MANSFIELD, MO. -- Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 when at the urging of her daughter, author Rose Wilder Lane, she began writing her memories of pioneer life on the virgin prairie.
At a desk in a tiny room in the Ozarks home she shared with her husband, Almanzo, Wilder crafted "Little House on the Prairie" and 10 other related books that have sold millions of copies and entertained children worldwide.
Some mornings Almanzo would find Laura asleep on a sofa in her study, exhausted from a night spent writing about the homesteading adventures of Ma and Pa Ingalls and sisters Mary, Carrie and Grace.
William T. Anderson has written several books about the Wilder and Ingalls families, and when he's in the Wilders' two-story home, nestled in woods just east of this small town, he says he almost expects to look up and see Laura's diminutive five-foot frame coming through the door.
"It's like they've stepped out for a minute and you're walking right in," said Anderson. "Virtually everything has been preserved in the home just as it was the day she died in 1957."
Lane donated the home, which took her parents nearly 20 years to complete after arriving here from De Smet, S.D., in 1894, to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association after her mother's death at age 90.
In 1971, three years after Lane died at age 81, the association dedicated a museum next to the house.
Today about 30,000 people tour the Laura Ingalls Wilder-Rose Wilder Lane Home and Museum each year. The museum is filled with original artifacts familiar to fans of the "Little House" books and the "Little House on the Prairie" television series.
Perhaps the best-known exhibit is the fiddle Pa Ingalls played to entertain his family on the vast, lonely prairie.
"People sometimes are overcome with emotion when they see Pa's fiddle because the books are so real to them," Anderson said. "Coming here is like visiting close and dear relatives for a lot of people."
Demoralized by four years of crop-withering drought, the death of a newborn son and illness, Laura and Almanzo left South Dakota hoping for a better life in Missouri's Ozarks, "The Land of the Big Red Apple."
Laura's first published article is in the museum -- a letter in the Aug. 23, 1894, De Smet News & Leader describing to folks back home their 45-day, 650-mile journey to Mansfield in a covered wagon.
The building also houses manuscripts of four of the "Little House" books, which Laura wrote in pencil on Springfield Grocer Co. school tablets that cost a nickel.
The display also features a sewing cabinet Almanzo made for his wife out of cigar boxes, family photographs and heirlooms, the Bible Ma and Pa Ingalls gave Laura and Almanzo on their wedding day and a nine-patch quilt made by Mary Ingalls.
Laura named their 200-acre farm, where they lived happily for more than a half-century, Rocky Ridge Farm. She and Almanzo had a successful livestock and poultry business and shipped fruit from their apple and peach orchards to markets in Kansas City, St. Louis and Memphis.
Almanzo, who lived to be 92, made much of the furniture in their home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Mansfield did not have a sawmill, so he and Laura cut, planed and finished tall oaks for paneling and the living room ceiling beams.
Laura boasted the most modern country kitchen in the Ozarks after Almanzo piped water from a spring through their 1908 Montgomery Ward stove and into the sink for both hot and cold running water.
Rose Wilder Lane became an acclaimed and wealthy author, journalist and essayist. She wrote biographies of Henry Ford and Herbert Hoover and traveled extensively as a foreign correspondent, including a wartime visit to Vietnam at age 79.
In her later years, Laura lived alone at Rocky Ridge Farm but wasn't lonely. She visited friends in Mansfield, autographed books at bookstores into her mid-eighties and answered mail from adoring fans.
"There is still an insatiable interest in Laura Ingalls Wilder, all around the world," Anderson said. "The 'Little House' series ended with her marriage to Almanzo. People come here because they want to know what happened in her life after that."