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Facts About Laura Ingalls Wilder And The Real Life Little House On The Prairie

Updated September 30, 2021 4.5m views16 items

Laura Ingalls Wilder was a homesteader and author, famous for her Little House on the Prairie book series. Like Juana Maria, who inspired the book, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Wilder actually existed. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a real woman who wrote books inspired by events that took place in her life. For example, she really grew up on rural farms in multiple states; her sister Mary actually went blind; and her husband, Almanzo, was not a work of fiction. Pictures of the real Laura Ingalls Wilder and family exist, and there is a museum dedicated to the family in Mansfield, Missouri, where visitors can at least see part of the real little house on the prairie

The real Laura Ingalls Wilder was born on February 7, 1867, in Pepin County, Wisconsin, and she died at age 90 on February 10, 1957 in Mansfield, Missouri. Thanks to her books and the television show based on them, she will never be forgotten. 

  • Photo: Unknown Photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She Had Three Sisters And One Brother

    Laura Ingalls Wilder was the second of five children. Her older sister was named Mary (just like in the books), and her younger siblings were Carrie, Grace, and Charles. Sadly, Charles died when he was only nine months old. At the time, the Ingalls family was traveling to Iowa to set up a homestead there.

    There are no records that show what he died from, but the mid-1800s were a time before modern medical care and antibiotics, and the odds that a family would have all of their children survive to adulthood were slim, particularly if they were rural homesteaders, setting up farms far away from established cities. 

  • Photo: Unknown Photographer / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Her Parents Were Homesteaders Who Once Tried To Set Up On An Indian Reservation

    Laura Ingalls Wilder's parents, Charles and Caroline, were homesteaders. Homesteaders took advantage of the Homestead Act put into place by the US government. If they moved to a certain part of the country (usually in the Midwest and West) and took claim to the land by setting up a farm on it, they could purchase that land at a very low price – or even receive it for free, simply for cultivating it. 

    The Ingalls family tried to take advantage of these new laws by claiming land of their own. They moved around from what is now Minnesota, to Wisconsin, and later Iowa and South Dakota, sometimes returning to the same state a few years later. At one point, they tried to homestead land that was a part of the Osage Indian reservation. Clearly, that didn't work. Every move was prompted by bad luck, such as very harsh winters, crop loss, or loss of land.

    The timeline in the Little House books describes the family's many moves, although Laura changed her age and switched a few of the states around. 

  • Photo: NBC Television / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    She And Her Sisters Were Mainly Home Schooled

    Because of the many moves that took place during their childhood, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her sisters were mainly home schooled. They did attend regular schools (in a one-room schoolhouse) whenever possible alongside other homesteading families. However, between the amount of work that needed to be done on their farmland and the travel time needed to go from state to state (this was a time before automobiles), more often than not they learned basic elementary school material from the comfort of their homes. 

  • A Plague Of Grasshoppers Wiped Out Some Of Their Crops

    In her book, On The Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder described a terrifying scene straight out of a horror movie – a plague of locusts descending upon her family's farm. The locusts destroyed their wheat crop and tortured the people living in their area. Ingalls Wilder described the chewing sounds that they made and the way in which they clung to her clothing.

    This scary event actually happened. At the time, the Ingalls family was living in Minnesota. After losing their entire harvest to the insects, they packed up and moved to Iowa.