We visited De Smet, South Dakota, the "Little Town on the Prairie" where six of the "Little House" books are placed: By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years and On the Way Home. Site of Wilder homestead
On our way into this struggling little town we stopped near the low hill where Laura and Almanzo Wilder lived in a shanty while they homesteaded their land. A historical marker tells more detail:
On the low hill immediately west of this spot stood the homestead claim shanty of Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Mrs. Wilder (1867-1957) is known all over the world as the author of the "Little House" books... A shanty on the hilltop was the birthplace of the Wilders' only surviving child Rose Wilder Lane (1886-1968). Mrs. Lane became a well-known novelist, journalist and political essayist. Two of her 1930's novels, Free Land and Let The Hurricane Roar, describe South Dakota pioneering. She also wrote biographies, translated books and served as a foreign correspondent. Her last reporting assignment took her to Viet Nam in 1965, when at 78 Rose Wilder Lane was America's oldest war correspondent. Although her career included travels around the world, Mrs. Lane stated that the entire pattern of her life was formed by "the immense prairie skies, the acres of waving grain and the struggling saplings of her Dakota childhood. One and one half miles north of this spot is another quarter section of land which was the tree claim of Laura and Almanzo Wilder. Some of the original tree plantings still survive. Here the Wilders also lived during their early married life. The death of an infant son and a fire which destroyed their home, were among the disasters which were a part of the lives of the courageous South Dakota pioneers. "No one," Mrs. Wilder wrote, "who has not pioneered can understand the fascination and the terror of it."
We learned that a tree claim is similar to a homestead claim, but instead of farming, trees must be planted, an effort to preserve the soil which blew away when the grasses were plowed up.
The Wilders lived in a house in De Smet for about one year, while she was writing her books. The house has been restored as a typical pioneer cabin of the 1880s, tours are provided and there's a gift shop for Wilder aficianados. Several families were exploring the Surveyor's House. We drove on.