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Laura Ingalls Wilder


De Smet, South Dakota Street Map
Ingalls Claim


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Charles Ingalls

Charles Ingalls
Photo from the collection of the Herbert Hoover Library (RWL#8)

In February 1880, Charles Ingalls traveled from Silver Lake to the Land Office in Brookings in the Dakota Territory . He went to file a claim for 160 acres of public land for a homestead. Pa said that he had made a bet with Uncle Sam that the family could live on the claim for five years. He also agreed to dig a well, build a house and plant crops. After five years he could "prove up" on the claim and the family would own the land.

On the land claim he built a one-room claim shanty for his family to live in that summer. Claim shanties, made of boards and tarpaper, were hastily built. This was done to show others one's "claim" to that land and to provide housing. The Ingalls family, Pa, Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie and Grace, lived in their one-room shanty for a summer until Pa could build another room onto it. Ma thought it looked like "half of a woodshed split in two."

Muskrat house
A Muskrat House Near Conesville, Iowa


After a blizzard in October, the Ingalls family moved from the drafty claim shanty into Pa's store building in De Smet. When Pa was making hay earlier in the fall, he showed Laura a muskrat house in the Big Slough. Its walls were the thickest Pa had ever seen. He told Laura that the thicker the walls, the harder the winter.

coffee grinder and lantern
A Coffee Grinder and a Lantern
--Photo courtesy of the Lone Tree Museum , 203 S. Devoe Street , Lone Tree, IA 52755

That winter there were so many blizzards and so much snow that the supply trains could not get through. Food and fuel were running out. Pa and Laura twisted hay into sticks to burn in the stove. Mary and Laura ground wheat in a coffee grinder to make flour for bread. When the wheat ran out and the townspeople were in danger of starving, Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland made a daring trip across the prairie to buy seed wheat from a settler.

After the long, hard winter, the family moved back to the claim shanty. Then Pa plowed up the prairie sod and planted crops.


Claim Shanty
A Claim Shanty
click on image for larger view

Copy this drawing of a claim shanty and complete the picture by adding what a pioneer family would need to survive on the plains.

Because wood was scarce on the prairie, pioneers often built sod houses out of native prairie sod.





Herbert Hoover Presidential Library-Museum
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