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Who Is? / Who Was?

Laura Ingalls Wilder

Who Was Laura Ingalls Wilder?


Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, based on her own childhood and later life, are still beloved classics almost a century after she began writing them. Now young readers will see just how similar Laura’s true-life story was to her books. Born in 1867 in the “Big Woods” in Wisconsin, Laura experienced both the hardship and the adventure of living on the frontier. - source


If you have the book, read it. If you don't, you can purchase a copy, or proceed with this lesson nonetheless; just follow the next STEPS. Enjoy!


Watch the following video (roughly 8 minutes) that gives an excellent introduction to the frontier girl:


a) To better understand the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder, you can spend some time to familiarize yourself with what is called the period of the American Frontier.

The American Frontier

Here are some excellent secondary sources on the subject of the American Frontier:

b) Task #1: Mind Map. A Mind Map is a visual tool on which you can add your own items in order to get a better understanding and view on any given subject. In this case the subject is the American Frontier. Use the following worksheet to complete this exercise.


What would it have been like to live in the 18th century? How does daily life compare with today?

Task #2: Compare your daily activities with those of a youngster back then.

a) Consider the following questions:

  • How do you get your daily food? Where does it come from?
  • How do you get clean clothes? Do you need to clean them yourself?
  • Where do your clothes come from?
  • How do you keep warm?
  • How do you wash up before going to school?
  • What do you do at school? What do you do for fun during recess?
  • What do you do to relax when you get back home after school?
  • Do you need to do some chores?

b) Now, describe how these activities were done back in the 18th century countryside.

c) Once you've done so, you can compare your answers with the following 3-minute video on the subject:

Task #3: Analyzing photos from the American Frontier.

a) For each of the following 5 photographs, answer the following:

  • Focus on the details: What objects, people, and activities can you notice?
  • What clues can you find about the location and date of the photo?
  • How might what appears on the photo be historically or culturally significant?
  • What is the subject matter?

Photo #1:

Photo #2:

Photo #3:

Photo #4:

Photo #5:

b) To help you find the answers you can have a look at the descriptions of these photographs from All that's Interesting - 48 Snapshots Of Life In The Real Wild West. You can also see many more wonderful photographs from the period on that website.


What kind of houses or dwellings did people live in back then? Who built them? How could they keep dry and warm from the rough weather? What could we find inside the homes?

Image source: historyplaces - Icon of the American Frontier

Here are some additional image sources on the subject:


Although the basic modes of transport took place on foot and horseback, schooners pulled by horses (or mules, oxen) were also used by families during the period.

Prairie Schooner

Image source: National Oregon/California Trail Center - Historical Trails - Trail Basics - The Wagon

Task #4: Under the "hood" of a Wagon Schooner

a) Answer the following questions:

  • What were the wagons made of? What were the important parts?
  • As they were pulled along many miles of rugged trail often in harsh conditions and weather, how do you think they built them sturdy enough to withstand these elements?
  • What would they put inside them? And how many people could fit therein?
  • Who constructed them?

b) Compare your answers with those outlined in the excellent resource provided by the National Oregon/California Trail Center - Historical Trails - Trail Basics - The Wagon.


Life on the American Frontier was not always sunshine and prarie meadows filled with flowers.

Winters, in particular, could be quite harsh and posed a real threat to survival itself.

In fact, back in March of 1888 the inhabitants of the Central Plains and Eastern part of the country experienced harships related to the Great Blizzard of 1888.

Great Blizzard of 1888

The Great Blizzard of 1888. Image source (click for larger image)

But just a couple of months ealier, on January 12, 1888 another very fierce winter storm hit the Central Plans and Midwest. It was nicknamed the ‘Schoolhouse Blizzard’, or ‘The Children’s Blizzard’ which claimed the lives of more than 200 people, most of them schoolchildren.

Minnie Mae Freeman

School teacher

Minnie Mae Freeman

January 12th had started unusally warm in rural Mira Valley, Nebraska. So the school children left for school in clothes that weren't particularly suitable for what was to come later in the day. During recess, their 19-year old teacher Minnie Mae Freeman noticed a blue stripe on the horizon and instantly recognized it as a "Blue Norther". "Blue Northers" were winter storms that were feared in the Great Plains, as they often struck without warning and were extremely fierce.

Minnie knew that with very little coal left for the stove in the classroom and with inadequate clothing on her pupils, they could not survive what was about to come. The storm hit quickly. And since the school was a more than half a mile away from help, she had to act not only quickly, but intelligently; for without these, her children would most likely not be spared by the blizzard and would likely end up freezing to death.

So what did Minnie do to save her pupils?

Task #5: Working with Primary & Secondary Sources

To find out, you will now consult two sources about this particular even: one primary source (a document) and one secondary source (an article from a website).

What are Primary Sources & Secondary Sources?

Primary Sources

When studying history, it is best to locate and use primary sources to bring you closer to the truth.

They are sources or materials that are directly tied to actual events; they are factual and can include: documents, manuscripts, diaries, letters, poems, speeches, drawings, paintings, artifacts, recordings (audo & video), and people (oral accounts, quotes, and testimonies)

They tend to be more accurate than Secondary Sources which only cite, comment on, or build from primary sources.

Secondary Sources

Secrondary Sources describe, discuss, interpret, analyze, or summarize events, people, works, or topics after the fact (unlike primary sources which provide firsthand accounts).

They can include: Books, School Textbooks, Encyclopedias, Wikis such as Wikipedia, Newspaper articles, editorials, opinions, and commentaries, Magazine & Journal articles, College/Univ. Theses & Papers, Biographies, TV Newscasts, TV shows, Documentaries, Stories & Movies (based on previous events or people), and Reviews & Critiques

a) First, read the account of the event from the secondary source - a website article entitled Nebraska's Fearless Maid.

b) Next, read the following primary source - a newspaper article entitled 'A HEROINE FOR THE STORM' dated January 18, 1888 from the Omaha Daily Bee. (note: this document in PDF format can also be viewed here).

c) Compare the two sources by answering the following questions:

  • Who is the author?
  • When was it written as compared to the actual date of the event? And how may this affect the accuracy of the information provided?
  • How do they differ in terms of appearance and contents of information about the event?
  • Is there any conflicting information present between the two sources? If so, which do you think is more accurate or reliable?
  • Which of the two did you find more informative?
  • Which of the two did you find more interesting to read? Why?

Minnie Freeman was heralded as a heroine and praised by parents and citizens alike. Her courage, wits, and bravery made her somewhat of a local and even national hero.

Another secondary source - a video entitled The Children's Blizzard of 1888 - nicely captures the mood of this harsh winter of 1888 and particular event:



8. THE OSAGE NATION (Native American Tribe)

The book Who Was Laura Ingalls Wider? references people of the Osage Nation.

Like with many other Native American peoples, members of the Osage Nation enjoyed rich and vibrant cultural traditions and heritage along with a deep respect for nature and the land on which they settled.

The following map shows their ancestral territory:

Osage Nation Ancestral Map

Image source: Osage Nation website - Ancestral Map, click image for larger version.

The Osage Nation website provides a wealth of information about this unique tribe, including a detailed cultural and geographical history.

The website is a valuable resource and also has several lessons to learn about the Osage people (both past and present). I have decided to highlight two of these lessons preceded by an informative video hereunder should the reader want to learn more.


a) Osage homes:

The Osage built lodges so many people could live together in an efficient and safe manner. Before looking at how they were built, make the following assumption and consider the following questions:

  • Let’s say you were dropped out in the country outside of your town, in an area of prairie and some woods, with no manufactured materials and with no metal tools, to live for an extended period of time.
  • How would you find shelter from the sun, rain, wind and cold?
  • What kind of a structure could you build?
  • What materials would you use? What materials are available in nature that could provide shelter?
  • How would you tie these things together into a structure?
  • Could you have a fire inside of it - for heating and cooking? How would the smoke escape?

So, how were they built?

Osage Lodge

The Osage Nation website provides the following documents in their Early Homes & Villages section:


b) Actvity - Osage Lodge Cut-out:


Click on the image or following link to get the cut-out:

You can then proceed to make your own lodge using scissors and folding the cut-outat the designated places.

Have fun!



Ponder a bit on the following:

  • Do you think people in general were more free back then living on the American Frontier compared to today?
    • In what ways were they more free?
    • In what ways were they less free?
  • Which 'authority figures' from back then may have limited people's freedom and liberty? How?
    • How about for today (which authority figures limit your freedoms and liberties and how)?
  • What lessons can we retain when considering these?


There are two main ways in which you can explore more about the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder:

The first is to read the books she wrote. There are many websites that sell her books.

The second is to explore a set of lessons from the Liberty Academy that are based on the TV Series called Little House on the Prairie that is loosely based on the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. You can click on the following image or link to go to the lesson page for this series.

TV Series - Little House on the Prairie

In this series, you can learn more about Laura in a fun way by watching episodes from the show and taking part in fun lessons related to them.


You are free to use the above materials as you wish.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or would like to share your experience in using them, feel free to contact us.

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