On Feb. 7, 1867, a literary legend was born, seven miles north of the small Village of Pepin, Wis., to Charles Phillip and Caroline Lake (Quiner) Ingalls. Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was the name to be given to this legend — a legend that lives on with the Ingalls family in Holmes County.

Laura was the second of five children born to the Ingalls. Laura’s older sister Mary Amelia was born on Jan. 10, 1865, Mary went blind at an early age. Next in the family of five siblings was Laura. There were three more children after Laura they were, Caroline (Carrie) Celestia who was born in August of 1870 and she died in June of 1946. Charles Fredrick was born on Nov. 1, 1875 and died nine month later on Aug. 26, 1876, the youngest of the Ingalls clan was Grace Pearl who was born on May 23, 1877 and died in 1941.

Charles, Laura’s father settled on some land that was not yet available to make homesteads upon in what is now known as Independence, Kan. When the Ingalls made there homestead there in the late 1800’s the land was Indian Territory. This phase in Laura’s life lead to her writing her most popular book Little House on the Prairie. Which later turned into the well-loved TV series and Movie by the same title.

When the family moved from the log cabin where the Ingalls children were born, they made a move to DeSmet, S.D. The family lived at this home site for the rest of Charles, Caroline and Laura’s sister Mary’s life. There lived on this land during one of the hardest winters in the Dakotas history this was the winter of 1880 and 1881. The winter of 1880 and 1881 inspired the writing of The Long Winter.

At the ripe age of 15 Laura received her teaching certificate on Dec. 24, 1882. When she was 18 she married Almanzo Wilder a bachelor homesteader he was 28 when they married on Aug. 25, 1885. Her live with Almanzo, which she lovingly called Mandy, is well preserved in her books Little Town on the Prairie and These Happy Golden Years.

The Wilders had two children  — a daughter Rose, now known as the author Rose Wilder Lane. Rose was born on Dec. 5, 1886. The Wilders also had an unnamed son who was born in 1889 and died shortly after birth. Rose is believed to be the one that convinced her mother to write about her childhood as part of a pioneer family.

The log cabin where Laura was born inspired the “Little House” series that is loved by so many young and old alike. The cabin inspired the first book of the series Little House in The Big Woods.

In 1891 the Wilders and their young daughter Rose, moved for a short time to Westville. They were there for 22 months, just shy of two years, when in 1892 they packed up and went back to DeSmet and bought a small house. Two years later in 1894 they took their savings and made a down payment on a undeveloped piece of land just outside of Mansfield, Mo.

Some researchers suggest that the family’s stay in Westville influenced Laura’s literary career in some way. The family’s adventure in North Florida was shared by Laura’s cousin, Peter Ingalls. Peter stayed in Westville and married Miss. Edith McGowan, a local girl. Descendents of the two families have since inter-married and still live in and around the area.

Laura wrote a column for the Missouri Ruralist that was entitled “As a Farm Woman Thinks.” She eventually became the editor/columnist for the paper.

In 1922 Rose received the O’Henry Award for her story based on the families experience in Westville, entitled “Innocence.” The story was published under her married name Rose Wilder Lane.

Laura Ingalls Wilder stated the following about her stay in Westville: “After our marriage Almanzo and I lived in the little gray house on the tree claim. Then with our little daughter Rose, (now Rose Wilder Lane), we went to live in the piney woods of Florida, where the treed always murmur, where the butterflies are enormous, where plants that eat insects grow in moist places, where alligators inhabit the slowly moving waters of the rivers. But at the time and at that place a Yankee woman was more of a curiosity than these…”

The home where Laura and her husband moved to in 1894 is where they lived out the remainder of their lives. Almanzo died in 1949 at the age of 92 and Laura died in her sleep three days after her birthday in 1957 after suffering a stroke. Almanzo, Laura and Rose are all three buried in Mansfield, Mo., in the town cemetery.

Their home where the family lived has been preserved and left just as Laura left it when she died. Inside the house, visitors get the feeling that the Wilders have just stepped out and will return shortly. Laura’s spices, mixing bowl and flour sifter are still in the kitchen where she left them in the cabinet. Visitors to the house will also notice that all the furniture was “made to size”, much of it was hand made by Mandy. Laura only stood about four-foot, 11 inches, Mandy was also of short stature. The white-framed house stands as a reminder of Laura and her family.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, Inc., was founded in Pepin Wis., in 1974. The town has earlier named a park after her in 1962. Over the years there have been markers placed at the home sites of the Ingalls-Wilder family. The last marker was placed on the home site in Westville on Oct. 8, 2006. This was the final home site to be marked.

The family may have moved nine times in three years, grasshoppers may have destroyed their crops, and snow storms may have nearly starved the family, but the family stuck together and survived.

Laura’s first book was published when she was 65 years old in 1932. That book was “Little House in the Big Woods.” She went on to publish 13 other books, including; “Farmer Boy” in 1933; “Little House on The Prairie” in 1935; “On the Banks of Plum Creek” in 1937; “By the Shores of Silver Lake” in 1939; “The Long Winter” in 1940; “Little Town on The Prairie” in 1941; and “These Happy Golden Years.”

Five of the 13 books were not published until after Laura’s death. Those books were; “On The Way Home” written with Rose was published in 1962; “West From Home” in 1974; “The Days of Laura Ingalls Wilder” in 1992; “Old Town in The Green Groves” in 2002 and “A Little House Traveler” in 2006. A manuscript that was entitled “The First Four Years,” was published in 1971. The manuscript was found in Rose’s belongings when she died in 1968.

The universal theme of the books of all families face similar situations in life has allowed the books to remain popular.



Picnic in the Piney Woods

Come out and join the family and friends of the late the Laura Ingalls Wilder at the 7th Annual Picnic in the Piney Woods to be held from 10 a.m. until on Sept. 29, at the home site of Peter Franklin Ingalls in Westville. There will be a Laura Ingalls Wilder costume contest, and a talent contest. There will also be a potluck lunch; bring your favorite foods, the chicken will be provided. The picnic is being hosted by the family of Peter Franklin Ingalls and sponsored by the Holmes County Historical Society. Come enjoy a day of fun with Laura’s cousins. The home site is located at 1225 Highway 163 in Westville. For more information call Mary Joe Craft at 956-2956 or Wayne Ingalls at 334-898-1115.