Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real-life memoir to be published

"Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography" of Laura Ingalls Wilder includes stories too grownup for "Little House on the Prairie."
(South Dakota Historical Society Press / AP)

Laura Ingalls Wilder based her beloved “Little House on the Prairie” books on her actual experiences growing up on the American plains. But they were books for children, and, sometime in the 1920s, she wrote a memoir that would have been rated R for violence and adult content.

No one would publish it.

Until September, when the University of South Dakota State Historical Society Press will release the memoir, with notations, as “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography.” The Associated Press reports that it’s Wilder’s original rough draft of the book, misspellings and all, edited by Pamela Smith Hill, the author of a biography of Wilder.

The project’s online home has pictures of the real places in the book and the artifacts that helped tell the story.


For all the frankness of the Little House books, there were stories that were considered to be too much for kids, and the family-friendly version that made it to TV in the 1970s was cleaned up even more.

The memoir, says Amy Lauters, a professor who has read the manuscript, told the Associated Press, “it’s certainly not the fantasized version we saw on ‘Little House on the Prairie’ the television show.”

Call it the real housewives of the prairie.

There’s the story of a love triangle gone awry. And a scene where a drunk man douses a room in kerosene, lights in on fire, then drags his wife through it by the hair. (Just like in the books, Pa steps in to save the day).

People who remember the fearsome bully Nellie Olsen may be intrigued to learn that the character was based on three different children. It took the evil impulses of three kids to add up to one nasty Nellie.

The book can be pre-ordered from major online retailers and directly from the South Dakota State Historical Society Press.

Like passing notes in class; I’m @paperhaus on Twitter