All the Little Houses: Following in the Footsteps of Laura Ingalls Wilder
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The collected stories of author Laura Ingalls Wilder are a beloved mainstay in any young person’s library. The “Little House” books describe her family’s pioneer life in the American West of the late 1800s, and few can bring the challenges of pioneer living to vivid life like Wilder. For families wanting to learn more about the Ingalls family story, load up the wagons! Many of the places that she wrote about can be visited today, and provide educational lessons in the American history of the not-so-distant past.
Pepin, Wisconsin is the author’s birthplace and home to the Little House in the Big Woods, the first book of her life story. The Ingalls family lived seven miles outside Pepin and went into town to visit the store and see Lake Pepin. Remember how Laura picked up too many smooth pebbles and tore the pocket out of her dark red calico dress? Today, visitors can see a park, museum, and a re-creation of her little house. The “Laura Days” celebration is held every September.
Independence, Kansas was in Indian Territory when the family moved there in a covered wagon to homestead and build a tiny log cabin near the Verdigris River. That cabin has been reconstructed using traditional materials and methods, on the original historic site. Pa’s hand-dug well is still there, and the gift shop carries copies of the 1870 census of “Rutland Township” with Ingalls family data, plus original documents written by Laura. The Prairie Days festival is held every June, and includes crafts, wagon rides, and historical re-enactments.
The ruins of the Ingalls family dugout home are still to be found on the banks of Plum Creek, near Walnut Grove, Minnesota. There’s a Wilder museum, with a pew from the church where country girl Laura got a Christmas fur cape and muff, and a collection of items from the 1970s “Little House” television series. The Wilder Pageant outdoor drama is held every July.
The surveyor’s house from By the Shores of Silver Lake, Pa’s 1887 house (including Mary’s organ) in the Little Town on the Prairie, the cemetery where Laura and Almanzo’s infant son is buried and the now-tall cottonwood trees on the north line of Pa’s original claim are all located in De Smet, South Dakota.
Pa’s beloved fiddle rests in the house where Laura wrote her books in pencil on lined tablet paper; the Little House on Rocky Ridge in Mansfield, Missouri. This Ozarks home looks as it did in 1957, when Laura died at age 90. She and husband Almanzo are buried there, as is their daughter Rose Wilder Lane. The Ozark Mountain Players present the outdoor drama “Laura’s Memories” every July through September.
Although many things have changed since Wilder's pioneer past, a family trip is just the thing to bring the open road to life for children and parents alike. And, for a glimpse of Wilder's past that's a little closer to home, look no further than the bookshelf at your local library.