Laura Ingalls Wilder is one of the most recognized names among American authors and especially for those who are familiar with the Little House series of books based on her childhood in a pioneer family. What has enhanced her popularity in one’s recent memory was the highly successful television series, Little House On The Prairie, which was an adaptation of her best-selling series of Little House books.
The Homestead Act of 1862 supported the “free soil, free labor” concept by offering opportunity to anyone willing to work the land. Just as the Homestead Act influenced the Ingalls family, we find many in Gage County have roots connected to land that was homesteaded by their ancestors. Much of the homesteaded land remains the property of the descendants of those original homesteaders.
The first of many moves that the Ingalls family would make was to land not yet open for homesteading in what was then Indian Territory near Independence, MO. Within a few years, the family moved to a preemption claim in Walnut Grove, MN. Over the winter of 1879-1880, Charles Ingalls landed a homestead near De Smet, SD, where he would spend the remainder of his life.
Laura Ingalls married Almanzo Wilder, a homesteader from South Dakota, on August 25, 1885. In 1894, the young couple moved to Mansfield, MO, using their savings to make a down payment on a piece of undeveloped property just outside of town. When Laura Ingalls Wilder was making her move from South Dakota to Missouri, the Gage County Courthouse was mentioned in her diary on Sunday, August 5, 1894. The Wilder’s used their savings to purchase a piece of undeveloped property just outside of town and named their farm, Rocky Ridge Farm. By 1910, Rocky Ridge Farm was established to the point where the Wilders focused their efforts on increasing the farm’s productivity and output. They were advocates of farm diversification and became a diversified poultry and dairy farm, with an abundant apple orchard. In addition, Laura Ingalls Wilder was a strong advocate for farmers as both a columnist and editor of the Missouri Ruralist and had a paid position with the Farm Loan Association, giving loans to local farmers. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first book Little House In The Big Woods was published in 1932. Almanzo Wilder died in 1949, aged 92 and Laura Ingalls Wilder died on February 10, 1957, just three days after her 90th birthday. Both died at Rocky Ridge Farm at Mansfield, MO.
A unique and spirited individual, Laura Ingalls Wilder is a wonderful example of the heart and soul of the American experience in the early 20th century.
The settling of the American West has been a source of interest for decades and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writings have played a significant role in explaining the hardships and trials that were encountered by the early pioneers in America.
The Beatrice Chautauqua Free Land? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America will be hosting Laura Ingalls Wilder, portrayed by Karen Vuranch, on Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 7:15 p.m. at the Homestead National Monument. Vuranch is an instructor at Concord University in West Virginia and has participated in living-history presentations portraying 10 different characters.
The stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s experience homesteading in the American West have continued from generation to generation and hold a place in the hearts of all those who have encountered her unique perspective and writings. Mark your calendars today to attend the heart-warming encounter with the author of the beloved “Little House” series of books.
Written by Janet Byars, Co-Chair of the Beatrice Chautauqua
“Free Land? 1862 and the Shaping of Modern America”