‘Little House on the Prairie’: Hear Woman’s Story of Growing Up in Real-Life Walnut Grove

by Courtney Blackann
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Laura Ingalls Wilder is famously known for writing the “Little House on the Prairie” novels which inspired generations of people. The captivating tales of a simple, country life are pleasantly uplifting. They also inspired the 1970s show of the same name which ran for six seasons. However, the real-life story of Ingalls Wilder growing up in Walnut Grove, Minnesota is a bit grittier.

The idyllic small town is home to a museum honoring Ingalls Wilder and her accomplishments. When she died in 1957, she was wealthy beyond anyone’s imagination. However, that wasn’t always the case. Growing up, her family suffered immensely. Plagued with debt, death and poverty, the “Little House on the Prairie” writer knew tragedy well.

When her family’s farm failed to produce crops because of a locust invasion, the family went completely broke. Ingalls Wilder’s father had to ask for government help – to which he received a barrel of flour. There was so much devastation in her own life, that she left out all dark details in her books.

But she found some solace while she lived in the quaint Minnesota town – even though she only spent the time between age 7 and 11 there. This is where her sister went blind. When this happened, Ingalls Wilder acted as her eyes – telling stories and describing the scenery. This is where she found her gift of storytelling.

“Little House on the Prairie” Brings Travelers to Town

Each year, people travel to Walnut Grove to visit museums and learn the history of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The place has become a nostalgic time capsule of memories.

“I can go anywhere in the world and say, ‘Walnut Grove,’ and then say, ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ and they say ‘Oh my God, you live there? What was that like?” says Amy Foster, via Fox 9 KMSP. She grew up in Walnut Grove and oversees the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.

“The big thing that happened here is [Laura Ingalls Wilder] was able to go to school, had lots of friends, but the big significance is it was the time her sister went blind,” Foster said.

While the “Little House on the Prairie” writer left out her darker days while writing and shined a light on prairie life, many people are now questioning if that was appropriate. But one teacher gives a different perspective on this.

“There are so many other stories that are dark and bleak. I think people would prefer, unless you were a horror movie fan, something uplifting. What they experience is so difficult.  They are looking for some hope,” says Bill Richards, a former high school principal in Walnut Grove.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie” will no doubt be remembered for the happy tales it inspired. It may not contain the entirety of the things its writer experienced in life, but many agree it still has merit when it comes to instilling family values. More than 50 years after her death, the writer is still inspiring a love of storytelling and books.

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