Review of Prairie Fires

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  • Analytical
  • Engaging
  • Concrete Examples


The Little House on the Prairie series of novels depicts a loving 19th-century American pioneer family whose members remains stalwart and hopeful in the face of unrelenting hardship. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books became children’s classics and a well-regarded television series. Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane asserted the truthfulness of every detail, but biographer and historian Caroline Fraser uncovers a different story. Fraser recounts the history of a woman and her family set against the backdrop of America’s westward growth and the myth of stoic, self-reliant pioneers. Fraser shows how Wilder’s daughter used these tales for her own purposes. Wilder fans and scholars will care about setting the editorial record straight and learning more about the family, but getAbstract also recommends this remarkable Pulitzer Prize–winning biography to historians of the American West and to those interested in Lane’s contribution to libertarianism.

About the Author

Caroline Fraser, the editor of the Library of America edition of the Little House series, also wrote Rewilding the World and God’s Perfect Child.


1. The Little House stories have truth in them, but they aren’t completely true.

The stories that make up Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series reflect the history of the farmers, pioneers and families who migrated to the American West. The Ingalls family tried homesteading in Wisconsin, South Dakota, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri. Laura began working at age nine, taking odd jobs. Her income was critical to her family’s survival.

2. The Ingalls family’s difficulties as pioneers belied the myth that settlers fulfilled the American dream. 

Economic depressions drove the Ingalls family ever westward. In 1853, Charles Ingalls moved to Wisconsin where he met and married Caroline Lake Quiner. They migrated to Big Woods in Pepin County, where their daughter Mary was born in 1865. Laura was born two years later, in 1867. Her younger sisters Carrie and Grace followed. Pepin County became the setting of Wilder’s first book, Little House in the Big Woods. 

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