Laura Ingalls Wilder Biography
A brief biography of the author,Laura Ingalls Wilder, of the beloved Little House books. She spent many years living on Rocky Ridge Farm, in the Missouri Ozarks. Here she penned her famous books, and here she was laid to rest.
The white two-story farmhouse sits on a hillside two miles east of Mansfield, Missouri in Wright County amid the gently rolling hills of the Ozark Mountain Plateau. Mansfield, Missouri is 50 miles east of Springfield, Missouri, and each year thousands of people come to Mansfield to visit that white two-story frame house where beloved author, Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and wrote all her “Little House” books.
Laura Ingalls Wilder, her husband Almanzo and their 7 year old daughter Rose arrived in Missouri in August 1894. They had traveled 650 miles from De Smet in the Dakota Territory to the Ozarks, and the journey took 45 days. Laura had saved 100 dollars from her long hours as a seamstress, and with this money as the down payment, they bought a forty-acre plot of rocky, hill land, a few miles east of Mansfield. The land had five cleared acres and it came with 400 un-planted apple trees and a one-room, windowless log cabin. They named their farm Rocky Ridge.
The land was rough, had several ridges rolling in every direction and was covered with rocks, brush and timber. Almanzo said he was not in favor of buying the property, but Laura had fallen in love with it, and she believed they could turn it into a beautiful place. After the down payment, there was a $200 mortgage on the property, and Almanzo said they had very little except their bare hands with which to pay it off, improve the farm, and make their living while doing it.
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born February 7, 1867, the second daughter of Charles and Caroline Ingalls, in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, seven miles north of Pepin. However, because Pa and Ma (as Laura called her parents) were always trying to improve the lives of their growing family, they traveled to many different places to try their luck.
At the age of 15, Laura earned her teaching certificate in De Smet in the Dakota Territory. That is where she met Almanzo Wilder. They married in August 1885, and their daughter Rose was born December 5, 1886. A second child, a baby boy, died soon after his birth in 1889. After their house burned down in De Smet, Almanzo and Laura went to live with Almanzo’s parents in Spring Valley, Minnesota for a while. However, the cold weather was hard on Almanzo’s health, so they moved to Westville Florida, to live with Laura’s cousin. However, although Almanzo’s health improved, Laura could not take the heat, and because she was a “Yankee," she felt the women did not accept her socially. So they moved back to De Smet for a short time, and on July 17, 1894, left South Dakota again, and headed for the Ozarks of Missouri.
It was hard work for Laura and Almanzo, but gradually they cleared the land on their Rocky Ridge farm, set out their apple trees, and in a few years saw their orchard bear some of the best apples in the area. They thinned out the timber, picked up the rocks and sowed grass seed so that the meadows and fields could support a herd of dairy cows. And, of course, Almanzo built a house there for his Laura, and when it was finally completed in 1912, it was considered an Ozark showplace!
The hard work of turning Rocky Ridge into a successful farm took many years to complete, but things were going very well for them, and the family prospered and even bought more land. By 1911, Laura Ingalls Wilder was becoming a writer, when her articles about raising poultry and other farm tasks appeared in newspapers and magazines. She was also offered the job of home editor for the Missouri Ruralist, which she accepted. The extra money allowed her to buy things for her home she could otherwise not afford, and to travel as well.
Meanwhile, Rose Wilder Lane, Almanzo and Laura’s daughter, grew up, moved away, and was becoming a famous writer in her own right. So when she came back in the 1930s, she asked her mother to write down some of the old family stories, so they would not be lost. And in 1932, with Rose’s encouragement, 65 year old “retired” Laura Ingalls Wilder sent a book to Harper Brothers entitled Little House in the Big Woods, and her new career as an author began! The book was an instant success, and children all over the world begged Laura to tell more stories about Laura and Mary. The result was the Little House books.
Almanzo died October 23, 1949, at the age of 92, and Laura died February 10, 1957, three days after her 90th birthday.
After Laura’s death, her friends and neighbors in Mansfield formed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, preserving intact the Wilder home and its many treasures for interested Little House fans.
Laura’s home is as she left it in 1957. Next to the historic Wilder home is the Laura Ingalls Wilder-Rose Wilder Lane Museum, exhibiting artifacts spanning over a century in the lives of this pioneer family.
Visitors can see Pa’s fiddle, the handwritten manuscripts for the “Little House” books, keepsakes of the Ingalls and Wilder families, tools and articles made by Almanzo, and many other items familiar to her readers.
Mansfield, Missouri, in the heart of the state, is on Route 60, and Rocky Ridge Farm is on Highway A. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Almanzo, and their daughter Rose are buried in the Mansfield Cemetery.