Many of us read the Little House series of books as children and were captivated by Laura, Mary, and the Ingalls family’s story. If you’ve re-read the books as an adult, though, you may have noticed that some parts of the story seem problematic. Despite Laura Ingalls Wilder’s assurances that everything she wrote was true, the Little House series was a work of fiction that erased the mistakes of Charles Ingalls and put a shine on her family’s history.
In Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author Caroline Fraser presents the first comprehensive biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Written after years of intense research of public records, diaries, and unpublished manuscripts, this book places the Little House series in historical context and debunks the myth of the self-made pioneers who became successful with hard work and no outside help. Fraser details the U.S. – Dakota war, the locust plagues that ruined years of crops, and the ways that business interests were responsible for settlers moving West with no knowledge of what they were in for, all of which led to hardship and crushing debts.
No biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder would be complete without including her daughter and editor, Rose Wilder Lane. Rose was ahead of her time; she left home, became a telegraph operator and freelance journalist, married young and then divorced her husband because she loved her independence. The relationship between Rose and her mother was complicated and turbulent, but the Little House series would not have existed without their collaboration.
Some people might think that Prairie Fires tears down the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but that is not at all the case; Caroline Fraser respects her and her work and places them both in the proper historical context. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is recommended reading for anyone who read the Little House series and for fans of American history.