On the Road With Laura Ingalls Wilder--Part II

Monday, May 24, 2010

From Plum Creek, Mama and I traveled to De Smet, South Dakota, where we did our most extensive sightseeing. We started with a tour that took us inside two houses. The first was the Surveyors' House, where the Ingalls lived their first winter in De Smet (By the Shores of Silver Lake). That house (shown in the picture) is the actual house and has been restored to its original condition, although it is no longer in the same location. They don't let anyone upstairs, but they have it set up the way it would have been in Laura's time, and mirrors at the top of the stairs reflect the way the attic would have looked with the girls' beds in it.

The site also contained the school Laura attended (The Long Winter and Little Town on the Prairie) and a replica of the first school where Laura taught (These Happy Golden Years).

We then got in our car and followed the guide (in her car) to the Ingalls' house in town. This is where Pa and Ma and Mary lived until they died. Laura was already married by the time Pa built the town house, so she never lived there.

The town house is about seven blocks from the Surveyors' House, so I'm not sure if driving is the normal procedure or if they usually walk and were just accommodating Mama's 90-year-old legs.

The guide took us through the first floor, and I went upstairs as well. Mama couldn't climb the stairs, so the guide showed her a book with pictures of the second floor.

Next, we drove to the cemetery and saw the family graves (all in a row) for Pa, Ma, Laura's son (who died when he was just a few days old), Mary, and Carrie. We forgot to walk a few feet farther on to see the grave where Grace is buried with her husband, but it is there, too.

After that, we took another road to the site where Laura and Almanzo homesteaded after they got married (The First Four Years). All you can see now is a sign marking the spot. Actually, the sign says more about Rose being born there than it does about Laura and Almanzo. But it was close by and worth the short drive.

Finally, we drove to the Ingalls' homestead, where Laura lived in the summers until she got married. While at the homestead, I walked out to a replica of the Ingall's claim shanty, but Mama went no farther than the gift shop. The walking was easy for me, but it was over a gentle hill, and the claim shanty wasn't close to the parking lot. Then, as we left the homestead, we stopped and saw some cottonwood trees that Pa had planted.

Mama and I spent the next day in the car on our way to Burr Oak, Iowa. That's the one place Laura never wrote about. Her stay in Burr Oak came in the middle of the Ingalls' years at Walnut Grove. If you are interested in learning more about that time, I recommend Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Iowa Story, by William Anderson.

Friends bought the Master's Hotel in Burr Oak and asked Pa and Ma to help them run it. Since the crops had failed again, they agreed, but the Ingalls stayed only a little over a year before returning to Walnut Grove.

We took a tour through the original (restored) hotel and heard about Laura's time there. After seeing the main floor, we went outside and entered the lower level through a back door. (Everyone else on the tour went down the interior stairs, but the outside route allowed Mama to take a path with a gentle slope rather than worrying about stairs.) Mama wasn't able to climb to the top floor but did see pictures of it.

"But," you ask, "didn't Laura live in Indian Territory when she was young? And did she ever settle down for good?"

I'll answer those questions in next week's final installment.


South Dakota Office of Tourism said...

Thanks for sharing your experience in De Smet! Sounds like you had a great time. This was fun to read.

Katlyn Richter
Office of Tourism

Immanuel Lutheran Preschool said...

sounds like a great trip...look forward to your next entry!

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