Day 4: De Smet, SD

Trip Start Jul 21, 2010
Trip End Jul 29, 2010

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Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum

Flag of United States  , South Dakota
Sunday, July 25, 2010

We slept in this morning. Mom and I both thought we deserved it after our harrowing experiences last night.  So we took it easy: Mom brought me breakfast in bed, and we lay around reading and relaxing until noon.  At that point we decided we ought to get ready for the day.  Fortunately, we decided to spend two nights in Brookings so we didn't need to pack up much to get out.  Still, we barely left before housekeeping came around for a "last call."

It was then around lunchtime so we headed to a local Brookings legend, Nick’s Hamburgers.  This small hamburger joint, established in 1929, is known for its mini burgers sold “by the bag.”  We ordered 4 mini-burgers and a chocolate malt shake to share.  I’m already a big fan of sliders, and these were about the best I’ve had.  If you’re ever in Brookings, I recommend it.  (Of course the Roadfood book by Jane and Michael Stern recommends it as well or we probably wouldn’t have gone.)

We enjoyed our burgers as we drove out of Brookings on US-14, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway, toward De Smet, SD.  In De Smet there are quiet a few LIW sites to visit: the Ingalls’ homestead outside De Smet, the original house that Pa built in town, the actual Surveyor’s house where the Ingalls spent their first winter in De Smet, and the schoolhouse that Laura and Carrie attended.  First, we explored the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum (our third such museum of this trip).  This one organized itself by the order and title of the books, which was helpful.  It also contained copies of the Little House books translated into a variety of other languages, which were interesting to see, especially their different cover illustrations. 

After the Museum in town, we went out the original homestead location, which is now owned and operated privately, but set up to display “Laura’s Pioneer Life.”  We walked through a “shanty house” like the one the Ingalls lived in during “On the Shores of Silver Lake,” when they first arrived in DeSmet.  We also toured a dugout house like the one we saw yesterday from “On the Banks of Plum Creek.” Finally, we took a covered wagon trip across the fields to a one-room schoolhouse that had been in use in the area until the early 1960’s.  There we got to try on dresses and bonnets, and learned that all testing during the pioneer days was done orally, from arithmetic facts to bible verses to historical dates to grammar

Our covered wagon guide, Shelby, was herself from De Smet and has recently graduated from the local high school as one of seventeen students.  She shared with us that she had been riding horses since she was two-years-old and assisting with calving since age eight.  Quite a different life it is for kids out here in the prairie!  Speaking of living out on the prairie today, we have discovered a major inconvenience of the rural areas is that our AT&T phone service does not work.  If you’ve been trying to reach us and have been sent straight to voicemail, this is why.  According to another tour guide at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, AT&T and T-Mobile hardly work at all and even Verizon service can be shaky.  I guess this is our own modern form of prairie hardship and isolation.

At the non-profit Museum in town (which we went back to after the homestead), we were taken on a guided tour of the Surveyors’ home, two old school buildings, and the Ingalls’ original home.  These were really fascinating, as they contain more authentic Ingalls’ furniture and belongings, second only to Mansfield, Missouri where we visited a few years ago.  The Surveyors’ house had the “whatnot” shelf that Pa built for Ma to display whatnots (what else?), and the main house had the cabinets Pa built for Ma, now displaying some of Roses’, Laura’s, and Ma’s china dishes.  We also got more detailed information about the history of the family, their travels, and the relationships they built here in De Smet.  Our tour guide, April, was really great and very tolerant of our (well, really, Mom’s) many questions.

Finally, at the end of the day, we were ready for another LIW Pageant.  The De Smet pageant is put on near the homestead grounds that Pa settled in the 1880.  We visited the actual site (see photo of Mom at the Historical Marker), before getting in the long line of cars entering the pageant.  We were fortunate to have chosen to visit Walnut Grove first, because the De Smet pageant was actually canceled last night due to the weather. 

Lest you think that we are the only crazy ones out here to see this stuff, I want to emphasize the fact that all of these sites have been veritably packed, with women and girls in bonnets, men with “Ingalls Homestead” shirts, and kids running around with rag and cornhusk dolls.  The De Smet Pageant is in its 39th year and has built up quite a lot of traditions over the years, including the “Roll Call of the States and Countries” where guests cheer for their respective home-state as it is announced. This is the first year that the Pageant committee chose to perform the story of “The First Four Years,” which was published from an unfinished manuscript discovered in Laura’s belongings after her death. The story would certainly not be described as a happy one, as it recounts many hardships and disappointments from the first four years of her marriage to Almanzo.  Nevertheless, as the program points out, this was a more realistic view of prairie life than most, and also highlights many tender and poignant moments from their lives.  I won’t give the whole story away because you should really read it!

I typed this last night on the pageant grounds as “Grandma Laura” and “Pa, the boy fiddler” play “Oh Susanna” and the sun sets over the prairie, although I’m posting it from the lobby of the Hampton Inn.  I'll add pictures later.

Laurel adds:  As Sarah said, there were lots of other pilgrims and we saw quite a few who'd been at Walnut Grove the night before and also got trapped in the weather.  One woman had been at the campground and they evacuated everyone to a shelter.  We didn't hear that a twister was spotted, but they recorded gusts up to 70 MPH which can do some damage all by itself.  We feel very fortunate, and have even more respect for what the settlers of long ago lived through and the Plains' inhabitants of today still have to consider.  Give me a snow storm over a twister alert any day!

More pictures of Day 4 at
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MOM on

Hey! You ask questions, too! And they always say to ask them anything and that I have really good questions :-) It's so fun reliving the day through your blog; thank you for keeping the blog, taking the pictures, and sharing the experience!

Vern Crawford on

Comment back to MOM:

Thank you for raising such a fine young "pioneer" and for sharing such a great road-trip with her, and through her, with us.

You done good.


P.S. Aren't thunder storms awesome!

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