve miles away from her home in De Smet, so The young teacher boarded with a local family. Her first job kept her away from her family, but she often visited on the weekends.

While living in the Dakota Territories, the family became acquainted with a young settler, Almanzo Manly Wilder. He and his brother, Royal, arrived in 1879. Often Almanzo would travel and bring Laura home for the weekend visits with her family. They become friends, but soon, the couple began a courtship for two years, and they were married on August 25, 1885. Laura quit her job and helped her husband farm their land. She included those early years in her book, The First Four Years.

Almanzo and Laura
Florida
1891

During those first four years, the young couple survived a series of tragedies. Hail ruined their wheat crop. A fire destroyed their barn, along with the hay and grain that was stored inside. The couple also contracted diphtheria, and this disease left Almanzo partially paralyzed. He had to use a cane, and he suffered from health problems for the rest of his life. Soon after, they lost two wheat crops when a drought took place. Later, their newborn son died when he was just two weeks old. Within a month of his birth, their home, that Almanzo built, burned, and they lost most of their possessions. One bright spot amidst their troubles was the birth of their daughter, Rose in 1886.

Rocky Ridge Farm, Mansfield, Missouri

By 1894, the family moved to Mansfield, Missouri; Laura and Almanzo would live on their farm, Rocky Ridge, until their deaths. The couple was well known for their farming abilities, and this led Laura to begin her writing career. By 1911, she had written articles about farming for the Missouri Ruralist.

Laura’s daughter, Rose, was a successful writer, and she helped her mother with her writing career. Before the depression, Laura and Almanzo lost most of their life savings when the stock market crashed in 1929. Their daughter helped support her parents, and Laura began writing an autobiography. After reading her work, the publishers persuaded Laura to rewrite it as a fiction. Laura followed their advice and started writing her books about her childhood. Although her stories focused on actual events, the author included fictional elements to make her books more entertaining for her young readers. Finally, in 1932, when Laura was sixty-five years old, she published her first book, Little House in the Big Woods.

Over the next ten years, Laura shared her stories about life on the frontier. Her accounts warmed the hearts of her followers, and she became a beloved celebrity. Each book was based on her family’s experiences. Little House in the Big Woods focused on their lives while living in Wisconsin. Their presence in Kansas was portrayed in Little House on the Prairie, and On the Banks of Plum Creek shared their experiences while living in Minnesota. Her remaining childhood years in South Dakota completed the series and included By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years. Her second book, Farmer Boy, focused on Almanzo’s childhood in New York. In 1953, her books were released once again with illustrations by Garth Williams. Before she died, she worked on a manuscript about her early struggles when she was first married. This book, The First Four Years, was not published until 1971.

The couple remained on their farm at Rocky Ridge. Almanzo died at home in 1949 at the age of ninety-two. Laura at the age of ninety on February 10, 1957.

Although controversy has swirled about her books, many still find her tales a realistic view of life during those years. Even today, her stories fill libraries and classrooms across our nation, and children

“The true way to live is to enjoy every moment as it passes, and surely it is in the everyday things around us that the beauty of life lies.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist, Writings from the Ozarks

Sources:

2 thoughts on “The True way to Live: Laura Ingalls Wilder

  1. I grew up loving her books, and I read them over and over again. One summer, my family toured several of her hometowns, including DeSmet and Mansfield. I don’t think we are related at all, but some members in my family tree had the same pioneering spirit!

    Liked by 1 person

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