Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House on the Prairie

  • This summary of Little House on the Prairie includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

Little House on the Prairie Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature  detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics. This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Little House on the Prairie is an autobiographical novel by American author Laura Ingalls Wilder. Published in 1935, it is the third book in Wilder’s series Little House. The story resumes after the events of the first novel, Little House in the Big Woods, following Laura and her family, who deal with the possibility of losing their farm due to the government’s efforts to reinstate the Indian Territory it encroaches on. The novel is set in Kansas, where Wilder’s family moved after her early life in Wisconsin. The Little House series has been adapted into other media, including plays and TV shows, and is ubiquitous for its characterization of American rural life in the late nineteenth century through a woman’s perspective.

The novel begins as the Ingalls family moves out of their small house in the deep woods of Wisconsin to begin a new life in Kansas. Pa made the decision to move into Indian Territory because the woods of Wisconsin have become so populated that it is hard to raise a farm – the logging and hunting industries drive roaming animals away. Ma initially protests the move, arguing that it is premature and should wait until spring warms the Midwest. Pa responds that it will be too difficult to cross the Mississippi River and the Great Plains once they thaw out.

As the Ingalls travel westward to Kansas, they rarely delay more than a night, camping in a multitude of locations. They face difficult environmental obstacles, including thunderstorms and flash floods. In one particularly perilous attempt to cross a river swelling with the latest rain, they almost die. Their horses, Patty and Pet, survive; however, their dog, Jack, goes missing. The Ingalls conclude that Jack has drowned, causing Wilder to despair. That evening, they set up camp on a prairie hill, and Laura observes a wolf in the distance, appearing to stalk the family. Pa prepares his rifle but soon discovers that the figure is Jack, who forded the river on his own and caught up using the family’s scent.

The family presses on through the vast prairies of the Midwest. Eventually, somewhere near the Verdigris River, Pa abruptly stops, declaring that they are standing on the spot where he will build their new cabin. Painstakingly, he builds it out of lumber from the nearby woods, aided by Ma. Ma sprains her foot but recovers quickly. A neighbor, Mr. Edwards, becomes friends with Pa and reveals that he is building his own cabin. Mr. Edwards lends a hand building the Ingalls’ home. The night it is finished, Ma cooks supper for the family and invites Mr. Edwards. Pa plays the fiddle and everyone dances to his music.

Life goes smoothly for the family for a while, until one day Pa gallops home atop Patty, warning that he just saw a pack of dozens of wolves. He tries to hide the fear in his voice so Wilder and her siblings don’t become upset. Pa focuses, instead, on the news that he found a new set of neighbors a few miles from home, and learned that a number of indigenous people live nearby. The young Wilder romanticizes the Indians, imagining people like those she has heard of in stories. Ma is somewhat xenophobic against the nearby Osage tribe even though they are living in their territory. She rationalizes their decision to remain with the rumor that the U.S. government will soon annex the territory, suggesting that more white settlers will soon be flocking to settle permanently in the area.

The Osage people begin to show up nearer and nearer to the Ingalls’ home. Their loud activities and shouting of war cries at an unknown enemy scare the family into thinking they may eventually be targeted. Pa helps avert disaster by making friends with an Osage chief and landing on good terms with the tribe. At a different point in time, the family also survives a severe bout of malaria, for which they are unable to ascertain an origin.

Their triumphs notwithstanding, Little House on the Prairie ends with misfortune as the Ingalls family learns their presence on Indian Territory has been deemed illegal. Anticipating the arrival of United States soldiers to forcibly remove them, they pack up their belongings and leave their home behind. Nevertheless, Wilder looks back on her experience as a time that was constructive for her family’s relationships and kindled in them a spirit of survival. This phase of her life taught her that setbacks are universal and that one can value life despite them.