Wilder Travels, Part One

Last week, our family ventured east on a short vacation.  Our main destination was Branson, but we took two special side trips.

My oldest daughter wants to be a country girl.

A farm girl.  An old-fashioned pioneer, if you will.

Some of this comes from our local "living history" and traditional historical museums, but as with many American city girls before her, the main reason for this phase can be summed up in a name:

                                                          Laura Ingalls Wilder.

We've read Little House in the Big Woods, and while we were still in the middle of Little House on the Prairie when we departed last week, we started over in the car with the beautiful audio book version, narrated by the amazing Cherry Jones.  We have checked out some of the chapter book versions of the Laura stories for beginning readers, and both girls love the My First Little House picture books.  They had me on such a kick that I checked out some books at the library for myself, too:  Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Donald Zochert and the very fun The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure.  In fact, I think reading the McClure book is what spurred me to take down my Little House boxed set for the girls.

When we realized we could actually afford to use my hubby's vacation time for an actual trip, we decided to start small.  A road trip seemed to be our best bet, and as we were in full Laura mode, we decided some side trips would be in order:  Independence, KS, to visit The Little House on the Prairie Museum, and Mansfield, MO, to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum.  I printed maps to the locations, had discussions with the girls ahead of time, made a Pinterest board...

I decided this weekend to give Laura a week on the blog.  Pictures from our trip, followed by craft and book stuff.  First up:  The Little House on the Prairie Museum, located about 13 miles southwest of Independence, KS.

The story of how the Ingalls homestead site was located in the first place is fascinating.  You can read a bit on the museum's website or on the Little House Wikipedia page, but the Donald Zochert book goes into more detail.  The events that take place in Little House on the Prairie actually predate the events in Little House in the Big Woods.  In reality, Mary and Laura were born in Wisconsin, then moved to Indian Territory (with a stopover in Missouri) with their family when Laura was only a toddler, and moved back to Wisconsin for several years before heading to Walnut Grove, MN.  She did more research on this book than on any of the others, because she had so few memories of those days herself.  She did not even know where the family had settled.  She thought the family lived 40 miles outside of Independence, which would have put the site in Oklahoma.  More than likely, she misheard 14 as 40.  In the early 1960s, someone determined that the Ingallses must have lived in Montgomery County, KS (and Carrie's birth certificate lists Montgomery County as her birthplace), then finally, via census information and claim files, the actual site was located.  The giveaway?  It was the only quarter section with a hand-dug well.

The well is the only part remaining from the Ingallses' stay on the land.  A replica cabin has been built on the site, and an old post office and a one-room schoolhouse, both native to the area but built after the Ingallses' time, have been relocated there, to give visitors a bit more to see.  There is also a pleasant visitors' center/bookstore.  It's a very quiet area, and there is even a section of prairie grass, to give you an idea of what the family would have seen all around them in those days.  There isn't much true prairie grass left in Kansas.

I'll stop "talking" now.

Little House on the Prairie Museum, Independence, KS

Replica cabin.

My girls' Pa showing how the traps worked.

Inside the cabin.

Inside the cabin.

Inside the Wayside Post Office.

Postmaster's quarters in the Wayside Post Office.

Sunny Side one-room schoolhouse.

Sunny Side one-room schoolhouse.

A glass case inside the school.  Note the first edition copy of Farmer Boy from 1933, with the original Helen Sewell illustrations.

My first sighting of Pa's well!

The well, hand-dug by Charles Ingalls (and a neighbor, Mr. Scott, according to the book).

A farm doesn't seem complete without animals.

My wonderful hubby, demonstrating to the daughters how high the prairie grasses grew in Laura's day.

 Tomorrow:  Laura and Almanzo's Rocky Ridge Farm!

Related post: Wilder Days, Part Two

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  1. What an incredible vacation! I'm all kinds of jealous :) I would have died and gone to heaven had that been a trip I took as a child. My mom spent countless hours reading all of the little house on the prairie books to me when I was young. Thank you so much for sharing all of that information and pictures. I had no idea there were museums and historic sites dedicated to Laura and her family (of course there are- I've just never thought about it!) These are places I need to put on my 'must visit in my life time' list!

  2. I would have loved a trip like this, too! I enjoyed this as much (or more) than the girls. There are museums and festivals anywhere Laura lived, and at Almanzo's boyhood home in New York, too. Even Burr Oak, Iowa, which Laura didn't write about, has a historic site dedicated to the Ingallses. Now that we've hit the nearby places, the hubby and I want to visit DeSmet, South Dakota. Maybe in a year or two...


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