Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) -
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder is a celebrated American Author whose
childhood in the Old West led her to write a series of what is known as
the "Little House" books, including "Little House on the Prairie" for
which a popular television show in the 1970's and early 80's about her
writings would be named.
Born in the "Big
Woods" of Wisconsin just a few miles north of Pepin, on
February 7, 1867, Laura was the second of five children born to
Charles Philip and Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls. Laura first started
school at the age of four in Pepin, but father, Charles, dreamed of
going West to pioneer unsettled lands. Over the next several years,
Laura would attend school only sporadically, as the family moved to Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa before finally settling in De Smet,
South Dakota, where Laura finally attended school full-time.
Their first adventure west took the family to land not
open for homesteading yet near Independence, Kansas. This was
still Indian Territory at the time, and the family would soon be
forced to move back to Wisconsin. Charles Ingalls pioneering and
restless spirit would move them again to a preemption claim in Walnut
Grove, Minnesota, during which time they lived with relatives near
South Troy, while helping run a Burr Oak, Iowa hotel. Eventually
Charles would get the family to their claim in Walnut Grove as he found work as
the town butcher and Justice of the Peace.
In 1879 Charles found work with the Railroad that
took him to eastern Dakota Territory, where he found a homestead in De
Smet, South Dakota
that he would call home for the rest of his life.
During these many moves, the family encountered
difficult times, as grasshoppers destroyed their crops two seasons in
a row, a winter of continuous blizzards threatened their supplies, and
they had constant financial struggles.
Laura's brother, Charles Frederick, died when he was just nine months
old and sister, Mary, lost her eyesight at the young age of 15 after an
After father, Charles, accepted the railroad job,
the family fared better and Laura continued her
education until the age of 15 and earned her "Third Grade" teaching certificate at
helping her family financially. At the same time she was teaching in a
one room school house in De Smet, she also worked for a local dressmaker and attended
high school. All that was cut short however after meeting homesteader Almanzo
Wilder. The two married August 25, 1885, Laura stopped teaching,
helped Almanzo with the homestead, and had their only child, Rose, on
December 5, 1886.
In their early years, the couple faced a number of
difficulties including Almanzo being partially paralyzed after a
life-threatening bout of diphtheria, the loss of a still-born, unnamed son, losing
their home and barn in a fire, and a severe drought that left them in
major debt. In 1890, they left South Dakota, first moving to Minnesota,
then to Florida, returning to South Dakota, before finally settling down
Missouri in 1894
at a place they called Rocky Ridge Farm. Again they struggled, and
for a time had to move into a rental in Mansfield, but after Wilder's
parents gifted them the deed to the house they were renting, they
finally began to prosper, selling the house in town, increasing
their land from 40 to over 200 acres, and turning their small log cabin
into a 10 room farmhouse and outbuildings, completed in 1910.
Rocky Ridge Farm became
a poultry and dairy farm, with an apple orchard as well. Almanzo was
active in various clubs and was recognized as an authority in rural living
and poultry farming, leading to invitations to speak before groups around
the region. During this time, their daughter Rose Wilder Lane was in
a budding writing career, which inspired Laura to do the same. She
wound up accepting a columnist and editor position with the Missouri Ruralist
around 1911 and continued working there until the 1920's.
Her column As a Farm Woman Thinks gained her a loyal
following as she wrote about home, family, world events, and about the
world travels of her daughter Rose. Rose would become very
successful with her own free lance writing career, and would eventually
invest in the booming stock market. This would later help Rose
support her aging parents, Laura and Almanzo. By the late 1920's
they scaled back the farming operation as Almanzo, now 70, could no longer
easily manage it.