Monday, August 10

We spend the day in De Smet, both to rest and to see the sights described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House books.

De Smet is a small town on what used to be the South Dakota prairie. In her books, Laura remembers her youth as a pioneer's daughter at the end of the 19th century.

We take the Laura Ingalls Wilder tour, starting at the "surveyor's house". This is where the Ingalls family spent their first winter in South Dakota. Her description in By the shores of Silver Lake conjures up a two-story mansion, but it is really a tiny little house. It was originally located just outside of town, on Lake Silver, which was drained. Since the house is one of the main tourist attractions, it was moved. The Ingalls family provided room and board to settlers who were on their way west. The surveyors used the house during the summer, but they went back east to be with their families for the winter. They asked Pa Ingalls to look after the house and their tools in return for the provisions and coal they had stored there in preparation for the South Dakota winter. Laying in provisions was a necessity, as Laura relates in her book The long winter. The winter of 1881-82 brought blizzards almost daily for six months. Trains stopped running by the end of December, so no provisions or coal could be brought in. Laura and her family spent the long winter in De Smet instead of on their claim southeast of town. The place where they lived is marked on the tour, but the original building is gone.

We continue our stroll through De Smet and see a number of other locations that are mentioned in the Little House books, such as the Loftus store (from The long winter) and the house that Pa Ingalls built after Laura married Almanzo Wilder and left home. Here we find a display of Little House books in some of the languages into which they have been translated. Yes, the Dutch language version is there, too. The upstairs is dedicated to Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo's daughter, who was a writer and a reporter. During the Vietnam War, she was the oldest American war correspondent in Saigon. She died in 1968, at the age of 82.

Of course we also visited the Ingalls homestead. There is no house there anymore, but a marker has been erected. The trees that Pa Ingalls planted are still there. Try to imagine this picture without the trees. This was just about the view they must have had a hundred years ago. Some of the trees that Almanzo Wilder planted on his tree claim north of town (The first four years) are also still there.

Frank and Mark loved the prairie grass, but a half a day of Little House sights is about all they can take. So in the afternoon, we take them to the town swimming pool. It's a great pool, with very little chlorine and two diving boards. Frank can't get enough of jumping off the low one. The high one is still a bit too scary. That evening, we have a Dakota Burger in the restaurant across the street from the motel.

For more information on De Smet, see the South Dakota State information page. For more information on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her books, see the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society.

Copyright © 1998 by Eric Grivel and Nicoline Smits. All rights reserved.