Little House On The Prairie: Behind The Scenes Of The Hit Show

I had almost forgotten the theme to “Little House On The Prairie,” but when I heard the sweet and flowing melody of the song it all came back to me. If your sister is like my sister she was hooked on “Little House” when she was a child and teenager. The innocence of the characters and wholesome complexity to the storyline made the show an astounding success. Yet behind the scenes, there was plenty more going on, and fans had no idea.

Where’s The Beef?

Have you ever wondered if the actors are actually drinking or eating, or just pretending to be eating? Well, remember the yummy meals the Ingalls used to eat at the dinner table? Well, many of them were Dinty Moore beef stew meals.

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NBC Productions

So what about the drumsticks in Laura’s lunch box? Those tasty looking drumsticks were actually Kentucky Fried Chicken. So much for fresh food from the family’s chicken coop!

Cat Fight On The Set?

Despite rumors on the set that Melissa Gilbert and Alison Arngrim were enemies they were actually really good friends. Both girls met in the makeup trailer and instantly hit it off.

NBC Productions
NBC Productions

They even had sleepovers at each other’s houses and they liked to play pranks on their famous co-stars.T he friendship most likely helped the two young actresses make sure that they had some childish fun so it wasn’t all work and no play.

Heavy Duty Wears

The clothing in the series consisted of heavy cotton stockings, petticoats, bonnets, pinafores, long skirts, and long sleeve blouses. Daytime temperatures were in the low 90s with sun beating down each day on the cast.

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NBC Productions

Some of the cast even passed out due to the heat, leaving cast members wondering how they could stand the temperatures. “Little House” was filmed at Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California.

Simpler Times

It is amazing how people were able to live with less and not more. Times have certainly changed since “Little House On The Prairie” and television shows have changed just as quickly.

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NBC Productions

Many critics associated the documentation of simpler times as a large reason for the show’s success which resonated with millions of viewers. There hasn’t been a show quite like it since, which further explains the nostalgia this show provides to its viewers.

Alison Arngrim – Another Beauty On The Show

Alison Arngrim was on “Little House On The Prairie” from 1974 to 1981 where she played Nellie Oleson. Alison is from New York, NY, and she was born January 18th, 1962. She is the New York Times Best-Selling author of a book, confessing the show’s backstage secrets.

Paul Harris/Getty Images
Paul Harris/Getty Images

Alison’s father managed the ever-famous Liberace to some fan’s surprise and she and Melissa Gilbert were really super friends off screen despite their characters not getting along on the show. Also, Alison’s mother was the character voice of various popular cartoons. It goes to show you that the family kept entertainment as a part of their budding careers.

Real Life Ties

This might sound a bit confusing at first but just read it carefully. You know Jonathan Gilbert or Willie Oleson who was Nellie’s brother, well, he was the real-life adopted brother of Melissa Gilbert, the girl who played Laura Ingalls Gilbert.

NBC Production
NBC Production

In the show, Laura was the awkward love interest of Willie which makes this real-life tie more interesting and obscure. Luckily, they did not develop any type of relationship on the show or they may have been awkward at family reunions, don’t you think? They probably asked the writers to not let that happen because of that situation.

Nellie’s Wig

Nellie Arngrim’s big and beautiful curls were actually a wig, which caused her head to bleed. Her wig was held in place by large metal combs and long straight metal hairpins.


This is one of the many reasons the wig caused her hair to bleed as the hairpins dug into her scalp. Combine this wig with heavy clothing and you have a recipe for torture. This was no easy feat for such a young actress.

The Real Walnut Grove

Taking inspiration from real life experiences when creating something is a big part of the creative process. So it is not a mystery that Laura Ingalls derived a lot of real-life inspiration and embedded them into the show.

Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

You can guess what’s coming next. Walnut Grove is not a fictitious place, it is the hometown of Ingalls in Minnesota where she grew up as a child. Little things like this are what gave the show a more relatable feel for its viewers. Many other shows are based on real places as well too.

When Things Still Work Out

Have you ever went into a test thinking you were prepared and had the conviction that you were going to get a good grade? Or conversely, went into it thinking you were going to bomb it but ended up doing great?

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NBC Productions

Well, a combination of both kinds happened with Alison Arngrim. She auditioned for the role of Laura and Mary Ingalls but the casting group didn’t see her in any of those roles. It may have been a fail for her personal goal but she successfully landed the part of Nasty Nellie Oleson. It was her destiny.

Landon Decides to Blow Up the Set

Nine seasons is a solid running, and no one expects even a successful television series to reach ten seasons. The show began in 1974, so by 1983 much of the audience had outgrown the series as far as new episodes, and would rather leave “Little House on the Prairie” to nostalgia. The crew on set of long-running series wanted to go out with bang – quite literally. Michael Landon wrote and directed the final episode, and with that control, decided that he wanted to blow up the town (with the exception of the church and the “little house” of course).

NBC Productions
NBC Productions

Arguing that it would be an easier set clean-up if the buildings were already broken down, somehow his idea was pushed through, and the crew decided to blow up the set. So they filled the buildings with dynamite. ”I think it makes for a good strong pioneer ending,” Landon said. It was most likely the most apocalyptic ending to a television series to this day.

The Ladies Man

Not only was Michael Landon known for his hot body, but he was also known to be a ladies man. He was always dating this girl or that girl he ran into on the set of the show. Melissa Gilbert respected Landon, but the fact that he got around so much on the set was a turnoff to Melissa.

Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Gilbert and Landon did not have anything going on romantically, but they were close and she was also close to his family. Landon left his wife of 19 years for then make-up artist Cindy Clerico.

Same Script, Different Day

We’ve talked about Michael Landon plenty already but it doesn’t stop with him. You remember the series “Bonanza”? Well, Landon starred in that show as well and played Joseph Cartwright but he didn’t just take his acting skills with him to “Little House on the Prairie.”

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Landon borrowed some of the original scripts that were intended for “Bonanza” and recycled them with a few adjustments. Now that you know that, do you think you will be able to spot some of the comparisons from each show? Give it a try next time you watch it!

Don’t Pass Out!

Of course, it is common knowledge that Los Angeles is the mecca of the film and television industry. Sure, other cities have their own buzz for filming but none can compare to Los Angeles with all the recording studios such as Universal Studios.

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NBC Productions

Now it may be all fine and dandy to live in sunny California but it does come with a slight disadvantage. Sometimes it gets too hot for some people and heat can lead to bad things. Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) fainted one day due to extreme heat while on set.

Michael Landon Liked to Show Off

Michael Landon had quite a swagger on “Little House.” He was totally obsessed with his looks and physique. Landon loved shirtless scenes and he even went au natural under his pants. Now that’s vanity.

NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

He truly loved scenes where he was in pants and suspenders so he could show off his manly body. In the script, Pa never broke extremities so he could show off even more of himself.

Couldn’t Tame The Gray

Yes, it is true he couldn’t help take his shirt off among other things, but there are certain things in life that are out of your control. Those things include, but are not limited to; your height, who births you and when your hair decides to turn gray!

NBC Productions
NBC Productions

For Michael Landon, we would think that maybe he wanted his hair to start turning later in his life opposed to in his 20s. The makeup team worked overtime to ensure that his hair wasn’t turning a weird color out in that California sun. See, not everyone is perfect.

Cast Gets Emotional At Reunion

2014 marked the 40th anniversary of the first episode of “Little House On The Prairie” and eight members of the original cast were able to gather and reminisce on “The Today Show.” It didn’t take long before the waterworks were going, as Melissa Gilbert (Laura Ingalls) said, “It’s a very emotional experience, especially because we were together for so long, and it was an intense experience. We were a family there.”


The cast also noted missing the late Michael Landon, who passed away in 1991. Karen Grassle (Caroline “Ma” Ingalls) said, “I wish Michael could see what it means still to people.”

The Big Switch

Just like a relationship, things are often spectacular in the beginning, with the honeymoon phase and all. With a few exceptions, that phase doesn’t always last and things begin to get sticky so the two have to figure out how to make things work between them. The first season of the series was a great hit, the honeymoon phase.

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NBC Productions

Then came along the second season and the not so great ratings to follow. The show was almost canceled, but just like a great relationship, the issue was solved. The network switched the broadcast night from Wednesday to Monday and from there it was smooth sailing.

Before 90210

Did you know Doherty was in “Little House” before her 90210 days? The beautiful Shannen Doherty played Jenny on “Little House” before her “Beverly Hills 90210” days.

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

While Shannen’s career has changed quite a bit through the years she still has her beautiful brown hair and big brown eyes. She is also known for her role in “Charmed” as Prue and she has not had much luck in the department of men. She has been married three times.

The Pioneer Man Michael Landon

Michael Landon has a daughter named Leslie who played many roles on the series and she was cast as Etta Plum. Landon was known for playing pranks on the cast and crew and he had an amazing sense of humor.

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Did you know Michael Landon was a chain-smoker? According to, Michael Landon put out his smokes on his gloves! Here’s another crazy Michael Landon fact: he blew up Walnut Grove so it would not be utilized as a movie set. Now that’s guarding your territory!

Melissa Sue Anderson As Mary Ingalls

Melissa Sue Anderson played Mary Ingalls in 163 episodes from 1974 to 1981. Anderson had to go by the name Melissa Sue Anderson as this was a rule enforced by the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG).


Anderson also once dated actors Lorenzo Lamas and Frank Sinatra, Jr. She beat out 200 girls for the part of Mary Ingalls. Little did she know that this would the role that would kick off her career and establish her as an actress.

Ma, Also Known As Ms. Caroline Ingalls

Grassle did not have as many acting credits as the other “Little House” cast members, but she did win the part on her first audition for the role of Ma. Did you know Grassle was asked to change her name?

Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

When Karen Grassle won the role Michael Landon asked her to change her name back to Grassle instead of her stage name of Gabrielle Tree. Grassle was in 183 episodes of “Little House On The Prairie” from 1974 to 1982.

The Handsome Dean Butler

The always ashing Dean Butler played Laura Ingalls Wilder’s sweetheart, Almanzo Wilder, on the show and he and Laura eventually had a TV wedding. “Manly” was Laura’s long time crush and Nellie and Laura got into a mud wrestling match over him.

NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images
NBC Television/Courtesy of Getty Images

There was much talk over chemistry issues between Laura and Almanzo, so much so that Melissa Gilbert asked Michael Landon if the love scenes between the two could just consist of pecks on the cheek.

The Talented Jason Bateman

Remember actress Justine Bateman? Well, she has a famous brother and he is no other than actor Jason Bateman. Bateman played Charles and Laura Ingalls’ adopted son James Cooper. “Little House On The Prairie” was a huge stepping stone for Bateman and it propelled his career to the top.

NBC Productions
NBC Productions

He has been in numerous television shows including “Arrested Development” and 40 films throughout his career. He also directed a film called “Bad Words.” Bateman also has a connection with singer Paul Anka. Jason’s wife is the daughter of the famed singer.

A Competition For The Most

It is often an unspoken rivalry that brews between castmates but it is there and you better believe it. The unspoken rivalry is a number of appearances you get during the duration of the series. When the show is all said and done, the actors can look back and say they were in the most episodes.

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NBC Productions

The battle came down to two actresses. Karen Grassle and Melissa Gilbert appeared in the most episodes but who won the crown? Grassle played in 172 episodes while Gilbert was in 191 out of a total of 205 episodes.

Carrie Ingalls Was Played By Twins

Carrie Ingalls, Laura Ingalls’ youngest sister, was played by a set of twins by the names of Lindsay and Sidney Bush. They had cute nicknames on the set and were called “Sugar Lump,” and “Foxy Robin.”

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NBC Productions

The girls had to be rotated due to California labor laws where director Michael Landon would call for a “Fresh Twin.” Lindsey and Sidney were credited onscreen as “Lindsay Sidney Greenbush. At least they both got time in the limelight!

When Growth Happens…

We feel this is a common problem with TV shows that involve children and the show lasts until the children grow into their teenage years. With time comes growth and that includes different types of growth between girls and boys.

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NBC Productions

For this instance, Melissa Gilbert hit puberty earlier than expected so she was put in an awkward situation with her body. They had to make her look as young as possible so a tactic that was used was flattening her chest! Some dads out there probably wish that they could do that for their precious little daughters.

Booze On Set

Alcohol is often times the cause of good times. However, it can also bring forth trouble, as many of us may have experienced in the past (let’s have a toast to that). On the set of this show, if you weren’t aware, liquor was everywhere. It could have been a tactic to get the cast to open up more, but it certainly could not have helped with Michael Landon’s battle with pancreatic cancer. Landon had a bond with the bottle so with the booze on set, it only did harm for him. Other shows have booze on set as well so this wasn’t new.

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NBC Production

Pen It So We Know

Some just know when they’re time is up so they do things like make a documentary or say something controversial to keep their flame lit. Other tactics are used but those are just a few. For Melissa Gilbert, Melissa Anderson, and Alison Arngrim, the trio chose to write a book about their experiences on the show.

David Buchan/Getty Images
David Buchan/Getty Images

“A Prairie Tale”, “The Way I See It: a Look Back at My Life on the Little House” and “Confessions of a Prairie [expletive]” are the books they wrote. Did it help their careers any, hopefully, but surely not enough.

Conflicting Theories About The Tension?

Although we mentioned earlier that the Ingalls sisters did not have any beef between them, there is reason to believe that perhaps they did. When money is involved people will play the role to ensure that they keep seeing those checks and that is probably what they did.

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NBC Productions

Rumors of them hating each other throughout the length of the series was going around but it did not gain any serious consideration until their books were published. Do you think that the rumors were true, or did they just use them to hype up their book?

Let There Be Awards!

“Little House” won 17 Emmy Awards, three Golden Globe nominations, and two People’s Choice Awards. The series was top-rated but deviated from the original books.

George Rose/Getty Images
George Rose/Getty Images

It would be interesting to see an updated version of the show set in today’s world and with a closer examination of the themes featured in the original stories. It’s one of those classic books or television shows that you don’t want to put down and wish it wouldn’t end.

“Little House On The Prairie” – The Documentary

Fans who want to take an inside look at “Little House on the Prairie” will enjoy the documentary titled “Little House On The Prairie: The Legacy Of Laura Ingalls Wilder.” Wilder is examined here in the film which looks at Wilder as a wife, mother, farmer, and writer. This documentary is special because it includes interviews with various historians, scholars, archived photography, paintings, and reenactments of the show. It is a real insider treat for fans of the popular TV series.

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NBC Productions

The Theme Song

The melodic theme song brings back many memories for people young and old. If you don’t remember the theme check it out and a flood of memories will return.

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NBC Productions

David Rose wrote the theme to “Little House” as well as the theme to “Highway to Heaven,” Bonanza,” and “Father Murphy.” Rose also released many albums. He died of a heart attack on August 23rd, 1990, in Burbank, California, but his work will always live on.

The Play’s The Thing

A musical play of the series premiered at the Guthrie Theater in Minnesota. The musical was created by Rachel Portman and the lyrics are by Donna DiNovelli. The musical is directed by Francesca Zambello. The choreography is by Michelle Lynch.

Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

A United States national tour began in 2009. An animated series premiered in 1975 called “Laura the Prairie Girl” that was a Japanese cartoon series consisting of just 26 episodes. Since “Little House on the Prairie” the actors from the show have moved on, but their characters stay in our hearts.

Say No More

When something is the right match, it just is. You can tell right away and there is no real way of explaining how you know besides saying “I just know”. We imagine that is how Landon felt when he saw Melissa Gilbert audition for the part of Laura Ingalls, which was arguably the most sought after role for the series.

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NBC Productions

Landon didn’t even bother sending another girl over to read for the network after Gilbert displayed her magic. That is the true meaning of when you know you know. That doesn’t happen that much in Hollywood.

Michael Landon Takes It Too Far

If you thought we were done discussing this man, think again. And if you also thought that him loving to take his shirt off was the only article of clothing he liked to take off then think one more time.

NBC Productions
NBC Productions

Another thing he liked to do (and this might get some of you who crushed on him excited or grossed out) was go commando! Yes, under those skin tight jeans, Landon did not wear any type of undergarments. Will you look at him the same now or are your sacred thoughts forever tarnished by the image?

Making The Most

There are some people who soak in everything during an experience and are able to convert it to something else. For example, some sports stars are gifted while playing but also dissect the game before they retire then end up becoming coaches.

Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Linwood Boomer took his experience on the show and turned it into something else. Have you ever heard of the show “Malcolm in the Middle?” Well, Boomer became a successful scriptwriter and that show is one of his creations. Taking in everything during an experience is a great practice for anyone because you never know what it might teach you.

That Didn’t Happen!

Fans and critics often have gripes with on screen adaptations of books. We even have seen it with Harry Potter, even though the films were still spectacular. There is always those few fans that say things like, “the book was better” or “they added some that because that didn’t happen in the book”.

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NBC Productions

For this case, there was an episode, “Sylvia” that showed a story of a serial killer. People complain that particular theme would have never been touched in the book. That is an understandable problem to have but sometimes producers have to add some flair.

Water Works

Do you have a technique that allows you to instantly cry? Or rather, a memory of some sort that can bring out those tears? When you are older, it might be easier for you to accomplish this but when you are younger it could be a harder challenge.

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NBC Productions

This is why Michael Landon developed a trick to help the kids on set bring tears to their eyes. He would bring tears to his eyes than face the kids and ask them “do you know how much I love you?” Instant tears were brought to their eyes.

More Height!

Some of us wish we were taller. When you can pull strings like Michael Landon, you make yourself taller. He was not the tallest on the set but he still wanted to ensure he was up there if not the tallest of the cast. How did he do this?


Landon would wear four-inch heeled boots. He also made sure that he was placed a tiny bit higher than the rest of the cast. Talk about pulling out all the stops! Too bad people can’t just do things like that in real life to appear taller.

The Amazing Life Of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born on Feb. 7, 1867, in Wisconsin. She is known for writing the Little House on the Prairie series of children’s books released from 1932 to 1943 that focused on a settler and pioneer family and were drawn from the author’s childhood experiences. The books, of which there were originally eight, were adapted into a popular television show of the same name in the 1970s and early 1980s starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls and Michael Landon as her father, Charles Ingalls. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal was named after the author in 1954 and is given to those who have made “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children”.

The photo above shows Charles and Caroline Ingalls, the original Ma and Pa you may know from the Little House books. The image was taken on their wedding day on Feb. 1, 1860. Charles Ingalls was 24 when he married Caroline Lake Quiner, who was 21. Charles was born and raised in Campton Township near Elgin, Illinois. Caroline was a schoolteacher. The pair settled in Pepin County, Wisconsin. Their first daughter, Mary Amelia, was born in January 1865. Their second daughter, Laura, came along in 1867. Two years later, Charles, who was touched by a bit of wanderlust, moved the family to Missouri.

Moving from Place to Place

While living in a town near what is now known as Independence, Kansas, the Ingalls welcomed their third daughter, Carrie, in 1870. After Charles and Caroline determined that Kansas wasn’t welcoming settlers, they spent the next few years moving from state to state.


The girls were similar to army brats of a later century. They lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. In 1877, Caroline gave birth to their fourth daughter, Grace Pearl. During that time, they were having difficulties financially. But Charles found a job in 1879 as a clerk and bookkeeper with a railroad in Dakota Territory. The next year they moved to De Smet, South Dakota.

A 15-Year-Old Teacher

While spending time in South Dakota, the family encountered terrible winter storms. This experience would later become the basis for Wilder’s novel, The Long Winter. As a young teen, Laura fit in quite well in De Smet, which was a new yet growing town in South Dakota.

pinterest/Sabrina Lipparoni
pinterest/Sabrina Lipparoni

Laura went to school and made many friends in the community. She also followed in the footsteps of her mother and earned her teaching certificate. In fact, Laura began teaching in 1882 at an age we would consider incredibly young – 15! She was two months shy of her 16th birthday when she became head of the class.

A Young Romance

Even though Laura was busy teaching children, she also had time for romance. An older man named Almanzo Wilder began courting the young woman. He was a homesteader whom Laura lovingly nicknamed “Manly.”

Pinterest/Annette Whipple
Pinterest/Annette Whipple

While he was 10 years older than she was, the two fell deeply in love with each other. Almanzo had such a crush on Laura that he would take her back and forth from De Smet where she lived to the town where she worked, which was 12 miles away. The couple made it official and wed in 1885. They settled on land Wilder had claimed and became farmers.

The Devastating Effects of Diphtheria

Life wasn’t easy for the newlyweds and young homesteaders. The first few years after their wedding, they struggled to make a good life for themselves. Their first child, a daughter they named Rose, was born in 1886. In the meantime, they endured terrible weather, drought, and illnesses that drove them to poverty.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Almanzo was hit the hardest. A young and vigorous man when they first met, he contracted diphtheria, a bacterial infection. (Today, babies receive vaccinations against the disease and it is very rare.) The illness rendered Almanzo partially paralyzed. As a result, he was unable to perform the duties that were necessary for wheat farmers.

A Son’s Death, a House Fire, and Other Tragedies

Just when they thought things were bad enough, things got worse in the summer of 1889. While Laura was caring for her three-year-old daughter and taking care of their home, she was also pregnant. In August she gave birth to her and Almanzo’s son, who died just two weeks later.

Bernard Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Bernard Friel/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What’s more, during the same month the Wilder’s house burned down, and they lost their crops due to drought. The family was suffering from a great personal loss. They lost their home and their only source of income. They decided to start over so they moved to Spring Valley, Minnesota, in 1890.

Life Slowly Improves

The photo above shows the Ingalls family in 1891. From left to right are Caroline (Ma), Carrie, Laura, Charles (Pa), Grace, and Mary. Over the next two years, from 1890 to 1891, Laura, Almanzo and Rose took some time to rest and recuperate from their previous tragedies.

Pinterest/Old Photos Archive
Pinterest/Old Photos Archive

A studio photographer took an image of the family. As you can see, Laura looks well rested and in good health. It appears that while she struggled as a wife and mother during the early years of her marriage, things got better after she and Almanzo moved to Minnesota to start over.

A Move to the Sunshine State Doesn’t Go as Planned

Although her husband was still having a difficult time, Laura helped him with his work to get by. They both also made sure to keep their eyes open for any opportunities that may come their way. In October 1891, the couple took their daughter Rose and moved to Florida (the couple is pictured above in the sunshine state).

Pinterest/Xiena Cook
Pinterest/Xiena Cook

They believed the warm weather would improve Almanzo’s health and it would be a good place for farming. But sometimes even the best-laid plans don’t turn out exactly as you expect. Laura hated the state’s humidity and weather, so they returned to De Smet in August 1892.

A 20-Year Journey Pays Off

The Wilders moved to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894. They bought undeveloped land just outside town using some savings and called it Rocky Ridge Farm. They made money by selling firewood for 50 cents.

Men working the field
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

It took seven years for the apple trees they planted to bear fruit. Laura’s mother- and father-in-law helped pay off the house they were renting, which helped them considerably. They eventually owned 200 acres of land, sold their home in town, and moved onto the farm. It took them about 20 years to create their successful poultry, dairy, and fruit farm.

The Hints of a Writing Career

During her stint on the farm, Laura was also an active member of her community. She became involved in several clubs and advocated for regional farm associations. Considered an expert in poultry farming and rural living, she gave talks about the topics in her area.

Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Her writing career was launched after she was asked to submit an article to the Missouri Ruralist in 1911. She became a permanent columnist and editor through the mid-1920s. She wrote about everything from home to family. In addition, she was paid by the local Farm Loan Association to help give small loans to local farmers.

The Autobiography Pioneer Girl

In the 1920s, Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who became a well-known writer, began encouraging her mother to pursue a writing career. In two articles published in Country Gentleman magazine, Laura described the interior of the farmhouse. In May 1930, Laura wrote her first book, Pioneer Girl.

Picture of Laura
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

It was an autobiography geared towards adult readers that focused on growing up on the frontier. Rose was her mother’s editor on the book, and she also helped market it in New York City. While the manuscript didn’t sell, the book was a major success for one reason: it launched Laura’s career as a children’s author.

Little House in the Big Woods

The Wilders were doing well financially until the Great Depression and the stock market crash of 1929. They were able to keep their 200-acre farm, but they lost nearly all of their savings. It was during this time that Laura devoted more time to her writing.

Two New York children’s book editors were drawn to her autobiography, which was originally called When Grandma Was a Little Girl. But it needed some alterations. Listening to their advice, Laura expanded the story and geared it towards children. Her daughter’s publishing connections also helped. In 1932, Harper & Brothers published Little House in the Big Woods.

Was Rose Her Mother’s Ghostwriter?

While Rose helped Laura publish her first book, Laura’s success also helped her daughter. Rose’s two most popular novels, Let the Hurricane Roar (1932) and Free Land (1938), were written around the same time that the Little House series made it into print.

Rose’s books covered the same topics but were intended for an adult audience. Because of the similarities in subject matter, some think that Rose was in actuality her mother’s ghostwriter. Others think Rose transformed her mother’s rough drafts and turned them into the children’s books that everyone is familiar with today. Either way, diaries and handwritten manuscripts prove the two collaborated.

The Death of Laura Ingalls Wilder

While Laura was writing her books, she and Almanzo continued to live at Rocky Ridge Farm. They sold most of the property but kept a few farm animals and spent their time gardening.

It wasn’t uncommon for fans of the Little House books to drop by and meet the famous author who wrote them. Almanzo died in 1949 at the age of 92. Laura lived alone for the following eight years, but friends and neighbors made sure to look in on her. She died in her sleep in 1957, three days after turning 90 years old. She is buried alongside her husband and daughter.

West From Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder

In 1974, Harper & Row published West From Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder. It features a collection of letters Laura sent to Almanzo in 1915. Laura traveled to San Francisco in 1915 to visit her daughter Rose and to write about the World’s Fair. At the time, Laura was 48 and her daughter was 28.

This book is considered part of the Little House series by some people. It is essentially a diary of Laura and Almanzo’s 1894 move from South Dakota to Missouri. Daughter Rose presents the setting using her recollections from childhood. It was published the same year the TV show hit the air.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Legacy

Following the 1932 publication of Little House in the Big Woods, the books have stayed in print continuously and have been translated into 40 different languages. Laura received her first and smallest royalty check from Harper in 1932. It was for $500 (when adjusted for inflation, it would be $8,780 in today’s standards).

Writing was a good business decision for the Wilders. For the first time in their 50 years of marriage, they had a steady income. The books allowed the Wilders to keep their farm, which suffered following the stock market crash of 1929. As a writer, Laura received many accolades and honors as well as a huge fan following.

The Move to the Indian Reserve

It was 1869 when all the family moved to Kansas on the Osage Indian Reserve. It is there that Laura remembered seeing cattle drives through the open plains and meeting Indians. In only a years time, the family made a return to Wisconsin before heading to Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

The image above shows a farm and the type of farming her family would have participated in while in Kansas when she was little. Doesn’t seem like too much work but unless you are a farmer then you don’t know how tough it could really turn out to be.

South Dakota Ten Years Later

“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,” she said. Ten years after getting a taste of Kansas, the family moved to De Smet, South Dakota and that is where Laura spent her childhood.

Before the move, Mary had caught a fever that made her go blind so Laura started to take on the extra responsibility of tending to her sister. Laura’s father made a claim on some land just outside the city and tried to make a living from it as much as they could during the ’80s.

The Blizzards of South Dakota

When the second year came living in South Dakota, that is when the blizzards struck. The whole town was in survival mode. Their family ran out of wood and food so they had to resort to other measures. To produce flour, the family had to take turns grinding wheat in a coffee grinder! As if that wasn’t enough, they had to bring together tufts of hay tightly so they could burn it to generate heat.

Another desperate measure they had to resort to was Charles having to tie a string between the house and the barn so he wouldn’t get lost in the storm.

Too Smart for High School

Laura instantly stood out from her other classmates while she was in high school. She became the best scholar with ease. This might partly have to do with the fact that Caroline was a former school teacher so she made it a point that there was something in the house for the girls to read.

Laura never got the chance to graduate from high school because De Smet didn’t have a full education program and because she gave herself to teaching like we mentioned earlier. She did walk away from school with a lifelong love of learning.

Teaching for the First Time can Bring Romance?

When 1882 came around, Laura had landed her first teaching job close to De Smet. Every week, Almanzo Wilder would give her a ride in a buggy to and from school and the two started a friendship. When the chemistry is correct, friendships can turn into a budding romance and that is exactly what happened with these two.

They were married on Aug. 25, 1885. They had a good thing happen to them a year later when they had their first child together but soon after, they were plagued by a series of bad events.

What was Special about Missouri?

“Then I understood that in my own life I represented a whole period of American History,” she said. It wasn’t until 1894 when Laura and Almanzo decided to move to Missouri. An advertisement that proclaimed Missouri was “The Land of the Big Red Apples” is what prompted the two to voyage away.

The image you see above is the one that got them wanting to leave. Due to experiencing more success here than they did in South Dakota, they decided to settle down there. It makes sense after everything they were put through.

Writing is a Lifestyle

Laura and Almanzo both commanded respect in the town and surrounded area because of their great farming skills. Because of that agricultural career, Laura got her start in writing. As we said earlier, in 1911 Laura wrote a few articles about farm life for the Missouri Ruralist.

The images above are Laura documenting her travels from De Smet, South Dakota to Missouri. She documented that one time her horse so afraid of the railroad cars that it ran straight into some barbed wire. Laura’s daughter Rose was also a big influence on Laura’s writing career.

The Influence of Rose

Getting inspiration from loved ones is one of the greatest feelings ever. Rose’s influence was very crucial to Laura’s early writing days. When Rose became a young adult, she had already blossomed into a prominent writer under the name Rose Wilder Lane. She was a huge help to her mother in different ways.

We know that she was her mother’s editor but she also helped Laura get her work published in two national magazines (McCall’s and Country Gentleman). Not all children are that helpful and outgoing so we know Laura was thankful.

In Need of Support

As we said, the stock market crash of 1929 really put a huge dent on Laura and Almanzo’s life. Losing most of their life savings, Rose was put in a position to where she had to help her mother while on Rocky Ridge Farm. A great daughter through and through. Rose sounds like the person you can depend on when times get rough.

During this time, Laura had to write more and she wrote an autobiography that was never published. Publishers suggested that she write it in fiction and that was when the Little House series was created.

The Spectacular Rose Part 1

Rose Wilder Lane was born in De Smet, South Dakota. Like many kids, after high school, she went off on her own two feet to the Golden State San Francisco. It was there she married briefly and started her career as a writer. San Francisco is a great place to venture to when you want to dabble in the arts so it seems she knew what she was doing when she decided to go there.

She used to call herself a socialist but by the ’30s after going to Europe and coming back to tend to her parents, she identified as a libertarian.

The Spectacular Rose Part 2

After you have the majority of the facts concerning the influence that Rose had on her mother’s life then you can deduct that without Rose then there is no telling how far Laura would have gone without her precious daughter. She wrote this in a post in 1935.

“I am now a fundamentalist American; give me time and I will tell you why individualism, laissez faire and the slightly restrained anarchy of capitalism offer the best opportunities for the development of the human spirit,” Rose wrote. “Also I will tell you why the relative freedom of human spirit is better — and more productive, even in material ways — than the communist, Fascist, or any other rigidity organized for material ends.”

When the End is Near

Laura’s books really skyrocketed after they were reprinted in 1953 with added artwork from Garth Williams. If you don’t know who that is, that is the person who did the art for the children’s books Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.

“I have thought that I would spend what is left of my life living, not writing about it, but a story keeps stirring in my mind and if it pesters me enough I may have to write it down,” Laura said. A great story teller cannot resist writing down a good story.

Did She Leave Something Behind?

Almanzo sadly happened to pass away before his lovely wife did at the age of 92. Once he passed Laura’s health started to decline as well. She ended up passing away eight years after her late husband in 1957, just three days after her ninetieth birthday.

Before her death, Laura was working on a project that was based on her struggles during her early years of marriage. However, she had no intentions of having it published. The manuscript was found in Rose’s belongings after her death in 1968 and was published in 1971 as The First Four Years.

The Legacy Left Behind

“The children send me their pictures, Christmas cards and presents, valentines, birthday cards and gifts,” Laura said. “I think I had letters from every state.” The stories told and realistic characters from Laura’s books are what brought her experience to the lives on countless children in the world. Laura left an impact for sure.

Not only does she have reading rooms, libraries and elementary schools named after her, you can still find her books on reading lists all over the country. That sounds impressive already but is only some of her legacy.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Impact

When the ’70s came around, Little House on the Prairie reached new levels thanks to the TV series that was loosely based on the books. You know you did something major when you get a TV show from it. Even if the TV show isn’t all that good, which wasn’t the case with this show.

And to make things even better, almost all the locations where Laura used to live have become National Historic Landmarks and tourist destinations! If she were alive today she would be proudly humbled by all of this!

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal

Although Laura Ingalls Wilder never received the famous Newbery Medal, she was a runner-up five times for the prestigious award, which is the number-one American Library Association (ALA) book award for children’s literature. But something even better came along for the celebrated children’s author. In 1954, the ALA created a lifetime achievement award for children’s writers and illustrators and named it after Wilder.

She was the first recipient of the award. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal recognizes a living author or illustrator whose books, which are published in the United States, have made “a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children”.

Rose’s Impact

As much as Laura had an impact on lives, so did her daughter Rose. We have been giving praise to the daughter this whole time but she is well worth it. Rose and another author would publish books that could be the birth of the modern Libertarian movement. A liberal journalist in the ’30s by the name of John Chamberlain recalled the impact of the books.

“If it had been left to pusillanimous males probably nothing much would have happened,” he wrote. … Indeed, it was three women — Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand — who, with scornful side glances at the male business community, had decided to rekindle a faith in an older American philosophy.”

The Other Little House Books

Little House on the Prairie features the Ingalls leaving their cabin and traveling to Kansas Territory. Farmer Boy centers on Almanzo’s boyhood on a farm in New York. In On the Banks of Plum Creek, the Ingalls move to a farm near Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

By the Shores of Silver Lake has the Ingalls selling their farm in Minnesota and moving to Dakota Territory. In The Long Winter, the family must survive with little food and no coal. In Little Town on the Prairie, Laura studies to become a teacher so she can help send her sister to a college for the blind. These Happy Golden Years focuses on Laura’s teaching and relationship with Almanzo.

The Final Volume in the Series

The Little House books were written for elementary school-age children. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote eight volumes about pioneering life based on her and her family’s experiences living on the American frontier in the 19th century.

When her daughter Rose died in 1968, Rose’s literary executor Roger MacBride discovered The First Four Years. It centered on Laura and Almanzo’s early days of marriage. Laura wrote her books in pencil. It was published in manuscript form as is in 1971 without any editing by Rose or MacBride. No one knows if it was intended to be a stand-alone book or the ninth one in the series.

Inspired by Childhood

“The spirit of the frontier was one of humor and cheerfulness no matter what happened,” she said. “It shines through all the volumes of my children’s novel.” If you haven’t known by now when Laura drew inspiration from her childhood and wrote each volume from a different perspective of when she was young. (The only exception was her second book, Farmer Boy, which is actually about Almanzo’s childhood).

Each book tells a story and even though they may be marked as fiction, they more non-fiction than some of the stuff we see in the news today.

The Different Stories Told

Like we said, each book is about a different time from Laura’s childhood. This is akin to how musicians make albums that revolve around a certain time in their life. It gives you a chance to get to know them better and on a personal level. We aren’t sure if that’s the goal that Laura wanted.

Little House in the Big Woods outlines her time in Wisconsin. Little House on the Prairie talks about the family’s time in Kansas, where On the Banks of Plum Creek is about their stay in Minnesota.

Some Minor Changes Here and There

Yes, it is true that the main theme of the stories from Laura’s books were drawn from experiences of her childhood, she made a point to leave out some facts. And this is more so when the fictional part comes in because she would add fictional elements that were more appealing to the younger readers.

Rose would continue to stay at the Rocky Ridge Farm while most of this was going on, playing the role of daughter editor and doing what she could to help get her mother’s books published. Rose even did some pioneer stories of her own.

Nothing was the Same after 1932

AS we touched on earlier, 1932 was the year Laura had her first book published (Little House in the Big Woods). She was sixty-five years old and it seemed all the troubles and hardships she had experienced were all behind her. The book was critically acclaimed and got tons of praise. That was the case for all of the books in the series.

As you can see, everyone has a story to tell and some might even be worth documenting. Laura’s battles and life were able to make her become a national celebrity.