Frequently Asked Questions
How old was Laura when she died?
How old was Laura when she died?
Did Laura have a diary?
Unfortunately, Laura did not keep a diary when she was a girl. As a grown woman, though, she did keep travel diaries when she went on long trips. Although Laura did not keep a diary she wrote constantly throughout her whole life and saved nearly every scrap of paper that she wrote on. Laura wrote down her thoughts on life, her family, the people and places around her and her little houses.
When Mary became blind at the age of 14, Pa would tell Laura she would become the eyes for Mary. She would describe everything she would see to Mary, from the sunsets to the color of the flowers. Some think that is why Laura was such a descriptive writer. She had learned to see with great detail.
When were Laura's Little House Books published?
Laura's first book "Little House in the Big Woods" was published in 1932. It received such a good response that she wrote "Farmer Boy". Girls and boys wrote in her asking what happened to the little girl in the big woods so Laura continued writing her series of books. Her last book was published in 1943. After her death a manuscript of her first four years of marriage were found among her belongings. She had been writing it when Almanzo passed away and she didn't have the heart to finish it. "The First Four Years" was published in 1971, many years after her death. Also her diary of her trip from South Dakota to Missouri was published in 1962, "On the Way Home". A third book was published after her death. She had taken a trip to California to visit their daughter Rose and Almanzo had stayed in Missouri. "West from Home" is a collection of letters from Laura to Almanzo during this time.
It was only in the TV series that you hear about the adoption of a boy named Albert. The Ingalls never adopted any children in real life at all. They did have a boy, named Charles Frederick, who died at the age of 9 months, when they were on their way to Iowa.
Neither Carrie nor Grace had children of their own. Carrie married a widower with two children, a boy and a girl, and she helped to raise them. Carrie married at the age of 42. Grace was in her early twenties when she married Nathan Dow, but they never had children. Mary never married and never had children, so Laura was the only one out of the four daughters to have children.
Ma and Pa tired of trying to farm the homestead shortly after Laura was married. So, at Christmas time in 1887 they moved to De Smet permanently. Pa built a comfortable little house for the family on Third Street, close to the school Carrie and Grace attended. Pa was very busy in town as Justice of the Peace, Deputy Sheriff, Town clerk, and Street Commissioner. He was an active member of the school board and belonged to the Congregational church. Pa worked as a carpenter while living in town. Pa died June 1902 of heart failure. Ma and all his girls were with him when he died. After Pa died, Ma lived in the home on Third Street with Mary. They kept very busy. In 1918 Ma became ill and Grace and her husband, Nathan Dow came to live with Ma and Mary. Ma died in 1924.
Carrie, after graduating from high school, worked for the local newspaper. This is where she learned the printing and publishing trade. Her career as a pioneer newspaperman eventually extended to many papers in western South Dakota. Carrie tried homesteading and proved to be successful as she proved up her claim. She met and married David Swanzey in 1912 in Keystone, South Dakota. David was a widower with two small children. Carrie helped to raise his children but they never had children of their own. Carrie died in 1946 at the age of 76 and is buried in the De Smet cemetery.
Rose was the only grandchild of Pa and Ma Ingalls. When Rose died on
Cap Garland who helped Almanzo find wheat for the starving towns- people during THE LONG WINTER, was killed while still young in an explosion of a threshing machine engine. (1890) His sister Florence, Laura's first De Smet teacher, married C.L. Dawley and remained in De Smet.
Nellie Oleson was born in LeRoy Minnesota, August 2, 1868. The family moved to Walnut Grove, Minnesota in 1873 and this is where Mr. and Mrs. Oleson (Owens) began operating a general store. It was here in Walnut Grove that Laura and Nellie first met. The family later moved several times eventual settling in Tillamook, Oregon. Nellie would meet and marry Henry Frank Kirry here. They had three children, Zola Margaret, Lloyd Prescott and Leslie Henry. Later in life Nellie and Henry separated. Nellie died in 1949 at Portland, Oregon and is buried next to her brother and father.
Mary Power, one of Laura's friends in LITTLE TOWN ON THE PRAIRIE and THESE HAPPY GOLDEN YEARS, married her banker, Ed Stanford. They lived across the street from Ma and Pa's residence until the early 1900's when she and her husband moved to Bellingham, Washington.
Ida Wright Brown, one of Laura's friends in De Smet married Elmer McConnell and moved to California. No records have been found of her later life.
Robert and Ellie Boast built a substantial set of buildings on their homestead before moving to De Smet around the turn of the century. Mr. Boast went into the real estate business, served as street commissioner in the "little town" and is responsible for the planting of many trees. Mrs. Boast was crippled for years with arthritis, confined to a wheel chair. She was a great friend of the town's children, holding parties at their home on Second Street. Mrs. Boast lived until 1918, her husband surviving her by four years dying at 73.
Garth William's is the illustrator of the nine Little House books. But he was not the first illustrator of these books. When the books were first published in the 1930's, a very popular children's illustrator, Helen Sewell, was chosen to illustrate the series. Then, in the 1940's, Harper & Brothers, Laura's publishing company, decided to republish the books with new illustrations to give them a new look. Garth Williams was chosen to be the new Little House illustrator
Jack was Laura's first dog. Faithful Jack would follow along the many miles that the Ingalls family would travel. Jack was always there to protect Laura and her family. But Jack soon became to old to continue to travel and died. Laura and the family would never forget the faithful brindle bulldog. They would miss him very much.
Laura wrote about watching her Grandmother jig. She thought she looked so pretty with her skirts twirling around her. She was amazed to see this. They also did the waltz and polka. We know that they had most of their dances in their homes or at Socials, which were very popular in Laura's time.
Nobody knows for sure where Pa bought his beloved fiddle. A good guess, though, would be he bought it as a young boy. It is likely that he learned to play his fiddle all by himself, with out any music lessons. Pa would learn to play "by ear" which means that he could play a song or tune on his fiddle without even reading the music. Today Pa's fiddle is on exhibit at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association in Mansfield, Missouri.
Laura loved music. It brought happiness to Laura and her family in good times and bad times. While Laura did know and love many, many songs, some of her favorites were "In the Sweet By and By," "Waltz Me Around, Oh Willie," and of course "Pop! Goes the Weasel."
Most of the schools in rural America at the time Laura was growing up were one-room schoolhouses. There were students of all ages and all grades in one room, with one teacher. The number of students depended on the size of the district: In Laura's first teaching job, she had five students. She had only two students in the Perry school. Attendance was not required when Laura was growing up, and many did not attend school regularly. Especially boys, if they were needed on the farm, only attended when there was no farm work for them to do. School could be held in any season, depending on the district. Some did not have school in the winter months, as it cost too much to heat the school.
Students had to provide their own books and supplies. Most could be bought at the general store for a few cents. They also carried their lunch in small tin pails.
Male teachers were paid more then female teachers. In addition, female teachers in frontier days were not allowed to marry or "keep company" with men.
Laura's favorite pet was dogs! Jack was her first dog of course, but after Jack died, Laura had many other dogs too. After Laura married Almanzo, there was Shep, Almanzo's sheepdog. After Shep came a huge black Saint Bernard. At Rocky Ridge Farm, Laura and Almanzo had a dog named Inky and a fluffy poodle called Ring, who fetched and carried written messages between Laura and Almanzo. Their third dog at the farm, Nero, was an Airedale who brought the cow's home from the pasture at night. Laura's last pet was a bulldog, Ben, and he was a special comfort to her after Almanzo died. Laura loved other kinds of animals too. She and Almanzo often thought of their livestock as pets, like Mary Ellen their cow and Nanky and Judy, their two goats. Laura even befriended the turtles from the ravine behind the house. Every day the turtles would line up at the kitchen door and Laura would feed them milk and bread.
Although Laura had taught three terms of teaching she had never attended college. Laura's older sister Mary had attended the College for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa for seven years. Her baby sister Grace attended college at Redfield, South Dakota to become a teacher. When Carrie finished high school she taught briefly and then learned the printing trade at The De Smet News and Leader. Carrie had a long working career alternating between printing, clerking in stores, and other occupations.
Laura and Almanzo's wedding was a very simple one. Laura wore a new black dress that Ma had just finished for her. Laura and Almanzo were afraid Almanzo's sister was going to visit and make plans for a large wedding of which neither of them wanted. So they made plans for a simple ceremony. Almanzo arrived and picked Laura up and drove to the Rev. Browns home and were married. There also was no music! No wedding song was played. After the ceremony they had a wedding dinner at Ma and Pa's home. They were married August 25, 1885.
Laura and Almanzo were very excited when a baby daughter was born to them in December 5, 1886. Rose grew to be a very smart and challenging daughter. Three years later a baby son was born to Laura and Almanzo. It was a very sad time as the infant son lived for only 12 days and then passed away. Laura and Almanzo were heartbroken. Rose became their only surviving child as they had no more children.
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of the Surveyors' House in her book By the Shores of Silver Lake. The Ingalls family spent the winter of 1879-1880 here. This would be the first home for the Ingalls family when they arrived in Dakota Territory (South Dakota). It was called the Surveyors' House because the surveyor's that surveyed (measured) the land for the railroad had built and lived in the house. The surveyors offered it to the Ingalls family for that first winter so that the surveyors could go back east for the winter.
Charles Ingalls built a cozy home in town on Third Street in 1887. It was journey's end for the pioneering family. It was the last home for Ma and Pa. Ma died here in 1924 and Pa in 1902. Many artifacts and original belongings of the Ingalls and Wilder families have been collected and are on display at this historic home.
When the Ingalls family moved from place to place, the most common way for the family to travel long distances was by covered wagon. A covered wagon had to be constructed very carefully. It had to be strong enough to carry everything the family would need and still be light enough for the horses to pull. A typical covered wagon was four feet wide and ten feet long. The wheels would be made of wood and had iron strips around the edge to keep them from wearing out to fast. The wagon box would be made of wood and have a large piece of canvas or sailcloth over five or six green hickory "bows". The Ingalls family would have had to pack many things for their journeys. Enough food and water for the family and animals would be needed. Clothing, bedding, kitchen utensils, and furniture would be hauled in the wagon.
In all of Laura's travels she lived in many different places and homes. In Wisconsin and Kansas, Laura lived in log cabins built by Pa. In Minnesota Laura would have lived in a dirt dugout in the side of the hill. For the first winter on the Dakota prairies the Ingalls family would have lived in the railroad surveyors' house. Pa would then build the family a home of fresh board lumber. In later years when Laura and Almanzo lived in Mansfield, Missouri, their daughter Rose built them a house made of rock!
While living on the tree claim Laura and Almanzo endured the loss of the home by fire. A fire in the kitchen stove went out of control. Laura snatched up their daughter Rose and ran from the house. Neighbors hurried to help put out the fire, but in the hot summer wind, the flames quickly burned the house and nearly everything in it. Only Laura's silverware, which was her wedding present from Almanzo, their deed box, some old clothes, and a few of the glass dishes from their first Christmas were saved.
Almanzo had always been a horseman and was interested in improving the quality of horses found in the Ozarks. A breed especially adapted to the rocky hills and fields needed developing. This breed, Almanzo felt, was the Morgan. He brought a handsome bay called "Governor of Orleans" to Rocky Ridge and he felt that Morgan blood would improve his neighbor's horses as well.
Carrie was past forty when she married David Swanzey. He was a widower in his fifties, with two small children who needed a mother. The children, Mary and Harold, were eight and six, when Carrie became their mother. They responded immediately to Carrie's warm affection and jolly presence. Harold was in poor health, hard of hearing and in need of attention. Carrie dedicated much of her energy to his recovery.
Laura did a great deal of traveling in her lifetime. The majority of it by covered wagon. Although it may seem like a hard life, the pioneers did not know the difference. It was the way of life at that time. Most parents were looking to better their life situations such a better land, more money, better housing. Something I think most parents of today do for their families. Most fathers and mothers change jobs and move their families because they think it will better their life. That was why pioneers moved so often.
Laura, Mary, Carrie, and Grace were actually just like you. They went to school, played and studied hard in school. Their family did move alot but Ma and Pa always made sure the girls had a good home and a good education.
Laura grew up on the pioneering frontier. She loved the big woods of Wisconsin but during her childhood she would move to the vast prairies of Dakota. Pa had moved to Dakota Territory to homestead. In 1862, the government passed the Homestead Act. This allowed a person to claim 160 acres of land and if they could live on the land for 5 years and farm 10 acres of the land, the government would give them the land. It was called "Free Land". In reality, the struggle of living on the untamed prairies proved to be a challenge.
Virtually everything the Ingalls family wore, as well as all their sheets, blankets, and other household linens, were made by hand! Although the sewing machine had been available since the 1840's, (powered by treadle, not electricity), there were not many in the log cabins and dugouts on the prairie. While mothers sewed, their daughters, like Laura and Mary, practiced their stitching on scraps of cloth. These were called "samplers" because the girls stitched samples of various embroidery stitches on them.
Making the family clothes was a very tedious job! Most children were very lucky to have two sets of clothes. Most clothes were handed down and handed down until it was completely worn out and then rags were made of them. Nothing went to waste as rags could be used for rugs!
Washing the clothes was probably the hardest chore of the week. First, bucket after bucket of water had to be brought in from the spring or the well to fill a big iron pot on the cook stove. A large supply of wood had to be chopped and ready in the wood box to keep the fire going in the stove, because the water needed to be heated and kept boiling during the washing.
The white things would be washed first, then the colored things, so that the dyes in the colored clothes would not spoil the white ones. The clothes were scrubbed by hand on a ribbed scrubbing board in the washtub with strong homemade soap. After the clothes were scrubbed, they were boiled for about half an hour and stirred constantly with a long stick. They were then lifted out of the hot, soapy water with the stick into another tub, and the water was squeezed out. When all the clothes were washed, the wash water was dumped outside. More buckets of fresh water were hauled into heat on the stove for rinsing the clothes.
When all the clothes were rinsed and wrung out, they were hung up to dry. In summer, they could be hung outside in the sun and fresh air, but in winter, they would have to be hung inside the house, perhaps in the attic or lean-to.
When Laura grew up on the prairies of Dakota her life would be somewhat different then what we experience today. They would have to build or make just about everything they would use. The house would be made of logs or built into the side of a hill called a dugout. They would have to haul the water they would use from the creek or spring. To keep warm they would buy coal from the General Store and burn it in a hard coal stove. If coal wasn't available, the family would burn hay twists. Hay twists were made out of the prairie grasses that would have been cut for feed the past summer. It was twisted very tightly, as it would burn longer. Some families would burn cow chips. Life wasn't always easy for the Ingalls family had that pioneering spirit.
The Ingalls family could not make everything they would need. Sometimes they had to purchase items from the General Store. So once in a while, Pa would go into town to the general store to buy what the family needed. To buy things at the store, Pa traded the furs he collected during the winter by setting traps for various animals-otter, beaver, mink, even bear. He took the furs to the store and the storekeeper gave Pa either money or store credit for them.
A general store when Laura was growing up was part grocery store; part hardware store and part feed store. There were bolts of cloth, sacks of sugar and plugs of tobacco. There were plows, guns, axes, hammers and nails. Groceries were a big part of the stock. A general store would have barrels of salted meats and fish, pickles and crackers; lard, flour, salt, and jars of colorful candy.
A general store was crowded with merchandise stacked on the counters and shelves, piled on the floor and hanging from the walls, and rafters. Sometimes there was even a post office tucked into the corner! Even though it was crowded it always had room for people. Men would gather and sit around the big iron stove that heated the store in winter. They passed news from families they knew and talked about the politics of the day. It was not considered proper for girls or women to linger in public places, so they would leave the store as soon as their buying was done.
The first four years of their marriage were very difficult years. They experienced crop loss, their house burned and they were both sick with diphtheria. Laura, Almanzo and daughter Rose went to stay with his family in Minnesota. At that time Almanzo's sister Laura was living there also. With two Laura's in the house it became very confusing so Almanzo started calling Laura "Bess". This was short for Laura Elizabeth. This nickname would follow Laura all through her life.
The early settlers made most toys in pioneer days themselves. Fathers and grandfathers carved dolls, model boats and whistles from wood. Mothers and grandmothers made clothes for the dolls from rags and scraps of cloth. Wooden animals were their favorite, although many pull toys, such as a car or train had no tracks, but were pulled over the floor.
In pioneer days there no television sets, stereos, or video games but enough people around for playing games. Many games were played in the parlor, the "best room" in the house. Charades, Blind Man's Bluff, word games and board games were the most popular. Some of them were Dominoes, Pick Up Sticks; at school they would play Jacks, Marbles and Tiddlywinks.
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