Laura Ingalls Wilder memoir shows gritty reality on the prairie

The banks of Plum Creek on the historic Ingalls homestead near Walnut Grove, Minnesota. PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown

The banks of Plum Creek on the historic Ingalls homestead near Walnut Grove, Minnesota. PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown

Last week on our way to South Dakota, my family took a detour along the way to visit the site of the Ingalls farm and dugout home north of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Though my wife and I were raised in remarkably different styles, we share the memory of our mothers reading us the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (and then us voracious reading the full set afterward by ourselves). So it was special to hear Christina read chapters from “On the Banks of Plum Creek” aloud in the car, hurtling through corn on our way to the real Plum Creek and the actual place where Laura and her family lived. Our boys have become as entranced by the stories as we once were.

A few days later we read that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s unpublished autobiography, written for an adult audience, will soon be published. Kevin Burdich of the Associated Press wrote a feature on the new Wilder autobiography, which I read here in the Star Tribune.

Burdich writes:

“Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” — Wilder’s unedited draft that was written for an adult audience and eventually served as the foundation for the popular series — is slated to be released by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press nationwide this fall. The not-safe-for-children tales include stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey.

Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, herself a well-known author, tried and failed to get an edited version of the autobiography published throughout the early 1930s. The original rough draft has been preserved at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, for decades but hadn’t been published.

The lives of any pioneer family was bound to be just a mite bit rougher than it was depicted on the “Little House on the Prairie” TV show, and that certainly seems to be the case with Wilder’s autobiography. I look forward to reading it.

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