Archive for the ‘BOOKS BY OTHER AUTHORS’ Category

Chloe’s Book Club: On The Banks Of Plum Creek

June 22, 2016

Plum Creek is one of my favorites. As a child, I loved the notion of living in a sod house, loved vicariously playing in the creek, loved the image of Laura frolicking on the roof among prairie flowers while Ma irons below. And yes, while I’ve had some quibbles with Ma, I do give her full credit for moving in with grace after being informed the deal is done.

mmm

Laura’s descriptions of the new home are enchanting:

The creek was singing to itself down among the willows, and the soft wind bent the grasses over the top of the bank.

Red and blue and purple and rose-pink and white and striped flowers all had their throats wide open as if they were singing glory to the morning.

The book is full of childhood adventures (and misadventures). And, this is the book that gives us Laura’s nemesis, Nellie Olson.

But not all of the challenges are child-sized. Laura made poignant use of foreshadowing to set readers up for the crop tragedy.

Grasshopper Notice

Display at Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, Burr Oak, IA.

Early on, when Laura laments having cattle instead of horses, Pa promises that they will have horses again one day.

“When, Pa?” she asked him, and he said, “When we raise our first crop of wheat.”

When Ma says living in the dugout makes her feel like a penned animal:

Never mind, Caroline,” Pa said. “We’ll have a good house next year.  …And good horses, and a buggy to  boot! I’ll take you riding, dressed up in silks! Think, Caroline—this level rich land, not a stone or stump to contended with, and only three miles from a railroad! We can sell every grain of wheat we raise!”

Then Pa buys lumber for a new house (and windows, and a stove)  on credit, with a promise to pay when he sells his wheat crop. It’s difficult for repeat readers not to shout, “Don’t do it, Pa!  The grasshoppers are coming!”

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Garth Williams’ illustration.

The enormity of the multi-year disaster the Ingalls family faced when their crop was devoured is hard to absorb.

But as always, faith, hard work, and a determination to make the best of things lead to a happy ending. Ma and Pa demonstrate perseverance to their daughters. It’s one of Wilder’s favorite themes, but understandably so; somehow, crisis after crisis, the Ingalls family did survive.

DOP-PlumCreekDugoutSite-Color300dpi

Today Wilder fans can visit the dugout site on the banks of Plum Creek.

Is Plum Creek one of your favorites too? What did you like, or dislike? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWeb

Next up for discussion:  By The Shores Of Silver Lake.

Chloe’s Book Club: Little House On The Prairie

May 19, 2016

Little House On The Prairie in some ways epitomizes the view of pioneer life many readers of my generation grew up with. What could be more iconic than a family packing their belongings in a covered wagon and heading west? Garth William’s cover, showing Mary and Laura watching from the back of the wagon, is classic.

Little House on the Prairie

As always, the descriptions are remarkable.  Here’s one of my favorites:

Kansas was an endless flat land covered with tall grass blowing in the wind. Day after day they traveled in Kansas, and saw nothing but the rippling grass and the enormous sky. In a perfect circle the sky curved down to the level land, and the wagon was in the circle’s exact middle.

Prairie landscape, Little House On The Prairie Museum, Kansas

Prairie landscape, Little House On The Prairie Museum, Kansas

Also as always, Laura emerges a real, complex, and thoroughly likable character. When Ma chastises her for complaining:

So she did not complain any more out loud, but she was still naughty, inside. She sat and thought complaints to herself.

And when Mary primly offers to give some beautiful beads she and Laura collected at an abandoned Indian campsite to baby Carrie, Laura—with some silent prompting from Ma—feels compelled to do the same: Perhaps Mary felt sweet and good inside, but Laura didn’t. When she looked at Mary she wanted to slap her. So she dared not look at Mary again.

This book brings out all of my conflicted feelings about Ma. I empathize with her challenges.  Pa takes her to Indian territory—knowing full well that Indian people terrify her! They crossed the ice-covered Mississippi River at its widest point—only to hear the ice breaking up that night; when Pa says they were lucky the ice didn’t break while they crossed she responds: I thought about that yesterday, Charles. The poor woman took the reins during a difficult river crossing when Pa plunged from the wagon to help the struggling horses.

Nonetheless, her fussiness can be annoying. During that dangerous river crossing, the beloved family dog Jack disappears, presumably drowned. When the exhausted dog finally catches up to the family, Ma complains that the happy reunion woke baby Carrie. Really, Ma?

(Wikipedia)

Caroline and Charles Ingalls (Wikipedia)

That said, there is much to admire in Ma. Readers understand that she craves a more genteel life. As an adult, I know what I think I missed as a child:  Ma must have been afraid a lot. On more than one occasion Pa’s life literally is in her hands.  One of the most poignant moments comes when Charles goes down the well to help a neighbor overcome by fumes, and Ma must find the strength to pull him to safety. After everyone is safe: She covered her face with her apron and burst out crying.

She must have feared for her children’s safety too. Still, she always does what needs doing.

This book makes many modern readers uncomfortable due to its portrayal of Native Americans. Wilder signaled something important on page one:  They were going to Indian country. And on page six, she foreshadowed a key scene to come:  Pa promised that when they came to the West, Laura should see a papoose.

While certain scenes and bits of dialogue do make me cringe, it’s important to consider the plot within the context of the time it depicts. Ma hates all Indian people—as she was surely taught to do, growing up when and where she did. Laura is both afraid of and fascinated by Indian people. I see her feelings as a reflection of the personality divide within the family. Ma and Mary are homebodies. Laura and Pa are more intrigued by the outside world.

Little House In The Big Woods ends on such a satisfactory note that at first, it can be hard to understand why the family left Wisconsin at all. Pa’s feelings are explained well, though, and first-time readers take pleasure as they create a new home on the vast Kansas prairie:

We’re going to do well here, Caroline, Pa said. This is a great country. I’ll be contended to stay in the the rest of my life.  …No matter how thick and close the neighbors get, this country’ll never feel crowded.  Look at that sky!

Since I know the story, this type of foreshadowing is all the more poignant. In the end, of course (Spoiler alert!) Charles/Pa discovers that he built his cabin on land that was not, yet, available for settlement.

Replica cabin at the site of the Ingalls home. Little House on the Prairie Museum, KS. (Photo by Barbara Ernst)

Replica cabin at the site of the Ingalls home. Little House on the Prairie Museum, KS. (Photo by Barbara Ernst)

Was it an honest mistake? Did he know all along, and simply presume he could bide his time until the Federal government declared the land officially available to pioneers? Laura scholars are still debating.

In any case, even as a young reader I understood how heartbreaking it was for the family to have labored so hard to create a new home—only to have to pack up and leave it all behind.

How do you feel about Little House On The Prairie? Do you have a favorite, or least favorite, chapter?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWeb

Next up for discussion:  On The Banks Of Plum Creek.

Chloe’s Book Club: Farmer Boy

April 10, 2016

I’ll start with a confession: as a child, I didn’t particularly like Farmer Boy.

Farmer Boy

Perhaps it was because I’d already bonded with Laura. Perhaps the description of classroom bullies was a bit too scary. Perhaps Father’s brand of child-rearing was intimidating. In any case, after a single reading I didn’t return to the book until I was an adult.

By then I was working in the living history world, and everything clicked. I loved the insights Farmer Boy provided into period activities. Mother was expert at weaving and cooking and everything else I wanted to learn.

Almanzo's childhood home has been beautifully preserved in Malone, NY.

Almanzo’s childhood home has been beautifully preserved in Malone, NY.

Almanzo is a very real boy. He resents his father’s belief that he isn’t responsible enough yet to help train the beautiful colts. He  hates being youngest, and therefore the last served at meals.  In the Birthday chapter, he gobbles his breakfast so he can see what gift is waiting—and is chastised by Mother.

Mothers always fuss about the way you eat. You can hardly eat any way that pleases them.

As always, descriptions of both the natural world and farming are vivid and sensory, such as these passages from Threshing:

The wind howled and the snow whirled and a mournful sound came from the cedars.  The skeleton apple trees rattled their branches together like bones.  All outdoors was dark and wild and noisy.

…The fans whirred inside the mill, a cloud of chaff blew out its front, and the kernels of clean wheat poured out of its side and went sliding down the rising heap on the floor.  Almanzo put a handful into his mouth; they were sweet to chew, and lasted a long time. 

Fanning Mill

Fanning mill.

One of my favorite scenes comes from Keeping House, when Father and Mother leave the children on their own for a week. In very kid-like fashion they bicker and do all the things they shouldn’t, such as eating all the sugar and sneaking into the colt pasture.

The barns at the Wilder Homestead are not original, but have been faithfully reproduced.

The barns at the Wilder Homestead are not original, but have been faithfully reproduced.

I am especially intrigued by Laura’s inclusion of the terrible moment when Almanzo throws the stove-blacking brush at his bossy sister Eliza Jane, leaving a terrible stain on Mother’s prized parlor wallpaper. Miraculously, Eliza Jane manages to patch the wallpaper so carefully that Mother never discovers what happened, saving Almanzo from the whipping of his life.  “I guess I was aggravating,” she tells him. Eliza Jane emerges as such an unlikeable character in later books that I love this glimpse of a softer side.

My favorite aspect of Farmer Boy is simply seeing the boy who became the adult Almanzo I know from later books. At times I’m taken aback by Father’s parenting style (particularly in the Wood-Hauling chapter, when Almanzo is hurt but doesn’t dare say so). But emerging from these episodes is a boy who is learning to figure problems through on his own.

I love the photo on the cover of this DVD, Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura. (Available from Legacy Documentaries)

I love the photo on the cover of this DVD, Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura. (Available from Legacy Documentaries)

Almanzo chooses to buy a piglet rather than spend a precious half-dollar on lemonade. Almanzo manages to get the last laugh during sheep shearing season, when the older workers don’t give him enough credit. In Breaking the Calves, Almanzo takes a chance that leads to a runaway situation:

That night Father asked him:  “You have some trouble this afternoon, son?”

“No,” Almanzo said. “I just found out that I have to break Star and Bright to drive when I ride.”

Most of all, Almanzo dreams of being a successful farmer, and of training horses. We’re not surprised when, in the final chapter, he turns down the offer of a softer life in town.

And then, suddenly, the whole world was a great, shining, expanding glow of warm light. For Father when on:

“If it’s a colt you want, I’ll give you Starlight.”

It’s the perfect ending.

Original cover. (Wikipedia)

Original cover. (Wikipedia)

How about you? Was Farmer Boy always a favorite?  Any favorite scenes? Please share!

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWeb

Next up for discussion:  Little House On The Prairie.

Chloe’s Book Club: Little House in the Big Woods

March 16, 2016

This is the book that hooked me, as a child, on Laura Ingalls Wilder. I wanted to be a pioneer girl like Laura. I wanted to experience sugar snow, and a country dance, and the sense of security that came from being inside a snug cabin on a Wisconsin winter night.

KAE cabin

I’ve reread the book many times for pleasure. I’ve also studied it as a novelist. Why does this book continue to captivate readers around the world?

(Wikipedia)

Original edition. (Wikipedia)

There are many elements to admire, but for me, Laura’s gift for characterization comes first. Young Laura is captured on the page as a real, complex, endearing child.  Most of the time she is obedient and happy, but she also struggles in ways that are wholly believable and spot-on for a child her age.

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One of my favorite scenes.

Here’s an example from the “Sunday” chapter:

“Did Adam have good clothes to wear on Sundays?” Laura asked Ma.

“No, Ma said. “Poor Adam, all he had to wear was skins.”

Laura did not pity Adam. She wished she had nothing to wear but skins.

Her frustration erupts with a declaration:  “I hate Sunday!”

I also sympathized when, later in the book, Laura slaps her sister Mary. Mary is often portrayed as perfect. But in “Summertime,” Mary knows just how to upset Laura—by saying her own golden curls are prettier than Laura’s.

There is much to admire in Ma, but her role in the hair color debate has always annoyed me. When Aunt Lotty comes to visit:

“Which do you like best, Aunty Lotty,” Mary asked, “brown curls or golden curls?” Ma had told them to ask that, and Mary was a very good little girl who always did exactly as she was told.

However, we see another side of Ma in “Two Big Bears.” When she slaps a bear after mistaking it for the cow in lantern light, she tells Laura to walk back to the house. Half-way there Ma snatches up Laura and runs the rest of the way. Pa isn’t home, and although Ma doesn’t speak of her fear, she reveals it by pulling in the latch string. Then she takes the sleeping baby (Carrie) from bed and sits in the rocking chair.

I missed the nuances as a child, but now, I understand why Ma wanted to hold the warm, drowsy child in her lap. While Ma and Mary are not my favorite characters, author-Laura drew them well.

(Wikipedia)

Caroline/Ma and Charles/Pa (Wikipedia)

Laura’s close relationship with her father emerges very early in the book. When she is frightened by the wolves howling outside, Pa reassures her—but he also carries her to the window to see the wolves. This scene establishes Pa as protector, and also as a parent who wants to help Laura face her fears.

Pa plays games with Laura and Mary, and plays his fiddle at night so they can fall asleep. His character also emerges as complex and, overall, appealing.

His voice is also the last we hear in the book:

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?”

“They are the days of long ago, Laura,” Pa said.  “Go to sleep now.”

…(Laura) thought to herself, “This is now.”  She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the firelight and the music, were now.  They could never be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

I’ve returned to this passage again and again. Why did so many of us, as children, wish we could have lived in Laura’s time? Is it the depiction of a lifestyle that appears, at least, to be simpler?

Reconstruction, Little House in the Big Woods, Pepin, WI.

Reconstruction, Little House in the Big Woods, Pepin, WI.

I now know that it was not. Still, it’s fun to revisit not only the books, but the pleasure they gave me as a child. In my book Death on the Prairie: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Chloe does the same thing:

Only another true Little House-lover could understand what the books had meant to her as a child. It wasn’t just that she and Kari had “played Laura and Mary.” Or that Chloe had turned a back yard bower into a private playhouse she called Laura Land—soft grass and green leaves magically transformed into a log cabin. Laura’s adventures had captivated. Laura’s struggles had inspired. Laura had been a faithful friend when no one else understood.

How about you? What was your reaction to reading Little House in the Big Woods? Have your feelings changed over time? Any favorite scenes? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

DeathOnThePrairieCoverWeb

Chloe’s Book Club

March 10, 2016

Have you read the Little House books lately? Readers have told me that after reading Death on the Prairie:  A Chloe Ellefson Mysterythey were inspired to revisit the classic series that inspired my mystery.

KAE cabin

That delights me. And what could be more fun for Laura fans than having a chance to chat about the books?

Next week, I’m starting a new feature here on the Sites and Stories blog—Chloe’s Book Club. We’ll move through the Little House books one by one. I’ll share my thoughts about them, and I do hope that you will share yours.

First up, of course, is Little House in the Big Woods. If you haven’t read it lately, now is the time…

(Photo by Kay Klubertanz)

(Photo by Kay Klubertanz)

And then, please join me here next Thursday, March 17!

Cooking With Chloe: Ma’s Vanity Cakes

March 9, 2016

Laura Ingalls Wilder fans likely remember the description of Vanity Cakes in By The Banks Of Plum Creek:

(Ma) made them with beaten eggs and white flour. She dropped them into a kettle of sizzling fat. Each one came up bobbing, and floated till it turned itself over, lifting up its honey-brown, puffy bottom. Then it swelled underneath till it was round, and Ma lifted it out with a fork. She put every one of those cakes in the cupboard.  They were for the party.

They sound deceptively simple, but Laura never learned to make Vanity Cakes.  After the success of her first books, she tried to rediscover the secret. On June 22, 1925, she wrote to her Aunt Martha asking for the recipe:

(Excerpt; original letter in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

(Excerpt; original letter in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

Mother used to make what she called “Vanity Cakes” years ago. They were mostly egg and they were fried in deep fat. When done they were simply bubbles, usually with a hollow center and they were crisp around the edges.  …I would so much like to have the recipe.

Aunt Martha responded:

(Excerpt; original letter in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

(Excerpt; original letter in the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library)

The vanity cake that you ask about is just made out of egg (someone penciled in “one or two”) and flour, a pinch of salt; pinch (off) in little pieces and rolled out as thin as you can and fried in hot lard.  …They were called vanity cakes because there was nothing to them.

If you search the internet for “Vanity Cakes,” you’ll find a lot of blog posts written by people who have tried to make them, most with less than stellar results.

At a program last fall two readers, Kami J. and her mom Sharon, volunteered to make Vanity Cakes and report back. They too were disappointed with the results. (I don’t usually post recipes unless test bakers/cooks are happy with the finished product, but so many people are curious about Vanity Cakes that I’m making an exception.)

Here’s the recipe.

The recipe on this vintage card

The recipe on this vintage card is still available at some of the homesites. (No additional credit provided on this card.)

Note that it does not call for rolling out the dough thinly, as Laura’s aunt instructed.

Kami reported, We ended up adding more than 3 oz. of flour.  The first picture shows the better with that amount.

vanity cakes

There was no way we would have been able to make them into small pancakes without more flour. We added about double the specified amount.

vanity cakes

vanity cakes

We fried them, and rolled them in powdered sugar.

vanity cakes

They tasted OK, but were not very flavorful.

vanity cakes

I checked my copy of The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Classic Stories, by Barbara M. Walker (Harper & Row, 1979).

The Little House Cookbook

Her recipe for 6 Vanity Cakes calls for 1-2 pounds of lard (for frying), 1 large egg, a pinch of salt, 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, and a shakerful of powdered sugar—almost identical to the printed card.

She notes in the introduction:  …Not all dishes will be greeted with enthusiasm at the table; some are admittedly historic, rather than taste sensations.  But all are revealing in one way or another.

Perhaps Vanity Cakes were simply a novelty for children used to very simple fare. As Laura’s aunt said in the letter, We did not have many receipts (i.e., recipes) (in) those days for we did not have anything to do with (I interpret this to mean they had few supplies to work with.) We used to make them for a change.

If you’re interested in learning more, I do highly recommend The Little House Cookbook.

Have you tried making Vanity Cakes?  If so, I’d love to hear about your experience!

Meet Carole Estby Dagg

February 16, 2016

I’m delighted to welcome author Carole Estby Dagg to Sites and Stories.  She’s written two books about topics that fascinate me, so we must be kindred souls!

Her new book is Sweet Home Alaska:

Terpsichore has dreamed about becoming a pioneer like Laura Ingalls Wilder, and now, with only two days to pack, her family is joining 201 other families on the way to Alaska. Most of her family comes to love Alaska, but her mother misses life back in Wisconsin. What can Terpsichore do to convince her mother to stay? Inspired by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, she develops a plan that includes a giant pumpkin and a recipe for jellied moose nose.

* * *

My favorite thing about Kathleen’s blog is the behind-the-scenes look she gives readers into her research process, so today I’m sharing some photographs that inspired settings and scenes for my book, Sweet Home Alaska.

Woman at pump – Date stamp June 27, 1935  Associated Press Photo

Palmer woman at pump jpeg

You’d probably guess that this photo was taken during the Great Depression, but would you have guessed that it was taken in Palmer Alaska?  Until my son bought a rustic house in Palmer next to a potato field out the outskirts of Palmer, I never knew that one of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs moved 202 families that were on relief up to Alaska to become self-sufficient farmers.

Tent city – Citation: AMRC b70-19-106  J. J. Delaney Collection; Anchorage Museum

Palmer tent city B1970_019_106

Since there are only a few rows of tents in this picture, it must have been taken just after the first batch of colonists arrived from northern Minnesota. Two weeks later the second batch of colonists arrived from Wisconsin and Michigan. This photo helped me ground the chapters that took place after the colonists arrived in Palmer.

Children around grave  – Date stamp: July 1, 1935

Palmer grave jpeg

From the postage stamp-sized photo on eBay, I thought I was buying a photo of four children around a garden plot, but when I received the larger original, I realized that the photo was of four children bringing flowers to a tiny grave, one of the first in the new colony.

Teacher with five children in nearly identical parkas – Associated Press Photo dated Nov. 19, 1935

Palmer parka kids w teacher

The teacher in this photograph, Miss Lorinda Ward, came to Alaska from Columbia University. She would have been housed in a two-story white dormitory that still stands today. In rural areas like Palmer, families all ordered from the same Sears or Montgomery Ward catalogs, so it wasn’t unusual to see kids dressed alike.

Carole is a retired librarian and author of The Year We Were Famous (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) and Sweet Home Alaska (Nancy Paulsen imprint of Penguin Books for Young Readers, 2016.) She writes in Everett, Washington and a converted woodshed on San Juan Island, where she is visited by deer and the neighbor’s goats.

Visit her at www.CaroleEstbyDagg.com

Laura Land Tour: Mansfield, MO

February 12, 2016

I will admit that when my sister and I began planning visits to all of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites, I was most excited to see the places I’d read about in Laura’s Little House books. That did not include Mansfield.

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After visiting? All I can say is that it is a very special place.

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Wilder fans know from The First Four Years that Laura and Almanzo faced many hardships and tragedies in South Dakota after their marriage. They moved to Florida, but weren’t happy and moved back. After hearing good things about Missouri, Laura, Almanzo, and daughter Rose traveled to Mansfield in 1894. They brought the few possessions saved from the fire that destroyed their tree claim house, and $100 to buy land.

The family settled on a rocky ridge one mile east of Mansfield, and moved into a run-down, windowless log cabin. (They also lived in town for a period.)  Laura and Almanzo worked together for years, as time and money and energy permitted, to create the lovely farm and 12-room house. They lived happily on Rocky Ridge Farm for the rest of their lives.

If you drive from Mansfield, you’ll approach the property just as the Wilders’ friends did.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

Almanzo built the house with Laura’s wishes in mind. For example, all of the kitchen counters were designed to accommodate her five-foot height. It’s a delight to see examples of his carpentry skills. He also set up a clever pipe system that brought spring water inside, through the wood stove to warm, and into the kitchen sink.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

When Almanzo built the chimney, he included several stones exhibiting fossils.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

The house interior looks as if Laura just stepped out for a moment. If you’ve read the 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Death on the PrairieChloe’s reaction to seeing the Wilders’ bedroom mirrors what I felt on my first visit. (Sadly, photos are not permitted inside.)

I can show you the small back porch (to the left in the photo below) that was featured in a key scene.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

Here’s the view when you step into the porch and look to the left.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

When strolling the grounds, it’s easy to imagine Laura and Almanzo there.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

They planted the orchard. I was sorely tempted to take a windfall apple home. (I didn’t.)

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

There is also a museum on the property. Pa’s fiddle, Mary’s nine-patch quilt, and hand-written drafts of Laura’s books are among the many treasures on display. (Sorry—again, no photos permitted.) The Wilder Home Association is currently constructing a new museum a short distance away, which will help restore the period landscape around the farmhouse.

In 1928 Rose gifted her parents with the Rock House, accessible from the farmhouse on a trail through the woods.  Rose wanted to provide Laura and Almanzo with more modern conveniences. Laura began writing the Little House books here.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum

They missed the farmhouse, though, and moved back in 1936.

The area landscape today is much like it was in Laura’s time. It’s easy to see why she loved the region so much.

DSCF1032

Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are buried nearby in the Mansfield Cemetery.

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Laura’s writing career began in Missouri—not as a novelist, but as a regular contributor to the Missouri Ruralist. Her articles paint a pictures of the Wilders’ life in Missouri. You can read a collection in Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist:  Writing From The Ozarks.

To learn more about Laura’s homesites, I highly recommend Laura Ingalls Wilder Country by William Anderson.

To learn more about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum, visit their website.

For more information about Death on the Prairie, including links to other tour stops, photographs, maps, and much more, please visit my website.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the armchair tour!

Laura Land Tour: Independence, KS

February 5, 2016

The Kansas prairie is the setting for Little House On The Prairie, the second book in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House series. Today, fans can visit the site where the Ingalls family briefly made their home.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

Laura was only two when the family began the trip to Kansas. Decades later she relied on her parents’ memories to write Little House On The Prairie. She wasn’t sure of the actual spot where her family settled. It wasn’t until 1969 that local historian Margaret Clement succeeded in identifying the location.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

As at Walnut Grove, MN, the homesite was part of a family farm. Property owners and volunteers created a replica of the Ingalls’s cabin at what is now known as the Little House on the Prairie Museum, and offer Laura fans a warm welcome.  I’m grateful!

Independence Cabin

The interior is simple, and suggests how the family’s cabin might have appeared.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

BGE

Laura fans will recognize this replica of Ma’s china shepherdess.

One of the features that helped identify the spot was an old hand-dug well. Historians believe it was the one dug by Charles Ingalls and a neighbor.

Version 2

A couple of other historic buildings have been moved to the site, including this one-room schoolhouse.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

A display shared information about doctoring in Laura’s day. (Fans will remember that the family was tended through illness by Dr. George Tann, a black physician.)

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

I love Laura’s descriptions of seemingly endless prairie in the book. The area is mostly farmland today, but a prairie has been re-established across the road.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

If you’ve read Death on the Prairiemy latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, you may recall the dramatic scene at the Kansas site involving Chloe and her sister Kari. Chloe went to cool down along that treeline in the distance.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

I’m happy to report that my sister and I had a fine time when we visited.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Kansas

Logistically, it’s difficult to visit the Laura homesites in the order they appear in the books. However, the Kansas site is only about three and a half hours from Mansfield, MO, where Laura and her husband Almanzo spent most of their married years. Travelers might want to consider including both sites in one loop.

For more information about the Kansas site, visit the Little House on the Prairie Museum.

For more information about Death on the Prairie, including links to other tour stops, photographs, maps, and much more, please visit my website.

Next stop:  Rocky Ridge near Mansfield, Missouri!

Laura Land Tour: De Smet, SD – Part 2

January 28, 2016

As I mentioned in my last post about De Smet, avid Laura Ingalls Wilder fans can easily spend more than a single day in the area.

De Smet banner

I suggest picking up a copy of the booklet “Explore De Smet,” a walking and driving guide to many of the sites mentioned in, or relevant to, the books set in South Dakota.

Explore De Smet

It’s fun to walk the streets and discover the locations of homes and businesses Laura mentioned in her books. In addition to the guide, interpretive signs help visitors get their historical bearings.

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The signs are nicely done, with period advertisements or photos, a location summary, and a quote from the pertinent book.

You can visit the Loftus Store.  In The Long Winter, Cap Garland and Almanzo Wilder risked their lives to bring wheat back to the town’s starving residents, only to have storekeeper Loftus try to cheat his customers by asking an exorbitant price.

Loftus Store

After exploring the town, jump in your car to see sites in the area. The Big Slough, described in By The Shores of Silver Lake, is located just south of town. It’s much smaller than it was in Laura’s day, but worth a stop.

 

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I also wanted to see Silver Lake, but had a hard time finding it. Finally one of the Historic Homes guides gave me good directions. A lane into a small industrial area led to a vantage point where I could see the lake.

De Smet

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One of my favorite places in all of Laura Land is the Memorial Site, one mile southeast of De Smet.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Site De Smet

An interpretive kiosk marks the site.

In 1880 Charles Ingalls (Pa) filed a homestead claim for this land. The Memorial is in one corner of that original property.

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The tiny cottonwood trees Charles planted for his family are still there, and now enormous.  It is very special to walk among them.

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Ingalls homestead memorial

For hands-on fun (especially with kids) you can also visit “The Ingalls Homestead:  Laura’s Living Prairie” right up the hill.

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Homestead brochure

Laura married Almanzo Wilder in 1885. The site of their homestead is on private land, but a sign marks the spot.

Wilder Homestead De Smet

Wilder Homestead De Smet

Many Laura fans also visit the De Smet Cemetery, as Chloe Ellefson does in Death on the Prairie:

Chloe drove next to the De Smet Cemetery, a peaceful place on a hilltop between the town, a remnant slough, and farmland. It didn’t take long to find the graves of Ma and Pa, Mary, Carrie, and Grace. Then – “Oh.” She stopped in front of a low stone that said simply, Baby son of A.J. Wilder.

De Smet Cemetery

“Why?” she demanded softly. Why just note the father? Why was Laura’s name left off the stone? The omission was exasperating, perplexing, and terribly sad. Even sadder was the fact that Laura and Almanzo had evidently not named their son.

But…perhaps Laura named him in her heart.

If you visit, you’ll find stones for Laura’s parents and sisters nearby.

When my sister and I toured De Smet for the first time we also wanted to see where Cap Garland was buried. Again, a guide at the Historic Homes gave us great directions (to a different cemetery), and described the stone so we could find it easily.

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The guide also suggested we visit the area where Almanzo took Laura courting. We were running out of daylight—but that only made it easier to imagine the couple getting to know each other during buggy rides.

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(Photo by Barbara Ernst)

If you’d like to see more I highly recommend Discover Laura, the official blog of Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes. It features a virtual tour of De Smet, family artifacts, and site news. (Here’s a post about Cap Garland and his family.)

For more information about Death on the Prairie, including links to other tour stops, photographs, maps, and much more, please visit my website.

Next stop:  Little House On The Prairie museum in Independence, Kansas!