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Wilder, Circa 1885
February 13, 1857|
Burke, New York, U.S.
October 23, 1949 (aged 92)|
Mansfield, Missouri, U.S.
(m. 1885; his death 1949)
|Children||2, including Rose Wilder Lane|
Almanzo Wilder was born the fifth of six children to farmers James (1813–1899) and Angeline Day Wilder (1821–1905) on their farm outside Malone in Burke, New York. His siblings include Laura Ann (1844–1899), Royal Gould (1847–1925), Eliza Jane (1850–1930), Alice M. (1853–1892), and Perley Day (1869–1934). As part of her Little House series of autobiographical novels, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a book titled Farmer Boy about Wilder's childhood in upstate New York.
Wilder is a well-known character in the Little House books where his wife wrote about their courtship and subsequent marriage in The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, and The First Four Years. He also appeared briefly in chapter 28 ('Moving Day') of By the Shores of Silver Lake. Almanzo was characterized as a quietly courageous, hardworking man who loved horses and farming. He was also an accomplished carpenter and woodworker.
Farmer Boy recounts events of Wilder's childhood starting when he was eight years old, in 1866. Among other things, he goes to school (when not needed at home for the farm work), learns to drive a team of oxen, attends a county fair, and enjoys a mid-19th century Fourth of July celebration in town. He also learns how to deal with being bossed around by his older siblings, particularly his strong-willed sister Eliza Jane, who would later become a teacher of his future wife.
Farmer Boy, by publication date, was the second book written in the Little House series. Published in 1933, it was followed by Little House on the Prairie in 1935. The original order of publication was changed by the publisher Harper with the release of the newly illustrated 1953 edition.
Moving to The West
The Wilder family left Burke in 1870 due to crop failures. Moving west, they settled in Spring Valley, Minnesota where they established a farm. In 1879, Wilder and his older brother Royal along with sister Eliza Jane moved to the Dakota Territory, taking claims near what would later become the town of De Smet, South Dakota. Wilder settled on his homestead with the intent of planting acres of seed wheat which he had cultivated on rented shares in Marshall, Minnesota the previous summer. It was in De Smet that he first met Laura Ingalls. The Ingalls family had been among the first settlers in the area, before the town was formally organized. They moved to the Dakota Territory from Walnut Grove, Minnesota, when Charles Ingalls took a brief job with the railroad.
Ingalls wrote of Wilder's character in The Long Winter. Along with his future wife's fellow school chum, Ed "Cap" Garland, Wilder risked his life to save the pioneers of De Smet from starvation during the hard winter of 1881, among them the Ingalls family. Wilder was 23 and Garland was 19 when, in between one of the horrific blizzards that shook the region during the 1880–1881 winter, they went 12 miles (19 km) in search of wheat a farmer had supposedly harvested to the southwest of De Smet in the summer of 1880. They managed to find the farmer and purchase. After a difficult negotiation, they hauled 60 bushels of wheat on sleds that continually broke through the snow into slough grass, barely making it back to De Smet before a four-day blizzard hit the area.
Marriage to Laura Ingalls
When Wilder was 25 years old and Ingalls was age 15, the two began courting. Wilder would drive Ingalls back and forth between De Smet and a new settlement 12 miles (19 km) outside town where she was teaching school and boarding. Three years later, on August 25, 1885, Wilder and Ingalls were married in De Smet by the Reverend Edward Brown. They settled on Wilder's claim and began their own small farming operations. The Wilders' daughter, Rose, was born December 5, 1886. Rose Wilder later became known as the author Rose Wilder Lane, a noted political writer and philosopher.
During their first years of marriage, described in The First Four Years, the Wilders were plagued by bad weather, illness, and large debts. In the spring of 1888, Wilder and his wife were both stricken with diphtheria. Although they both survived, Wilder suffered from one of the less common, late complications of the illness, neuritis. Areas of his legs were temporarily paralyzed, and even after the paralysis had resolved, he needed a cane to walk. His inability to perform the hard physical labor associated with wheat farming in South Dakota, combined with a lengthy drought in the late 1880s and early 1890s, further contributed to the Wilders' downward spiral into debt and poverty.
The year 1889 proved the breaking point for the Wilders. In early August, the couple had a son. The child remained unnamed when, two weeks later, he suddenly died of "convulsions." Laura Wilder never spoke of his death and the couple had no more children. In the same month, the family lost their home to a fire and their crops to drought. In the words of Wilder's daughter, "It took seven successive years of complete crop failure, with work, weather and sickness that wrecked his health permanently, and interest rates of 36 per cent on money borrowed to buy food, to dislodge us from that land."
In 1890, the Wilder family moved to Spring Valley, Minnesota, to stay with his parents on their farm. It was a time of rest and recovery for the weary family. Between 1891 and 1892, the family again moved, this time to Westville, Florida. They hoped a warmer climate would help Wilder regain his strength. Ultimately, while the warmer temperatures did help him recover, his wife did not like the humid climate or the customs of the backwoods locals. They returned to De Smet in 1892, and rented a small house in town. Between 1892 and 1894, the Wilders lived in De Smet, with the Ingalls family nearby. While his wife worked as a seamstress in a dressmaker's shop, Wilder found work as a carpenter and day laborer. Together, they practiced frugality and carefully saved money.
Settling in Missouri and later years
On July 17, 1894, the Wilders left DeSmet for the Ozarks of Missouri by covered wagon, attracted by brochures of "The Land of the Big Red Apple" and stories of a local man who had traveled to Missouri to see the area for himself. On August 31, they arrived near Mansfield, Missouri, and Wilder placed a $100 down payment on 40 acres (16.2 ha) of hilly, rocky undeveloped land that his wife aptly named "Rocky Ridge Farm." The farm would be the couple's final home. Over the span of 20 years, Wilder built his wife what she later referred to as her dream house: a unique 10-room home in which he custom-built kitchen cabinets to accommodate her small, five-foot (1.52 m) frame.
Rocky Ridge Farm was eventually expanded to about 200 acres (80.9 ha) and was a productive poultry, dairy, and fruit farm. Wilder's lifetime love of Morgan horses was indulged, and he also kept a large herd of cows and goats. Having learned a hard lesson by focusing on wheat farming in South Dakota, the Wilders chose a more diversified approach to farming suited to the climate of the Ozarks. Almanzo Wilder lived out the rest of his life on his farm, and both he and his wife were active in various community and church pursuits during their time in Missouri.
Although royalties from the Little House books helped provide for the Wilders, their daughter helped support them until the mid-1930s. Eventually their efforts at Rocky Ridge during the 1930s and 1940s, along with the book royalties finally provided a secure enough income to allow them to attain a financial stability they had not known earlier in their marriage. When they were first married, Wilder's wife had helped contribute to their income by taking in occasional boarders, writing columns for a rural newspaper, and serving as Treasurer/Loan Officer for a Farm Loan Association. Their daughter lived with the Wilders on the farm for long periods of time, seeing that electricity and other modern updates were brought to the place, even having an English-style stone cottage built for them, and then taking over the farm house for about ten years.
Wilder learned to drive an automobile, which greatly improved their ability to leave the farm. They eventually took several long auto trips, including to destinations such as California and the Pacific Northwest, and went several times to visit the remaining Ingalls family in South Dakota. When their daughter moved permanently to Connecticut around 1937, her parents quickly returned to their beloved farm house, later selling off the eastern land with the stone cottage.
Wilder spent his last years happily tending small vegetable and flower gardens, indulging his lifetime love of woodworking and carpentry and tending his goats. He aided his wife in greeting the carloads of Little House fans who regularly found their way to Rocky Ridge Farm.
Wilder died at the age of 92 on October 23, 1949 after suffering two heart attacks. Laura Ingalls Wilder died eight years later, on February 10, 1957. Their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane lived until 1968. All three of them are buried in Mansfield, and many of Wilder's possessions and handiwork can be seen today at Rocky Ridge Farm, as well as the Malone, New York and Spring Valley, Minnesota sites. The Rocky Ridge Farm is known today as the Laura Ingalls Wilder/Rose Wilder Lane Museum.
From the accounts written by his wife and daughter, Almanzo Wilder appears to have been a quiet, stoic man, representative of the time and culture in which he lived. His love of farming, horses, and rural living are well documented among his family and friends' written recollections.
|James Wilder (1757–1851)|
Mary Polly Gould (1765–1828)
Sarah Stewart Mason
|Justin Day, I|
|Abel Wilder (1784–1849)||Hannah Payne (1790–1842)||Justin Day, II|
|Diadema Bateman (1794–1868)|
|James Mason Wilder (1813–1899)||Angeline Albina Day (1821–1905)|
|Laura Ann Wilder (1844–1899)||Royal Gould Wilder (1847–1925)||Eliza Jane Wilder (1850–1930)||Alice M. Wilder (1852–1892)||Almanzo James Wilder (1857–1949)||Perley Day Wilder (1869–1934)|
In one of Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, Little Town on the Prairie, the attribution of her husband's unusual first name reads thus: "It was wished on me. My folks have got a notion there always has to be an Almanzo in the family, because 'way back in the time of the Crusades there was a Wilder went to them, and an Arab or somebody saved his life. El Manzoor, the name was. They changed it after a while in England ..."
In the media
Laura Ingalls Wilder published in 1933 her Farmer Boy novel; mostly fictional book on one year from his childhood, while Heather Williams has written and published in 2012 her Farmer Boy Goes West, which is another (and even more) fictional book of Almanzo's childhood.
Wilder was portrayed in the television adaptations of Little House on the Prairie by :
- Dean Butler, in the television series Little House on the Prairie and its movie sequels,
- Walton Goggins, in Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder films.
The Boyhood Home of Almanzo Wilder near Malone, New York, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Operated and sustained by the Almanzo & Laura Ingalls Wilder Association, the homestead is an interactive educational center, museum and working farm.
- "Franklin County 1876 New York Historical Atlas". D. G. Beers & Co. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
- "Schoolhouse to be dedicated at Almanzo Wilder farm". Watertown Daily Times. August 16, 2013. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
- "Christmas with Almanzo". The Malone Telegram. December 5, 2016. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
- ""Farmer Boy" site near Malone earns Literary Landmark designation". North Country Public Radio. July 15, 2015. Retrieved June 23, 2018.
- "Almanzo & Laura Ingalls Wilder's Relatives". tripod.com. Retrieved 8 July 2015.
- John E. Miller. Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder. pp. 194–202.
- William Anderson. Laura Ingalls Wilder — A Biography. p. 199.
- Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder, by John Miller, 1998, page 84.
- Rose Wilder Lane (1939). "Library of Congress - Rose Wilder Lane; W7263" (PDF). Autobiographical Sketch of Rose Wilder Lane. Library of Congress. p. 2. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
- "National Register of Historic Places Listings". Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 11/17/14 through 11/21/14. National Park Service. 2014-11-28.
- Almanzo & Laura Ingalls Wilder Association Archived 2005-01-29 at the Wayback Machine.