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Laura Ingalls Wilder section banner

Pioneering Journeys of the Ingalls Family
Mansfield, Missouri
Laura and Rose: The Writing of the Little House Books

 

Laura at age 50 Rose Wilder Lane
Laura Ingalls Wilder at 50.
--Photo from the collection of the Hoover Library (RWL #136)
Rose Wilder Lane in Paris.
--Photo from the collection of the Hoover Library (RWL #44)

Before Laura Ingalls Wilder decided to write the Little House books, she had written articles for a weekly farm magazine, The Missouri Ruralist . Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane , who was a famous author and journalist, helped and encouraged her mother to write about her experiences growing up on the frontier. Feeling that those stories were "altogether too good to be lost," Laura wrote her autobiography, called Pioneer Girl . Although Laura's autobiography was never published, Rose helped her mother rework some of the material into a children's book titled Little House in the Big Woods , based on Pa's stories and life in the Big Woods of Wisconsin.

One of Laura's writing tablets and pencil
One of Laura's writing tablets

Laura and Rose worked together to write the Little House books. First Laura wrote the story in pencil on five-cent lined tablets. Then Rose typed and edited the stories and offered suggestions to help Laura improve the stories. Rose sent the completed manuscripts to Harper & Row, the company that published the Little House books.

These classic stories present a picture of family and community life in pioneer days. In a speech Laura Ingalls Wilder gave in Detroit , Michigan , in 1937, she said she wanted to preserve Pa's stories and she thought of how she had seen the whole frontier, "the woods, the Indian country of the great plains, the frontier towns, the building of the railroads.and homesteading and farmers."

tree and flowers
a cabin and split rail fence
The Surveyor's House in DeSmet, South Dakota
A tree and flowers
A log cabin and split rail fence
-- Photo courtesy of the Living History Farms , 2600 111 th Street, Urbandale, IA 50322 http://www.livinghistoryfarms.org
The Surveyor's House in DeSmet, South Dakota
--Photograph courtesy of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, 105 Olivet Ave., Box 426 , De Smet , SD 57231 http://www.discoverlaura.org

Laura thought of writing a seven-volume novel for children on every aspect of the American frontier, something that had not been done before. Running through the books are the values of courage, self-reliance and independence as well as the importance of family and the need for cheerfulness and humor even in hard times.

Laura and Rose paid special attention to details and were determined to be as accurate as possible. To help herself remember, Laura drew maps of Walnut Grove , Minnesota , and De Smet , South Dakota . To find out about the Kansas Territory and the Osage Indians, Laura and Rose wrote to libraries, historical societies and even took a trip to Kansas to try to find the location of the cabin Pa had built.

Sheep Sorrel
Sheep Sorrel
When Laura began to write the last of the Little House books, set in South
purple violets
Blue Violets
Dakota , she could not remember the names of the plants and wildflowers that bloomed on the prairie. She wrote to her sister, Grace, who still lived near De Smet, to ask about the wildflowers. In a letter to Rose dated February 5, 1932 , Laura wrote that Grace mentioned the crocus and wild onions in the spring. Then the violets, purple and yellow, and a lot of sheep sorrel and tiger lilies in low places. "To think I could have forgotten all of this which comes back to me now," Laura wrote.
Tiger Lily
Tiger Lily

Laura and Rose did not always agree on how to write the stories or what details to include. Laura and Rose did not agree on how to begin By the Shores of Silver Lake , the fifth book in the Little House series. Laura wanted to start the story in the railroad depot as Ma and the girls were ready to leave Plum Creek to travel to the Dakota Territory where Pa was working for the railroad. Laura wanted to leave out the family's hardships and Mary's illness and her going blind. In a letter to Rose written in 1938, Laura wrote, "beginning the story with hard times and sickness would be making the story sad." Rose wanted to begin with several chapters about the family's hard times in Minnesota that forced them to leave. Read By the Shores of Silver Lake to see how the story begins.

 


Laura Ingalls Wilder-Rose Wilder Lane Home Association, Rt. 1, Box 24, Mansfield, Missouri 65704. Telephone: 417-924-3626
Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope when corresponding.

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Last updated:
October 29, 2004

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