This summer Little Town on the Prairie was one of our summer reading books. Like reading Tom Sawyer in preparation for our stop in Hannibal, Missouri, this book was read in preparation for our stop in De Smet, South Dakota.
This was one the stops I was most looking forward to. I have loved the Little House books since I was a young girl and fell even more in love with the series when it was turned into a TV series starring Michael Landon. I couldn’t wait to walk the grounds that were the catalyst of much of my childhood imaginary play.
On Friday night, as the setting sun turned the prairie sky brilliant hues of pink and orange, we pulled into the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead.
Located a mile or two down a dirt road just outside De Smet, South Dakota, we camped for the night at the Ingall’s Homestead. The Ingall’s Homestead offers a few lodging options including 4 RV sites, tent camping and the option of spending the night in a covered wagon. Oh, I was so tempted to book one of the covered wagon sites but just couldn’t justify the extra cost when we had our own gnome bus to sleep in.
Our RV site was located right outside one of the historic building with front door access to the old fashioned playground.
As we pulled into the Ingall’s Homestead and piled out of the bus the first thing we noticed was the significant drop in temperature. It felt like fall and the kids went searching for sweatshirts. This was a big change from 24 hours earlier when we were melting our way across Missouri.
Halfway across Missouri we had a mini panic attack when the generator stopped working. When we are parked at a campground we run our lights, fridge, air conditioner, and water pump off the campground electricity, but while we are traveling or camping out at a rest stop we are dependent on the generator that is strapped to the back of the bus to run our power, so the death of that generator would be a very expensive and tragic hiccup in our trip.
So you can imagine our relief and hymns of praise when we discovered that the cause of its issues was a pin hole in a rubber tube that feeds diesel to the engine. It was a simple $22.00 fix and we were back in business. God is good!
We woke the next morning to a beautiful prairie view, ate breakfast, and walked over to the visitor center to begin our tour.
The Ingalls’ Homestead is the very land that Pa filed a claim on in early 1880 and proved on in 1886. The land is now privately owned, but generously shared with the public as an attraction with a knowledgeable staff and many hands-on activities to introduce families to prairie life and homesteading.
It was here, on this land, that five of the Little House books, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years, take place.
The tour began with a short video that highlighted the history of the Ingall’s family and life on the prairie in the 1800s.
We were then given a map of the property and encouraged to take our time, explore to our heart’s content as we worked our way from site to site around the Ingall’s Homestead. The Homestead is very kid friendly and kids are encouraged to touch, climb, and experience life on the prairie with the interactive exhibits.
We began our day at the lookout tower that allows you to climb high above the Homestead for a glimpse of Pa’s 160 acres of homestead land.
After getting an overview of the property we began working our way from building to building.
The first stop was to see a Dugout and a Shanty.
Although you could see why a Dugout was the necessary choice for so many settlers:
From there we worked our way to the well. Water was the key to survival on the prairie and a good, reliable well with a steady stream of fresh cold water was a blessing of immeasurable worth.
Next we headed to the hayroof barn.
Here in the hayroof barn we spent almost an hour. The kids walked in and discovered a litter of kittens and a baby cow who call the haybarn home. They settled in the hay with kittens in their arms and had a wonderful time. The smell of fresh hay, the meowing of kittens, and the smiles on my children’s faces were a great reminder that the simplest moments often bring the most joy.
From there we moved on to Ma’s little house.
Although not the original, it has been rebuilt to the exact specifications of the original.
This was the largest home they had lived in up to that point.
The house originally looked like this:
Then in later years an additional bedroom was added and finally the organ room.
Here at Ma’s little house the kids were able to participate in experiences of daily living on the Homestead.
The kids got a kick out of washing, ringing and hanging laundry. Monday was Ma’s laundry day and it was a full day’s work.
Then it was time for school. The kids were lucky enough to get a wagon ride to the one room school house. Most children, like Laura and Carrie, would have walked to school daily. Local school houses were erected every three miles so that no child would have more than a three mile walk to school.
We climbed on the wagon and the kids were each given an opportunity to drive the team of horses.
When we arrived we were greeted by the teacher ringing the bell to announce the start of school.
This school house is an original 1880s school house, although not one of the three local schools that Laura taught at. The inside was filled with the original black boards and desks.
When we entered the kids were dressed in period clothing and asked to take their seats.
The teacher then led the kids through a typical school day, sharing with them how a day would play out, what would be expected, and even taught them a lesson that Laura may have taught in her classroom.
She talked about how the classroom was kept warm, what chores the children would have had assigned to them each day (like bringing in buckets of water from the neighbor’s well and feeding the pot belly stove during the winter months) It was fascinating and informative and a whole lot of fun!
Ozzie was asked to come up to the front and read out loud to the class from the fourth grade primer.
He read aloud the following riddle. Can you figure it out?
Then the bell was rung and the students were dismissed. Back at the barn the kids had the opportunity to ride a horse. This was a new experience for some of them.
We all fell in love with this one month old foal. His momma was tied up but he had free reign of the farmyard. It was delightful to watch him run, and jump and kick up his legs in youthful enthusiasm.
In one of the out buildings we learned how to make hay twists. During the Long Winter, Pa and his family couldn’t get any coal so he and Laura had to sit out on the porch making hay twists… 300 a day to burn instead! Sometimes Pa’s hand hurt so bad he couldn’t play the fiddle.
While at the Ingall’s Homestead we also had the opportunity to do some hand crafts. In one of the out buildings the kids were able to make a few pioneer toys to take home as souvenirs from their day. They began by making corn cob dolls like the one Laura played with as a young girl.
First they ran the corn through the corn sheller to strip the cobs of the dried kernels and then they were able to pick the fabric and string needed to transform the cob into a doll.
They also were able to make their own jump ropes.
To weave the jump ropes one would sit on the seat of the machine and turn the crank while someone else, (usually Toby since he was strong enough to pull back against the machine) would hold the other end of the ropes while they weaved into a jump rope.
It was so neat!
The kids loved the experience as well as the fact that they were able to leave with some really cool mementoes of their day at the Ingall’s Homestead!
From the Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead we drove over to the De Smet cemetery.
Here can be found the resting places of Pa, Ma, Mary and Carrie.
It was a delightful day. As a little girl I fell in love with Laura and the Ingall’s family and longed to step into her world and live her life. Today I had that opportunity, if just for a moment, and it was just as magical as I dreamt it would be.
Next stop: The Corn Palace.