Posts Tagged ‘By The Shores of Silver Lake’

Chloe’s Book Club: By The Shores Of Silver Lake

July 22, 2016

A reader last time mentioned that she felt On The Banks Of Plum Creek was the last “childhood” book. To build on that idea, I think of By The Shores Of Silver Lake as a transitional, coming-of-age book.

By The Shores Of Silver Lake

The book opens with a bit of backstory, explaining that everyone in the family except Laura and Pa had been stricken with scarlet fever. The neighbors had been sick too, so there had been no one to help. Mary has gone blind. Bills are mounting. After this experience, Laura is certainly no longer a child.

Then Aunt Docia arrives and offers Pa a job in a railroad camp in Dakota Territory. Before the family leaves—in a scene I can’t read without getting a lump in my throat—Laura’s beloved dog Jack dies.

In the camp Laura meets her cousin Lena, who has an appealing wild streak. Lena represents the last of Laura’s childhood.


Garth Williams illustration.

The girls set out in a buggy to deliver laundry:

The trotting ponies touched noses, gave a little squeal and ran.  …The ponies were stretched out low, running with all their might.

They’re running away!” Laura cried out.

“Let ’em run!” Lena shouted, slapping them with the lines.

And when the girls hear about a thirteen-year-old getting married: “May I drive now?” Laura asked. She wanted to forget about growing up.

When Lena takes Laura riding on the ponies, Laura confesses that she’s never ridden before. That leads to one of my favorite lines: (The pony) was big and strong enough to kill Laura if it wanted to, and so high that to fall off it would break her bones. She was so scared she had to try.

Later, when Ma admonishes Laura against spending time with Lena, we realize that Laura’s exuberant fun is behind her.


When the family spends the winter alone in a surveyors’ house beside Silver Lake, we see more of Laura’s spirit.

The Surveyors' House


No matter how cold the weather, she loves to go outside and slide on the ice:  Those were glorious days when they were out in the glitter of sharp cold. One moonlit night, when Laura is too restless to settle, she talks Ma into letting her and little sister Carrie go outside to run on the ice. The girls cross the frozen lake, see a wolf, and run home. Pa announces that he’ll hunt the wolf.

“I hope you don’t find the wolf, Pa,” Laura said.

“Whyever  not?” Ma wondered.

“Because he didn’t chase us,” Laura told her.

I didn’t have strong feelings about this book one way or another as a child. Now, I find myself lamenting Laura’s inevitable slide toward adolescence, duty, and domesticity. Ma wants her girls to behave properly, with decorum. She wants them to have gentle manners and always be ladies.

For example, one of my favorite passages comes toward the end of the book:

Laura spread her arms wide to the wind and ran against it. She flung herself on the flowery grass and rolled like a colt. She lay in the soft, sweet grasses and looked at the great blueness above her and the high, pearly clouds sailing in it. She was so happy that tears came into her eyes.

But we don’t get to enjoy Laura’s joy for long:

Suddenly she thought, “Have I got a grass stain on my dress?” She stood up and anxiously looked, and there was a green stain on the calico. Soberly she knew that she should be helping Ma, and she hurried to the little dark tar-paper shanty.

Although I find some of the themes sad, I also admire the author’s ability to beautifully convey fictional Laura’s complexities. Re-reading, I found lovely symbolism and language I’d missed earlier.

How did you react to reading By The Shores Of Silver Lake? Is it one of your favorites, or not so much?


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.


Next up for discussion:  The Long Winter.

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.


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.



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


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!