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'Little House' family had ties to Louisiana

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Jim Bradshaw

The prairie made famous in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie stories was in South Dakota, but there is also a connection to the prairies of south Louisiana through Laura’s daughter, Rose.
The children’s novels were based on Laura’s childhood in a struggling frontier family. Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane – who became a noted journalist, travel writer, novelist, and libertarian political theorist – encouraged her to write and helped her to edit and publish the novels.
Part of Rose’s early education was at Crowley High School, where she graduated first in a class of seven in 1904.
Rose was the first child of Laura and Almanzo Wilder and the only one to survive into adulthood. When she was growing up, crop failures and illnesses forced her family to move in with relatives in Minnesota and then Florida. They finally settled in Mansfield, Mo., in 1894, where her parents established a dairy and fruit farm. Shortly after this, they sent Rose to live with her father’s sister, Eliza Jane Wilder Thayer, in Crowley.
According to one biographer, “Though Laura Ingalls Wilder would later portray Eliza in an unflattering light … the real life Eliza Wilder was an independent and resourceful businesswoman who would become an important role model for [Rose].” Eliza married Minnesota native Thomas Jefferson Thayer in 1893 and they moved to Crowley, apparently along with several of his brothers. She was widowed in 1899 when he died at his home on First Street in Crowley of “la grippe.”
That biography also says that Rose’s “intellect and ambition were demonstrated by her ability to compress three years of Latin into one, and by graduating at the top of her high school class in Crowley.”
The family had no money to send Rose to college, so she moved to Kansas City to work as a telegraph operator. In 1908 she married Gillette Lane, a traveling salesman, and moved to San Francisco with him. They were divorced ten years later, Rose’s independent spirit being partially to blame.
By then Rose had begun a successful career as a journalist and writer, with a particular focus on the trials and tribulations of the working girl. After she worked for the San Francisco Chronicle for several years, the Red Cross sent her to Europe in 1920 to report on the aftermath of World War I. She spent five years abroad, living for nearly two years in Albania and traveling to exotic places such as Baghdad, Cairo, and Constantinople.
Her mother, meanwhile, had begun a popular column, “As a Farm Woman Thinks,” in the Missouri Ruralist, writing about home and family, World War I and world events, and her thoughts on new opportunities for women after the war.
In 1930, Laura asked Rose’s opinion about a story she’d written about her pioneering childhood. Rose showed it to her publisher, who wanted Laura to expand it into book length. It was published by Harper & Brothers in 1932 as “Little House in the Big Woods” and became an immediate best-seller. Mother and daughter went on to author eight other books in the series.
Her mother never publicly acknowledged Rose’s role in the Little House series but scholars now say the books were a collaboration. Laura Ingalls Wilder provided the basic framework for each book, but the original manuscripts show Rose’s substantial editing and input.
The rest, as they say, is history – the books have become classics, and were well known even before a television series was based on them.
Rose’s aunt Eliza lived in south Louisiana until her death. She remarried in 1904, the year Rose graduated from Crowley High, to Maxwell Gordon. She died on June 1, 1930, in Kinder.
Rose died in October 1968 at the age of 81 in Danbury, Conn., just as she was about to begin a three-year world tour to promote her political views.

You can contact Jim Bradshaw at or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.

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