How I Spent My Summer 1999 Vacation:

The Laura Ingalls Wilder (LIW) Trip

For years, my sister Mary and I have talked about visiting all of the sites LIW lived in and wrote about in her books.  We grew up with the books, and most of the sites are (in these days of cars and 65-70 mph speed limits) relatively close together and not that far from where we live.  This summer (July 1999) we finally did it, with Jean, my sister-in-law.  In a one-week period, I visited all but two or three of the sites connected to Laura and Almanzo's life growing up and growing older.

List of Laura Ingalls Wilder Sites (I visited six of them)

Pepin, WI -- Big Woods Independence, KS -- Prairie Malone, NY -- Farmer Boy
Walnut Grove, MN -- Plum Creek Burr Oak, Iowa DeSmet, SD -- Town on Prairie
Spring Valley, MN Mansfield, MO

I'll describe them in the order she lived in them, not the order I visited them.  All the pictures here are ones I took myself.

MAP of the seven mid-west sites (doesn't show Malone, NY)  (map created with Microsoft Automap Streets Plus 1997 Edition)

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Pepin, Wisconsin--Little House in the Big Woods

Laura actually lived here a couple times, when she was very young, and then again in between some of the other moves.  Nothing remains of the log cabins her family lived in.  The people in Pepin have a museum with items generally from that period, but not directly connected to her.  There is also a reconstructed log cabin outside of town, somewhere near where they guess her family lived.  The woods are long gone, and it's all farm country now.

Town website:

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Independence, Kansas -- Little House on the Prairie (One of the places I didn't get to)

It's not too far from Mansfield, but my schedule didn't allow it--I had to get back to St. Louis the same day, and I was there in 1981 or '82.  I just don't remember it very well.  I'll get back there some day.

Official website:

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Malone/Cherry Valley, New York -- Farmer Boy (I didn't get there in 1999, but I visited in 2003)

This is where Laura's husband Almanzo grew up. She told part of his story in Farmer Boy. The house is still standing; the barns have been reconstructed. It has all been nicely restored. There is a short video presentation, a tiny museum, and guided tours of the rebuilt barns and the original house, which has been restored and furnished as it might have been. There is also an easy walking trail down to the creek/stream.
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Walnut Grove, Minnesota -- On the Banks of Plum Creek

When the Ingalls family left Wisconsin the second time they settled outside the town of Walnut Grove.  When the covered wagon pulled up, Laura couldn't see any house.  Much to her surprise, the house turned out to be almost underground!  It was a dugout house, built into the side of a creekbank, using sod to form the walls and even the roof.  The sod house has long-since collapsed, but you can see a definite depression in the bank of the creek where it caved in and has grown over.

Pa did build a frame house nearby, but that too is gone.

Link to Walnut Grove's Official LIW site:
Site of Dugout House

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Burr Oak, Iowa -- not mentioned in her books.

The Ingalls family lived there for a few years in between Walnut Grove, a trip back to Pepin, and some other stays with family.  They lived in Walnut Grove both before and after living in Burr Oak.  It was not a happy time for the family.  A little brother died during this period.  Laura chose not to write about this time.  It is the gap between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake.  When they moved to Burr Oak, they worked in a hotel there, which is still standing, at the same site.  It has been restored to something close to what it would have been like when they were there.  When we visited there, we were greeted and given the tour by some young folks who knew their jobs well.


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De Smet, South Dakota -- By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years

Silver Lake and the Big Slough have been drained.  But there is still a small town here, and you can see the Surveyor's House (much smaller than you imagined it, as are all the houses I visited -- people just needed, or could afford, less personal space in those days -- people were a little smaller then, but still...I think I'm just spoiled by the standard of living we enjoy here at the end of the 20th century in the USA) and the house that Ma and Pa, Mary, Carrie and Grace lived in later, after Laura left and Ma and Pa eventually sold the farm and lived in town. The Ingalls house has a number of artifacts, letters, photos, etc. from the Ingalls parents, sisters, etc.  The upstairs is furnished with Rose Wilder Lane's furniture (she was Laura and Almanzo's only surviving child). 
You can also see the site where the Ingalls claim was, and the cottonwood trees planted by Pa in the story are still there.  You can visit the site where Laura and Almanzo's claims were, but there's nothing left now, not even the trees from the tree claim (there are a few straggly, dead-looking things, but I wouldn't call them trees).  The cemetery where Ma & Pa are buried along with Mary, Carrie, Grace, and Laura & Almanzo's baby that died is located outside of town.  Other familiar names such as the Boasts, etc. are also found there.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society's site in De Smet:

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Spring Valley, Minnesota -- not in the books

Almanzo's parents had a farm here, and Laura and Almanzo lived here for awhile while he was recuperating.  See Mansfield description.  The only thing we found directly connected was the Methodist Church.  There is a gift shop and museum showing items from the time period, and the church's fine stained glass windows.

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Mansfield, Missouri -- not in her books, but she wrote them here

Laura and Almanzo moved here after the disastrous first few years when the farm and Almanzo's health failed.  After they had to leave their claims outside De Smet (the crops failed, the house burned, drought killed the trees, they were ill, lost a baby, and 30-year-old Almanzo had a stroke which left him weak and somewhat lame the rest of his life), they spent time with Laura's parents in De Smet, Almanzo's family in Spring Valley, and even traveled to Florida.  His health improved somewhat, but she couldn't stand the heat.  They returned north, and having heard that Missouri had good farmland and was good for growing apples, they packed up their covered wagon and moved to Mansfield with their daughter Rose.  They spent the next many years turning a rocky hillside acreage into a successful farm and orchard.  They built the house here together, one room at a time, from trees and stones taken from their own property.

The museum here has by far the most complete collection of items actually connected to the family, including Pa's violin, the glass bread plate, and lots of letters and photographs.  The house is also furnished with furniture, dishes, etc. that were there when Laura and Almanzo lived into their ripe old ages there.

Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are all buried in the cemetery in town.

Mansfield site:

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