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Monday 22 September 2014

Saga of sex, drink and sin - real 'Little House
 on the Prairie' uncut

Rosa Prince

Published 19/08/2014 | 02:30

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The TV show Little House on the Prairie was a huge hit but reality was less rosy
The TV show Little House on the Prairie was a huge hit but reality was less rosy

THE autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder whose beloved Little House series of books, enthralled millions will reveal a less wholesome side including drinking, love triangles and domestic violence.

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In her novels which were turned into a TV series Ms Ingalls Wilder painted a wholesome picture of prairie life in which the most scandalous event was schoolgirl rival Nellie Olsen pulling her pigtails.

But the reality behind Laura's life with her pioneer parents and three sisters as they travelled across the American West, documented in the long-running TVseries as well as her eight books for children, was rather more gritty.

The full story of Wilder's early life is to be told for the first time with the publication this autumn of an autobiography, A Pioneer Girl, that she originally wrote for an adult audience before adapting it for children in the Little House series.

The unsanitised version of events includes tales which were stripped out of the children's books, including an episode in which a drunken neighbour batters his wife, an ill-starred love triangle and even a scene where Laura's supposedly saintly Pa, her father Charles Ingalls, skips out on paying the family's rent.

Wilder began writing about her early life as the daughter of a pioneer family travelling west before eventually settling in De Smet, South Dakota, in 1870, at the height of the Depression in 1930.

Unable to find a publisher, she and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane turned her stories into a series of books for children beginning with Little House in the Big Woods which was followed by the most popular edition, Little House on the Prairie.

The books stripped out much of the truth about prairie living, making some characters out of amalgams of real-life people and in many cases editing events to make a better story.

Preserved at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, for decades, the unedited draft is being released by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press as Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, and includes her original misspellings and idiosyncrasies.

Pamela Smith Hill, who has written a biography of Wilder and is the lead editor on the autobiography, said: "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."

In part, while living in Burr Oak, Iowa - a period of time not referred to in the children's books - a neighbour sets fire to his bedroom while drunk on whiskey and drags his wife around by her hair until Charles Ingalls intervenes.

And far from being the god-fearing saint of the books and television show, Pa was a rather more irascible figure in real life, once skipping out on paying the family's rent after falling out with his landlord, who he described as a "rich old skinflint".

The book reveals that Laura's older sister Mary went blind from a virus.

(Daily Telegraph London)

Irish Independent

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