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.
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:
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?
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.