February 7 is the birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, born in 1867 in an area then known as the “Big Woods” of western Wisconsin. “I was born in a log house within four miles of the legend-haunted Lake Pippin in Wisconsin,” she wrote. “I remember seeing deer that my father had killed, hanging in the trees about our forest home. When I was four years old we traveled to the Indian Territory, Fort Scott, Kansas, being our nearest town. My childish memories hold the sound of the war whoop and I see pictures of painted Indians.
“I was a regular little tomboy, and it was fun to walk the two miles to school,” she recalled, although she also confessed, “My education has been what a girl would get on the frontier. . . . I never graduated from anything and only attended high school two terms.”
After moves to Minnesota and Iowa, Laura’s family established a homestead claim near De Smet, South Dakota, where she grew up and married Almanzo Wilder. “It was there I learned to do all kinds of farm work with machinery,” she recalled. “I have ridden the binder, driving six horses. And I could ride. I do not wish to appear conceited, but I broke my own ponies to ride. Of course they were not bad but they were broncos. . . . And, believe me, I learned how to take care of hens and make them lay.”
Later, in Mansfield, Missouri, Laura began writing down memories of her pioneer life. During the Great Depression, she asked her daughter Rose, a writer, to look at her manuscript, written in pencil on lined school tablets. Rose helped her turn portions into a novel, and in 1932, when Laura Ingalls Wilder was sixty-five years old, Little House in the Big Woods was published. Little House on the Prairie and other books followed, turning the former pioneer into one of America’s most beloved authors.