If Laura Ingalls Wilder were alive today, she would be celebrating her 150th birthday. Late in life, she wrote down her recollections of a childhood spent in the frontier of the United States. She was advised that those tales would do better as a children's book. It did, and grew into a series of books. Fans of the Little House books who aren't serious students of Wilder's work might be surprised to find out how fictionalized those stories were.
From the moment the Ingalls family sets out in their wagon and leaves the Little House in the Big Woods, the Little House books show an unceasing push West. Real life and Manifest Destiny don’t always line up, though, and in fact the Ingalls family tracked back and forth several times before setting down in De Smet, South Dakota.
The Ingalls family’s first stop after Wisconsin was Independence, Kansas (with a possible stop in Missouri), where they built a “little house” on the open prairie. But the land was not theirs to settle: It was owned by the Osage people [PDF] and the Ingalls family, like thousands of other settlers, were squatters waiting for the Osage to be driven out so that the United States could take it over. It’s not entirely clear why the Ingalls family left, but instead of continuing west they went back to Wisconsin.
Next, they went west again, this time settling near Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Then, financial difficulties, illness, and a plague of locusts forced them to move on. They went to visit family elsewhere in Minnesota, but while there, Laura’s 10-month-old brother, Freddie, died after a sudden illness. Then they continued on to Burr Oak, Iowa, where they ran a hotel. The Ingallses then backtracked to Walnut Grove, where Mary lost her vision, then went west again and eventually settled in what is now South Dakota.
Nonetheless, Laura and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane, who heavily edited and helped develop the first books, decided that the fictional Ingallses should always move West. The result is a sense of wanderlust and movement that gives the series its structure.
Some of the changes were to make the books simpler or more child-friendly, while others made the family look more ethical and self-sufficient -and some were probably due to poor recollection. Of course, the TV series Little House on the Prairie threw accuracy out the window for the sake of drama. Read the rest of the list of Ways the Little House on the Prairie Books Stretched the Truth at mental_floss.