Laura Ingalls Wilder in De Smet – Ingalls Homestead
Laura lived in De Smet for many of her growing up years. Pa first came to De Smet working for the railroad. Later Ma & the girls followed, taking the train for the first time. It is here on the Ingalls Homestead where they moved to from Walnut Grove.
We visited the Ingalls Homestead many years ago, but I still remember being so excited to be exploring right where Laura grew up. It certainly made the books come to life for me. Laura lived here until August 1885, when she married Almanzo. The rest of the family stayed here for three more years until they moved in to the town of De Smet.
The Ingalls Homestead is now a living history museum of the pioneer way of life focusing on the Ingalls family. It is open Memorial Day through Labor Day.
What to See
Being from the Pacific NW where mountains and big trees are the norm, just being on the wide open prairie was an experience. I can’t explain it, but it feels different than where I call home. I loved being in the place I had read about in Laura’s books.
View of the Visitor Center from the look out tower.
Inside this little white building was an exhibit on Laura’s travels. It had information on the Homestead Act signed in to law by Abraham Lincoln in 1862 to entice families to settle the west. Charles Ingalls applied for homestead rites on this plot of land in 1880 and filed his proving-up papers in 1886 gaining him this land issued by the government. They earned nearly 160 acres of land, spending only $16 in filing fees. Remember the song lyric Uncle Sam is rich enough to give us all a farm – fortunately this rang true for the Ingalls family. Only about 40% of the pioneer families actually gained their land. It was hard work and the land wasn’t always cooperative.
The Lure of the Land
In spite of the hardships, thousands of men and women
who dreamed of owning a farm were willing to make a home on the Great Plains.
They were a different breed from those fortune seekers and
adventure hunters who had journeyed West in earlier years seeking fast
riches and then moving on.
The new settlers wanted to establish farms that they could work on
and then pass on to their children.
These were the settlers who would finally tame the Old West.
This claim shanty was built in 1878. It was not owned by the Ingalls, but by the Burvee’s who lived near by. The Ingalls did, however, live in a one room shanty the first summer on their claim. Claim shanty’s were quickly built out of wood and tar paper.
I just can’t imagine living for months in one, small room. When we were building our own house a number of years ago, we stayed with my parents in what used to be my old bedroom as a kid. It was a decent sized room, but it was cramped with the hubby, 2 little boys & pregnant me. The pioneers must have been very patient, understanding people. I’ve always thought how awful it must have been for children having to live with, “don’t speak until spoken to.” But, by golly, maybe that was the only way the adults got a moments peace in such a small space.
An example of a dugout. Pioneers often built their home in the side of the earth. I’m sure it was cheaper, but also the dirt around them kept their home cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Ingenious. The Ingalls family lived in a dugout along Plum Creek near Walnut Grove.
Ma’s Little House!
This is a reconstructed version of the claim shanty Pa built in 1880. Pa originally built one room, then later added on the other.
Ma’s little house was decorated as it would have looked when the Ingalls family lived there, including Mary’s organ.
Pa built a hay roof barn similar to this one. If you step inside, you can even see farm animals.
There were many kids running around in pioneer clothes. I loved it! A couple years ago, I bought a pattern to make pioneer clothes. I need to get on that.
There was a hands-on water pump. It is said that Pa dug six feet to find water. That is amazing to me. Our well was dug at 350 feet.
Covered Wagon Ride through the Prairie
We took a short covered wagon ride to a prairie school.
The wagon ride went passed a field of corn…
… and through native grasses.
Johnson School #20
The Johnson School was built in 1889 in a location nearby & later moved to this site for us all to visit. The outside reminds me of the schoolhouse/church from the Little House on the Prairie TV show.
Inside the school we attended class in the 1880’s.
Just wow! 😮 ↓
1882 Rules for Teachers
1. Teachers each day will fill lamps & clean chimneys.
2. Each teacher will bring a bucket of water & scuttle of coal.
3. Make your pens carefully. You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of pupils.
4. Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
5. After ten hours in school, the teachers may spend the remaining time reading the bible or other good books.
6. Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.
7. Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of their earnings for their benefit during their declining years so that they will not become a burden to society.
8. Any teacher who smoke, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool halls, or gets shaven in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect their worth, intention, integrity and honesty.
9. The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of twenty-five cents per week in their pay, providing the board of education approves.
A corner of the Ingalls Homestead was donated to the LIW Memorial Society. On that chunk of land are the five remaining cottonwood trees that Pa planted on his homestead claim.
Camping on Site
There’s a bunkhouse & covered wagons available to sleep in. We camped the entire way from Oregon to Minnesota. So, we just pitched our tent for only $10. Check out the Homestead website for current offerings.
I really enjoyed visiting the Ingalls Homestead. As much as I like reading, I am a hands-on learner. I need to see, and feel, and experience. My favorite was seeing actual examples of the various dwellings. Visiting here totally enhanced my love of the Little House books.
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