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November-December 2012

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The Long Winter: Studying the Climatology of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Hard Winter of 1880–1881

Laura Ingalls Wilder, a widely renowned author of children's books, was born into a pioneering family in 1867. Her beloved historical fiction works, from Little House in the Big Woods to These Happy Golden Years, drew from her life experiences from ages three to 18, culminating in her marriage to Almanzo Wilder in 1885. An additional book about her early years of marriage, The First Four Years, was published posthumously, along with several travel diaries written in her adult life. Throughout Wilder's childhood, the Ingalls family traveled between Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota, settling in DeSmet, South Dakota, as the railroad reached the area in 1880. Four of Wilder's books took place in this location, including The Long Winter, a book that chronicles events from the winter of 1880-1881. Wilder published the books between 1932 and 1943, during and just after the height of the Great Depression. Their themes of simplicity, family ties, and making the best of hard times resonated with the weary American public. A television series based loosely on the books, Little House on the Prairie, ran from 1974 to 1983 and further ingrained the Ingalls family into American culture.

BARBARA MAYES BOUSTEAD is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Ph.D. student at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. She has a Wilder Weather blog at

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