Little House on the Prairie


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Anna at the Surveyor’s House (Original!)

We started the morning off (6/27/16)  back at the Surveyor’s home for the Tour. By the Shores of Silver Lake describes in great detail the miracle of the family getting to stay in the house, which is the original, though not on the original location. It was incredible to imagine the groups of homesteaders that stayed here on their trek west, occasionally in groups as large as 15!

Inside the surveyor’s home, we heard the story of Laura’s early life.  She was born in Wisconsin. Shortly afterwards, the family settled in Kansas (which was Missouri at the time), but after they developed it, they found out it was Osage Indian territory.  They had to leave their farm and everything they had made, so they came back to Wisconsin. Then, they traveled to Minnesota (Walnut Grove). They had been promised a home, but received a dugout instead.  While there, they had invested heavily in wheat, but their wheat field was eaten by locusts.  So now, Pa was in debt since he’d bought things, counting on the wheat crop to pay his bill.  He had to walk 150 miles (unfathomable!) to work on the farms the locusts hadn’t reached, make a bit of money, and come back 150 miles.

Then, the family went to Iowa where their difficult times continued. Ma gave birth to a baby boy who died.  Also, the family was living in town by saloon, so Laura skips this chapter of her life. One good thing that comes is that Baby Grace is born there.  So, once again, the family moves back to Walnut Grove.  Another tragedy strikes when Mary gets spinal meningitis (called scarlet fever in the books.)

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The Original De Smet School

Pa then agreed to go to railroad camp in De Smet. The rest of the family will follow by train.  That winter, when the Surveyors decide to go home, they offer the Ingalls the opportunity live there with use of the surveyor’s supplies!  One fun fact is that the first church service in the area was held in surveyor’s cottage.

The next location we visited was the school Laura and Carrie attended. This also is an original building moved to this site.  After being a school, it became a private residence.  Though, since it was immediately wallpapered, in restoration, they found original blackboards complete with drawing.

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Layers of the wall

One cool story we heard was about a blizzard that hit suddenly.  The teacher and superintendent were trying to make sure all the students got home safely.   They were walking single file with Laura at the end, thinking they were going in a straight line, hoping to find Main Street.  After walking a while, Laura thought it was strange that they hadn’t run into a building yet.  Just then, her shoulder brushed a building.  She called the others back, and discovered they had found the Meades hotel.  This was the last building before the prairie.  If Laura wouldn’t have found it, all the kids would have gone into the prairie and died.  Later that winter, Almanzo and Cap Garland had to go get seed wheat to feed the town. They were able to, but each family had to grind the wheat in the coffee grinder.

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The Brewster School

The final building on this property is a replica of the school where Laura first taught. She was 15 when she taught in the Brewster school. Laura moved to town to live with the Brewsters.  The Brewsters were not a family like the Ingalls and often yelled at each other.  One evening, Laura even woke up to Mrs. Brewster standing over Mr. Brewster with a knife!  For Laura, young and away from home for the first time, this was rough.  She couldn’t imagine spending all weekend with them.

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The Sleigh

On Friday, however, Almanzo came to pick her her up in his sleigh with his glorious horses.  He came every Friday, even in freezing cold weather!  Soon, Laura’s students started teasing her by calling  Almanzo her beau.  Laura decided she needed to set the record straight that she didn’t like him, so she told him on their way home. Later that week, she worried she had been too harsh.  After all, she still had 3 weekends to go.  But, Friday, Almanzo still came. His persistence seems to have paid off, though, since just 3 years later, Laura married Almanzo at age 18.  This will end her teaching career, since at this time, women couldn’t teach if they were married.

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Ma and Pa’s House on the original location

From here, we drove into town to tour the town house where the Ingalls spent The Long Winter.  Eventually, Pa would sell the homestead and move to town permanently.  They had gotten the homestead when Abraham Lincoln passed The Homestead Act of 1862 which promised 160 acres to anyone who could live there 5 years and improve the land. After selling the homestead, Pa and Ma would spend the rest of their lives here in this home.  The restoration crew was able to recreate the interior because Carrie took her first picture of Ma sitting in the sitting room.

We also heard tales of what happened to the girls since.  Laura never lived in town house.  She and Almanzo had decided to homestead. But, everything bad seemed to happen to them on their homestead–they lost a baby, had two fires, and horrible illnesses that will destroy Almanzo’s ability to walk without a limp.  They then went to Florida, but didn’t like it there and returned to De Smet for a year. Finally, moved to Missouri where they would finish their lives at Rocky Ridge farm. Laura died at the age of 90.

Rose, Laura and Almanzo’s daughter, was an impressive lady with a wealth of experience.  My two favorite things about her was that she went to Albania after her divorce and fell in love with the country (which I did too when I went.)  She would have stayed, but Communism was starting to take hold, so she didn’t. My other favorite thing about Rose (other than helping her mom with the Little House books) is that she went to Vietnam as a war correspondent at 79!

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Arlington sign (Credit:

In the afternoon, we headed into Arlington to search out information on my great, great grandfather.  My mom has an old photograph of two of our relatives standing in front of a Post Office.  She was trying to identify if it was, in fact, Arlington.  We had the survey plans for the land the Shindolls owned and a few other pieces of information from the courthouse, so we prayed for the right person to meet with who could help us find the information we needed. We followed the signs to where we thought his land was and decided to ask at the gas station using the court plot map.  Mom was headed in to ask the young girls inside, then decided to ask an older gentleman in a dusty pick-up. He tried to read the map and made a few recommendations, but wasn’t very helpful.  Another man came walking by and volunteered to help.  He invited us to his home to meet his wife who was a historian and genealogist. She recommended the drug store and the newspaper office and told us who to ask for in each place.  He took us to the plot of land he believed to be our ancestor’s then pointed us in the direction of the drug store.

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Photo of the drugstore as a meat market–not our relatives, though…

The drug store used to be a meat market, but we were not sure if it was our ancestor’s. The pharmacist also recommended we go to Arlington Sun, which we did.  Frank there was a great help.  He gave us information on the Shindoll brother who stayed (W.H.) and his family, even showing us an ad for the meat market from 1904!   Frank also told us that Carrie Ingalls had worked at that very newspaper. Looking at the photograph we had, he couldn’t identify it as Arlington.  The building was not the main post office in town as there were no buildings around it such as Main Street would have.  Frank thought it was probably one of the many rural post offices.  He explained that friends of the political party were often named post master because they essential got paid for nothing.  Mail was delivered to their houses and people came to get it.  Though he couldn’t solve the picture riddle, he was a great help!  Definitely many answers to our prayers to meet the right people.

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Ingalls’ graves (Pa’s is far right)

On our way back, we went by way of the Ingalls’ graves.  While pa’s seems to be the original, and is so worn down you can hardly read it, the others are new markers, which in some ways made me sad.

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Mary’s beadwork

Finally, we went back to the historic houses.  In the museum, we met the new director.  Interestingly, she had worked in Iowa, the location of the “missing years” of the story.  She was fascinated by Laura’s hardships there.  I asked what her favorite thing in this museum was, and she mentioned the artwork.  The Museum boasts 63 original illustrations by Garth Williams and over 2,000 original Ingalls/ Wilder artifacts.  I personally loved seeing the beadwork Mary had done!

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Discovery Center

We ended a very full day at the Discovery center.  The building is the school in which South Dakota governor Sigurd Anderson taught–even with his writing still on the board.  It had many activities for kids including dress up clothes, slates, ways to make Braille, and a template like Mary used to write letters to her seeing friends.

All in all, we had a fun, full day!

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“Ma’s Cabin”

We left from Indiana this morning (6/26/16) headed to De Smet, South Dakota.  We arrived about 4:00 P.M. and decided to head to the guided tour from the Surveyor’s House.  But, the tour guide informed us because of our schedule, we should check out the Ingalls’ homestead first.

When we arrived at the homestead, we bought our tickets for $12.00 (the cost for anyone over 5, but tickets are good for the duration of your stay), and we headed out to explore.

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The “Whatnot Cabinet”

The homestead offers a variety of experiences for young people.  First, the grounds boast replicas of buildings with items from the time period.  There’s even an opportunity to camp in wagon shaped cabins!  We saw a soddie (house cut into the ground with walls made of sod pieces.) like the dug out the Ingalls were given. But, one of my favorite place was known as “Ma’s cabin.”  Since we had read By the Shores of Silver Lake on our trip up, I was especially excited to see the whatnot cabinet, complete with a little shepherdess.  The cabin  also held a copy of Pa’s homestead claim which was neat to see. Outside of the cabin, we got to do laundry the old-fashioned way with a washboard and tub, a wringer, and a clothesline.

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Anna driving the mules

From there, we headed down to the barn where kids were able to take pony rides or drive a pony cart. We also were able to catch a wagon ride during which kids were allowed to steer (with assistance).  We had one rather ornery mule who let the other one do all the work, so he had to be disciplined a bit more.  This also was a good experience for the children to help them understand that driving a mule is much harder than it looks.  The wagon took us out to the school house where kids were able to don costumes (bonnets and pinafores for girls, straw hats for boys.)  The students did a few historic warm up exercises and solved a riddle.

When the wagon dropped us off, we were able to go back to the machinery shop where we got to twist rope, grind wheat, and make corn cob dolls.  This also helped visitors understand more of prairie life.  You can find out more information on the Ingalls homestead  here.

By then, it was getting close to closing time (7:00), so we left to go grab dinner and take some costumed shots.  More fun around town tomorrow.