The Mystery of Ma’s China Shepherdess

A Modern Mystery

The china shepherdess has always been a favorite Ingalls family belonging from the Little House series. However, the whereabouts of the shepherdess have become a modern mystery. The following research explains what is known about the little china figurine:

  • Mrs. Irene Le Count of the Wilder home in Mansfield, Missouri, personally asked Laura about the figurine. Laura replied, “Since it was Ma’s I did not bring it with me to Missouri.” Laura also added, “I have to admit, I didn’t know what happened to it.”
  • Noted historian William Anderson has also researched the topic. His research reveals that most of the family belongings ended up with Carrie Ingalls, and many of the Ingalls’ family items were scattered with the death of each family member. At the time of Carrie’s death, there was a small four-inch bisque figurine of a shepherd, but not a shepherdess.
  • Later findings included a letter from Laura which is now housed in a Detroit public library rare book and gift room in the Wilder collection. Laura wrote, “Sister Carrie has the china shepherdess.”

After much research and debate, the question still remains – where is the china shepherdess?

Quotes from the Books

It is easy to see why Laura fans have come to love the china shepherdess. Laura mentioned the figurine multiple times in her books:

  • Little House in the Big Woods, page 62
  • Little House on the Prairie, page 117
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek, page 301 and 315
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake, page 265 and 283
  • Little Town on the Prairie, page 18

Laura’s Description

“The little china woman had a china bonnet on her head, and china curls hung against her china neck. Her china dress was laced across in front, and she wore a pale pink china apron and little gilt china shoes. She was beautiful, standing on the shelf with flowers and leaves and birds and moons carved all around her, and the large star at the very top.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, page 62

An Artist’s Interpretation

Although we cannot be sure of how the china shepherdess may have looked, Laura’s descriptive literary power is certainly helpful. Based on the quotes and descriptions from the book, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet commissioned an artist to hand paint and recreate the china shepherdess. The shepherdess is for sale in the gift shop for $39.95, plus shipping and handling.


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