Laura Ingalls Wilder! For anyone over 40, more than likely you know who she was and what she represented in the fabric of our nation’s history. If you’re not “over the hill,” you’re most likely making a funny face right now asking, “Who?”
Google her! But for the sake of time, I’ll just tell you.
Born in 1867 and living to the ripe old age of 90, Laura Ingalls Wilder was one of the most beloved American authors known for a series of nine children’s books released between 1932 to 1943.
The published works were based on her childhood during the westward expansion of our country when folks were migrating to unsettled portions of this great land — the age of the pioneer.
Her literary collection was titled “The Little House on the Prairie” books, largely due to the popular television series with the same name that aired from 1974 to 1983 on NBC for nine seasons.
It was loosely based on “The Little House Books,” and starred Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls and Michael Landon as her father, Charles Ingalls.
This famous author, who has been entertaining generations of children, is the one common thread my niece, Ashley, and I share.
I first introduced my niece to Laura’s firsthand account of what life was like in the 1870s and 80s when immigrants were spilling over to our shores and answering the call to “stake their claim” west of the Mississippi River, when she was about seven years old.
Every summer in the late 1990s my sister, Kathleen, would bring her children for an extended visit to see their Grandma and Pappy Price and their Uncle Mark.
Being the teacher that I was, I played school with them for a couple hours every day during the week. Our curriculum included Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic as well as lunch and recess.
I even purchased books and other materials.
What? I wanted them to have a leg up on the competition. And who better to do it than one of the many teachers in the family.
I just can’t figure out why lunch and recess were their favorite subjects.
Try as I might, I attempted to get my nephew, Michael, hooked on books through “The Cul-de-Sac Kids” series. But to no avail.
Ashley was a different story. She whipped through all nine volumes in no time flat. I just knew that she was going to do well in school. I must have been psychic, because she did just that.
After graduating as the salutatorian from Union High School in 2009, she went on to Campbell University where she graduated with a degree in History. She then went on to attend graduate school at Western Carolina and earned a Masters in History with a concentration in American History.
She is now in her fourth year of teaching U.S. History to 11th graders at Swain County Schools.
I’d like to think I had something to do with her becoming a history teacher. Did I mention I was a Social Science major in college and graduated with a degree in secondary education?
So when I found out we were taking our biennial multi-generational family vacation in Branson, Missouri a couple of years ago, I planned a day trip for Ashley and myself to visit Mansfield, which was only a 45-minute drive from our resort.
Mansfield just happens to be the last stop for Laura and her family’s long journey across the upper mid-west in their covered wagon. It is where she and her husband, Almanzo Wilder, and daughter, Rose, spent more than 60 years of their lives. It is also where Laura penned the “Little House Books.”
In addition, the quaint little town is home to the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum.”
I used to live in Springfield, Missouri, a 45-minute drive from Mansfield in the opposite direction of Branson, during my college years. Unfortunately, they were closed the only time I ever attempted to visit the site.
But this proved to be a more exciting adventure because I was sharing it with my niece, a fellow enthusiast for all things “Laura.”
When we drove into Mansfield, we stopped and ate lunch at Ma and Pa’s Family Style Restaurant before heading up to the home and museum just on the other side of town.
We arrived just in the nick of time. They were about to have another tour of the place. So after taking a quick tour of the artifacts exhibits in the museum and purchasing a few treasured gems at the gift shop, we made our way over a bridge and up a winding path to the house.
The small house, originally a one room log cabin, was built in stages. It included a kitchen, dining room, Laura and Almanzo’s bedroom, a bathroom, study, living room and home library. The upstairs, where Rose had her quarters, was roped off to the public.
The home was given to the Mansfield Historical Society shortly after the death of Laura’s daughter in 1968. The home and contents have remained unchanged.
It was a very unique experience to see some of the clothes and other paraphernalia used the family as well as the writing desk where the author penned her manuscripts which later became the nine-volume set of books.
We completed our day trip by driving by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School.
It wasn’t until a week or two after our vacation that I got a call from Ashley telling me that all three members of the Wilder clan are buried in the Mansfield Cemetery. It was on the back of our admission ticket that my niece was now using as a book mark.
But, of course, it only makes sense that their final resting place was in Mansfield. Well… now it’s time to plan another trip to southwestern Missouri. I’m the family genealogist and avid grave hopper.
Mark S. Price is a former city government/county education reporter for The Sampson Independent. He currently resides in Clinton.