The Little House on the Prairie books series is a children’s literature classic that’s not only entertaining, but provides a unique snapshot of life in the Midwestern United States at a time when that area was rapidly changing.

Though the book series and the popular TV show based on it are fictional, they draw heavily on author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real life and family. Take a look at these rare photos of the people behind the timeless stories…

Laura Ingalls was born in Wisconsin in 1867 and spent her childhood on the American frontier with her pioneer parents and siblings. 

Wilder-1Wikimedia Commons

Her parents, Caroline and Charles Ingalls, referred to in the books as “Ma” and “Pa,” were homesteaders who moved their family through Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri, and Kansas.

wilder-3Wikimedia Commons

The couple had five children: four girls — Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace — and one son — Frederick — who died as a young child. When Laura was 15, the family settled for good in De Smet, South Dakota.

wilder-2Wikimedia Commons

Laura got a job as a schoolteacher in a nearby community and began dating Almanzo Wilder, a farmer who was ten years older than her (though the age gap is smaller in the books)… 

wilder-4Wikimedia Commons

After three years of dating, Laura and Almanzo married and settled in Mansfield, Missouri. The couple had two children, a daughter — Rose — and an unnamed son who died soon after birth.

Wilder-5Wikimedia Commons

In 1930, the family’s savings were wiped out in the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and Laura decided to write a memoir to try to earn extra money. With her daughter’s help, Laura began writing her life story

wilder-6Wikimedia Commons

The project eventually became the Little House on the Prairie series, detailing Laura’s life from age five up through Almanzo’s and her move to Missouri. Although written for children, the books were praised as an honest account of the struggles of pioneer life, including events like her sister Mary’s blindness from illness or the droughts that left the family destitute.

wilder-7Wikimedia Commons

The books were hugely successful and fans regularly visited the Wilder’s farmhouse to meet the “real Laura.” Almanzo died in 1949 and Laura passed away eight years later at age 89. In 1974, Laura’s books were turned into a television show, introducing a new generation of fans to the series, and it has continued to endure as a children’s classic.

wilder-8Wikimedia Commons

Laura Ingalls Wilder certainly lived a fascinating life! Now I have to go back and read the Little House series again!

Share these rare photos with your friends below!