LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Laura Ingalls Wilder Quest

Friends and family know that I’m a fervent fan of the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I’ve written about this before on my blog, including in this book review. There was a time in my life when I read her books over and over, but I eventually moved on to devouring the books about her, of which I have a dozen or more.

Just Monday, a good friend sent me the link to this article, “Little House in the Prairie and the Truth about the American West” in Monday’s New York Times that just goes to show that Wilder’s writings continue to inspire and interest readers.

Over the years, I’ve made a pilgrimage to all of the LIW sites in the United States with the exception of Walnut Grove, Minn., and Malone, N.Y. It is my intention to travel to Walnut Grove next summer with my sisters. Maybe we can even talk my daughter into joining us.

On our recent blue highways trip to Iowa and back, I lobbied Jim to let me stop at the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum in West Branch, Iowa. We had been there once before a few years back, but I did not learn until later that Laura’s daughter Rose’s papers are deposited there. These papers include handwritten documents by Laura, a treasure trove of interesting items. In advance of my visit, I communicated with a member of the staff and he graciously provided me with very helpful links to review to prepare myself for the visit.

We arrived at the Hoover Library early one morning, just as it was opening. Jim went to the museum to see new exhibits and I went into the library. The library was built in 1960, and Rose Wilder Lane wrote a biography of Hoover so her papers were felt to be a natural fit to be deposited here by her executor, Roger Lee McBride.

Spencer Howard checked me in and issued me a Researcher Identification card. As a past librarian and museum archivist, I have a particular affinity for the people who labor away in places such as this, ensuring that our history and literature will be preserved in perpetuity, and Howard couldn’t have been more helpful.

The Little House Heritage Trust owns the copyright for Wilder’s works, and many of her artifacts can be seen at Rocky Ridge Farm near Mansfield, Mo. I visited there in 1982 and so wish that I could go again. Maybe someday.

Howard brought me the finding aid and I requested 12 boxes, mindful that I had only the morning for this visit. My photographs in this blog are reproduced as a courtesy of the Hoover Library.

I was so thrilled to sit and look through page after page of her letters to “Manly Dear,” Laura’s husband, Almanzo, letters that illustrate her powers of description, many written to him when she traveled to San Francisco, where their only child, Rose, was living.

Here are a couple of the passages that spoke to me:

  • “Feb. 5, 1937: But I am so having to live over those days with Pa and Ma anyway, so I did.” She refers to correspondence with her relatives who shared remembrances that added rich detail to her books.
  • “March 12, 1937 People drive me wild …”

There is a copy of her father, Charles Ingalls’ homestead document dated May 11, 1886, from Watertown, S.D., for which he paid a $3.86 filing fee. There are the original manuscripts for “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Farmer Boy.” There is the handwritten first page from “By the Shores of Silver Lake” and galley proofs for “Little Town on the Prairie.”

Another document that was of great interest to me was the questionnaire that Almanzon completed for Rose as background for her book “Free Land” as well as the manuscript for “Free Land.” Almanzo’s answers were fascinating!

I’ve always felt that these books have resonated with me all these decades because I am the granddaughter of pioneers. When I was a young girl, my mother sewed a pioneer girl dress and bonnet for me out of green calico, and I still have these cherished items. This year, I loaned these to my granddaughter, Seraphina, and just in the nick of time I shipped these to her as the fit was, her mother reported to me, perfect. She wore the outfit for Halloween.

Backtracking to an earlier day in the trip, our first night was spent in Spring Grove, Minn. (I know, I know, so close to Walnut Grove!) As we reached the city limits, I immediately spotted a sign for The Wilder Museum. I made inquiries at a downtown pizza place, and the girl working there proudly told me she also worked at the museum. I had completely forgotten that Almanzo’s parents had moved to Spring Grove.

We explored the area the next morning, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to get into the museum, as it was the off-season. It is housed in the old Methodist Church where the Wilders worshipped. At one point, Almanzo and Laura lived with his parents in Spring Grove. We drove out to the city cemetery and located the family graves, including Almanzo’s brother, Royal.

On we traveled on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway, where we saw a couple of Amish buggies, driving along the same road.

Our next destination was tiny Burr Oak, Iowa, just across the Minnesota border. Again, it was the off-season, so everything was locked up tight, nevertheless we enjoyed a walk around the town, and Jim even persuaded me to pose for a silly photograph or two, channeling my inner pioneer girl.

And wait, there’s more! Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

One thought on “LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Laura Ingalls Wilder Quest”

Leave a Reply