Carrie Aadland loves Laura Ingalls Wilder so much, she changed her name from Nancy Lynn to Carrie, after the sister of the famous pioneer and “Little House on the Prairie” author.
The Centralia native and self-proclaimed “Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Biggest Fan” has family from DeSmet, South Dakota, where the Ingalls family had its homestead. A church where Aadland’s great-grandmother used to sing was moved from its original site, 10 miles away, to the homestead. Aadland has already picked out her grave plot in the cemetery where Ingalls Wilder and her sisters are buried.
Recently, Aadland bought a piece of land in DeSmet, not far from the very cottonwood trees on which the author climbed as a child. She’s not quite sure what she’ll do with her new land, but when she arrived in DeSmet to see it a few weeks ago, there was a family of deer grazing there, which felt like a good omen.
Covering a wall and table in Aadland’s Centralia home is a full exhibit of Ingalls Wilder paraphernalia, including the Little House novels, non-fiction biographies on the Ingalls family, art based on the books, articles and more. She has a full bookshelf of related reading.
The Ingalls family was originally from Wisconsin, where they lived in the home that inspired the first book of the series, Little House in the Big Woods. Born in 1867, Laura was one of five children, with an older sister named Mary, and three younger siblings: Carrie, Charles and Grace. The Ingalls family first tried settling near modern-day Independence, Kansas. According to Ingalls Wilder, they were misled to believe settling in that area was allowed. However, it was on Native American land and they had no legal claim to it. After several other moves, Laura’s father filed for a formal homestead and the family settled in DeSmet in 1880. The rest of Ingalls Wilder’s books were also based on her life experiences.
“And Laura made it sound fun. Nothing comes through in those books other than just gratitude for what they did have. … It's a life of simplified living,” Aadland said. “People don’t waste things, they’re respectful — very warm family values.”
One of Aadland’s recent projects has been translating some of the children’s books from English to Spanish, so she can read the stories to her young Hispanic neighbor, Fátima.
“I think a lot of Hispanic immigrants have a similar story, in that they’re very family-oriented and they're leaving their homelands to try to make a better life for their kids,” Aadland said.
But as positive as the stories are, they have not been without controversy, she said. There is debate over how much of the series was actually written by Ingalls Wilder, as some think her daughter ghost wrote parts of it. Also, the Ingalls family’s attempt to settle illegally on Native land has pressed Aadland and others to remind young readers the books are only from one, sometimes slanted perspective.
While the Little House on the Prairie series may be an interesting historical perspective, to Aadland the best thing about it is the joyful experience of reading the books. Growing up, there were only eight original novels. Now, she’s thrilled to say there are “more books than you could imagine” related to Ingalls Wilder. There was even a TV show for a while, although the show strayed from the original stories, according to Aadland.
Anyone who wants to learn more about Ingalls Wilder can email Aadland at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also has a YouTube channel with presentations at www.youtube.com/channel/UCZHwF_lS75lIUZ5i8wxD2Ag.