Laura Ingalls Wilder Trivia and Fun Facts

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

Today marks the 63rd anniversary of the death of Laura Ingalls Wilder and in her honor I thought I’d share a bit of trivia about her life and accomplishments.

 

  • Laura was 65 when the first of her Little House books, Little House in the Big Woods, was published. It was 11 years later, when she was 76, that the 8th and final book in the series was published.
  • Laura received her teaching certificate at age 15 and taught in one room schoolhouses until she married Almanzo Wilder at age 18.
  • The Little House books were not her first paid writing accomplishments. At age 42 she went to work for the St. Louis Farmer as their poultry columnist. She eventually went on to write columns for the Missouri Ruralist, McCall’s Magazine and The Country Gentleman. In order to give her writing more credibility with male readers, her columns were published under the name A.J.Wilder.

 

 

  • As a young child, she lived through a devastating invasion of over 3.5 TRILLION locusts. It was one of the worst natural disasters the country had ever faced to that date, causing an estimated $116 billion worth of damage and causing near starvation for many settlers,, including her own family. The culprits, the Rocky Mountain locusts went extinct about 1902, though no one knows the reason why.
  • Laura had some interesting leaves on her family tree. One ancestor, Martha Ingalls Allen Carrier, was hanged as a witch during the Salem Witch Trials.  She was also related to Franklin Delano Roosevelt through her great grandmother, Margaret Delano Ingalls.

 

  • She was once told that writing for children was a waste of time. I’m so glad she ignored that advice! Her Little House books have remained in print continuously since the 1930s and the series has sold over 60 million copies and have been published in 26 languages.
  • Laura received lots of fan mail over the course of her writing life. After her Little House series took off she averaged about 50 pieces of mail per day. In fact, on her last birthday she received over 1000 bits of correspondence.
  • The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award was established in 1954 by the American Library Association. Its purpose was to honor authors and illustrators whose children’s books have made a major impact on children’s literature. Laura was, of course, the first recipient. Since then, other recipients have included Theodor Geisal (Dr. Seuss), Maurice Sendak and Beverly Cleary. However, the organization announced in June 2018 that it planned to change the name of the award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award due to the way Laura portrayed Native Americans in her books. In their statement the organization added this caveat: “Changing the name of the award, or ending the award and establishing a new award, does not prohibit access to Wilder’s works or suppress discussion about them. Neither option asks or demands that anyone stop reading Wilder’s books, talking about them, or making them available to children.”

  • Prior to the establishment of her namesake award, Laura had already won Newberry Honors on four of her Little House books.
  • A fun little bit of Laura Ingalls Wilder trivia – In the summer of 2017, Laura (in her young pig-tailed girl persona) was sculpted in butter at the Iowa State Fair in honor of the 150th anniversary of her birth.
  • Laura died on February 10, 1957, just 3 day after her 90th birthday. She was survived by her daughter and only child, Rose. Rose never had any children of her own, but Roger MacBride whom she met when he was a teenager and who later became her lawyer and literary agent, became her heir. He inherited an estate  that has a present day value of over $100 million and was responsible for licensing the television rights to the Little House books.

So there you have it, some interesting tidbits from the life of one of the most beloved of children authors. Were any of these new to you? Do you have some fun facts of your own to add? Have you read the books yourself?  

Leave a comment to be entered into a drawing for your choice of any book from my backlist.

 

Starting a New Series

It’s always exciting, and a little daunting, to start a new series. Even though I still have two more projects coming in 2019 to complete my current series, I’ve already started work on a new group of stories that will debut in 2020.

The inspiration for this new series came from a mash-up of two televisions series I watched as a teen – one from the 1980s and one from the early 1990s.

Anyone remember these?

Well, I decided to create a four-man team of ex-cavalry officers bonded through the shared trauma of the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. They hire themselves out to citizens in need of defense against unjust opposition. Haunted by the atrocities they participated in during wartime, they travel across Texas to right wrongs, using their military skills on behalf of those who have no one else to turn to and stumble across love along the way.

They are known as Hanger’s Horsemen.

*****

Meet the team:

Captain Matthew Hanger – Age 37, leader, hardened by army life, dedicated to keeping the frontier safe for women and children after his own family was murdered by a band of Comanche warriors in Parker County in 1860 when he was only five years old.

Trumpeter Mark Wallace – Age 27, charmer who deals with the horrors of war through superficial relationships, humor, and music. Comes from a privileged background. Enlisted in search of adventure.

Corporal Luke “Preach” Davenport – Age 31, nicknamed “Preach” because he always has a verse to quote. Not because of any real depth of spirituality, but because when he’d been a boy his punishment entailed memorizing and reciting scripture, and he got into trouble a lot. His father shipped him off to the military in hopes of instilling discipline and a respect for authority. His reckless spirit has made him lethal with a sabre and in hand-to-hand combat.

Sergeant Jonah Brooks – Age 30, buffalo soldier with the 10th Cavalry, expert marksman. Jonah is the quiet one, more intelligent that people give him credit for. He prefers to watch from the shadows and decide how to act after he’s weighed all the facts. But when he acts, he can be deadly.

*****

There will be three books in the series. The first pairs the captain with lady doctor, Josephine Burkett. My Posse helped my pick out inspiration images for Matt and Josephine. And we can’t forget Matt’s horse. Meet Phineas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hanger’s Horsemen won’t put in an official appearance until summer 2020, but they are coming to life on the page for me now as I write, and I wanted to share a hint of them with you.

  • Are there other 80’s TV shows you think should be turned into western romances?
  • Any A-Team or Magnificent Seven fans out there? Who were your favorite characters?

 

An Oft-Depicted Legend

John Henry “Doc” Holliday at at 20, when he graduated from dentistry school.

There are some figures in history who, while they were real people, have achieved legendary status. And sometimes that legendary status has a kernel of truth behind it but has grown well beyond the reality of the person. One such figure from the Old West is Doc Holliday.

John Henry Holliday was born in Georgia in 1851 and by age 20 had earned a degree in dentistry, thus the famous “Doc” moniker. Unfortunately for him, he soon thereafter was diagnosed with tuberculosis due to the fact he’d helped care for his mother when she had the disease. Hoping the drier climate of the American Southwest would help alleviate some of his symptoms, he moved there and became a gambler. During a stay in Texas, he saved Wyatt Earp’s life and a legendary friendship was born–a friendship that would lead to the O.K. Corral and the events that made both men famous.

Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna Earp and Tim Rozon as Doc Holliday.

Despite Holliday’s reputation as an accomplished gunslinger, researchers have since determined that it’s likely he only killed one or two men during his short life of 36 years. But that hasn’t stopped the myth of the man from being repeated and embellished since his lifetime. He’s been immortalized in numerous pieces of fiction, in song and in a seemingly endless array of movies and TV programs. Famous names such as Cesar Romero, Kirk Douglas, Willie Nelson, Dennis Quaid and Val Kilmer have portrayed Holliday, and just this past week news broke that Jeremy Renner will be the latest in that list to play the man, this time in a biopic based on Mary Doria Russell’s books.

Me with the cast of Wynonna Earp at DragonCon 2017.

Holliday has even made appearances in sci-fi/fantasy stories such as a 1966 episode of Doctor Who, a 1968 episode of Star Trek and my personal favorite, the current SyFy show Wynonna Earp, in which actor Tim Rozon plays Holliday to perfection. In this reimagining of the Earp/Holliday story, based on the comic book series of the same name, Wynonna Earp is the great-great-granddaughter of Wyatt. On her 27th birthday, Wynonna officially becomes the “Earp heir” and inherits the ability to return revenants, or the reincarnated outlaws that Wyatt killed, back to hell using Peacemaker, the revolver with a 16-inch barrel that once belonged to her famous ancestor. In this telling, Holliday has been cursed with immortality, thus his lack of aging between the time he ran with Wyatt Earp and now when he’s helping Wyatt’s great-great-granddaughter with her duties.

Are you a fan of Earp/Holliday tales? If you’re a Doc fan, what has been your favorite incarnation?

Laura Ingalls Wilder at Rocky Ridge

 

Back in April, I attended a writing retreat in Branson, MO. It was a wonderful time of rest and fun and great writerly conversations. But thanks to a reader’s recommendation, one of my favorite parts of the trip was a little side journey to Mansfield, MO. When I discovered that the home where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and wrote the Little House books was only an hour away, I knew I couldn’t miss the chance to visit.

I grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie books and watching the television series. It is because of Laura’s books and others like them that I became so enamored with historical fiction. Getting to actually walk through the house that Almanzo built for Laura, to see the room where their daughter Rose slept as a girl, to see the small desk where Laura sat to write her novels . . . it gave me chills.

The tour guide took us through the house in the order that it was built. It started as two rooms and expanded over the years to contain three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, music room, small library, and front parlor. Laura and Almanzo both lived into their 90’s, and the caretakers have kept their house almost exactly as they left it upon their deaths. There were several lamps that Almanzo made by hand along with chairs and other furnishings. They wouldn’t let us take any pictures inside the house, but I bought a few postcards to help me remember.

This the back of the house where the tour began. There is a screened off porch leading to the kitchen, a narrow ladder staircase that led to Rose’s childhood bedroom upstairs, and the dining room just past the kitchen.
Front of the house. This is the section built on in later years . If you walk up the steps, you will enter the front parlor. The library will be in a little walled alcove behind the fireplace on the left and the music room will be down the hall to the right. There is also a doorway to the right before the music room that led to Laura’s writing desk, her and Almanzo’s bedroom, and a staircase to a guest room on the second floor where Rose would often invite her New York friends to stay when they needed a break from city life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rose Wilder Lane was a successful writer well before her mother decided to pen the stories of her life. Rose published several novels and wrote for many popular magazines. She traveled extensively in Europe and made quite a nice living for herself. So in 1928 before the stock market crash that would send the country into an economic crisis, Rose decided to build her parents a new house. She purchased it from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and hired an architect to make a few structural changes. They called it The Rock House because Rose had it fashioned like an English stone cottage. It was less than a mile from their farm at Rocky Ridge. Laura and Almanzo moved to the Rock House and stayed there for eight years. But in 1936 when Rose decided to move back to New York, the Wilders moved back to their beloved farm house. As much as they appreciate their daughter’s gift, the Rock House just wasn’t home.

Back at Rocky Ridge, we had the opportunity to visit a wonderful museum filled with artifacts from Laura’s life including her Pa’s fiddle and original manuscripts. There were notes in the margins where Rose had obviously given her mother editorial advice, and no doubt Rose’s connections with the publishing world in New York opened doors for her mother that Laura would never had been able to open for herself, but seeing those manuscripts in Laura’s own handwriting made it abundantly clear in my mind that those who claim Rose was the true author of the Little House stories are mistaken.

The final place we visited was the small community cemetery where the Wilders are laid to rest. Having seen their lives portrayed on television and in novels made them seem larger than life. Yet seeing their graves made it truly sink in that they were real people, living real lives. What an amazing adventure they shared.

So, if you ever happen to travel through Missouri, do yourself a favor and spend a couple hours in Mansfield with this amazing family.

  • Did you grow up reading the Little House books?
  • Did you watch the TV show?
  • Besides Laura, who was your favorite Little House character?

Out of the Blue of the Western Sky Comes…Sky King!

When I was a little girl, we got only one television channel. Fortunately, it was the channel with Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger and Sky King. As a kid, I ranked these shows in the same order I just listed them. Roy was, without a doubt, the king of my Saturday television lineup. The Lone Ranger second, and Sky King third. The reason? Why Sky didn’t ride a horse. He flew an airplane. His niece, Penny, rode a horse, however, so that made the show worthy of my attention.

Looking back, however, I think Sky had the most interesting premise–to someone who hasn’t put on her cowgirl shirt in preparation for a Saturday spent with her heroes. The show may have been based on Jack Cones, The Flying Constable of Twenty Nine Palms, California, although that has not been verified.  The hero of the show, was Schuyler “Sky” King, a former military pilot. He lived on the Flying Crown Ranch in Arizona with his niece, Penny,  played by Gloria Winters, and nephew, Clipper, played by Ron Hagerthy. Like many ranchers living in remote areas, he had a small Cessna airplane, Songbird, but in addition to checking the herds, the condition of the range, and traveling to town for supplies, Sky also used his plan to capture criminals and spies, solve crimes and  find people who lost their way in the desert. He had help in the form of the local sheriff, Mitch, played by Ewing Mitchell.

During the half hour show, people would get themselves into trouble, and with the help of the Songbird, Sky would rescue them. I particularly remember Penny getting into a boatload of trouble. She was forever getting captured, and that kept me on the edge of my seat, wondering how Sky was going to get her out of this mess.

The radio show ran from 1946 to 1954 and the television version, starring Grant Kirby as Sky, started in 1951. For a time the radio and television versions ran simultaneously. The television version lasted until 1962. According to Wikipedia, “the plot lines were often simplistic, but Grant was able to bring a casual, natural treatment of technical details, leading to a level of believability not found in other TV series involving aviation or life in the American West. Likewise, villains and other characters were usually depicted as intelligent and believable, rather than as two-dimensional. The writing was generally above the standard for contemporary half-hour programs, although sometimes critics suggested that the acting was not.”

Hmm–I remember the acting as being superlative. And if Sky had ridden a horse as often as he flew the plane, Sky King might have bumped The Lone Ranger out of second place in my personal favorites standings. Interestingly, the show was popular in the aviation community, even though it was written for kids, and several astronauts noted it as a show that influenced them as they grew up.

If you remember Sky King, or want to know more, there is an official Sky King website you might want to check out, and all the episodes are also available on DVD. There is also a Sky King Fan Club page.

Quick question–do you remember Sky King? If not, did you have a favorite TV cowboy? Or pilot?

Have a great day!