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.
After visiting? All I can say is that it is a very special place.
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.
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.
When Almanzo built the chimney, he included several stones exhibiting fossils.
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 Prairie, Chloe’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.
Here’s the view when you step into the porch and look to the left.
When strolling the grounds, it’s easy to imagine Laura and Almanzo there.
They planted the orchard. I was sorely tempted to take a windfall apple home. (I didn’t.)
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.
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.
Laura, Almanzo, and Rose are buried nearby in the Mansfield Cemetery.
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!