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.
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.
Our final stop was the DeSmet Cemetery where Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Laura and Almanzo's infant son were buried.
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!)