While planning Le Voyage Extraordinaire and researching possible waypoints along our indefinite odyssey across the country, we discovered that the path kept intersecting with places that had a connection with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her “Little House” series.
- Pepin, Wisconsin — “Little House in the Big Woods”
- Independence, Kansas — “Little House on the Prairie”
- Maple Grove, Minnesota — “On the Banks of Plum Creek”
- De Smet, South Dakota — “By the Shores of Silver Lake,” “The Long Winter,” “Little Town on the Prairie,” “These Happy Golden Years” and “The First Four Years”
- Mansfield, Missouri — where Laura and Almanzo Wilder settled, where she wrote the books.
- Burr Oak, Iowa — not depicted in a book
So, we decided, why not try to hit them all?
The first stop on Laura’s trail, and actually, the last stop for most of the Ingalls family, was De Smet (emphasis on the ‘Dee’). They spent many years there, beginning in 1879. The town has preserved their homestead and opened it as a living history site. Also, several buildings associated with them have been restored, including the “Surveyor’s House” where they lived when they first moved there, the house Pa later built in town, a store that was open back then, and the “Church That Pa Built.”
That church began as a Congregational church! (Congregationalists merged with other faith communities to become the United Church of Christ in the late 1950s.) The building itself, however, was sold to another church, and the UCC building (“the Church That Pa Founded”) is elsewhere in town. (We missed the worship service because we didn’t know what time it started.)
Also, Pa and Ma — Charles and Caroline — and sisters Mary, Carrie and Grace, as well as Laura and Almanzo’s infant son, are buried in the De Smet Cemetery.
We stayed in a “covered wagon” on the homestead, visited the cemetery and took a guided tour of the Ingalls buildings in town. The young lady who led the tour did a great job remembering all of the facts and dates and trivia. It was kinda cool when she described a passage from one of the books, and pointed to a certain spot. “This is the door where Laura first entered the house. She crossed this floor (with its original boards) and opened this door to look up into the attic at the huge bedroom.”
It was really quite a nice place to visit. It reminded Tim of some of his ancestors — who also moved around a lot. We will be visiting some of their homesteads and towns later.