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Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born February 7, 1867 on a spot near where a replica cabin now stands, seven miles from legend haunted Lake Pepin surrounded by farm fields and tree covered hillsides that are what remains of what was once the Big Woods.

Despite the picture many of us have of pioneers striking out across the United States like a tidal wave, the truth, as usual is much messier. It was more like the tumulus water at the bottom of a water fall with some families going forward, some backward, some always tossed to a new place further on. The Charles and Caroline Ingalls family moved on from Pepin with stops at Chariton County, Missouri; Independence, Kansas; back in Pepin; Walnut Grove, Minnesota; South Troy, Minnesota; Burr Oak, Iowa; back to Walnut Grove and finally to what is now DeSmet, South Dakota where Charles and Caroline stopped. For another example, Almanzo’s parents, James and Angeline Wilder, moved in a more orderly fashion from Burke (near Malone), New York to Spring Valley, Minnesota, to Crowley, Louisiana.  

Laura did most of her growing up in DeSmet. It was there that she became a school teacher, met and married her Manly, Almanzo James Wilder, and became a mother baring two children and burying one. After their marriage, Dakota seemed determined to throw them off their land. It through everything it had at them from fire to drought to illness and finally ill health drove them off the land. Laura, Manly and Rose tried life with his parents in Spring Valley, Minnesota and in the Westville, Florida/Geneva, Alabama area before returning to DeSmet to gather strength and cash to start over one last time in Mansfield, Missouri.

Laura was a pioneer girl, as she realized in the First Four Years ""it is better farther on" - only instead of farther on in space, it was farther on in time over the horizon of years ahead instead of the far horizon if the west." (pp.133-134)

So she took on the challenge of insuring that promise came true. As the old hymn says she set out to “Brighten the corner where you are.” She worked at improving life, first for her family, then for her community, and then for her fellow farm wives. Finally, she created her greatest legacy, her collection of books who make the lives of their millions of readers better by reminding them of what came before, by showing a family caring for each other, by urging them to make do with what they have, and by encouraging them to bravely stand up, not to the great unjustices of the world, but just getting through life and making the world a better place because you pass through it. The world is certainly much better because Laura passed through it.

I’m not going to give the rest of her story here, but I hope that you will strive to learn more. A good place to start is with the two pathfinders I created about Laura for the State Library of Iowa. Find the links here:

They have what I consider the basic resources and I would urge you to start with those. However, from time to time I find some other sites that I think are of ongoing interest and I will list some of those on the Laura links page.

Finally please check the Laura articles page to find some article by and about Laura.

Last Updated: March 10, 2008


By Sarah S. Uthoff