When most people think of Laura Ingalls Wilder, they conjure up a young, fictionalized version of the author—a persona created in Little House on the Prairie, and other beloved children’s books that portrayed the hardscrabble life of an American pioneer family in the late-nineteenth century. We catch a glimpse of the real Laura Ingalls Wilder as a young wife and mother, in a diary that she kept during the summer of 1894 when she, her husband, Almanzo, and their seven-year-old daughter, Rose, moved from South Dakota to Missouri.

The Wilders’ move came after years of hardship in De Smet, South Dakota—drought and crop failure, a case of diphtheria that left Almanzo physically debilitated, the devastating loss of their infant son, and an accident that caused their house to burn down.

Throughout the 650-mile journey that took six weeks, Laura chronicled the weather, the people, and the places they saw. Her diary reflects how her spirits lifted as they moved away from the harshness of the dusty prairie into a lavish landscape of trees and fruit. And it reveals, not just her own journey, but a whole country on the move—trails clogged with covered wagons—hundreds of people leaving heartbreak and disappointment behind, daring to hope for a better life on the road ahead.