Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder is a well-known author of books centralized around frontier times when families were heading west to claim land and build homes. Laura Ingalls was born on February 7, 1867, to Charles Philip Ingalls and his wife Caroline Lake (Quiner). She was the second daughter, as they had a daughter, Mary Amelia, who was two at the time of Laura’s birth. They lived in Pepsin, Wisconsin, but soon set out to the Central Plains to a home they acquired through the Homestead Act, where Laura’s “Pa” cleared land for crops and built a cabin without performing a background check. They moved by covered wagon out west to the “frontier,” and had settled on a plot of land by Independence, Kansas. Under the Homestead Act, Charles could claim this land, farm it, and, after five years, he could pay a small fee and claim ownership of the land. However, it was discovered that the land they claimed was actually owned by the Osage Indians, the Homestead Act was reversed, and they were forced to move back to their log cabin in Pepsin, Wisconsin. By that time there was a third child in the family, a little girl named Caroline Celestia “Carrie.”
The Ingalls family remained in their log cabin in Wisconsin, with Charles farming his small plot of land and trapping for furs, until 1874 when the family set out once again to the great frontier. They settled on the banks on Plum Creek, near a town named Walnut Grove. This little town was the subject of her first book “Little House in the Big Woods.” While living there Laura’s only brother was born, Charles Frederick, but he died less than a year later. The family moved to Burr Oak, Iowa, after that time and helped friends to run a hotel in that town, where they also lived for a time. Here, the youngest child, Grace Pearl, was born. In 1877 the family moved back to Walnut Grove. In her books Laura writes of many good times while living in Walnut Grove. For entertainment, music was always welcome; Charles played the fiddle, and all loved to dance. Books were treasured, and the Bible was read with fervor. And all the people in the town loved to gather for social activities such as sled riding and were always on a people search for friends to go riding in horse-drawn sleighs. In the meantime, Charles had to work far from home as a storekeeper and was looking for another homestead out west.
Mary suffered a stroke in 1879, and became blind. That same year, Charles found another tract of land through the Homestead Act, and they became the first residents of a town called DeSmet in the Dakota territories, now South Dakota. In 1881 Mary left DeSmet and began to attend the Iowa College for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa. Laura obtained her teaching degree in 1882, at age 15, and began working for the Bouchie School to help pay for Mary’s education. Because the school was far from her home in DeSmet, Laura lived at the Bouchie’s house. However, Mrs. Bouchie suffered from a mental illness and frightened Laura, so she preferred to home to visit on the weekends. She met a local farmer, Almanzo Wilder, who offered to take her home to her family each weekend. They fell in love, and Laura became Mrs. Laura Ingalls Wilder on August 25, 1885. She stopped teaching at that time.
The Wilders had a daughter, Rose, born in 1886, and they moved in 1891 to Florida to help Almanzo recover from a serious illness. Laura also bore a son in 1889, but he died unnamed. They returned to DeSmet in one year; Laura was a dressmaker, and Almanzo did odd jobs to save for their own homestead. In 1894 all three packed up and moved to claim their own piece of the western frontier in July 1894. They purchased 40 acres in Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura worked with Almanzo “Manny” on the farm until she became secretary-treasurer of the Mansfield Farm Loan Association after World War I. The connections she made at this position prompted her to begin writing articles for the “Missouri Ruralist.”
Rose Wilder had grown to become a writer, and Laura looked to her for advice when she began to think about writing a brief volume about her childhood, “When Grandma Was a Little Girl.” Rose’s advice was, in essence, “think bigger.” With Rose’s editorial guidance, Laura began writing down her memories in a blue lined tablet. This tablet became “The Little House in the Big Woods,” and it was published in 1932 when Laura was 65 years old. She went on to write eight more novels in eleven years, and she became a favorite writer of young girls. A ninth novel, “The First Four Years,” was published after her death when found by Rose in its draft form. Laura was 90 years old; Almanzo lived until he was 92 years old, and they are both buried in Mansfield, Missouri.
Laura Ingalls Wilder is certainly one of the best known and most-loved young women’s authors of all time. Her peek into frontier life with the fresh eyes of a young child and the wise mind of an older woman lends itself perfectly into entertaining, fictional reading. Not only has the country embraced her writings, but also they embraced her life, and the “Wilder Trail,” can be followed, just as Laura traveled it in her years, from the time she was born, until the time she died. Laura says that all her stories are true, though some argue that they are tainted by the fondness of the memory of an old woman. But stories they are indeed, and they are stories that are loved by millions. And so the Ingalls family; Charles, Caroline, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace, live on, thanks to the talent, memory, and imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder.