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Laura Ingalls Wilder

Pioneering Journeys of the Ingalls Family
De Smet, South Dakota

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Five of the Little House books, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years, take place in De Smet, South Dakota. In 1878 the Ingalls family left Iowa and returned to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, where Pa built a house in town and found carpentry work. In the winter of 1879 Mary became very ill with a high fever and gradually lost her eyesight. Mary accepted her blindness with patience, and Laura began to describe to Mary in detail what she saw. Pa's sister, Docia, came to Walnut Grove to offer Pa a job managing the company store for the railroad being built into the Dakota Territory.

This is the Surveyor's House where the Ingallses stayed during the winter and spring of 1879-1880. Here the family ran a "hotel" for arriving settlers.

The Surveyor's House
The Surveyor's House
--Photo courtesy of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society and Leslie A. Kelly

 

pantry
The Pantry of the Surveyor's House
--Photo courtesy of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD http://www.discoverlaura.org

The house seemed very large to Laura. The pantry looked like a store, with barrels of flour, corn meal and salt pork. There were even soda crackers and canned peaches. In February 1880 Pa filed a claim for some land south of the newly laid-out town of De Smet. In the spring Ma and the girls found themselves in the hotel business again, offering meals and a place to sleep to the many settlers who arrived in the camp.

 

The Ingalls family were the first settlers in De Smet when it was formed in 1880. Pa bought lots along main street, and on one of the lots he built a store. It seemed to Laura that the town grew up almost overnight. During the hard winter, the Ingalls family moved from their claim shanty into their store in town. Pa counted 14 business buildings and the depot and 75 or 80 people in town. In the spring of 1881 Pa built two rooms onto the claim shanty and once again the family moved.

. De Smet in 1900
De Smet in 1900
--Photo courtesy of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD http://www.discoverlaura.org

 

The parlor of the Ingalls home
The Parlor of the Ingalls Home
--Photo courtesy of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, De Smet, SD http://www.discoverlaura.org

In 1887 the Ingalls family sold their farm, and Pa built a house on Third Street in De Smet. Pa gradually added a kitchen, parlor, three bedrooms and a porch onto the original house. When Grace Ingalls was nine years old she started a diary and wrote in it from time to time until she was sixteen. On Monday, March 5, 1888, Grace wrote, "We live in town now in not a very large house but better than the shanty."

 

When this photograph was taken, Laura and Almanzo Wilder were married and had a young daughter named Rose. Mary had graduated from the Iowa College for the Blind and was living at home. Carrie had taught school and was working at the local newspaper office. Grace was attending school.

The Ingalls family
The Ingalls Family in 1894 (l-r): Caroline, Carrie, Laura, Charles, Grace and Mary
--Photo courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society-State Archives, Pierre, SD http://www.sdhistory.org

 

Grace Ingalls
Grace Ingalls
--Photo from the collection of the
Hoover Library, photo RWL #5

The last entry in Grace's diary is dated Sep. 3 rd 1893. She wrote, "An now sixteen years old..Laura & Manly went to Florida came back and now live in De Smet." In 1890 Laura, Almanzo and Rose left De Smet to live with Almanzo's parents in Spring Valley, Minnesota, before moving to Florida. In 1894 Laura, Almanzo and Rose left De Smet and traveled by covered wagon to Mansfield, Missouri.

 

Photographs of the pantry at the Surveyors' House, the parlor of the Ingalls home and postcard of De Smet courtesy of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society,105 Olivet Ave., Box 426, De Smet, SD 57231 http://www.discoverlaura.org Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope when corresponding.


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