Prairie Fires | Caroline Fraser

Summary of: Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
By: Caroline Fraser


In Prairie Fires, Caroline Fraser unravels the engrossing history behind Laura Ingalls Wilder’s iconic Little House series and reveals how Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, played a pivotal role in shaping these tales. By exploring the Ingalls family’s travels, Fraser sheds light upon the economic failures that drove them from place to place and the harsh realities of 19th-century American pioneer life. Delving into the fascinating dynamics between Wilder and her daughter, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography is the definitive account of their lives, illuminating the undeniable impact of both women on the classic Little House series.

The Truth Behind Little House

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie novels portrays a loving pioneer family. However, biographer Caroline Fraser’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography uncovers a different story and reveals the truth behind the relationship between Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane. While Wilder’s books became children’s classics and a popular television series, Fraser’s research shows that Lane was the one behind the tales. Praised by The New York Times Book Review as “an absorbing new biography [that] deserves recognition as an essential text,” Prairie Fires not only captivates with its revelations about the Ingalls’ family dynamics but also sheds light on Lane’s contribution to libertarianism. Fraser’s impeccable research has won accolades such as the National Book Critics Circle Award and The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Non-Fiction making this biography a must-read for anyone interested in the American West, Little House enthusiasts or those intrigued by the human psyche.

The West through Laura’s Eyes

Fraser’s detailed narration of Little House series, highlighting the economic struggles and the realities of homesteading families of the American West.

In her book, Fraser recognizes the historical significance of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series and the way it portrays the daily struggles of American pioneers. The Ingalls family, according to Fraser, traveled through multiple states across the mid-west, forced to move by economic failure. Fraser’s account tracks their journey, beginning with Charles Ingalls’ migration to Wisconsin in 1853, where he married Caroline Lake Quiner and birthed their daughter Laura in Pepin County. Little House in the Big Woods serves as a tribute to the Wisconsin escapades of the family.

Fraser strips away romanticized notions of homesteading, portraying it as a grueling period of American history where fewer than 50% of families succeeded. However, she also highlights the heroism of endurance, exposed by Laura’s character through her trials and tribulations on the bleak high plains of Dakota. Fraser acknowledges that Wilder left out many difficult moments in her tales, as an increasing number of readers began to scrutinize the events’ historical facts. Nevertheless, Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, insisted that the stories were entirely true, challenging readers to re-evaluate their understanding of the American West.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Tough Life

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s rocky journey into her writing career started with a series of tragedies. She married a wheat buyer, but her family struggled with debt as the land couldn’t produce enough crops to make a decent living. Laura’s husband suffered a life-altering stroke, they lost their home to fire, and the couple faced the devastating loss of their second child. As a result, they were forced to live as nomads. Laura’s writing journey began out of necessity when she started writing short pieces to make ends meet.

Uncredited Editing of Little House

Laura Wilder’s first book, Pioneer Girl was edited by Rose Lane who also secured a publishing contract for Little House in the Big Woods. Though Lane’s contribution as Wilder’s uncredited editor remained unknown for a long time, it was found that Lane wrote her own works based on her mother’s family stories. Some people claimed that Lane wrote the Little House books, but after studying Wilder’s original manuscripts, it was proved that Wilder was the true author. The author of the book, Caroline Fraser’s research reflected her objectivity and scholarship, and her work serves as the definitive history of the Little House books.

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