Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the beloved Little House series that generations of children have read and continue to read. Laura recorded her family’s trek across the mid-western United States, and many of the towns she lived in with her family have built museums and replicated houses in honor of them. This article will take you on a tour of the most popular sites, where you will see many log cabins and learn more about pioneer life. Whether you stick with a virtual tour or visit the sites in person, you will discover the sacrifices that pioneers made for their posterity, creating a new appreciation for hard work and love.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Pepin, Wisconsin, and a replica of the “little house in the big woods” was built on the same land where Laura’s original house stood. Many readers will remember this town as the site where young Laura visited her grandparents and cousins for Christmas and gathered sap to make maple syrup. Today, there is a museum and gift shop where fans of the books can visit and buy pioneer memorabilia. The site of the replica log cabin includes picnic tables and restrooms outside, so on your visit you can stop here to eat lunch and walk around the well-kept grounds of the cabin.
After leaving Wisconsin, the Ingallses first stopped in Independence, Kansas. In your modern-day journey it would take you a little over nine hours by car from Pepin, Wisconsin, to reach Independence, Kansas. Fans of the novels might remember that in Kansas the family first meets Mr. Edwards, who teaches Laura how to spit and brings Christmas gifts from Santa to the family. Another replicated cabin stands in the Ingalls family’s honor, and you can also visit a well dug by Laura’s father, Charles (or “Pa,” as the family called him). An old post office and school are also on site, and though neither was there when the Ingallses were, they serve the same purpose as the Ingallses’ cabin: to provide a historical context for younger generations.
Walnut Grove, Minnesota
After traveling south to Kansas from Wisconsin, the Ingallses trekked north again to Minnesota. You would drive another nine hours to get to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. However, once you got there, your lodgings would be decidedly more comfortable than the Ingallses’. They lived in a dugout until Pa built a cabin for the family. The dugout caved in years ago, but the site still exists today and is open for visitors from May to October. There is also a Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. On your visit, you can tour the museum to see a quilt that Laura once owned, and if you go in July, you can watch the Wilder Pageant, which dramatizes events from Laura’s life when she lived in Walnut Grove. No doubt Nellie Olsen, the infamous bully, will make an appearance during the pageant, along with other more beloved characters in the novels.
De Smet, South Dakota
De Smet, South Dakota, was the final stop for Laura’s family. Five books in the nine-book series are based in what was known at the time as the Dakota Territory. The last leg of your journey would be much shorter than previous legs; it will take you just two hours to reach De Smet from Walnut Grove. The Ingallses endured many cold winters in De Smet, but De Smet is also where Laura and Almanzo got married. There are many pioneer activities for De Smet visitors, including taking covered wagon rides, making corncob dolls, and washing clothes on a washboard. You can also tour the Ingalls homestead and visit many other sites, including barns and a school.
At the end of your tour, you will have seen many replicas of cabins and learned how to do a few pioneer chores. However, it is likely that you will have also gained appreciation for modern-day conveniences (washing machines certainly take less effort to operate than washboards). You will also have seen how important family was to the Ingallses and that society can still learn from our pioneer ancestors how to work hard and take care of each other.
Visit these websites for more information about the places mentioned in this article: