Monday, August 6, 2012

Laura Ingalls Wilder: On the Pioneer Trail

One of the best parts about becoming an adult is the ability to take yourself to all the places you dreamed of going as a child. The "Little House" books had an enormous impact on my growing up years as well as my playtime...

My cousins and I played Laura, Mary, and Carrie growing up.
It was only natural that I'd want to see these places in person. On the first trip, I took in both the beginning and the end with the "Little House on the Prairie" site in Kansas and Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, MO. The latter was Laura and Almanzo's last home, and where she wrote her endearing family series.

The cabin on the Kansas site is a reproduction, but it was still thrilling to step on the plot of land deeded to Charles Ingalls from 1869-1871. Baby Carrie was born in Kansas, then the family had to leave the site because they'd unwittingly settled in Indian territory.

There was one authentic part of the site left ~ and that was the well that had been hand-dug by Pa.

Rocky Ridge farm was a quaint old white farmhouse in the Ozarks. Almanzo (pronounced al-MAN-zo, the locals who knew him tell you) built the house to scale for Laura, who was only about 4'11" tall! No wonder Pa dubbed her half-pint. They used all local materials so it is full of rich timbers and limestone. Their daughter Rose built them a modern Sears and Roebuck kit stone house, and that's where Laura actually began writing her series. It didn't take the couple long, however, to move back over the hill into their original dream house.

Rocky Ridge farm
The stone house. It is also open for tour, but fewer people go here.

 A few years later, Emily and I set out for Minnesota and South Dakota. While we also took in about ten National Parks, I had to complete my Little House tour. We rented a cute red convertible from the airport and headed straight to Walnut Grove! While Walnut Grove was never named in "On the Banks of Plum Creek," it was the closest town to the Ingalls homestead ~ and it was made famous through the later tv series.

Downtown Walnut Grove today

It was just a short drive on to Plum Creek, where we saw the remnants of Laura's dugout. The farm is now privately owned by a couple, but they let you drive to the creek. The spring, the plum trees, and the "big rock" are all still there.

Enjoying wading in Plum Creek!

In South Dakota, DeSmet is still very much the same as it was when Laura lived there during "By the Shores of Silver Lake," "Little Town on the Prairie," "The Long Winter," "These Happy Golden Years," and "The First Four Years." We stayed in the old bank building ~ now a B&B ~ and I loved waking up to the sound of the train whistle. Pa first went to DeSmet to work for the RR. The family joined him, and they stayed the winter in the RR Surveyor's House.

Laura's powers of recall were fabulous - every detail in the house matched the book.  Later on Pa filed a claim and built a house. The house is gone, but the location is marked and the cottonwood trees planted by the family still surround the site. This is a working recreated homestead for visitors, but we focused mainly on the "actual" location.

The family spent the hard winters in town, in a building Pa had built. It's no longer there, but a plaque marks where it had been. The old Loftus store where Laura and Carrie bought Pa Christmas suspenders is still in operation though!

We went in and bought a few souvenirs, of course.

After Laura and Almanzo married and the girls moved away, Pa and Ma moved to a house in town. This is the last "house that Pa built." After Pa died, Mary and Ma lived in the house together.

The Ingalls family right before Laura and Almanzo left for Missouri.

Ma, Carrie, Laura, Pa, Grace, and Mary

Ingalls family row ~ DeSmet, SD
Laura and Almanzo, Mansfield, MO


  1. Wow... I love it. So loved the 'Little House on the Prarie' series on tv. and happy to know that Laura Ingalls life still lives on...

    You take the most amazing trips!! I need to be included in one.. a shorter adventure, perhaps. Hehe.

  2. I would love that! I'll find a writer close by you and we'll make plans.

  3. I still need to visit the "Big Woods" in Wisconsin, and Burr Oak, Iowa, where the family worked in a hotel for awhile... ")

  4. Great Post!!! You covered everything, included some awesome things and made some great photos on your trips! Love it, especially the photo of you and the cousins playing at being Laura and her sisters! :-) OK, I have one for you....You and I visited Bacon's Castle, but you and Mom could go. Remember the connection to Sidney Lanier there? Problem solved! :-)

  5. By the way, you might consider getting rid of this Word Verification! As long as you have comment approval, you don't really need this, and most of the people I blog with won't even get on someone's blog if they have it. It's just an added annoyance. Hope you get lots of followers! Love you!

  6. i came over from marie's to say hello, and welcome back to blogging. my sister loved the ingalls family stories. she would love to visit these places. :)

  7. Hi Marie! So glad to see you. Bacon's Castle is on the list of places to post. We think alike. :)

  8. Marie sent me as well. Nice to meet you. I have been to Rocky Ridge and named my daughter after Laura Ingalls Wilder. I understand why it was called Rocky Ridge. My grandfather owned land south of there in Branson during the 30s or 40s...sold it saying he had no use for that pile of rocks. Good luck.

  9. What a wonderful time you must have had retracing these places. We have fondly read the Little House series (and additional series) more than once as a family, even though we are Australian.

  10. I came over on Marie's recommendation, and I am so pleased that I did. Thank you for this tour, we loved the Little House series and your photographs and words have brought back happy memories.

  11. Hello, Kenna~ I just came over from Marie's blog. And thanks to you, I learned some things about Laura Ingalls Wilder that I never knew before~ great post! (And I'll bet downtown Walnut Grove looks a little different now than in her time! :)

  12. Hi Kenna, I'm also a visitor from Marie's blog and just wanted to say hello. I have enjoyed my visit here very much and your post was extremely interesting. I was a big fan of Little House on the Prairie when it was shown over in England. My family and I would watch it every week. It would be nice to see some of these places one day.

  13. Great post full of interesting information! I never thought about it but didn't realize Laura lived until 1957! Cool! Marie sent me to visit and I'm glad I stopped by! :)

  14. Living in Missouri I have visited the Mansfield homestead several times.

    Delightful post with info and photos I have never seen.

    1. Forgot the reason for my visit. Marie sent me. Nice to have another family member blogging. Both Marie and her Mother follow my blog.

  15. Another visitor from Marie's blog here! How fortunate you are to have such a loving cousin.

    This is a super post. I can't remember how many times I read the Little House series. I loved the books!

  16. How wonderful to visit all the places where Laura Ingalls lived! From Marie I heard that you are back again in our blogging family! So welcome back! Your blog looks very interesting and nice. I hope to see more of you!

  17. I am so touched that so many have come to say hello and enjoy my return to blogging with me. This is certainly a touching testament to the legacy of Laura's childhood and the family legacy she left.