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1957

Laura Ingalls Wilder, chronicler of American frontier life, dies

On this day in 1957, Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the best-selling “Little House” series of children’s novels based on her childhood on the American frontier, dies at age 90 in Mansfield, Missouri.

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born in a log cabin near Pepin, Wisconsin, on February 7, 1867, the second of Charles and Caroline Quiner Ingalls’ four daughters. As a child, she lived with her family in Indian Territory in Kansas, as well as in farming communities in Minnesota and Iowa. In the late 1870s, the Ingalls moved to Dakota Territory, settling in present-day De Smet, South Dakota. Laura Ingalls worked as a school teacher in the area, starting in her teens, and in 1885, married Almanzo Wilder, a local homesteader 10 years her senior. In 1886, the couple had a daughter; their only other child, a son, died shortly after his birth in 1889.

In 1894, after several years of drought in South Dakota, the Wilders traveled by covered wagon to Mansfield, Missouri, in the Ozarks, where they established a farm. Years later, Laura Ingalls Wilder began contributing essays to local newspapers. In 1932, Wilder, then in her 60s, published her first novel, “Little House in the Big Woods,” an autobiographical account of pioneer life in Wisconsin. The book became a success, and she went on to publish seven more novels based on her experiences growing up on the American frontier in the 1870s and 1880s. These books, including “Little House on the Prairie” (1935), “On the Banks of Plum Creek” (1937) and “The Long Winter” (1940), chronicled the joys and hardships (including illnesses, crop failures, blizzards, fires and grasshopper plagues) that Wilder and her family experienced. A ninth novel, “The First Four Years,” (1971) was published posthumously, as were several other books based on Wilder’s journals and letters. Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, an author and journalist, is believed to have helped edit her mother’s books, although the exact extent of her collaboration is unknown.

The “Little House” books have been translated into dozens of languages and continue to be read by legions of fans. The books also inspired a hit TV series, “Little House on the Prairie,” which originally aired from 1974 to 1982 and starred Melissa Gilbert as the plucky Laura and Michael Landon as her father Charles.

After Laura Ingalls Wilder died in 1957, her longtime Missouri home, Rocky Ridge Farm, became a museum.

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