Navigation Menu+

Little Town on the Prairie – the fictional story

noteDe Smet, 1881-1882. It’s springtime on the Ingalls homestead, 1881. The family is busy with cleaning and planting; the place begins to look like a farm. Laura and Pa both take jobs in town, Pa at carpentering and Laura doing hand-sewing for Mrs. White at Clancy’s Drygoods. The extra income will help to send Mary to the College for the Blind in the fall!

At the end of the summer, Ma and Pa take Mary to Iowa to enroll in college. Soon afterward, the family moves back into Pa’s building in town, snug for the winter. Laura and Carrie return to school; Miss Wilder is the new and often unpopular teacher that term.

The town of De Smet is bustling this winter. There are no raging blizzards and there is plenty of food and fuel. The residents turn their attention to church services, literaries, parties, and other events held during the winter months. Through all the festivities, Laura tries to study, since she hopes to earn a teaching certificate as soon as she turns sixteen in order to help with Mary’s college expenses.

The following summer is barely mentioned, then back to town for another winter. There is a new teacher this fall, Mr. Owen, a young but fair and honest teacher. Again, the town plans social events for the winter months. Following a week of revivals, Mr. Owen plans for a school exhibition. Laura is to have an important part; she and classmate Ida Wright are to recite the whole of American History from memory. Her splendid job brings her an unexpected visitor, with a most surprising result.



notePublishing History. Little Town on the Prairie was published in 1941. While working on The Long Winter in early 1939, Laura Ingalls Wilder also plotted out what she envisioned as the last book in her series. It was to be called Prairie Girl and would tell the story of events during the calendar year after the hard winter of 1880-1881, ending with Laura Ingalls earning a teaching certificate in addition to becoming engaged to be married. Wilder soon realized that she had too much material to include in just one volume, and an additional book was planned. Some of the events which historically occurred during the timeframe of These Happy Golden Years were included in Little Town on the Prairie.

Wilder worked on the manuscript during the winter of 1940-41; it was submitted to her publisher in July. There is one surviving draft, donated by Wilder to the Pomona (California) Library.

The text of Little Town on the Prairie was copyrighted in 1941 by Laura Ingalls Wilder for an original term of 28 years. The copyright was renewed by Charles F. Lamkin in 1969 for another term of 28 years and transferred to Roger Lea Mac Bride. Mac Bride renewed the copyright for 19 years in 1976, The Copyright Act of 1976 extended the renewal term from 28 to 47 years. Public Law 105-298, enacted on October 27, 1998, further extended the renewal term of copyrights still subsisting on that date by an additional 20 years, providing for a renewal term of 67 years and a total protection of 95 years. Currently, the text of Little Town on the Prairie is protected by copyright until the end of the year 2036.

The first illustrations were by Helen Sewell and Mildred Boyle for the 1941 publication. Illustrations for the uniform edition of the “Little House” books were by Garth Williams and published in 1954. Both are protected for 95 years, or the years 2036 and.2047, respectively.



Characters in Little Town on the Prairie.
* The Ingalls family: Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, Grace.
* Residents and Friends in De Smet: Wilmarth, Mr. and Mrs. Whiting, Mr. and Mrs. Clancy and three girls and a boy, Mrs. White, Mead (hotel), Tinkham (furniture), Beardsley (hotel), Brown (saloon), Harthorn (store), Barker (grocery), Royal Wilder and Almanzo Wilder (feed), Tay Pay Pryor (Mr. Power), Bill O’Dowd, Lawyer Barnes, Mr. and Mrs. Boast, Cap Garland, Sam Owen, Indian in race, neighbor boy who drove Ingallses to station, Miss Wilder, Mary Power, Minnie Johnson, Reverend and Mrs. Brown, Ida B. Wright, Mamie Beardsley, Nellie Oleson, Mr. Oleson, Charley from school and chums Clarence and Alfred, Willie Oleson, School Board, Mr. Clewett, Ben Woodworth, Fred Gilbert, Arthur Johnson, Jake Hopp, Mrs. Tinkham, at sociable: Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Woodworth, Mrs. Garland, Florence Garland, Mrs. Beardsley, Mrs. Bradley, Gerald Fuller, Mr. Foster, Mr. Barclay, Jim Woodworth, Mr. V.S.L. Owen, Mr. Lew Brewster, Mr. Williams (school superintendent).
* Other people mentioned: Grandma and Grandpa Ingalls, Rev. Alden, John Brown, Mrs. Jarley (waxworks), Mulligan Guards, Aunt Eliza Ingalls
* Animals with names: Ellen (cow), Sam and David (horses), Kitty, Lady and Prince (Almanzo’s horses)
Places Mentioned in Little Town on the Prairie.
* “The East” – where settlers were arriving from (Pennsylvania in the manuscript), where Nellie Oleson and Miss Wilder came from (New York State), where Pa lived as a boy (New York State)
* “The unsettled west” – where Rev. Alden had gone to establish himself
* In Iowa – College for the Blind in Vinton
* Minnesota – where Laura was a little girl, Plum Creek; St. Paul, where Jim Woodworth sends a telegraph signal
* Massachusetts – where the Tinkhams and Browns were from
* Other places: (at 4th of July celebration) – Europe, Great Britain, Mexico, New York & Chicago (where fashions originated)



Music from Little Town on the Prairie.
Songs (and the chapter in which they appear) include:
Chapter 6, “The Month of Roses” — Pull for the Shore
Chapter 8, “Fourth of July” — America, Marching Through Georgia
Chapter 9, “Blackbirds” — Sing a Song of Sixpence
Chapter 11, “Miss Wilder Teaches School” — The Whip-Poor-Will’s Song
Chapter 19, “The Whirl of Gaiety” — The Good Old Way, Rock Me to Sleep
Chapter 21, “The Madcap Days” — The Skidmore Guard
Chapter 23, “Schooltime Begins Again” –The Ninety and Nine, Pull for the Shore, What Shall the Harvest Be?

Chapter posts from my pioneergirl Facebook group, April-May 2020:
(c) Nancy Cleaveland.


Little Town on the Prairie, the fictional story