Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Inhales Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder - Documentary - DVD - 150th Birthday - cover art.jpg
Directed byDean Butler
Produced byDean Butler
Robin Bernheim-Burger
Trip Friendly
Music byJay Asher
Edited byAlexander Gittinger
Legacy Documentaries
Friendly Family Productions
Release date
  • February 2015 (2015-02)
Running time
56 minutes
CountryUnited States

Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a one-hour documentary film about the life of American author Laura Ingalls Wilder,[1] best known for her Little House on the Prairie book series.

Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder was produced by Dean Butler and Robin Bernheim-Burger, and executive produced by Trip Friendly.[2] Butler, who portrayed Almanzo Wilder on the Little House on the Prairie television series from 1979 to 1983, directed and narrated the documentary which was released on DVD in February 2015.


Wilder's personal story as a writer, wife, and mother is explored through interviews with scholars and historians, passages from the Little House on the Prairie books, archival photography, paintings by frontier artists such as Harvey Dunn, dramatic reenactments, and original artwork.[1]

The DVD also examines topics relating to life and culture on the prairie.[1]


Dean Butler both narrates and directs Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder. To give a sense of time, place, and scope of the prairie, extensive use is made of the frontier paintings by well-known artist, Harvey Dunn, who was born ten miles from De Smet, South Dakota,[3] five years after Charles Ingalls moved his family there. Illustrations by artist Cheryl Harness animate specific scenes and characters from the Little House on the Prairie books. Archival photographs from multiple sources provide a first-hand look at the people and places in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life.

Historians and academics provide commentary with interviews throughout the documentary. John E. Miller, historian and author of Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder, adds details about her life. Pamela Smith Hill, author of Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life, pays special attention to her development as a writer and her relationship to her daughter and editor, Rose Wilder Lane. Tanya Hart, professor of history, puts the relationship of women to the law and the community in context with the time in which Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. Tai S. Edwards, professor of history, elaborates on the pioneers' perspective of the Osage Indians written about in Little House on the Prairie.

Reenactors from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota portray the Ingalls and Wilder families plus other characters. Robin Bernheim-Burger voices the role of Rose Wilder Lane. Katherine Cannon voices the role of Laura Ingalls Wilder and reads excerpts from the Little House on the Prairie books.


After a brief introduction the narrative begins in 1885 with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life as a new wife and mother and details the hardships she and her family endure due to crop failures, debt, and crippling illnesses. Circumstances force her family to travel from South Dakota to Minnesota to Florida and then back again to South Dakota. Eventually, in 1894, the Wilders settle for good on Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri where Laura and her husband, Almanzo, will live for the rest of their lives. It is during the journey to Missouri that Laura starts documenting her observations in personal journals which become source material for her Little House on the Prairie books.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s writing career begins almost as an accident in 1911 when she declines to give a speech and instead has someone else read what she has written. The editor of the Missouri Ruralist magazine hears it and offers her a position as a columnist. For nine years thereafter she writes articles about farmers and farm life but in particular about issues important to farm women.[4] After a time her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, now a successful professional writer, invites Laura to San Francisco to help improve her mother’s writings skills, which she does but not without pain and effort. With Rose as her editor, Laura is published in newspapers and magazines across the country.

The documentary chronicles the difficult author/editor relationship between Laura and Rose.[5] Rose moves back to Missouri to be close at hand as editor when Laura begins writing her first book Little House in the Big Woods. Both persevere together through the rejections and drafts until the book is finally published in 1932 when Laura is 65 years of age. However, Rose feels her writing skills are superior to her mother’s and this leads to conflict between the two. As Laura struggles to write a second novel about Almanzo Wilder called Farmer Boy, and could use Rose’s help, Rose is busy writing her own novel, Let the Hurricane Roar (reissued in 1976 as Young Pioneers), which she bases on her mother’s memoirs without asking permission. The relationship between the two becomes strained when Laura finds this out and only improves when Rose volunteers to do research for Farmer Boy.

Farmer Boy is published in 1933, and Laura and Rose continue to work together on subsequent novels, but Laura begins to assert herself more as she gains experience as a writer of children’s books, something which Rose is reluctant to support. In many instances Laura refuses to take Rose’ advice, such as leaving out how her sister, Mary Ingalls, becomes blind and is admitted to the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School. Instead, Laura follows her own instincts about what should be included in the story and makes the incident a defining moment in By the Shores of Silver Lake. Conversely, there are real-life incidents she purposely leaves out because she thinks them unsuitable for children, like the death her baby brother, Fredrick, when she was just ten-years-old.

Drawing further upon her childhood experiences, she writes Little House on the Prairie about life on the Kansas prairie which is published in 1935; On the Banks of Plum Creek about Walnut Grove, Minnesota (published 1937); then four books about De Smet, South Dakota, By the Shores of Silver Lake (published 1939); The Long Winter (published 1940), Little Town on the Prairie (published 1941), and publishes the last book of the series about entering young adulthood, These Happy Golden Years, in 1943.

The Little House on the Prairie book series becomes known around the world. Public libraries and schools are named after her. After World War II General Douglas MacArthur has the Little House on the Prairie books translated for the Japanese people[6] so that they can better understand and appreciate American values and culture. In 1954, the American Library Association creates the Laura Ingalls Wilder medal, which is awarded to outstanding authors of children’s literature.[7] Laura Ingalls Wilder, at age 87, is its first recipient. In 1957 Laura Ingalls Wilder, suffering from diabetes and the loss of many loved ones, passes away at age 90.

Bonus features[edit]

Expanding on subject material covered in the documentary, five DVD bonus features provide additional information relating to Laura Ingalls Wilder, her world, and the making of The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The bonus features are divided into two categories: Laura’s World and Behind the Scenes.

Laura's World[edit]

Native Americans & African Americans: Scholars and historians discuss the relationship of Native Americans and African Americans in the real and fictional worlds in which Laura Ingalls Wilder and the characters in her books grew up.

Harvey Dunn: American Artist: A look at the life of Harvey Dunn, a South Dakota-born artist known for his paintings inspired by a love of the prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder, a contemporary of Harvey Dunn, kept one of his paintings above her writing desk.

The Morgan Horse: The versatile Morgan horse appears throughout the Little House on the Prairie books. This distinctive breed of horse could be used as both a show horse and for general labor, qualities much appreciated by their owners.

Behind the Scenes[edit]

Art & Illustration: Cheryl Harness, artist and illustrator, describes her process for creating her original sketches and paintings used in the documentary and shares how she was inspired by the Little House on the Prairie books.

Director Travel & Conversation: Dean Butler, the director of The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder, recounts the locations he traveled to and the people he interacted with while constructing the documentary. He pays particular attention to members of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota, who re-enacted the roles of the main characters from the Little House on the Prairie books.

Interview subjects[edit]

Scholars and historians interviewed for the documentary and bonus features include:

  • Dr. Tai S. Edwards, PhD, Associate Professor of History, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas
  • Dr. Tanya Hart, PhD, Associate Professor of History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, author of Health in the City: Race, Poverty, and the Negotiation of Women's Health in New York City, 1915-1930
  • Pamela Smith Hill, Author, Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer’s Life
  • Dr. John E. Miller, PhD, Professor Emeritus of History, South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota, author of Becoming Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Dr. Kim Warren, PhD, Associate Professor of History, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (bonus feature: Native Americans & African Americans)
  • Dr. Shawn Alexander, PhD, Associate Professor African American Studies, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas (bonus feature: Native Americans & African Americans)
  • Karen N. Lasse, Equine Manager, William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, Chazy, New York (bonus feature: The Morgan Horse)
  • Don Sayward, Saywards Classic Carriage Service (bonus feature: The Morgan Horse)
  • Cheryl Harness, artist & illustrator (bonus feature: Art and Illustration)

Organizations and locations: research and film production[edit]

Organizations and locations utilized for research materials and film production, including (but not exclusive to) re-enactors, archival photos, supplemental film footage, and more.


  1. ^ a b c "Laura Ingalls Wilder Documentary".
  2. ^ "Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder".
  3. ^ Holtzmann, Roger. "Harvey Dunn, Working Man". South Dakota Magazine (November 2012). Retrieved 2017-11-02.
  4. ^ Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Hines, Stephen W. (ed.). Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist: Writings from the Ozarks. University of Missouri Press (2008). ISBN 978-0826217714. Retrieved 2017-11-02.
  5. ^ Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Hill, Pamela Smith (ed.). Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. South Dakota Historical Society Press (2014). ISBN 9780984504176. Retrieved 2017-11-02.
  6. ^ Suzuki, Noriko. "Japanese Democratization and the Little House Books: The Relation between General Head Quarters and The Long Winter in Japan after World War II." Children's Literature Association Quarterly (January 2006). Retrieved 2017-11-02."Japanese Democratization and the Little House Books".
  7. ^ "About the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award". Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). Retrieved 2017-11-02.

External links[edit]