In 1874, when Laura Ingalls was seven, her parents purchased 172 acres of land two miles north of Walnut Grove, MN. As readers of On The Banks of Plum Creek know, the family moved into a dugout on a rise above the creek.
My older sister and I visited together—just as Chloe and her older sister Kari do in Death on the Prairie: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery.
In 1947 Garth Williams, tapped to illustrate a new edition of the Little House series, identified the dugout location on a farm. As I’ve heard the story, he knocked on the farmhouse door and explained his discovery to the surprised family.
Not only has that family graciously permitted Laura seekers to visit their property, they have enhanced the locale to help guests imagine Laura’s time here. Their generosity of spirit—and work—have made this one of the most special stops along the Laura trail.
The property is still a working farm. Admittance to the Dugout Site is on the honor system.
A narrow lane leads to a small parking area. Some of the cropland has been turned back to prairie.
Oh my, Chloe thought as she got out of the car, this is the place. Prairie grasses and flowers rippled in the breeze. Birds were serenading the new day. And just ahead, lined by mature trees—
“It’s Plum Creek,” Kari whispered reverently.
A modern bridge provides safe access.
Nothing remains of the dugout but a hollow in the ground…
…but wild plums, dragonflies, and other landscape elements have changed little since Laura’s time here.
Walking trails allow visitors to wander in this special place, and to imagine young Laura at play.
A couple of picnic tables are available, but that’s it. No souvenir shops or other modern intrusions. It’s lovely.
To learn more (and buy souvenirs), head to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in nearby Walnut Grove.
One room is devoted to the family’s experience. Some of my favorite artifacts on exhibit include a sketch Laura made from memory many years later…
Laura’s sewing basket…
And some of Laura’s china.
Guests can learn more about the people mentioned and/or fictionalized in the books.
An exhibit devoted to Garth Williams’s illustrations shows how some of the images evolved.
Another room displays memorabilia from the Little House On The Prairie television series.
The museum complex also includes a number of other buildings, and a covered wagon display.
(Note: I’m very grateful that photography is permitted at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, so I can share these glimpses with distant Laura fans.)
When I visit Walnut Grove, I always have lunch here. Just because.
Travelers should note, however, that Walnut Grove is a small town with limited amenities. More information about the Dugout Site, the Museum, the annual pageant (more about that later) and visitor services can be found HERE.
The drive to Walnut Grove from the Masters Hotel in Burr Oak, IA, takes about four hours. If you’ve got a bit of extra time, and want to experience all things Laura, build in a stop at the Spring Valley Methodist Church Museum.
After Laura married Almanzo Wilder, they experienced a number of disastrous heartbreaks and in 1890 briefly moved to Spring Valley, MN, to stay with with Almanzo’s family. Among the local history exhibits are records and documents related to Laura and the Wilder family.
I’ve enjoyed, and learned from, both museums. But if I’m driving through Minnesota and time is short, I’m always drawn back to Plum Creek…
…where the spirit of young Laura Ingalls can always be found.
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: De Smet, South Dakota!