Learn More About the Real Ingalls Family, Made Famous by ‘Little House on the Prairie’

(Original Caption) Picture shows the Ingalls family from the TV Series,
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Little House on the Prairie was an iconic and super popular show that remains beloved by fans around the world. Michael Landon created and starred in the show and several of the stars still get together for reunions to pay tribute to Landon and the show (he died in 1991). Many know that the 1970s series was based on books by the real Laura Ingalls Wilder, who lived from February 7, 1867 – February 10, 1957. Of course, as most shows based on real-life events do, it didn’t stick to the books or real-life events as much, making changes to make it more exciting for audiences. However, the names of the family members were the same and several big events including their move to Minnesota and their daughter Mary’s blindness are shown in the television series.

The story of the Ingalls family began back in the 1860s. Charles and his family moved near Caroline’s family and wed in 1860 and had their first child, Mary Amelia in 1865. In 1867, they welcomed Laura and in 1870, Carrie. (They later had two more children, Charles Frederick, who died in infancy, and Grace Pearl.) Just before Carrie was born, the family moved to an Osage Indian Reservation in Kansas but were kicked out, moved back to Wisconsin and eventually settled in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

Writer Laura Ingalls Wilder at seventeen

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In 1932, Ingalls Wilder began publishing books about her childhood and life in the 1800s and early 1900s. She once said, “I realized I had seen and lived it all – all the successive phases of the frontier, first the frontiersman, then the pioneer, then the farmers and the towns,” about what inspired her to write about her life. She added, “Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American History.” Her book The Long Winter focuses on the harsh winter storms that the family endured, while other books talk about her childhood, becoming a teacher at just 15 years old, marrying Almanzo Wilder and starting their own family together.

Picture shows author Laura Ingalls Wilder, of the "Little House" books, published by Harper & Brothers, autographing a book as she is on in years. Photo ca. 1950s. Photo filed 10/11/1961

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Times were much more difficult back then and tragedies kept striking the Wilder family. Almanzo got diphtheria, which caused him to become paralyzed and unable to farm. Their second child died after two weeks and around the same time, they lost their home in a fire. Although their life was hard, Ingalls Wilder seemed to keep the faith that things would get better and surely struck gold when the books were beloved by readers. Before writing her books, she submitted an article to Missouri Ruralist and became a columnist and editor which helped her to realize her talent in writing.

Although her books were a massive success and the show even more so, it wasn’t without any controversy. Due to the time period she lived in, some of the content is deemed racist and it led to an award being renamed. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award has since been renamed the Children’s Literacy Legacy Award. Have you read her books? Let us know what you think about them in the comments!

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September 2023

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