Thursday, September 20, 2012

Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and The South Dakota

Sunday, September 16th   ......Published 3 days later

Today we left Huron, South Dakota, driving east on Rt. 14. The plan was to go to De Smet, in eastern South Dakota. It was the actual place where Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family lived during the period of time she wrote about in Little House on the Prairie.

Randy and I have visited her other home in Minnesota, which was about the earlier yeas, and De Smet is about the prairie life. Pa and Ma Ingalls, her parents in real life, are buried here, along with two of her sisters and her baby boy.

I don't know what was wrong with our map-reading skills or sign-noticing skills today, but we drove into De Smet, through De Smet, out of De Smet, back to De Smet TWICE, and put about 35 miles on the car within this very small town, totally due to our talking or other distractions. We had a fairly good laugh about it, once we finally left town, but it wasn't very funny while we were being stupid.

Signs led us to the Laura Ingalls Wilder home inside the town. There is a surveyor's house, where her family lived for a year, a school, and a replica of a school where she taught when she was about fifteen years old. There were nice restrooms, a gift shop which we could not visit since it is Sunday, and a very lovely park with picnic tables. (Oh, to have found these yesterday...........)

We left town and were a good five or six miles away before I read aloud from the AAA book telling about the burial site of the family. It wouldn't do not to turn around and go back so I could see where Pa, Ma, Mary, Carrie, and Laura's baby are buried. We stopped at the grocery to ask for directions, but the lady who gave them had "east and west" confused, so we ended up going out of town a good five to six miles again, before realizing her error.

No, I did not say, “Oh, just skip it.” I wanted to see the graves! Back yet again to town, through town, and at the street across from the sign for the hospital, we went about a mile into the country to find the cemetery. It is extremely well-cared-for, and we found the grave site due to good signage. Pa's tombstone has inscribed on it in very worn letters, “He has gone to a mansion in the sky,” on it. The other stones all match each other, and are more modern. I was surprised to see that Ma Ingalls gave birth to little Carrie when she was forty-one years old: a modern woman for her time.

I have read the Little House books, first as a child, then to my own daughter, then to my classes. I have such a fondness for them due to the values of family, love, caring for each other, and goodness that they convey to the reader. As a child, I must have realized that these books gave a sense of security and family togetherness that I cherished and needed. They are all good. The TV series was also very fine, but as a child reader, there was nothing better than imagining what I was reading and seeing it in my own mind.

Following the cemetery, we thought we'd stop at the Ingalls' Homestead, which is east of town on Rt. 14, and off on a dirt road about a mile or so. We'd seen the sign on our now TWO trips back to De Smet, but somehow missed the sign as we went east for our second time. When we got about seven miles out of town, we turned around, (because by now this was a challenge to find it) and drove back towards De Smet.

Aha! We saw the sign as we approached the town, and noticed that there was no sign on the opposite side of the road, which vindicated our stupidity a bit.

The Homestead is a large area. You can see the church from Rt. 14, if that will help you to find this place. There are several buildings, including the original dugout that Pa dug into a hill for the family to live in while he built their house.
You can rent this!
We could see a covered wagon  full of families, moving across the prairie towards the old school. It was drawn by large horses. Other children were making ropes at another building. We had arrived close to closing time and were told that we might be able to get a wagon ride, but we'd have to walk quickly through the rest of the area. The fee is $10 per person, and there is a lookout tower that we could climb up on without paying the fee, so we chose to do that instead. We really got a good view from up there. If we were parents with little children, especially fans of the Little House books, we would have stayed in town and come back the next day. Not to be missed, if you have children!!

One really neat feature that our AAA book did not mention is that there are sturdy covered wagon overnight motels, or whatever they call them, on the grounds. For only $50 a night, you can sleep in the covered wagon on the grounds. You must supply your own linens and towels, but there is a grill, showers, restrooms, and a picnic table for each unit. The hostess told us that they are booked fairly solid during the summer, but today there was only one in use. At the age of twelve, I would have moved Heaven and Earth to have had that experience.

We drove out of De Smet, for the last time, listening to our really involved and exciting audio book, The Scent of Rain and Lightning, by Nancy Pickard. Well-written, and well-read, this book has captured our attention for the past two days.

In a small town called Volga, west of Brookings, we stopped at the Schade Vineyards, which we could see from Rt. 14. We had the free wine tasting. The server told us that over 100 stores are carrying their wine. We did not purchase any wine there, but did admire their gardens and polite server.

We got onto Rt. 29 South at Sioux Falls. On we drove, mesmerized by our audiobook, until we decided to get gas. We realized that we had gotten off Rt. 29 at the site of the Memorial for the Battleship South Dakota. It had been on our “list” of things to see, but we didn't, on our way west, and here we were, looking at it without even planning to be there!

The Battleship South Dakota served in WWII. Its story is amazing, and its size is surprising. It was the length of two football fields. The ship itself is not there, but the memorial has mapped out and created a mock ship using low walls to show the size of the ship. Real radar towers, a sixty-some foot long gun, models of machine gun, and the general layout of this battleship was there to give us the idea of the size and function of this ship. Please remember that this description is being written by a woman who has no idea what she is talking about. A photo will help a lot.

We drove further south on Rt. 29 to Sioux City, Iowa, and at one point took the wrong turn and ended up in Nebraska! The good news is that we'd been here recently, and got off Rt. 29 in the same area we'd stayed in on the way west. Tonight we are at The Victorian, a very impressive non-chain motel that gave us a room at a beer rate, but has a champagne class delivery of services and immaculate guest rooms. We've been in the hot tub, ordered a pizza, and are resting up for our next adventure as we head towards home.

  We still have a few things to do before we get there....................

(p.s.  The Victorian turned out to be a gem.  They are small and growing.....maybe 5-7 motels in all.  The breakfast far surpassed most of the chains, the cleanliness was amazing, and they made sure that all guests were taken care of to the best. )