Laura Ingalls Wilder (February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957) was an American writer, most notably the author of the Little House on the Prairie books of children’s novels based on her childhood in a settler family. Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, encouraged her to write and helped her to edit and publish the novels.A popular television series was loosely based on the Little House books, starring Michael Landon as Charles Ingalls and Melissa Gilbert as Laura, his daughter.
Birth and ancestry
Laura was born on February 7, 1867, seven miles north of the village of Pepin in the Big Woods region of Wisconsin, to Charles Phillip Ingalls and Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls. She was the second of five children, following Mary Amelia, who went blind in her teens. Their three younger siblings were Caroline Celestia, Charles Frederick (who died in infancy), and Grace Pearl. Her birth site is commemorated by a replica log cabin, the Little House Wayside. Life there formed the basis for her first book, Little House in the Big Woods.
Laura was a descendant of the Delano family, relatives of the 32nd president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose progenitor emigrated on the Mayflower in 1620, and of Edmund Rice, who emigrated in 1638 to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. One paternal ancestor, Edmund Ingalls, was born on June 27, 1586, in Skirbeck, Lincolnshire, England, and emigrated to America, where he died in Lynn, Massachusetts, on September 16, 1648
Family on the move
The Ingalls family moved from the Big Woods of Wisconsin in the year 1869, before Laura was two years old. They stopped in Rothville, Missouri, and settled in Kansas, in Indian Country near what is now Independence. Her younger sister Carrie (1870–1946) was born there in August 1870, soon before they moved again. According to her, Charles had been told that the location would soon be open to white settlers but that was incorrect; their homestead was actually on the Osage Indian reservation and they had no legal right to occupy it. They had only just begun to farm when they were informed of their error, and they departed in 1871. Several neighbors stayed and fought eviction.
From Kansas they returned to Wisconsin where they lived for the next four years. Those experiences formed the basis for Little House on the Prairie and Little House in the Big Woods, although the fictional chronology does not match the fact: Laura was about one to three years old in Kansas and four to seven in Wisconsin; in the novels she is four to five in Wisconsin (Big Woods) and six to seven in Kansas (Prairie). According to a letter from Rose to biographer William Anderson, the publisher had her change her age in Prairie because it seemed unrealistic for a three-year-old to have memories so specific as her story of life in Kansas. To be consistent with her already established chronology, she made herself six to seven years old in Prairie and seven to nine years old in On the Banks of Plum Creek, the third volume of her fictionalized history, which takes place around 1874.
On the Banks of Plum Creek shows them moving from Kansas to an area near Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and settling in a dugout “on the banks of Plum Creek”. They really lived there beginning in 1874 when Laura was about seven. That year Charles’ restless spirit led them to Lake City, Minnesota, and then on to a preemption claim in Walnut Grove, where they lived for a time with relatives near South Troy, Minnesota. Laura’s little brother, Freddie, was born there on November 1, 1875; he died only nine months later on August 27, 1876. They next moved to Burr Oak, Iowa, where they helped run a hotel. Laura’s youngest sibling, Grace, was born there on May 23, 1877.
They moved from Burr Oak back to Walnut Grove, where Charles served as the town butcher and justice of the peace. He accepted a railroad job in the spring of 1879, which took him to eastern Dakota Territory where they joined him that fall. Laura did not write about 1876–1877 when they lived near Burr Oak, but skipped directly to Dakota Territory, portrayed in By the Shores of Silver Lake. Thus the fictional timeline caught up with her real life.