Dig Deeper - Laura Ingalls Wilder and the "Missing Years"

We just opened our Mainly for Kids holiday production of Laura Ingalls Wilder Christmas this past Saturday to sold-out audiences.  The play is set during the infamous "Missing Link"  - when the Ingalls family left Walnut Grove, Minnesota and moved to Burr Oak, Iowa to help manage the Masters Hotel, owned by their friend, William Steadman.  The script was co-commissioned by Kansas City's Coterie Theatre and the Nashville Children’s Theatre in 2002.  The playwright, Laurie Brooks, based the script on both the Little House on the Prairie books series as wells as original source materials about the Ingalls family and pioneer life. 

Although many academics and fans speculated about what happened during these "missing years" and why Mrs. Wilder did not include her time in Burr Oak in her series, it was not until 2014 when the Little House Heritage Trust granted the South Dakota Historical Society Press exclusive rights to publish a comprehensive, annotated edition of the Laura Ingalls Wilder autobiography, Pioneer Girl, that more information about her life came to light.  In Pioneer Girl, Wilder details sixteen years of travels, unforgettable stories, and the everyday people who became immortal through her fiction.  Using additional manuscripts, diaries, and letters, editor Pamela Smith Hill adds valuable context and explores Wilder’s growth as a writer.  

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of The Little House on the Prairie book series

Laura Ingalls Wilder,
author of The Little House on the Prairie book series

Pioneer Girl includes stories that Wilder may have felt were inappropriate for children and she describes previously unknown sides of her father’s character.  According to the Pioneer Girl Project, “Wilder’s fiction, her autobiography, and her real childhood are all distinct things, but they are closely intertwined.”  This annotated edition explores the differences between the three, including incidents with conflicting or missing accounts.

The annotated autobiography also explores the history of the frontier that the Ingalls family traversed and the culture and life of the communities Wilder lived in. The book features over one hundred images, eight fully researched maps, and hundreds of annotations based on census data and records, newspapers of the period, and other primary documents.