content="Welcome, experience a unique journey into Laura's life and history with a visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, South Dakota. Take the Laura Ingalls Wilder adventure!">
Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" Lives on in De Smet
By Kendra Rosencrans
Blizzards shut down schools across South Dakota last winter, just as the snow and wind kept Laura Ingalls and her sisters from going to school during the long winter more than a century ago.
But even though Laura and her sisters were snowed in most of that winter, they did their lessons and sang and told stories to keep the cold and howling wind at bay.
Thanks to a group of De Smet residents called the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, the railroad surveyor's shanty where the Ingalls family spent their first winter in Dakota territory looks just as it did when Laura lived there. Visitors can imagine Pa playing his fiddle and the girls dancing in glee. They can see where Pa had his store where the family lived during "The Long Winter," and picture Laura and her sisters talking, singing and telling stories to pass the time while the snowstorms raged outside. And they can imagine the joy and relief the family felt when spring finally came.
The Dakota prairie lay so warm and bright under the shining sun that it did not seem possible that it had ever been swept by the winds and snows of the winter" Wilder wrote in The Long Winter.
For nearly forty years, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society has worked to preserve and portray the Ingalls and Wilder families' pioneering history. Fixing up the Surveyors' House was just a start. Today, the heritage tour of De Smet includes 18 other sites from Laura's tales. Six of her nine books are set in and around De Smet, where Laura grew from a high-spirited tomboy to a married women with a daughter of her own.
Guided tours are available year round, and families are encouraged to bring picnics and linger all day.
"Visitors like to imagine they're doing the same things the Ingalls did."
Laura was just 12 when she and her family moved to Dakota Territory and into the small railroad surveyors' shanty that was their first "real house." Like thousands of pioneer families before them, the Ingalls were lured west by the promise of the Homestead Act of 1862. If they could stake and prove up a claim, all 160 acres of it would be theirs in 5 years.
The Ingalls had moved many times in Laura's youth, but Pa promised that De Smet would be their last stop-which is how they came to stay in the railroad owned Surveyors' House.