We've been reading Laura Ingalls' Little House book series since Beatrix was nearly 4. I remember the day we began. It was a dreary, cold wintery afternoon. A day in which most likely was accessorized with hot tea or hot cocoa in our chilly hands. It was a pile of blankets on the couch day...a wool socks and layers kind of day. Little did I know, on that gray afternoon how much the stories of Laura and her family would shape the reality of our time since then. During bedtime, on road trips, read by myself, and Byron, or listened to on audiobooks -- Laura Ingalls has been a constant in our family. It's quite incredible to say, how is it that I can say this, what a strong girl I get to raise...but my daughter worships not princesses, but pioneer girls and boys, more specifically, Laura and Almonzo. Oh, just as Laura did, she loves Manzo some kind of fiercely. Between him, Pa, and her own daddy, she is well equipped with examples of good men in her life.
Last week, we travelled from Texas to South Dakota to visit the Ingalls Homestead. On the way there, we listened to Little Town On the Prairie. The audiobook ended literally minutes before we arrived in De Smet. As we turned down the dirt lane that led us to the homestead, Beatrix rolled down the window and, bless her heart, in her dreamy little voice said, "I think I can smell the violets, Mama!" Oh yes, being there was a dream. What a dear, sweet visit we had. The homestead is situated on Pa's original homestead claim. The current buildings were either recently built, moved, or reconstructed there. They aren't original. Nevertheless, the experience is lovely. As one of the guides declared, the only thing original at the current homestead is the land.
Oh, but the land.
We were on the land that Pa settled.
That fact alone had me swooning. We strolled the perimeter of the property just as Laura and Mary strolled. Beatrix ran through fields of tall grasses just as Laura ran. We slept in a covered wagon and experienced the vastness of the prairie sky just as Laura experienced it. We felt the prairie winds whip through our hair just as Laura felt it. Oh, being there on that humble parcel of land was just magnificent!
We slept two nights on the homestead in this little covered wagon. It had a double matress towards the far end and a roll out twin mattress. The wagon had electricity which was nice. We were able to charge our phones and the camera battery. On our first night, a huge thunderstorm rolled through. The winds were whipping, the thunder roaring and the rain pounded down on us for hours! During the storm, I think we each took turns peeking out the window, slightly concerned by the force of the winds, slightly wondering if we'd have to make a run for the bathhouse/underground shelter. Turns out, we were safe and sound in the little wagon. We stayed just as dry as can be. The storm took with it the blistering heat and the next few days there were cloudy and cool. Perfect weather for us Texans.
This is an example of what a dugout shelter might have looked like. The Ingalls lived in one during their years in Minnesota. If you look closely at the second image of the dugout, you can see the wall of sod from the indoors -- roots and all. This little dugout was tiny and humble, but so sweet and lovely.
Oh, the sky. It goes on forever.
Bea loves camping chores. Helping to wash the dishes is one of her favorite responsibilities.
One of Bea's favorite spots to explore was the haybarn. This barn was built as Pa described his. In the barn, there was a calf, chicks, a few goats, and kittens. The kittens actually roamed the homestead after dark and were quite sociable. One night we even found one sleeping on our covered wagon steps. Too bad, Bea was (finally) asleep at that point.
This is Ma's Little House. The homestead organization built this little house using the specs provided by Charles Ingalls kept on file by the town of De Smet. It is also situated on the property where Ma had described it to be.
This is behind Ma's house. In the distance you can see a few tall cottonwood trees. Those are among the very few still living that were planted by Pa.
All of the buildings were entirely welcoming to children and adults alike. Since there were no original artifacts (only representations of what the Ingalls might have had), things like the organ and Ma's sewing machine and the table place setting could be touched, explored, and played with which helps to create a sense of really living out the experience....of really being there, with Laura.
Since we stayed on the homestead and we were on a flat prairie there was so much visible room to roam. Beatrix loved exploring on her own. While Byron and I cooked or tidied up the camp sight, she explored the horse barn or the hay barn. One morning, I found her washing laundry outside of Ma's Little House with a few other visitors. She practiced a lot of courage introducing herself to new friends over the entire trip, hoping to find a kindred spirit and someone her age to play with. What a big girl she is!
This is the barn where they keep the ponies, mules, and horses. The homestead offers free wagon and pony rides to all of its visitors.
Beatrix did an amazing job driving the pony cart! Isn't it the most precious set up? And boy, wouldn't it be fun to run errands around town like this?
This school house is on the edge of the property. We took a covered wagon ride to it. Bea got to hold the reins and drive the wagon for a bit! On the ride there we were able to see tall grass meadows, wildflowers, and the oat and wheat fields. Dreamy! I couldn't help but think of the many, many wagon and sleigh rides that Laura and Almanzo had together in this area. What were their paths? Where are the paths today? Is there any sign of their times together there remaining?
Oh, the wildflowers and grasses were mesmerizing. I might have taken hundreds of images right there in the fields.
The wheat was still growing.
This is a sweet little chapel that was just about destined to be torn down. Instead, the owners of the homestead saved it moved it here a few years ago. Now, couples use it for wedding ceremonies.
The town of De Smet is just as interesting. These two houses are orignial and can be toured. The white house is the surveyors house and is where Laura and her family spent their first winter in De Smet. She was overcome with fascination by how large and luxurious it was. The blue house that I am sitting in front of was Pa and Ma's last house. Pa built this one in town after he sold his homestead. He actually only owned his homestead for about 7 years, I think. After he sold the land, they moved into town and spent the rest of their years here. On Main Street, every building has a sign in front of it indicating what business was originally there. It's fascnating to see where Royal and Almanzo's feed store was... Where Pa's store was... Where Laura purchased her name cards... Where she worked as a seamstress...And so much more. What an interesting walk down memory lane. And it also makes one realize that these Little House books are the stories of just one endearing family that happend to be recorded...that enable generation after generation to fall in love with these real people and their real lives. Think of all the stories in the history of human kind floating around us. How many Pa's and Ma's and Laura's and stories of kindness and hard-work, and fiddle music and cozy family moments go unknown except only to those who lived them in the moment.
On our last night at the homestead, we attended a Little House Pageant. It was held outside on the open prairie. Bea was smitten with the performance especially since the theme song was "Simple Gifts", one of her current favorites.