Since leaving Yellowstone, we’ve crossed Wyoming, taking in a rodeo and state fair, and made our way through The Black Hills, and across most of South Dakota. Before I post about any of those adventures, and trust me when I tell you there were many, I want to skip to one of our last days because it was just so good. I know there are a lot of friends and family waiting to learn more about our time in De Smet, South Dakota, living the life of a young Laura Ingalls.
First off I need to mention what a near miss this experience was to us. Having just finished On The Banks of Plum Creek with Frijoles, and having no idea yet that the Ingalls ever lived in what was then Dakota Territory, De Smet was nowhere on my radar. But late one night, while finalizing the details of our road trip, and on Trip Advisor trying desperately to scrounge up something to do near my father’s hometown, it was suggested through the site that I might consider The Ingalls Homestead in a neighboring town.
When I clicked through I was absolutely floored!! Laura Ingalls lived in South Dakota?? Just thirty miles from where my father grew-up?!? Then I learned that the next Little House book we were about to start - By The Shores of Silver Lake - begins with their journey to this territory. I realized visiting it worked PERFECTLY with the one remaining hole in our travel schedule. I then found an amazing B+B, run by a family who strives to keep this part of our American history alive!! I was completely sold and vowed to finish all the books with the kids before we arrived!!!
And then I went to bed and starred at the ceiling with an accelerated heart rate for the next three hours.
So exciting, right!?!
Now flash forward to this pask week when we were making our way east, through Wyoming and South Dakota, all the while listening to the final three Little House books on audio. A captive audience, everyone was engulfed in the stories and well prepared for our arrival.
We arrived in the tiny town of De Smet, ready for two nights and one day of exploring. At the suggestion of a local, we took the in-town tour first, covering the surveyor’s house, two neighboring prairie school houses, as well as the house Pa build once he and Ma moved off the homestead and into town. It was the right way to do things. Our day started with a one-hour tour of these otherwise locked buildings. The kids were fed and rested, and attention was good. Photos are not allowed in either of the homes, but we could snap away in the one-room schools. These was a lot to take in! The surveyor’s house was just as I'd imagined, have read Laura’s descriptions, and our tour guide was great about relating everything back to the books, as well as adding in additional trivia.
Once our tour concluded it was time for lunch, and even I was feeling a little tired. But we came to see the homestead and so after a short rest and some refueling, off we went down the road.
Knock, knock! Ma, I'm home!
Little Miss Frijoles was beside herself with excitement. Once at the homestead, she kept busy for four hours playing with kittens, fetching water for the barn animals from the well Pa dug 135 years ago, washing laundry by hand, playing a pump organ like the one Laura bought for Mary, and making a corn doll like Laura's *Susan*. The boys jumped in with certain activities like rope making and pony rides, but mostly they focused on catching frogs and snakes, or lassoing each other.
It should be said that all this was made possible by just a few families that had a dream of restoring this homestead to its original state, beginning in the early 1990's.
I was told that one couple bought this land back from a commercial farmer after over 100+ years of it having been farmed. They put up at tiny visitors center, and that was about it. It wasn’t clear to me if they cleared the crops or not, but I do know that at this time, all that remained of the homestead was the well that Pa dug. Then at some point, a family (from….Iowa? Ohio?) was driving through to see the spot, and as a result, they had the vision to take it ten steps further by returning it to as much of a working homestead as it had been in the 1880’s. Can we just bow our heads and have a moment of thanks for people such as these? This family apparently bought the land from the first couple, then moved out to De Smet and made it ALL come true so that the rest of us can relive these stories, and the time in our history that they embody. I was also incredibly impressed with the knowledge and enthusiasm of ALL the people working the farm and guiding the various activities. Amazing! Just AMAZING!!!