Laura grew up in the real Western days, when the American frontier was being slowly pushed westward and the pioneer families were breaking in the untilled land and raising the first towns. She was fourteen when first she walked home from church with Almanzo Wilder; a year later, when she was teaching school, he came driving twelve miles across the prairie each Friday to take her home for the weekend; and when she was eighteen, they were married.
The First Four Years begins with their first years together on a homestead and tree claim on the South Dakota prairie. Those were years of companionship and happiness, hard work and struggle, as Laura and Manly worked the land they hoped one day to town. The making of a home, the birth of their daughter Rose, brought them great joy; but they met with sadness too, and hardship, and disaster.
Yet Manly still kept the incurable optimism of the farmer; and Laura, seeing his determination and love of the land, felt that optimism blend with the pioneer creed she had inherited: 'It is better farther on' – "Only instead of farther on in space, it was farther on in time, over the horizon of the years ahead instead of the far horizon of the west". An epilogue written by Laura's daughter tells how after struggles and griefs of the first years, their last pioneering journey brought them over that horizon to a lifelong and happy home.