Revisiting Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie Television Series

Little House Sampler

Rediscovering the Little House Author

My Little House "journey" began last spring at a book sale to benefit our local library. I enjoy reading biographies, and I picked up a rather tattered paperback copy of A Little House Sampler by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) and Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968.) My first thought was that a children's book had been mixed up with biographies. I took a longer look at the cover, the photos of Laura and her daughter Rose and the sub-title "A Charming Collection of Early Stories and Reminiscences, Some Never Before Published. A recommendation by the San Francisco Chronicle that the book was a sampler of anecdotes, and the photos of the two strong independent women, convinced me to buy the book.

Although most of the book is nonfictional accounts of the lives of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, with comments by the editor William T Anderson, the book reads like a fine group of short stories. After the introduction and some family photos, the book alternates autobiographical stories as told by Laura and then an autobiographical story by her daughter Rose. Many of their stories amazed me; beginning with the fact that for many years after Laura had finished teaching and concentrated on being a farm wife, most of her life was spent, raising and writing about chickens and other aspects of being a farm wife in her column titled "As A Farm Wife Thinks.". Laura became a columnist writer for Missouri Ruralist and Sunset magazines around 1917, but it would not be until 1930 that she would publish some of her stories about her childhood. Getting her stories polished and published was accomplished with the help of Rose acting as Laura's editor and through the publishing connections that Rose had established through her own writing. By 1931, Laura received word that her book, Little House in the Big Woods would be published. As readers discovered and loved her pioneer stories, one book followed another. Laura died at age 90 in 1957.

Rose Wilder Lane, was the only child of Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder. (A son had been born and died while the couple was living in the Dakota Territory. Rose wrote the most unusual and rather shocking short story titled, Innocence, which appears in Little House Sampler.. Rose considered Innocence which had been published in Harper's magazine in 1922, her finest short story of all time. The story which explores such themes as jealousy, a brother gone wrong, poison, bootlegging, and attempted murder was based upon a family, (suspiciously like Laura, her husband Almanzo, and Rose) who travel to Florida for the husband's health and a fresh start just like the actual Wilders did. Rose certainly proved herself as a woman ahead of her time and as an author. She edited her Mother's Little House books, which brought a number of questions for critics and readers. How much did Rose edit or alter her mother's stories? The Ingalls real life was much harsher than Laura's books and certainly not as "warm and fuzzy" as the television series, Little House on the Prairie based upon Laura's books. Certainly, the temptation would be there as it was for me when I edited my mother's autobiography. In my case, I wanted my mother's autobiography to be more honest about the problems and hard times she had faced. In the end, I let my mother's autobiography pretty much as she had written it with a few corrections in grammar.

The end result of reading "A Little House Sampler" was two fold. I did a little research on both Laura and Rose, and I felt compelled to re-visit the "Little House on the Prairie" television series to compare it to the autobiographical stories I had just read.

As for Laura Igalls Wilder's "Little House" book series, they continue to delight adults and children. The Library of America founded in 1979, which specializes in publishing American classics in cloth bound volumes announced in April 2012, they issued a boxed two-volume set of the "Little House" series.

Laura's Album A Remembrance Scrapbook

Laura's Album, A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder, William Anderson, is a treasure of photos of Laura and the Ingalls family.
Laura's Album, A Remembrance Scrapbook of Laura Ingalls Wilder, William Anderson, is a treasure of photos of Laura and the Ingalls family. | Source

Little House Television Series

Little House on the Prairie Television Series

The "Little House on the Prairie" television series began with a 2 hour pilot movie in the spring of 1974. It was successful, and on September 11th of 1974 the Little House series appeared on NBC. During its nine season run, 203 episodes and 5 specials were produced. Five directors worked on the series, and following the first season, the show consistently placed in NBC's top 30. The family drama was set in Walnut Grove, Minnesota during the time frame of the 1870s through the 1880s. Michael Landon filled the role of Charles Ingalls (Pa) Karen Grassie played Caroline Ingalls (Ma) and Melissa Gilbert played Laura. After the death of Michael Landon and the departure of Karen Grassie, the show focused on the life of Laura and her husband Almanzo. The sweetness and goodness of the Ingalls family was counterbalanced by the snooty and spiteful Mrs Oleson (Harriet) who ran the general store in Walnut Grove with her husband. The Oleson children, Nellie and Willie were always spoiled and usually up to making trouble for the Ingalls. Of course by the end of each episode all wrongs had been made right.

It had been over 20 years since I'd watched Little House, but a scan of the channel menu showed that the Hallmark Channel ran two episodes every weeknight. I expected to watch one episode to see if the story line had any relevance to Laura Ingalls Wilder's real life and to my delight, it did. Because Little House was and is set in a historical time frame, the show didn't seem dated to me. In fact, it was refreshing to watch a family working together with respect for each other and for the others in their community. In addition to the Hallmark Channel syndicating Little House, it is shown on a variety of local stations and on stations around the world.

Little House fan clubs exist, and one web site that I especially enjoyed visiting was Prairiefans.com. On the site, was Prairie Chat for and by fans of Little House, interviews of former cast members,a trivia question contest and information on episodes.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Biography

Author's Special Recommendation

For those of you who enjoyed the TV series Little House on the Prairie, the Hallmark channel has produced the series When Calls the Heart based upon the book by Janette Oakes. The producer of the series is Michael Landon Jr.the real life son of PA (Michael Landon) on the series Little House on the Prairie. When Calls the Heart is set in a small town in Canada in the early 1900s and has many of the same type of town characters as Little House. For further information on the series, please visit When Calls the Heart website for episode guides, actors, bloopers and photos.

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Comments 9 comments

ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

While I enjoyed the series I find it sad that Micheal Landon was not the "Angel", that his work on television deplicted. He was not the perfect husband/father that his charactors are. The show itself was quite wholesome and the real wilder family seemed very interesting.


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mactavers 5 years ago Author

Hi Ruffridyer, I so agree with you on Landon's personal life. The opposite of perception of personal life is Alice Cooper, who appears as a wild child, but does so many great things here in AZ, and is still married to his first wife. Strange isn't it...


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That Grrl 4 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

I used to watch the show. Still see it in re-runs once in awhile. I never heard anything bad about Michael Landon and don't need to dig up old stuff now. It's nice to see the actresses from the show on other things sometimes. They don't come up often. We are all getting older. :)


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mactavers 4 years ago Author

Thanks for your comment. It's funny that as much time as passed and I see characters on other shows too but I always think of their Little House characters. Especially Melissa Gilbert as "Half Pint"


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Amber Vyn 3 years ago

Thank you for this article! I was born just a couple of weeks after the show premiered, and both the show and Wilder's books were a staple of my childhood.

Also, thank you for bringing up something I had always wondered about: the 'polishing' of life on the prairie. I'm only a couple of generations from the subsistence farmers in my family (all recent immigrants to the US), so I have stories and photos of how difficult life was.

Even if Rose did gloss over some of the tougher times, maybe that was the right move because it broadened the readership and made the stories more universal and timeless.

Voted 'up' and 'interesting'!


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mactavers 3 years ago Author

Interesting comment on glossing over some of the rougher edges of life on the prairie. I think that the hardest type of writing is autobiographical. There's a fine balance between bragging and then not telling enough to make them interesting, keeping a balance between the bad and good events and keeping the right perspective without getting overly sentimental. You are right that Wilder's books are beloved and will continue to be for many years to come.


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Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

I only discovered the "Little House" books as an adult and for many years I read them all leading up to Christmas, every winter. Personally I do not care as much for Roses writing. It just does not have the same feel somehow.


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mactavers 3 years ago Author

I agree with you about Rose's writing.


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Homeplace Series 3 years ago from Hollister, MO

Laura's stories certainly were one of the inspirations I used to write my stories of the southern Missouri Ozarks farm life. If this interests you, I hope you'll stop over, check them out, and even follow me... there are many more to come. ;-)

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