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Wilder memoir to give gritty view of prairie life

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 16, 2014 at 2:54 pm •  Published: August 16, 2014
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PIERRE, S.D. (AP) — Laura Ingalls Wilder penned one of the most beloved children's series of the 20th century, but her forthcoming autobiography will show devoted "Little House on the Prairie" fans a more realistic, grittier view of frontier living.

"Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography" — Wilder's unedited draft that was written for an adult audience and eventually served as the foundation for the popular series — is slated to be released by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press nationwide this fall. The not-safe-for-children tales include stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey.

Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, herself a well-known author, tried and failed to get an edited version of the autobiography published throughout the early 1930s. The original rough draft has been preserved at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, for decades but hadn't been published.

The children's series never presented a romanticized version of life on the prairie — in "Little House in the Big Woods," Laura and her sister Mary gleefully help dissect the family pig before bouncing its inflated bladder back and forth in the yard. But the series also left out or fictionalized scenes that Wilder deemed unsuitable for kids, including much of the time the family spent in Burr Oak, Iowa, and Walnut Grove, Minnesota, according to Pamela Smith Hill, a Wilder biographer and the lead editor on the autobiography.

"So you can read 'Pioneer Girl' as nonfiction rather than fiction and get a better feeling of how the historical Ingalls family really lived, what their relationships were and how they experienced the American West," she said.

Wilder details a scene from her childhood in Burr Oak, in which a neighbor of the Ingalls' pours kerosene throughout his bedroom, sets it on fire and proceeds to drunkenly drag his wife around by her hair before Wilder's father — Pa in the children's books — intervenes.

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