Thursday, August 26, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part IV: DeSmet, SD

On the 3rd day of our trip, we continued on Highway 14 (The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Highway) to DeSmet, SD. I remembered this part of South Dakota from my trip there in 1991. Very flat, big sky, lots of farms.

DeSmet is the Little Town on the Prairie, and is the setting for By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years.

Here is the surveyor's house the Ingalls family lived in the first winter they lived in DeSmet. It is the actual house, but it is not in its original location. The tour starts in the surveyor's house. The surveyor's house is exactly as Laura described! No interior photos were allowed, but exterior photos were okay.

The Laura stuff is a bit different than my first visit 19 years ago. Back then, the school house Laura attended was a private residence. You could walk past it, but that was it. I remember the homeowner was out mowing his lawn, and I felt a bit awkward gawking at his house. Since then, the school house went up for sale. The Laura Ingalls Wilder society bought it and relocated it to their little "compound" in town, where the gift shop sits, along with the surveyor's house, a replica of the Brewster school, and now the school house Laura and Mary attended.

Following the tour of the "compound", everyone on the tour gets in their cars and follows the tour guide to Pa and Ma's house in town. This is the last little house Pa ever built. Laura never lived in it, but she did stay in it, and it is where Pa and Ma lived until they died.

Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Grace are all buried in the cemetery in DeSmet. I visited the graves in 1991, but my daughter had no interest, so we skipped that little side trip.

The homestead site of the Ingalls is outside of town, and is its own separate enterprise (ie: paying for the tour of the town sites does not get you into the homestead site!). This has changed remarkably since 1991. Back then, the homestead site had a simple historical marker mounted onto a large rock, and that was it. My husband and I went out to it and we were all alone with the prairie and Pa's cottonwoods. Since then, a huge guest center (with gift shop and parking lot) has appeared, along with a whole "living prairie" experience. You can visit a replica of the claim shanty/house, drive a Conestoga wagon, feed farm animals, twist slough hay into braids, and do other pioneer chores. I didn't want to visit a replica, drive a Conestoga wagon, feed farm animals, or twist slough hay into braids! I wanted to sit under the cottonwoods and listen to the wind!

The cost was $10 per person, and we quickly came to the conclusion that we didn't want to spend the money or the time on a theme-parky experience at the Ingalls homestead, so we climbed the lookout tower for a visual overview and called it a day.

Like me, my daughter most wanted to see Pa's cottonwoods and the historical marker. That area was in the fee area if you approached it from the visitor's center, but we noticed an opening in the fence near the roadway, with a path leading to the marker and the trees, so we parked on the side of the road and got to visit that area for free.

(little van on the prairie)

My daughter has seen a few episodes of the Little House TV show. She finds it a little too corny, but when I told her to run down the hill with her arms spread out, she knew just what to do:


The Garden Bell said...

This has been so much fun to travel with you this summer.

I just don't get it. I gave my neice Anne of Green Gables and she thought the same thing. These are classic and it's such a shame to be thought of as CORNY>

Tricia said...

I really like that first photo from the lookout tower!

Anonymous said...

I am English and I really loved the 'Little House' books. The Long Winter was/is my favourite - such tenacity! (This book was chosen to be read aloud every day on a TV show - I then read all the books). Am also a closet admirer of Almanzo - he was very brave along with Cap Garland in the Long Winter. I also admired the fact that whatever the weather he was there to colect Laura in his sleigh! Was sad to uncover that Almanzo had a stroke from which he never fully recovered and that Cap Garland died in an accident.I loved and admired Laura as a child and still now as an adult. I also loved the TV show too.

besomom said...

Hi Anonymous,

Thanks for your comment. It's always fun to hear from other Little House fans. The lengths those settlers had to go through to survive is incredible. At all of the museums we visited, people commented how wonderful it was that Laura recorded her stories. Who knows what other remarkable stories from that time went untold? Being in the actual settings makes it all come fantastically alive.