The Little Girl in the Big Woods—Wilder’s Fairy-Tale Setting

Caroline Ingalls (seated left), Eliza Quiner Ingalls (standing), and Martha Quiner Carpenter (seated right). Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society

When Laura Ingalls Wilder began to expand the picture-book typescript “When Grandma Was a Little Girl,” she discovered that Rose Wilder Lane had placed her Wisconsin home farther north than it had actually been. At the same time, Wilder recognized that Lane had accurately captured what Wilder termed “the glamor” of the deep woods, and she immediately reinstated the classic opening from her original memoir, “Once upon a time years and years ago.”1 From this beginning, Wilder “grafted elements of European fairy tale directly onto a real place and time,” turning the Wisconsin woods “into America’s own enchanted forest.”2 Wilder’s affinity for the forest of her childhood echoed her aunt Martha Quiner Carpenter’s appreciation for it. In spite of predators, Carpenter wrote, “we were glad to get out in [the] woods. . . . [It] was beautiful to be out there with birds and other small animals of the forest and to hear the . . . music of the wilds with the beauty of all the rest of the landscape[;] it would carry you away and you would forget yourself and rejoice that you were there to see and have it all.”3 These same sentiments underlie Pa’s experience in the final chapter of Big Woods, when he fails to shoot at a bear because “I was so much interested in watching him, and the woods were so peaceful in the moonlight, that I forgot all about my gun. . . . until [the bear] was waddling away into the woods” (BW, pp. 234–35).

The fairy-tale setting of the woods, as Carpenter indicated, included the inevitable predators—bears, mountain lions, and wolves. While all these creatures inhabited the Big Woods, Wilder’s wolf in the first chapter of Big Woods originated in Kansas, where Wilder remembered “a long, scared sound, off in the night, and Pa said it was a wolf howling.”4 In changing the wolf’s location from the Kansas prairies to the Wisconsin woods, Lane enhanced the scene with this line: “Grandma knew that wolves ate little girls.”5 Studies suggest that wolves avoid people and attack only when rabid or otherwise provoked, but, as Lane knew in adding this line to her mother’s story, and Wilder recognized in letting it stand in the novel (BW, p. 3), wolves do eat little girls in fairy tales. Conversely, the wolf “can also be read as a hybrid figure who crosses the boundary between wilderness and civilization.”6 As biographer Caroline Fraser has argued, in Wilder’s work, wolves symbolize freedom at the edge of a vanishing wilderness.7 No matter how the wolves are understood, Wilder’s first novel relied on her readers’ familiarity with fairy tales to see the glamor and magic of the setting. To make sure that readers made the connection between Laura Ingalls and the classic fairy-tale heroine, illustrator Helen Sewell portrayed her in a red hood in the colored frontispiece of Little House in the Big Woods.

―Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, ed. Pamela Smith Hill (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2014), p. 1 (compare with BW, p. 1). For Wilder’s comment about the glamor of the woods, see Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Path into Fiction, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2023), p. 64.
  2. Sallie Ketcham, “Fairy Tale, Folklore, and the Little House in the Deep Dark Woods” in Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2017), p. 214.
  3. Martha Carpenter to Wilder, Sept. 2, 1925, Box 14, file 204, Rose Wilder Lane Papers, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa.
  4. Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal et al. (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2021), p. 6.
  5. Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Path into Fiction, ed. Koupal, p. 64.
  6. Maria Tatar, ed., The Annotated Brothers Grimm (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2004), p. 145n4.
  7. Caroline Fraser, “Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Wolves: On the Politicization of Wilder, Author of Little House on the Prairie.” Los Angles Review of Books, Oct. 10, 2012.



Aha! Moments

“Aha!” I said to myself as I scrolled through the microfilm of the San Francisco Bulletin, “that’s when that happened!” Within the February and March 1915 issues of the paper, I had discovered the moment when Laura Ingalls Wilder first used her maiden and married names together to sign her work.

While writing for Missouri newspapers from 1911 to 1924, Wilder had signed her work as Mrs. A. J. Wilder, using her husband Almanzo James Wilder’s initials. In 1919, however, she contributed an article to McCall’s Magazine that she signed as Laura Ingalls Wilder. I always assumed that instance was the first time she used her full name on her work, but not so! Encouraged by her daughter, Wilder had contributed to the San Francisco Bulletin’s “Tuck’em In Corner” on February 10, 1915, under the byline Laura E. Wilder (the E. stands for Elizabeth). But as she watched her daughter—who had begun writing as Rose Wilder Lane—and other women writers sign their articles in the Bulletin with their maiden and married names, Wilder began to do the same. She became Laura Ingalls Wilder in print for the first time on March 17, 1915, with publication of her poem “The Fairies in the Sunshine.” Wilder then used this new byline for the articles that Lane brokered for her in McCall’s Magazine and Country Gentleman a few years later.1

Such “Aha!” moments are a gratifying part of research. Another one came as I viewed the opening pages of the original typescript of “Little House in the Woods,” which Harper & Brothers had used to copyedit and typeset Wilder’s first novel. “Little House in the Woods” was the name that Alfred A. Knopf editor Marion Fiery assigned to Wilder’s book when she wrote to accept it on September 17, 1931. Whether Wilder submitted the manuscript with that title or Fiery selected it from a list of titles the author suggested is unknown, but all correspondents—Fiery, Wilder, Lane, literary agent George Bye, and Harper & Brothers editor Virginia Kirkus—referred to the book as “Little House in the Woods” from September 17 until early February 1932.

The first page of “Little House in the Woods.” Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association

At that point, Margaret Lesser of the Junior Literary Guild’s membership magazine wrote to Wilder about her forthcoming book, calling it “Little House in the Big Woods.” In looking at the original typescript, I discovered that the addition of “Big” to the title had come from the title of the book’s first chapter, which Lane had typed as “Little House in the Big Woods.” When the copyeditor finished correcting the manuscript just prior to production, she affixed two extra pages to the typescript—a typed title page and a handwritten copyright page—before passing it on to the typesetter. On the title page, the editor repeated the title of the first chapter, listed Wilder as author, Helen Sewell as illustrator, and Harper & Brothers as publisher—and Little House in the Big Woods came to be as we know it today.2

Aha! That’s when that happened.

­          ―Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. Elizabeth E. Wilder, “The Faery Dew Drop,” and Laura Ingalls Wilder, “The Fairies in the Sunshine,” San Francisco Bulletin, Feb. 15, Mar. 17, 1915; Laura Ingalls Wilder, “Whom Will You Marry?”, McCall’s Magazine 49 (June 1919): 8.
  2. Nancy Tystad Koupal, “At the End of the Path,” in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Path into Fiction, ed. Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2023), pp. 173–74.

Wilder’s Wisconsin Birthplace

The recreation of the Ingalls cabin near Pepin, Wisconsin. Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, Pepin

I recently saw some vintage photographs that led me to reflect on the history of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Wisconsin birthplace near Pepin. As she edited Pioneer Girl, Rose Wilder Lane gradually moved her mother’s birthplace north, deeper and deeper into the pine forests of Wisconsin.1 Using land records, the librarian in Pepin and other local people pinpointed the location of the eighty-acre farm that Charles Ingalls purchased in the 1860s. It was farther south, in an area that Pepin historians Catherine Latané and Martha Kuhlman describe as “not big timber country.”2 And that is where the replica of the Ingalls cabin can be found today, next to a cornfield along County Road CC about seven miles north of Pepin.

No one knows how long the original Ingalls cabin stood on the site. We assume that Charles Ingalls, with the aid of his brother-in-law Henry Quiner and other relatives or neighbors in the area, built the cabin around 1863, and we know that Wilder was born there on February 7, 1867. After the Ingalls family sold the farm and moved away in 1872, the history of the dwelling is largely unknown. It may have served for a time as an outbuilding on the farm, possibly into the 1920s, but it disappeared many years ago.3 As late as the 1960s, when researchers and readers began to trickle into Pepin County, a log structure still stood on land owned by Thomas P. and Jane Huleatt.

This log structure stood for decades on the land owned by the Huleatts, but it is unclear what purpose it served.

In Little House in the Big Woods, Wilder wrote about playing with the Huleatt children, Eva and Clarence, while their parents visited the Ingalls home (pp. 170–80), but in Pioneer Girl, Wilder also described a dance held at the Huleatt residence. The place “was called Summer Hill,” Wilder recalled, “and everyone was proud to be invited there.”4 Whether or not this structure, dilapidated and deteriorating in this photograph, was Summer Hill or an earlier Huleatt dwelling or even an outbuilding is unclear, but it illustrates construction practices used in log houses of the pioneer period and employs the materials available at the time. For example, Wilder recalled that in the 1860s her grandfather, Lansford Whiting Ingalls, also “lived in a log house like ours.”5

By the 1970s, the traffic to the Wilder birthplace had become so steady that local residents, with permission from the landowner, put up a sign to mark the spot of Wilder’s birthplace (see photograph). The reconstruction of the Wilder cabin took place a few years later when, “through the generosity of the Pepin business community and the landowner,” the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society of Pepin was “able to acquire three acres of land at the original site of Laura’s birth.”6 In 1978, the society erected the “Little House Wayside” replica of the Ingalls cabin based largely on Wilder’s descriptions of the building in Little House in the Big Woods. The cabin and grounds are a focal point during Pepin’s annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Days in September. This coming summer, on the second weekend of each month from May through August, Pepin stalwarts will fully furnish the cabin and reenactors will “demonstrate the arts of daily living in the 1870s” to welcome visitors to Laura’s birthplace.7

―Nancy Tystad Koupal


  1. Nancy Tystad Koupal, ed., “Historical Musings: Researching the Life and Times of Laura Ingalls Wilder: Blog Posts from the Editors of Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts,” South Dakota History 53 (Spring 2023): 70–71.
  2. Catherine H. Latané and Martha Kuhlman, The Village of Pepin at the Time of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Pepin, Wis.: By the Authors, 2004), p. 17.
  3. William Anderson to Nancy Tystad Koupal, Apr. 6, 2023.
  4. Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal et al. (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2021), p. 58.
  5. Ibid., p. 57.
  6. “Visit Laura’s Little House,” Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum,
  7. Catherine H. (“Kitty”) Latané to Nancy Tystad Koupal, Apr. 13, 2023.

Wilder’s Aesopian Fable of the Naughty Boy and the Yellow Jackets

Among the literary influences that surface in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House novels are three classics: the Bible, the Brothers Grimm, and Aesop’s Fables. Recent studies have explored Wilder’s religious beliefs and how they influenced her writing (Stephen Hines, John Fry) and her employment of fairy tale elements (Sallie Ketcham), but Wilder’s use of Aesop receives less attention. As an annotation in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography puts it, however, Wilder and her father “knew their Aesop.” In their telling of the story of Charley Quiner’s encounter with yellow jackets in a harvest field in Wisconsin, father and daughter alluded to Aesop’s classic tale about the shepherd boy who repeatedly cried wolf to alarm the villagers. When the wolf actually arrived, the boy was not believed, and he suffered the consequences because “there is no believing a liar, even when he speaks the truth.”1

Helen Sewell drew this depiction of Charley Quiner’s run-in with the yellow jackets.

Charles Ingalls is the original source of the story of Charley Quiner, and he is the one who first couched it in its Aesopian framework. “When I was a girl at home, my father came in from the harvest field one day at noon and with great glee told what had befallen my cousin Charley,” Wilder recalled in 1919. Charley had accompanied his own father and his uncle Charles to the field, where “he lagged behind . . . and then began to scream, jumping up and down and throwing his arms around.” When the men rushed to him, thinking he was hurt or bitten by a snake, the boy laughed at them. He fooled them three times, but when he screamed a fourth time, they ignored him. Finally, as he kept yelling, they found him jumping up and down on a yellow jacket nest and badly stung. Wilder, who was using the analogy in 1919 to explain why Germany was “morally bankrupt” after four years of broken pledges, concluded, “Boys or men or nations it seems to be the same, if they prove themselves liars times enough, nobody will believe them when they do tell the truth.”2

In Pioneer Girl and Little House in the Big Woods, Charles Ingalls again regales his family with the story of the naughty boy and the yellow jackets. He ends the tale with, “It served the little liar right” (PGAA, p. 53). Tucked up in her trundle bed in Big Woods, Laura Ingalls also contemplated the issue, concluding that she “didn’t understand how Charley could be a liar, when he had not said a word” (BW, pp. 210–11). Wilder’s youthful bewilderment, which she first recorded in Pioneer Girl, finally finds its appropriate audience. Young readers of eight to ten can still relate and feel superior to five-year-old Laura’s puzzlement over the unspoken lie.

―Nancy Tystad Koupal


1.George F. Townsend, trans., Aesop’s Fables, 1867, reprint ed. Aesopica: Aesop’s Fables in English, Latin & Greek., no. 74. See also Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, ed. Pamela Smith Hill (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2014), pp. 53–54n88.

2. Wilder “The Farm Home,” June 5, 1919, in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks, ed. Stephen W. Hines (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007), p. 187.

Laura Ingalls Wilder at Christmas 2022

Earlier this month, I wrote about wolves howling in the night. But as I sit down to write just before Christmas 2022, the wind is making all the noise, howling long and loud, day and night. As the arctic storm closes Interstate 90 and the highways into Pierre, I feel as if I have been transported back to the Dakota Territory of 1880–1881. While, so far, the electric heat has provided a steady warmth, back-to-back blizzard conditions have begun to empty the grocery shelves, if one is desperate enough to venture out into the wind for eggs or milk or bread. My two daughters are stranded in Arizona until Christmas Day, and my husband and I will spend a lonely Christmas Eve without kith or kin. So I have turned for company to the many Christmases and Christmas Eves of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Wilder shares at least one Christmas celebration in each of her Little House novels. In Wisconsin, when she is four, Laura receives her first doll and makes pictures in the snow with her cousins. Wilder next shares a Christmas feast among the James and Angeline Wilder family in New York State, where Almanzo “ate and ate and ate. . . . till he could eat no more” (Farmer Boy, p. 325). On the Kansas plains, the Ingalls family’s next Christmas is sparser as Laura worries about whether Santa Claus can find them out on the prairie. Mr. Edwards saves the day, hauling Santa’s gifts across the swollen creek just in time, carrying sweet potatoes in his pockets to add to Christmas dinner. In Minnesota, the author shares three Christmas holidays with readers, welcoming new horses in the first instance, attending the church Christmas tree giveaway in the second, and then celebrating Pa’s narrow escape from disaster after he was caught in a blizzard on the way back from town the next year. He survived for three days in a snowbank, eating the girl’s Christmas candy and the oyster crackers but bringing home the oysters still frozen solid. As the family settles in on Christmas Eve, Pa notes that the wind is rising: “‘We will have another blizzard before morning.’ ‘Just so you are here, Charles, I don’t care how much it storms,’ said Ma” (Plum Creek, p. 335).

The Ingalls family gathered around the stove for warmth during the Hard Winter of 1880–1881. Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle, 1940.

In Dakota Territory, each year is punctuated with at least one Christmas dinner or preparation for a dinner. In 1879, the Boasts—Robert and Ella—unexpectedly arrive in De Smet on Christmas Eve, where the Ingalls are staying alone in the Surveyor’s House. A jolly Christmas and New Year’s celebration with these new friends follows. In The Long Winter, the Ingalls share homemade and store-bought gifts over a makeshift feast with the last of the milk and two cans of oysters. This skimpy meal is balanced by a full turkey dinner when adequate groceries and the Christmas barrel finally arrive in May. The following holiday season, Wilder unexpectedly earns her teaching certificate amid the family’s Christmas preparations, and in These Happy Golden Years, Almanzo returns to De Smet from an extended absence, arriving on Christmas Eve with a bag of oranges to add to the Christmas dinner.

Throughout all these years and Christmases, the Ingalls family rejoices in being together, in making do with small gifts and sometimes hearty and sometimes meager feasts, and in delaying gratification until everyone can be present. It is a heartwarming message to take into this blustery holiday season of 2022 when families like mine are struggling to get together under difficult and dangerous conditions.

Stay safe wherever you are and have a wonderful holiday season.

―Nancy Tystad Koupal

Wolves Howling in the Night Redux

We learn that wolves “lived in the Big Woods” in the opening chapter of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novel based on her life in 1870s Wisconsin. As she contemplated her cozy family from her trundle bed, she heard a wolf approach the house and begin to howl. “It was a scary sound,” she told her readers, but she was safe inside the family’s cabin. Pa and Jack, the bulldog, were on guard, and the wolves would not get past them. One night, Pa let her look out the window at two wolves who “pointed their noses at the big, bright moon, and howled” (Big Woods, pp. 2–3). Wilder shared a variation of this same story in Little House on the Prairie (pp. 96–98). Both episodes derive from the first pages of her autobiography, Pioneer Girl, where she recorded her memories of Kansas in 1869–1871.1 In fact, the opening chapter of Wilder’s book about Wisconsin borrows essential details, including Jack himself, from her life in Kansas, illustrating one of the ways in which Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, reframed autobiography as autobiographical fiction.

Illustrator Helen Sewell depicted the wolves howling outside of the Ingalls family’s cabin.

In the summer of 1930, trying to market her mother’s writing, Lane began to piece together a picture book based on Wilder’s life in Wisconsin, stringing together episodes from Pioneer Girl. She opened it by enhancing the details her mother had shared about the Wisconsin wilderness. She focused on the remoteness of the Big Woods and the menacing predators—wolves, bears, and wildcats—that roamed the forest. However, while Wilder had recorded stories of panthers and bears in Wisconsin, she remembered little about wolves there. No problem. Lane simply plucked them from the opening pages of Wilder’s recollections of Kansas. From Lane’s point of view, the images were too dramatic to leave out. “One night Pa picked me up out of bed,” Wilder had recalled, “and carried me to the window so I could see the wolves. There were so many of them all sitting in a ring around the house, with their noses pointed up at the bright moon, howling as loud and long as they could, while Jack paced before the door and growled.”2

When Wilder began to expand the picture-book manuscript into a chapter book in February 1931, she accepted her daughter’s opening of the novel and the transplanting of Jack to Wisconsin, but she changed the wolf story so that it contained only two wolves rather than the whole pack.3 From her point of view, the story would remain “true” because it was based on a real incident and had “actually happened.”4 Caroline Fraser has shown that Wilder learned this concept of “true stories” from Lane, who employed it in her journalistic career. In Lane’s case, it often led to the “invention” of facts.5 Within the Little House series, however, it reflected Wilder’s acceptance of the underlying reality of incidents as long as they happened to her, her family, or someone she knew at some point. For example, she would tell Lane in 1937 that an incident in The First Four Years was “true but happened to a friend of mine.”6 In transplanting the wolves to Wisconsin and altering their numbers, Wilder was employing the freedoms that fiction allowed while remaining true to her memories of wolves howling in the night. Although she might not have been consciously planning ahead, Wilder’s limiting the number of wolves in Wisconsin also allowed her to reuse her memories of the entire pack when she wrote Little House on the Prairie three years later.

―Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. Wilder, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, ed. Pamela Smith Hill (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2014), pp. 1–5.
  2. Ibid., p. 5.
  3. Koupal, ed., Pioneer Girl: The Path into Fiction, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, forthcoming in 2023), part 1, notes 3, 6-7, 9.
  4. Wilder to Almanzo Wilder, Sept. 11, 1915, in West from Home: Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder to Almanzo Wilder, San Francisco, 1915, ed. Roger Lea MacBride (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 47.
  5. Fraser, “The Strange Case of the Bloody Benders: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and Yellow Journalism,” in Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2017), p. 32.
  6. Wilder, note to Lane in “First Three Years,” p. 39, Box 16, file 250, Rose Wilder Lane Papers, Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, West Branch, Iowa.


Summer 2022 Progress Report

Another summer is drawing to a close here on the Northern Great Plains, and I am pleased to report that Pioneer Girl: The Path into Fiction is almost finished. This fourth book from the Pioneer Girl Project concentrates on the writing and editing of Wilder’s first novel, Little House in the Big Woods (1932). If all goes well, it will be released in the late spring of 2023.

Once again, watercolor artist Judy Thompson has created an original work of art for the cover of Pioneer Girl: The Path into Fiction. Titled “Sugaring Time in the Big Woods,” the painting shows Laura standing in front of a team of horses near her Grandpa Ingalls’s home deep in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. A “sugar snow” falls softly over the scene. In chapter 7 of Big Woods, Wilder explained that the weather turned cold after a few warm, springlike days. The next morning, “the ground was covered with soft, thick snow. All along the branches of the trees the snow was piled like feathers” (pp. 118–19). Pa explained that it was called a sugar snow because “this little cold spell and the snow will hold back the leafing of the trees, and that makes a longer run of sap” (p. 127). And more sap meant more maple sugar.

Ordering information for the new book will be available after the first of the year.

―Nancy Tystad Koupal

The Revised Texts Wins Design Award

The South Dakota State Historical Society’s third Pioneer Girl Project installment, “Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts” written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and edited by Nancy Tystad Koupal, has been selected for the Association of University Presses Scholarly Typographic award.

The annual AUPresses Book, Jacket and Journal Show, is in its 57th year of honoring academic publishers around the world. This year a virtual display of all winners can be found at

“I was especially pleased to discover designers who find ways to break free from traditional typography—not just to call attention to themselves, but to enlighten the content, or simply to delight the reader,” said Stephen Coles, a juror for the 2022 awards.

For generations, the works of Laura Ingalls Wilder have defined the American frontier and the pioneer experience for the public at large. “Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts” presents three typescripts of Wilder’s original “Pioneer Girl” manuscript in an examination of the process through which she and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, transformed her autobiography into the much-loved Little House series. As the women polished the narrative from draft to draft, a picture emerges of the working relationship between the women, of the lives they lived, and of the literary works they created.

Koupal and other editors of the Pioneer Girl Project provide a meticulous study of the Wilder/Lane partnership as Wilder’s autobiography undergoes revision, and the women redevelop and expand portions of it into Wilder’s successful children’s and young adult novels and into Lane’s bestselling adult novels in the 1930s. The three revised texts of “Pioneer Girl,” set side by side, showcase the intertwined processes of writing and editing and the contributions of writer and editor. In background essays and annotations, Koupal and her team of editors provide historical context and explore the ways in which Wilder or Lane changed and reused the material.

“‘Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts’ makes fresh observations that are sure to jump-start new debate and discussions centered on the writer-editor relationship between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane,” writes Wilder scholar and bestselling author William Anderson. “The annotations provide great documentary background and reveal the behind-the-scenes work that led to the now classic Little House series.”

Wilder and Lane’s partnership has been the subject of longstanding speculation, but “Revised Texts” is the first work to explore the women’s relationship by examining the evolution of surviving manuscripts. Showcasing differences in the texts and offering numerous additional documents and handwritten revisions, the editors create a rich resource for scholars to use in assessing the editorial and writing principles, choices, and reasoning that Lane employed to shape the manuscripts for publication. Readers can follow along as Wilder grows into a novelist that “no depression could stop.”

Wilder (1867-1957) finished her autobiography, “Pioneer Girl,” in 1930 when she was 63 years old. Throughout the 1930s and into the early 1940s, Wilder utilized her original manuscript to write a successful series of books for young readers. Wilder died in Mansfield, Missouri, at age 90 on Feb. 10, 1957.

Koupal is director and editor-in-chief of the Pioneer Girl Project. She received an M.A. in English from Morehead State University in Kentucky and did postgraduate work in American literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She founded the South Dakota Historical Society Press in 1997. Koupal is also the editor of “Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder.”

The South Dakota Historical Society Press is committed to producing books reflecting the rich and varied history of the Northern Great Plains. “Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts” is available for $49.95 plus shipping and tax and can be purchased through most bookstores or ordered directly from the South Dakota Historical Society Press. Visit or call 605-773-6009. For distribution information, contact Find out more about the Pioneer Girl Project at For information about membership in the State Historical Society, visit

Jeff Mammenga


Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Fairies in Nature

In 1915, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a series of poems about fairies for the “The Tuck’em In Corner,” a children’s poetry column that ran semi-regularly in the San Francisco Bulletin. Wilder’s poems focused on two particular fairies, “lovely Drop-O-Dew” and “little Ray O’Sunshine.” Drop-O-Dew, she explained in a note, was “the Fairy who helps take care of the flowers. All night she carries drink to the thirsty blossoms; bathes the heads of those who have the headache from the heat of the day before, straightens them up on their stems and make[s] their colors bright for the morning.”1 Ray O’Sunshine worked in the daytime, coloring the apples and making the roses red.2 These fairies represented the natural forces at work in the spring and summer. Wilder would again offer a fanciful explanation for a natural process in Little House in the Big Woods: “In the morning the window panes were covered with frost in beautiful pictures of trees and flowers and fairies. Ma said that Jack Frost came in the night and made the pictures” (Big Woods, pp. 26–27).

Wilder explained why she preferred such magical images of natural processes in a column for the Missouri Ruralist called “Look for Fairies Now.” She argued that children needed tales of fairies to help them see beyond the surface and to use their imaginations. In the olden days, she explained, farmers left some of their harvest for the Little People who “worked hard in the ground to help the farmer grow his crops.” Perhaps this idea was just superstition, she continued, “but I leave it to you if it has not been proved true that where the ‘Little People’ of the soil are not fed the crops are poor. We call them different names now, nitrogen and humus and all the rest of it, but I always have preferred to think of them as fairy folk who must be treated right.”3

In Big Woods, Wilder illustrated how fairy images could spark a child’s imagination. When Ma suggests Jack Frost as the maker of the frost, Laura instantly has a picture of him “as a little man all snowy white, wearing a glittering white pointed cap and soft white knee-boots of deer-skin” (Big Woods, p. 26). Laura’s active imagination is one of the reasons young readers find her so appealing as the book’s protagonist, unlike her sister Mary who is often without imagination or humor. Wilder urged readers to help their children see the “deeps beyond deeps in the life of this wonderful world of ours.”4 It is much the same advice that Albert Einstein supposedly gave a parent many years later. “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”5

As both Einstein and Wilder knew, fairy tales gave people another way of viewing their world and of seeing “the magic of nature.”6 Wilder ended her column with a fairy poem in which the fairies go around the world bringing light and color:

“And all the happy children,

In islands of the sea,

Know little Ray O’Sunshine,

Who plays with you and me.”7

“Have you seen any fairies lately,” Wilder asked her readers, “or have you allowed the harsher facts of life to dull your ‘seeing eye’?”8

Nancy Tystad Koupal


  1. Wilder, “The Faery Dew Drop,” San Francisco Bulletin, Feb. 10, 1915, p. 11.
  2. Wilder, “The Fairies in the Sunshine,” ibid., Mar. 17, 1915, p. 13.
  3. Wilder, “Look for Fairies Now: The ‘Little People’ Still Appear to Those with Seeing Eyes,” reprinted in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks, ed. Stephen W. Hines (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2007), pp. 62–63.
  4. Wilder, “Look for Fairies Now,” pp. 64–65.
  5. Einstein, quoted in Sally Ketcham, “Fairy Tales, Folklore, and the Little House in the Deep Dark Woods,” in Pioneer Girl Perspectives: Exploring Laura Ingalls Wilder, ed. Nancy Tystad Koupal (Pierre: South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2017), p. 212.
  6. Ketcham, “Fairy Tales,” p. 219.
  7. This poem, untitled in the column, originally appeared as “Where Sunshine Fairies Go,” San Francisco Bulletin, Mar. 19, 1915, p. 11. Stephen W. Hines collected Wilder’s poems in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Fairy Poems, illus. Richard Hull (New York: Doubleday, 1998).
  8. Wilder, “Look for Fairies Now,” p. 65.

Crinolines Again, 1915 Style

Six years ago, I posted a blog about crinolines that included a number of 1860s political cartoons poking fun at women wearing hoopskirts and petticoats. In spite of the ridicule, the fashion resurfaced in the 1880s, when Laura Ingalls Wilder battled her hoopskirts on the way to school as a teenager. I concluded the blog with the observation that the style “just keeps coming back” and suggested that the poodle skirts of the nineteen fifties, “held out by all those stiff mesh petticoats so that they would swirl around the dance floor,” were just “a shorter version of the same style.” Recently, as I scrolled through the pages of the San Francisco Bulletin, I noticed that voluminous petticoats had enjoyed a brief resurgence in 1915, too. While I was not surprised, I was amused to find that the male political cartoonists again lampooned the fashion for some of the same reasons they had decades earlier.

Cartoonist Maurice Ketten critiqued the style on February 17, suggesting that the return to grandmother’s crinolines made finding a seat in a public place a difficult feat. A month later, Rolf Pielke took a different and perhaps more modern tack, lamenting the loss of the sheath skirt. In an article that accompanied his cartoon, he suggested that the “au-natural figure” and “the long-and-lithe-like lady” in the sheaths were more pleasing to the masculine eye than “the flounces and charms of the plump baby doll.” He concluded that the return to “frills and fullness and flounces” proved “that women dress for themselves and not for men, as cynics would have us believe.” For their part, women had learned that the fuller skirts kept men at a respectful distance, a need that was obvious to any woman “who had been pinched, groped, or harassed on crowded streets or public transit.” Women also found the “bell-like shape” to be airy and cool.2 With both men and dress reformers continuing to push for greater simplicity, the crinoline resurgence was short-lived. By the 1920s, skirts had gotten even shorter and more sheath-like than before.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

  1. “On the Zone, on the Street, on the Cars in Every Quarter the Graceful Flounces Are Now Seen,” San Francisco Bulletin, Mar. 22, 1915, p. 11.
  2. Emily Remus, A Shopper’s Paradise: How the Ladies of Chicago Claimed Power and Pleasure in the New Downtown (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2019), p. 43.