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De Smet Musings: Ingalls Homestead Worth Visit; Oxbow Unexpectedly Ventilated

On every side now the prairie stretched away empty to a far, clear skyline. The wind never stopped blowing, waving the tall prairie grasses.

—Laura Ingalls Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake, 1939

Mary Garrigan reports that the South Dakota State Historical Society Press will bring us the first publication next spring of Laura Ingalls Wilder's original draft of her autobiography. Editor Pamela Smith Hill and Press staff are blogging the editing and publication process at Pioneer Girl Project.

We took our own pioneering Divine Miss K to the scene of much of Laura's story yesterday a couple-score clicks up the road at the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead just south of De Smet. It was worth the trip. The staff all smile, enjoy their work, and know their history. They let the kids climb on the beds, ride the ponies, and drive the covered wagon. Kids get to wash clothes with lye soap out back of the little house. Kids can grind wheat and make rope and toys (the Divine Miss K immediately named her corncob doll Sarah and carried her closely the rest of the day). Kids go in the barn and get to pet Bright the calf and suckling kittens and the mellowest mama cat in Kingsbury County.

When they're playing with their button toys and shouting, "Mom! Dad! Kittens!!!", kids may notice only subconsciously the best part of this historical site.

Pony ride at Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead, De Smet, South Dakota, June 30, 2012
Future Madville Times editor enjoys pony ride at Laura Ingalls Wilder Homestead, De Smet, South Dakota, June 30, 2012

No picture captures what captivates most here: the vast sprawl of the prairie. Step out from that little house, off the tiny south porch into the stiff prairie wind and high June sun, watch that covered wagon crawling tiny in the distance past the slough to that little white school, and you hear more than a whisper of what Charles and Caroline may have thought raising their children in this large and lonely land. The great land dwarfs the rough-hewn buildings and wind-tousled visitors (we heard Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan, and Ohio). That sensation of smallness on a vast open plain is central to understanding this place and the people who've come and gone.

* * *
Pa Ingalls made this musical nod to America's vast wealth and public generosity:

...And all the afternoon, while Pa kept driving onward, he was merrily whistling or singing. The song he sang oftenest was:

Oh, come to this country,
And don't you feel alarm,
For Uncle Sam is rich enough
To give us all a farm!

LIW, 1939

The Homestead Act is 150 years old. We would not be here without it.

* * *
Still here, but not quite as much as it was Friday, is the Oxbox Restaurant in De Smet. We stopped in for a rustic supper. As the boss showed us to our seat, he apologized for the "drive-through." Say what?

Boarded-up hole in Oxbox Restaurant, De Smet, South Dakota, June 30, 2012
Hmmm... the Oxbow didn't have a drive-through Friday.... Oxbox Restaurant, De Smet, South Dakota, June 30, 2012

During the five o'clock hour Saturday morning, an older De Smet gentleman went retro and installed a drive-through in the Oxbow, taking out a wall, a couple tables, and a booth. The old-timer went in and backed out a couple times, leaving a tire mark in the carpet a few feet from the kitchen doorway. (I'd keep that mark for marketing purposes... although maybe it will give Rally customers next month some bad ideas.)

"I knew who it was," said the owner. "He comes in every day about that time for breakfast." Yesterday, shook up but mostly undamaged, the old-timer just ordered coffee. Said the driver, "I guess my driving days are done."

My western omelette tasted just fine. So did the couple remarkably good smiley fries I pilfered from a very content six-year-old whose chicken-strip eyes were bigger than her tummy.


  1. Brenda Lynch 2012.07.01

    Have you read "The Wilder Life" by Wendy McClure? After you DeSmet visit, I think you would enjoy this light-hearted, slightly sarcastic rendition of a modern woman reliving her childhood reading the Little House series!

  2. John 2012.07.01

    "The Homestead Act is 150 years old. We would not be here without it."
    And the Dakota War of 1862 is also 150 years old. And we would not be here without the lying, thievery, and broken 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux. The treaty promised to pay the Dakota $0.04 per acre then the US charged the settlers $1.50 an acre - not bad. One out come of the Dakota War opened all Dakota lands to white settlement from central and southern Minnesota to the Missouri River and confined the Dakota to the Sisseton-Wahpeton, Niobrara, Crow Creek, Lower and Upper Sioux Reservations. Hate putting the caster oil of truth into Laura's partial myth, legend, and folklore - but history demands it or we have another generation growing up blissfully ignorant.

  3. D.E. Bishop 2012.07.01

    You can't beat Space. Big, wide, rolling, endless Space! My favorite places for space are West River and New Mexico. I like the feeling of being tiny in a vast universe. Great perspective.

    My little sister read all the Little House books, and when the tv show was on, she watched it religiously. When episodes diverged from the books, she was outraged! "That's not in the books! That's not true! Laura would have never said that!" Of course little sis was terrible for spoilers too. "Oh, I know. This is the one where Mary goes blind." Thanks for nothing sis.

    Thank you for the story. Good work.

  4. Carter 2012.07.01

    I love Space.

    I know what that's like, the chicken strip thing. I used to be able to eat a whole basket, but now I feel full after two strips!

  5. Nick Nemec 2012.07.01

    My mother recently hit a building in Highmore. Her driving days are through and she's not happy about it. I've entered that phase of life where I've raised my kids and now I'm taking care of my parents.

  6. PrairieLady 2012.07.01

    Sounds like a perfect Saturday! I will never forget growing up in a small MN town in the 50's. When we got in from recess, our teacher's would calm us down by having us put our heads down on our desks, while they read to us 15-20 minutes. We all loved the LIW books. They should be on all reading lists for children. What a good peek into domestic history.
    My daughter read all the books too, and she and Grandma visited DeSmet.

  7. grudznick 2012.07.01

    I haven't been driving in years. I still have a car, but I really can't even remember how to maneuver it around. I've decided its best to just get rides and take the shuttle ride. I would hate to hurt anybody and should probably just have my granddaughter get rid of that old thing.

  8. Linda 2012.07.01

    Great post! I loved the Little House books, read and reread them and even bought the series later. I grew up in Lake Preston so visited the site often, even before it was developed so well. I recommend the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant too that is held the next three weekends; in fact, my great-niece plays the part of Mary this year so really looking forward to it.

  9. Tom Lawrence 2012.07.01

    Wonderful, just wonderful.
    My dad, who will be 92 in a few days, gave up his van a month ago. He knew it was time, and anyway, i enjoy playing chauffeur while he tells stories and checks the crops.

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