Millions of Americans grew up reading the “Little House on the Prarie” books or watching the 1970s show that was based on them. Laura Ingalls Wilder used her childhood as the inspiration for the books, but according to new revelations, the stories in the books were a romanticized version of the truth.
In her new book “Prairie Fires: The American Dream of Laura Ingalls Wilder,” author Caroline Fraser claims that Rose had a talent for yellow journalism and embellished her mother’s stories.
“Critical or adoring scholars and readers might agree about one thing: the Little House books are not history. They are not as Wilder and her daughter had claimed, true in every particular. Yet the truth about our history is in them,” Fraser wrote, according to the U.K. Daily Mail.
Ingalls and her family’s lives were full of changing scenery.
Her father, Charles Ingalls, had originally moved to Wisconsin from New England as he believed the area was more fertile.
But according to Fraser, many farmers who moved out West was found themselves in “helpless and sterile poverty.” After marrying Caroline, who was born in Wisconsin, Charles and his new family kept moving.
Their daughter, Laura, was born in 1867, less than two years after the Civil War had ended. By the time she was 18, she had lived in a dozen homes, as her family moved to get away from the Indian Wars, serious disease outbreaks, the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression of 1873, the Daily Mail reported.
Laura met her husband, Almanzo Wilder, in South Dakota. As she wrote in one of her books, he had crossed the prairie amid blizzard conditions to buy food to prevent their town from starving.
They married in August 1885. Early in their married life, both fell ill with diphtheria, which left Almanzo crippled.
They dealt with crop failures, fires, drought, debt and the drudgery of prairie life. Laura wrote in her diary that she “hated the farm … the smelly lambs, the cooking of food and the dirty dishes.”
Instead of being the fertile land Charles had been promised, the prairies had become nearly impossible to cultivate.
“Without knowing it, Charles Ingalls, Almanzo Wilder, and the other settlers who flooded into the Great Plains in the 1870s tore away those protective grasses and their roots, exposing bare soil to intense heat, evaporation, and drying winds,” Fraser wrote.
“They had changed the climate, the ecology and the land itself.”
Laura’s daughter Rose had been born in the Dakotas, but the family faced starvation if they remained. So, they moved to the Ozarks of southern Missouri.
After Charles’ death in 1902, Laura began to write. She produced an essay about her father and wrote a farm advice column.
Fraser reveals that when she was a teenager, Rose was a “cranky and sardonic” character who resented the poverty she had grown up in. She became a journalist who fictionalized much of her reporting.
Rose’s writing had “little distinction between fact-based reporting and pure invention,” according to Fraser. In fact, she claimed Rose completely made up entire interviews with Henry Ford and Jack London.
When the mother and daughter teamed up to produce the “Little House on the Prairie” book series, they did some research which Fraser called “far from rigorous.”
Laura reportedly knew even less of journalistic ethics and together, the two weaved complete fabrications into the books, including an assertion that they were related to famous serial killers.
Fraser alleges that Rose also removed her mother’s racism and anti-Semitism from the books.
For example, Laura was happy to be in Mansfield, Missouri, which Fraser said was the “gem of the Ozarks” and at one time a “whites-only sundown town.”
Fraser wrote about a sign that announced, “N– Springs,” where black people were allowed to camp during the day but were warned not to “let the sun set on your a–.”
Rose also kept her mother from directly speaking to her publishing connections, and her husband allegedly stole some of Laura’s writing to use in his own book.
The success of the series raised both women out of poverty, but their relationship suffered. Both would die before seeing the television series premiere.