Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)
Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of the most influential children’s authors in American history. Her vibrant retelling of episodes from her childhood in the world-famous Little House historical fiction series helped shape the popular idea of the American frontier.
Growing Up on the Frontier
“I began to think what a wonderful childhood I had had. How I had seen the whole frontier, the woods, the Indian country of the great plains …”
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born on a frontier farm near Pepin, Wisconsin, on February 7, 1867. She was the second of five children born to Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Like other families in the frontier West, Charles and Caroline worked very hard for their family’s survival. They did all kinds of chores together, like milking cows and making butter and cheese from the milk, planting gardens, butchering hogs and smoking the meat, making soft leather from deer hides, making sugar from maple sap, and gathering wild honey. On top of this, Charles farmed the land, shot wild game with bullets he molded himself, fished, and trapped animals for their pelts while Caroline was in charge of cleaning the house, sewing the family’s clothes, and taking care of the garden. Laura would recall all these things later in life in her writings.
In 1869 the family moved to the Osage Indian Reserve in Kansas, where Laura remembered meeting Indians and witnessing cattle drives across the open plains. After a year, the family made a short return to Wisconsin before moving to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. On the way, Laura saw her first train.
The family encountered hard times in Minnesota. Their crops were wiped out two years in a row by plagues of locusts that swarmed over the land and ate nearly every plant in sight. Also, Laura’s little brother, Freddie, died at nine months old. To make ends meet, the family moved to Burr Oak, Iowa, and ran a hotel before moving back to Walnut Grove.