Wednesday, July 7, 2010

So Sioux Me!

The Mr. and I had never been to South Dakota.  We were looking for cooler temperatures and new territory.  We originally thought we might head to Mount Rushmore, but ruled that out when faced with the "pre-Sturgis" parties and ridiculous hotel rates. 

I had been looking at Sioux Falls because it wasn't too far from Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and DeSmet, South Dakota.

A little history here.  When I started school, my 1st grade teacher read our class Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  She would read a few chapters to start the day and then a couple more after lunch.  If we were good and got all of our work done, she would sometimes end the day with another chapter.  When we finished that book, we moved on to Little House on the Prairie. 

Fast forward to the fact that I had the same teacher for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade.  By the time I ended my early elementary days, she had read the entire series to our class.  She ended our 4th grade year with These Happy Golden Years.

I loved the books so much that I returned to them again and again.  I wrote a paper in college about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her 'historical fiction' genre. It was hard to be a Midwestern farm girl and not identify with her stories.  My great grandparents probably had lives and travel quite similar.  We even had what was left of a dugout down on our creek.

When K and L were small, we were in Branson and made a side trip to Mansfield, Missouri, to see Laura's final home and her grave in the cemetery.  The museum there held so many things that were part of her stories:  Pa's fiddle, Ida's lace, and Ma's china shepherdess.  Even the manuscripts (all written by hand in Big Chief tablets) were there.

Four years ago the Mr. and I made a trip to Mayo after my stroke.  While we were there, we had one free day when no tests were scheduled.  The Mr. wanted to travel part of the Mississippi River road on the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin.  While I was looking at the map, I realized that we were just a few miles away from Lake Pepin-  the home of the Little House in the Big Woods. We took a quick trip to see the original site of that first house/home Wilder wrote about.  (Shocking that I wouldn't have a camera on that medical trip!)

Last year when we vacationed in Oklahoma, we were fairly close to Independence, Kansas, the site of Little House on the Prairie.  It was a bit off the beaten path, but the Mr. was game.  Independence has reconstructed the little house on the original site and has a small souvenir shop, too. This was the 2nd of the homes Wilder wrote about.

And that brings us to this trip... (and yes, the Mr. does indulge me a bit- but you already knew that!) 

We drove about 2 hours from Sioux Falls to Walnut Grove, Minnesota.  This was the home of the dugout or soddy Wilder wrote about in On the Banks of Plum Creek.  Walnut Grove has built a museum, sod dugout, a small school, a church, and a typical pioneer house all in their town.  If the roads had been better (they have had heavy rains and flooding), we would have attempted the primitive road out to the site of the original sod house.  The dugout is gone, but the creek still runs through the property.  Even people with four-wheel drive wouldn't chance it!

I found the rebuilt sod dugout in town to be claustrophobic.  I'm not sure how four or five people could survive those living conditions.  However, I played the pump organ on display in the church and enjoyed seeing the museum, photos of their neighbors, and reading additional facts about their travels.

Part of the walls were whitewashed and the other part was sod.  This table took up almost all of one side of the dugout.

We left Walnut Creek and drove Highway 14 through Volga and Tracy (mentioned in The Long Winter) and arrived at DeSmet, South Dakota.  This was the final hometown of the Ingalls family. By the time they arrived here, Mary was blind.  They lived in the surveyor's cabin before the town was even built, eventually built their homestead on a government claim, and then spent time living in an office in town during the winter months. In later years, they built a house in town.

Today, DeSmet has a Wilder exhibit in town.  There are tours to the Surveyor's house, the final home of the Wilders, and the cemetery. 

Just outside of town, they have rebuilt the homestead at the original location.  This is actually the part I enjoyed the most.  The house and the barn are just as they were described in the books and as close to records as possible.  There is a garden, the trees Pa planted, and the fields he worked.  They give wagon rides to the school they have erected about a half mile from the house.  It travels through the slough Laura described in the books.
They have hands-on activities: twisting hay, grinding wheat in the coffee mill, washing clothes, and a school marm who teaches lessons and runs the school in late 1800's style.
I have to admit that it was kind of fun to walk where Laura and Mary walked, worked, and played on the prairies.

Our final stop was the DeSmet Cemetery where Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Laura and Almanzo's infant son were buried.
All of the tombstones were new, except for Pa's-- which was almost worn away.

As much as I loved the books, I'm not a huge fan of the television show.  They took too many liberties with the stories to make them dramatic enough to hold the attention of the audience. 

From the museums you can gather that the reality was at times sadder and harsher than Laura Ingalls Wilder remembered or cared to share.  She remembered her life with joy and kindness; something we don't often see in modern times or with modern writers.

So yes, the Mr. "wimped out" and has now made the trip to all of the Little House locations.  He's the man! (Though he often "sits out" the tour if he can get away with it!)

Oh, and he went shopping, too-- more than once on this trip.  So sue me! 

And I'll remind you that I am headed to football games this fall where I am more interested in the tailgating and the sidelines than the actual game.  And I've done that for 20+ years in a row now!  It all evens out! That's why our marriage works! (Well, most of the time!)


FlowerLady said...

What a delightful, interesting post. I'm going to have to look up Laura Ingalls Wilder at the library.

You've had some great vacation trips.

It's always wonderful to me hearing about couples who do things together, even though it may not be one or the others interest. Bless your hearts and your marriage. May you have many more wonderful, adventurous years together.

Your hubby is not a wimp, he is a man showing love to his wife. He no doubt delights in your joy of living and and joy of traveling to different places that are special to you.

Football season will be here before you know it.
Enjoy the rest of your summer.

Hugs ~ FlowerLady

Cousin A said...

I LOVE IT! I can't wait to share the books with my girls (who still can't sit through Chapter books yet) and travel to the L.I.W. sites I haven't been to yet! Thank you for sharing with us. --Cousin A.

Gayle said...

As I was nearing the end of your post I was thinking that you really owe Mr. e big time for all of those Little House vacation visits! I see that you repay him in football season!

Mary said...

Sounds like a good trade-off (except I would like the football games, too!)! I had no idea there were tourist places for the "Little House" books. Were they already constructed, or did they do that after the tv series?
Very interesting!

Katie (Can't Get There) said...

What a sweet love story you and the Mr. have. :) You are both very lucky!

You're right - he is The Man for indulging you in all your trips. I would love to see them all, too! Hmm...wonder if my guy would indulge me...

Puna said...

Mrs. E how wonderful!I LOVE Laura Engalls. I read the entire collection as a girl living in Algeria of all things, but I could still relate. The collection was a favorite of my childhood years. Thanks for the tour, I had no idea!

King of New York Hacks said...

My friend Frank wanted to change his last name because he didn't like it, and he changed it to Ingalls because he grew up wanting to be one of the Ingalls...His last name was Schlitze when he changed it. Cool pics, nice post.

Kim said...

My mom read the Little House books to my sisters and me when we were kids. Then, when I got older, I read them again myself. I have wonderful memories of sitting together on the couch in the living room, listening to my mom read. Thanks for these glimpses of Laura's life!

Ragamuffin Gal said...

This is a precious post ~ I love the Little House books too! Now if ever you want to visit Mansfield, MO, I will be glad to meet up with you (maybe even convince Relyn too). I have been there a few times and would always go back! Pa's fiddle is there too! I just love Laura's little house and furniture. Lovingly your friend ~ Kt

Puna said...

I love it! If you go north to the next stat, you'll run into the boy sitting in his hotel room, hunched over his maps - avoiding the weather.