When it comes to seeking out Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life as a pioneer, Minnesota is Ground Aught.
The state is where Plum Creek meanders, where Walnut Grove gave up its sod to build houses. Other Ingalls landmarks are within a day’s drive: Pepin, Wis., to the east, Burr Oak, Iowa, to the south, and De Smet, S.D., to the west. Mankato — let’s call it “Mid-Sized City on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway” — is central to them all.
This summer, Minnesota State University, Mankato, will host “LauraPalooza 2010: Legacies,” the first conference sponsored by the newly formed Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. The group came into being last summer when Laura fans and researchers gathered in De Smet and realized a common concern about a lack of outlets to share research on Laura.
on the Prairie” TV show to appear. There will be craft demonstrations, a “tin pail” lunch and the opportunity to visit Walnut Grove, site of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.
There’s even going to be a spelling bee.
Its very name, LauraPalooza, speaks to the peculiar niche that Laura Ingalls Wilder occupies in Americana. “There’s a lot of interest in her as a pop cultural figure,” said Amy Mattson Lauters, a professor in the Mankato university’s Department of Mass Communications and author of “The Rediscovered Writings of Rose Wilder Lane,” published in 2007. “She’s a real person who often has fan fiction written about her, and she fictionalized some of her own life,” Lauters said, then laughed. “Very postmodern.”
“That’s actually one of the questions we ask ourselves all the time,” Lauters said. Given the incredible and well chronicled story of pioneer settlement, millions have gravitated to the story as seen through a little girl’s eyes, where dramas ebb and flow like waves lapping at the shores of Silver Lake. Oxen step through dugout ceilings, grasshoppers arrive in clouds, blizzards blow, Ma worries. There is Jack, and the panther tracks and Nellie Oleson. Laura (and among her fans, she is always called Laura) tells about them all with straightforward candor, which makes them entirely credible.
“Speaking as a cultural scholar, I think a lot of what it is about Laura is the values she expressed in her books,” Lauters said. “There’s a very strong family center, a very strong sense of independence, and a strong appreciation of the history of pioneer culture.”
Timing also helped. Laura wrote between 1932 and 1943, “just as many people were forced to leave their agrarian roots during the Depression,” Lauters said. Her stories were rooted in agrarian values “and many of us don’t have to look too far back in the family tree to find a farmer.
“And, of course, Laura is a girl who kicks butt.”