Laura Ingalls Wilder historical collection is a must-see attraction

| January 2008

  • Laura-Ingalls-Wilder.jpg
    HOMESTEAD: The Ingalls’ original homestead was located on this piece of land in De Smet, S.D.

  • Laura-Ingalls-Wilder.jpg

For the people of De Smet, S.D., bringing to life the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder is a labor of love. As the setting for four of Wilder’s books about prairie life, The Little Town on the Prairie, By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter and These Happy Golden Years, the small town relishes in preserving, promoting and passing on the pioneer lifestyle illustrated by the beloved author.

Visitors travel from across the globe to the wind-swept prairie of eastern South Dakota to walk on the same floor where Laura danced while her father played the fiddle. Schoolchildren run through the natural grasses of the Ingalls Homestead and picnic in the shade beneath the cottonwood trees Charles “Pa” Ingalls planted. Tourists from New York, Japan and Australia sit on blankets below a star-filled Dakota sky and watch local actors perform These Happy Golden Years.

Forming the memorial society

When Aubrey Sherwood, Alice Kirchmeier and Vera McCaskell formed the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in 1957, they wanted a way to honor their friend Laura Ingalls Wilder.

“The first thing the society wanted to do was highlight the sites in De Smet that Laura mentions in the books,” said Cheryl Palmlund, executive director of the society. “They had no real budget or specific plan, but they loved Laura’s books and De Smet.”

The society slowly began recognizing the buildings in town referenced in the Little House books, and they also began collecting Ingalls’ family belongings. By 1972, as funding, involvement and community support grew, the organization had acquired the Surveyor’s House and the “House that Pa built,” as well as hundreds of original Ingalls effects.

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