If you enjoy the study of maps, geography and horticulture, you will likely appreciate this book. The author has gone through all the places that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived, both as a child and as an adult, and pointed out the uniqueness of each. Every page of the book includes an illustration – a map from the 1800s, a sketch of a plant or tree, pictures from the first edition of her books, some of Garth Williams’ illustrations from later publications, advertisements from that era, and actual photographs of Laura and the places she lived.
The book begins in 1866 with their life in the woods of Wisconsin near the tiny town of Pepin. In 1869, they moved to Rutland Township in what would become Kansas, but was then still Indian Territory. When the government notified them that they had to move because they were not supposed to be there, they moved to the Redwood Township/Walnut Grove area in the state of Minnesota. About two and a half years later they moved to Burr Oak in Iowa, only to return to Walnut Grove, Minnesota about a year later. In 1879, the family migrated to DeSmet, a new town in the Dakota Territory. The family spent the winters in town, and the rest of the year on their homestead claim outside town. DeSmet became the permanent home of Laura’s parents.
But Laura was not done moving. After she married Almanzo, they lived on a farm outside DeSmet for awhile. Their daughter Rose was born there. Life was good for the first couple years of marriage. But in 1888, life took a disagreeable turn. First Almanzo and Laura contracted diphtheria. Before they were fully recovered, Almanzo had a stroke, which left him with a degree of paralysis in this limbs. The next year, they had a baby son, who died after just twelve days. Then their house burned to the ground, with everything lost except their daughter Rose, and the box with their property deed. The exhausted couple went to stay with Almanzo’s parents in Spring Valley, Minnesota. After they had physically recovered, a cousin in Florida offered Almanzo a job, so they moved there. The humid climate did not agree with them, so after a year, the little family got on a train and headed back to DeSmet, where they rented a house.
In 1894, they said goodbye to Pa and Ma and Laura’s three sisters, and headed for the Ozarks in Missouri. They bought a 40-acre parcel of land outside Mansfield, which they named Rocky Ridge Farm. They had an apple orchard, and bred livestock – hogs, chickens, cattle, and Morgan horses. Almanzo experimented with different types of grasses, hays, and strawberries. When he successfully grew Sudangrass from Africa, the agriculture teacher from the local school brought his students out to see the 8-feet-tall grass. During World War I, the Wilders bought war bonds, participated in Red Cross drives, donated food, and took up canning as a way to preserve their food supply.
To me, one of the saddest things I learned from this book and internet sources, is that the Ingalls family died out. Laura was the only one of her siblings to have a child, and her child Rose had only one child, who did not survive. The family line has ended. But thanks to the books that Laura wrote, as well as other books about her, the record of her family life and adventures will be preserved for us to read.