Rose Wilder Lane: The Forgotten Author Part 1

What many fans don’t know is that Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was a well known and established writer before Wilder wrote any of her “Little House” books. Rose led a very interesting life, traveling to places around the world, reporting on a variety of subjects, and finding fame in being an author. She played an instrumental role in getting Laura’s books published. Without Rose, we might not have the books so many have come to know and love. Keep reading to learn about the life of Rose.

Rose 1

Rose circa 1890


Rose Wilder was born on December 5, 1886 in De Smet, South Dakota. She was the first child for Almanzo and Laura Wilder and the only one to survive to adulthood. Her parents were extremely attentive to their first born. Grandparents Charles and Caroline and aunts, Mary, Carrie, and Grace loved spending time with Rose. While Rose brought her parents joy, the farm only caused them more stress. Crops failed due to drought. The Wilders were deep in debt, which only worsened when the couple both came down with diphtheria and doctors bills started piling up. Rose went to live with Grandma, Grandpa, and her aunts while her parents recovered. She escaped the sickness herself, but the fate of her parents looked grim. Thankfully, Laura and Almanzo started to regain their health and Rose was returned to her parents soon after.

Almanzo went back to work too soon after his sickness and suffered a paralyzing stroke. They did not believe he would walk again. With help from Laura, Almanzo eventually recovered, although he was never the same after that. He walked around with a cane for the rest of his life. Laura found out she was expecting another baby soon after, but her son only lived for 28 days. They never named him. Later in her life, Rose admitted she didn’t know much about him. Her mother never spoke of it, so she didn’t either.

Two weeks after her brother passed away, Rose saw her parents suffer once again. She remembered feeding the cook stove with hay sticks and seconds later the little kitchen went up in flames. Laura grabbed Rose and a few belongings and made it outside. Nothing could be done to save the house. Rose always blamed herself for the fire, but whether she caused it or not is still up for debate. Stoves could be unpredictable. Hot ashes could fall on the floor and ignite a fire. We may never know the true cause or whether it was Rose’s fault or not.

Laura and Almanzo no longer saw a future in De Smet. Grandpa and Grandma Wilder invited the couple and Rose to come live with them in Spring Valley, Minnesota. The family stayed there for a year before making a trip to Florida. Almanzo’s health still troubled him and they thought the warm climate might help him. Rose remembered Florida vividly. She remembered the hot, humid climate and even wrote a story based in Florida later in life, taking inspiration from her experiences while there as a child.  The Wilders eventually returned to De Smet and lived in a house in town not to far from Grandpa and Grandma Ingalls. Rose was enrolled in school, although she disliked going.  Rose was an extremely intelligent child. She learned to read by three, could write by five, and was already dreaming up stories in her head to write down. School was not challenging and she often grew bored in class and would spend her time daydreaming. Rose was seven when her parents decided to make a new home in “The Land of the Big Red Apple” near the Ozarks area of Missouri. She said goodbye to De Smet for the last time in 1894.

Rose enjoyed the trip from De Smet, South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri. The Cooley Family joined the Wilders on their journey and Rose often played with the Cooley’s two sons, Paul and George. Rose was equally fascinated with all the towns, creeks, rivers, cities, and people she saw. The two families arrived in Mansfield in late August. Finally, they had found their forever home. Rose was enrolled in school once again and found that school in Mansfield was just as dull as school was in De Smet. She longed for lunch time when she could spend time reading books. She loved learning new words and ideas from each story and couldn’t wait to write herself.. Rose even made up her own language and would speak it to her donkey, Spookendyke, on their trips to and from school.

Rose with Spookendyke

Rose with Spookendyke

A few more years went by. Rose spent time exploring the farm, which her mother named Rocky Ridge. She waded in the creek, picked berries, and even walked into Williams Cave by herself, which was about one mile underground. Rocky Ridge was doing well,  Rose continued with school and was finally able to have new dresses and schoolbooks. Meanwhile, Laura and Almanzo decided to move into town and work. Rose was now a town girl, but she was still an outsider when it came to other kids her age. She did not mind that she was not invited to certian events. For Rose, staying home on the farm or reading a new book was just as satisfying.  Laura soon realized that her daughter and school did not get along. Rose often stayed home and educated herself. Another family in town had a whole wall of books for Rose to devour. She spent hours reading about novelists and playwrights and dreamed about being one herself. In 1903, Rose’s Aunt Eliza Jane Wilder offered for her niece to live with her in Crowley, Louisiana and finish high school there. Rose was happy to leave Mansfield behind her for a year. While attending high school in Louisiana, Rose took a three year Latin course in one year and graduated at the top of her class. Now 17, Rose was finished with her educational career and back living in Mansfield. She yearned to leave Missouri behind her and find a new life elsewhere. It would not be long until she took that next step.

Stay tuned to learn even more about Rose Wilder Lane!


Anderson, William. Laura’s Rose, Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, 1986.



4 comments on “Rose Wilder Lane: The Forgotten Author Part 1

  1. Heather says:

    Great information! I really enjoyed reading it…

  2. Shaunn Munn says:

    Often wondered what Rose did for reading material. I read that she borrowed lots of books from the school’s paltry library — all but one — & Mama Bess read them to the family after super & chores.

    Oh if only she had a sibling. No accelerated programs then. As Laura once wrote, if school isn’t available, an education can be earned the same way Abraham Lincoln got his. Sees it was Rose’s best option.

    No doubt Rose also went through every school book available, especially when they could afford to buy their own & not borrow.

    A common way to show proficiency in Latin was to translate passages, either from Latin to English, or the reverse. Grammar was rather simple and rigid, not loose and sometimes abstract as English.
    Writings of Tacitus, Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Livy, Lucretius, and St. Augustine are among the most taught. Many never go beyond these. Wonder what Rose studied?

    Look forward to the next installment! Thank you!

  3. Shaunn Munn says:

    Errata: Paragraph 2 of my comment; “sees” should be “seems”. Mea culpa!

  4. Jan Anttila says:

    Rose was a fascinating woman and very complex. The book “Prairie Fires” really sheds a great deal of light on the sometimes contentious relationship between Rose and Laura!

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