Skip to main content

'Little House' author's autobiography shows harder times on the prairie

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Do you think you know Laura Ingalls Wilder? A soon-to-be-published memoir written by Wilder, the author of the beloved "Little House" series of books that chronicled her family's life on the frontier in the late 1800s, will reveal a grittier, less romanticized version of life on the prairie, the Associated Press reports.

"Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography" is due out in mid-November from the South Dakota State Historical Society. It's an unedited draft of Wilder's autobiography, which includes scenes with more mature content such as domestic abuse, alcoholism and adultery involving friends and neighbors of the Ingalls family.

The autobiography has never been published, despite Wilder's efforts to do so in the 1930s, according to the Associated Press. The original rough draft has been stored for decades at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri.

A Wilder biographer, Pamela Smith Hill, wrote a proposal to the South Dakota State Historical Society in 2011 that it be published, arguing that it was an important piece of Wilder's legacy.

"Wilder wrote her autobiography for adult readers in a voice distinctly different from the one she developed for her novels. This adult voice illustrates her versatility as a writer, her ability to pitch her stories to different audiences. It also reveals Wilder's understanding of the conventions of different genres: “Pioneer Girl” is adult nonfiction; the “Little House” books are middle-grade and Young Adult historical fiction. Publication of the autobiography in a scholarly, annotated edition would provide an ideal environment in which to present these ideas, and, at last, the manuscript would reach Wilder's intended primary audience—adults, not children."

The children's series left out or fictionalized scenes that Wilder deemed unsuitable for kids, including much of the time the family spent in Burr Oak, Iowa, and Walnut Grove, Minnesota, according to Hill.

One incident that Wilder describes occurred when she lived in Burr Oak, when a drunken neighbor poured kerosene in his home, set it on fire and drags his wife around by her hair before Wilder's father helps her, said the AP.

"That first version was blunt," Amy Lauters, an associate professor of mass media at Minnesota State University, Mankato, told the AP. "It's certainly not the fantasized version we saw on 'Little House on the Prairie' the television show."

The book to be published preserves Wilder's original rough draft, but includes other material such as manuscripts, letters, photographs, newspapers, and other sources which provide more context and illustrate Wilder's growth as a writer, according to Hill, the editor.

"In some ways, I came to think of the annotations in 'Pioneer Girl' as almost an encyclopedia about Laura Ingalls Wilder's life and work," Hill told the Associated Press.

Next Up


Charges: Teen speeding before crash that killed mother, injured her son

The teenager was driving at speeds between 72-89 mph at the time of the crash.

Northland Vapor in Moorhead, Minn.

Northland Vapor calls St. Paul regulators 'overzealous' in lawsuit over THC sales

The small Minnesota business said the lawsuit was "misleading" and "shameful."


Excelsior chocolate shop ransacked by thieves to reopen

Truffle Hill will reopen to the public on Friday.

Company agrees to changes after child workers found in MN meat plants

An investigation found children ages 13-17 working hazardous jobs at the plants.


Drinks can company to lay off almost 100 workers, close St. Paul plant

State authorities were informed of the impending closure.


Suspect in Minneapolis bar killing charged with weapons crime

The suspect has not been charged with murder in the case as of Wednesday.

snow, blowing snow

A monster storm is coming next week: What will happen?

What we know with high confidence at this point is that there will be a monster storm in the central U.S. by the early and middle part of next week.

police lights

Boy safe after kidnapping by non-custodial parent in Mankato

The search prompted the temporary shutdown of I-35 Tuesday night.


11 face charges after being found 'exploring' Fridley sewer system

A 911 caller reported seeing a group removing a manhole cover Monday night.


Man killed by St. Paul police ID'd by family, community demands answers

The man was identified as 24-year-old Howard Johnson.