Yesterday I edited a biography lesson about Laura Ingalls Wilder for my update of America the Beautiful. As you know, I love to read Laura’s stories and learn about her life. She authored many articles for the Missouri Ruralist, while she and Almanzo operated their farm in the Ozark Mountains. She had at least one article published in McCall’s magazine (McCall’s was a popular women’s magazine, published from 1873 to 2002).
Laura wanted children to know what it was like when she was a girl. She believed that hers was a story that American children needed to know. When she was 65, she published her first book, Little House in the Big Woods. She published her eighth, These Happy Golden Years, in 1943, when she was 76.
When Laura was 80 years old and a very famous author, she wrote a general letter to her young readers to answer some of their most common questions. In the letter Laura said, “I lived everything that happened in my books.”
She told the children about her life after These Happy Golden Years. She told about how she and Almanzo lived for a while near DeSmet (South Dakota) in the home Almanzo had built for her on his homestead. She told about moving to the farm they named Rocky Ridge (in Missouri). There they cleared fields and built their own home, using wood and stone from their land. They worked hard until they had a good farm of 200 acres. Laura and Almanzo had cows, hogs, and, according to Laura, “the best laying flock of hens in the country.”
In the first years after they moved to the Ozarks, they went horseback riding and buggy riding for fun, just as they had when they were courting in South Dakota. They read books, played music, and went to church socials. In later years, they took rides in their Chrysler automobile.
When they grew older, Laura and Almanzo traveled back to DeSmet to see their old friends. She said they recognized faces everywhere, but they were surprised that their friends were old and gray—like she and Almanzo were.
In her letter to readers, Laura told of how she and Almanzo had been married for 63 years when he died in 1949 at the age of 92. She told about their daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who had become a novelist.
Laura also told about what happened to the members of her family. She said that Ma and Pa had stayed on their homestead for a while before they moved permanently to town where Pa worked as a carpenter. Laura spoke of Mary who lived with Ma and Pa after she graduated from the College of the Blind. She said that Mary was always cheerful and busy, spending her time working, reading, and playing music.
Laura told about Carrie, who worked for the DeSmet newspaper and then married a man who owned a mine. Carrie and her husband lived in Keystone, South Dakota, in the Black Hills. Grace married a farmer. She and her husband lived near De Smet. Laura outlived her parents and all of her sisters.
In all of Laura’s books, she liked to tell about Pa’s fiddle. She talked about it in her letter, too. She said that every year someone played Pa’s fiddle in a public concert. They played the songs he used to play.
As in her books, Laura took the opportunity in her letter to talk about important things. She said that the real things haven’t changed. She spoke of being honest and truthful, making the most of what we have, being happy with simple pleasures, being cheerful, and having courage when things go wrong. She said that the reason great improvements had been made in living was because every American has been free to pursue his happiness. She said that as long as Americans were free they would continue to make their country more and more wonderful.
During her long life, Laura experienced many changes. She traveled on a covered wagon when she was a girl; when she was 87 years old, she flew on an airplane to visit her daughter in Connecticut. Laura hoped she would reach the age of 90. She died at home three days after her 90th birthday in 1957.
Inside the small Bible Laura kept on the table beside her rocking chair was a list of Bible references written in her handwriting. The last one said, “And make Psalm 51 your prayer.” It begins:
Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness;
According to the greatness of Your compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.