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Happy 150th birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Laura Ingalls Wilder
An undated portrait of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Courtesy of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Happy 150th birthday, Half-Pint.

Laura Ingalls was born Feb. 7, 1867, seven miles north of the village of Pepin, Wis. By the time she married Almanzo Wilder in De Smet, S.D., 18 years later, she and her family had trekked more than 2,000 miles across the frontier lands of the Midwest. They traveled by foot, by wagon, by horse and by train through Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas and back again. 

The Ingalls family's journey became beloved books when Wilder sat down, at age 63, to tell her story. What started as a simple autobiography intended for adults instead became the "Little House on the Prairie" series, which has now sold more than 41 million copies in the U.S. and has been translated into more than 40 languages.

Wilder's stories spawned a television show, a line of dolls, even a murder mystery — "Death on the Prairie." Every year, thousands of tourists retrace the family's frontier itinerary, stopping at museums and recreated cabins and roadside attractions dedicated to the Ingalls family. 

While Wilder's books capture a moment in American history, their appeal proved international. There's even a Japanese anime series about her: "Laura, the Prairie Girl."

To mark her birthday, trek into the wilds of our Wilder coverage.

Five things you didn't know about Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband Almanzo, 1885
Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband Almanzo, 1885
Public domain via Wikipedia

Wilder never planned to write a series for younger readers. Her original manuscript, "Pioneer Girl," was intended for adults, but was rejected by several publishers. At the direction of her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who was an accomplished writer in her own right, Wilder retooled the stories for a younger audience.

It wasn't until 2015 that readers got a chance to see "Pioneer Girl" as Wilder first intended. The South Dakota State Historical Society Press put out annotated edition of the manuscript, sharing an in-depth history of the beloved author (who actually got her start as a poultry columnist).

Read more.

Where the Wilder Things are: The Laura Ingalls Wilder road trip

Laura Ingalls Wilder family trek
The long and winding trek of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family.
Graphic by William Lager | MPR News

Always dreamed of seeing Silver Lake? Or the cabin from "The Little House in the Big Woods"? We've mapped out the family's journey across the Midwest as they followed Charles Ingalls's "wandering foot."

Read more.

Dive into Laura Ingalls Wilder's life through her letters

'The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder'
'The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder,' edited by William Anderson
Courtesy of HarperCollins

Last year, "The Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder" was published, including letters between Wilder and her family, her friends and her fans. 

One of her letters, from 1948, is addressed to the children of Japan, after the United States State Department had her book, "The Long Winter," translated as part of a reeducation program there.

She begins:

 Dear Japanese Children.

Though you are far away and speak a different language, still the things worthwhile in life are the same for us all and the same as when I was a child so long ago.

Read more.

Laura Ingalls Wilder and serial killers? Not likely

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Laura Ingalls Wilder on the porch of her house in Mansfield, Mo., in the early 1900s.
Courtesy of Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

In 1937, Laura Ingalls Wilder gave a speech in Detroit that connected her own famous family story with a gruesome crime from the Kansas history books. In the 1870s, a group known as the Bender family may have killed as many as ten people while running an inn and general store on the Osage Trail. 

In her speech, Wilder recalls her father being part of the search party that went out looking for the Benders after their crimes were uncovered. The timelines, however, don't quite match up, leaving people to wonder whether it was a case of false childhood memories, or an attempt to sensationalize her own story.

Read more.