We might soon be adding “Little House on the Prairie” to that list.
The beloved children’s series by Laura Ingalls Wilder showcased plenty of pioneer hardships — locusts, disease and the looming threat of violence in “Indian Country” — but apparently there’s an even “grittier” side to Wilder’s childhood.
“Prairie Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” — Wilder’s unedited draft that was written for an adult audience and eventually served as the foundation for the popular series — is slated to be released by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press nationwide this fall. The not-safe-for-children tales include stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey.
Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, herself a well-known author, tried and failed to get an edited version of the autobiography published throughout the early 1930s. The original rough draft has been preserved at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, for decades but hadn’t been published.
Wilder details a scene from her childhood in Burr Oak, in which a neighbor of the Ingalls’ pours kerosene throughout his bedroom, sets it on fire and proceeds to drunkenly drag his wife around by her hair before Wilder’s father — Pa in the children’s books — intervenes.
Scenes like that make Wilder’s memoir sound like it’s filled with scandal and mature themes, “which isn’t exactly true either,” according to Amy Lauters, an associate professor of mass media at Minnesota State University-Mankato.
“It’s just that that first version was blunt, it was honest. It was full of the everyday sorts of things that we don’t care to think about when we think about history,” said Lauters, who has read the original manuscript and also is writing a book on Rose Wilder Lane. “And it’s certainly not the fantasized version we saw on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ the television show.”
The “fantasized version,” below:
Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter