I am a life-long Little House fan, and my eight-year-old daughter has read the entire series at least 10 times through. So when plans started to come together for our month-long trip out west, I started to wonder how close we’d be to the places Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about in her Little House books. Turns out…we’d be within a few hours of almost all of them. So, thanks to a husband and three little brothers who were super good sports, Hannah and I got to walk in Laura’s footsteps in four of her former homes: Independence, Kansas (Little House on the Prairie); Pepin, Wisconsin (Little House in the Big Woods); Walnut Grove, Minnesota (On the Banks of Plum Creek); and De Smet, South Dakota (By the Shores of Silver Lake, Little Town on the Prairie, The Long Winter, These Happy Golden Years, First Four Years).
On the way to Phoenix, we took a detour off I-44 between Joplin, MO and Tulsa, OK (west on Rt. 160, then south on Rt. 75) into southeastern Kansas to visit the site where the Ingalls family lived after their famous covered wagon prairie trek. As we got off the interstate and drove on smaller two-lane roads, we started to see things in the landscape similar to what Laura described in her book.
A few miles southwest of town sits the site where the Ingalls family began homesteading when they came from Wisconsin in their covered wagon. A hand-dug well was found on the site, believed to be the one that Pa and Mr. Scott dug in the book. I was hoping to see the actual hole, but it’s concreted over and marked with a sign…I’ll admit I was a little disappointed (and I’ll also admit I got teased a little for being disappointed over not getting to see a hole…)
There’s a replica cabin on the site, built according to the description in the book. We loved seeing a little China shepherdess doll on the mantle, just where Ma would have put hers! There’s also a wagon similar to the one the family would have travelled in. In addition, a historical schoolhouse and post office were both moved to the site for visitors to enjoy. Both are from a slightly later time period than when the Ingalls lived on the land, but they provide a glimpse into early life for the pioneers on the prairie.
The homesite is free to visit, but a recommended donation is requested on the honor system in a donation box–this site definitely qualifies as “Travel on a Shoestring!” There is a gift shop in the farmhouse on the property, along with restrooms and picnic tables.
Overall, my favorite part of the visit was just being there—seeing the prairie that, in many ways, still looks similar to the way it did when Laura lived there. We saw the creek bottoms, just the way Laura described them. The best moment for me was standing at the edge of the property with my eight-year-old daughter, the prairie grass waving behind us, holding the Little House on the Prairie book my childhood best friend gave me for my own eighth birthday. It’s well-loved and well-worn, missing part of the front cover, and with tape holding the rest together after being read too many times to count by both my daughter and me. And there we were, looking out over Laura’s prairie, standing in a spot she might have stood. Not gonna lie…I had a moment Little did I know, there were more moments to come later in the trip!
If you’re thinking about visiting, find more information at the Little House on the Prairie Museum web site.