A Visit with Laura Ingalls Wilder

By: Margena Holmes

My husband and I recently celebrated our 33rd anniversary by taking a trip to South Dakota. He wanted to visit Mount Rushmore and I figured if we’re going to go there, why not take a trip to De Smet to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites and museum? Laura Ingalls Wilder is the biggest influence of why I’m an author today, so visiting De Smet, where the last five books in her series take place, has been a Bucket List item of mine ever since I found out you can visit the site and see where she lived.

Open prairie at the Homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder
Open prairie at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder

In her writing, Laura’s use of description painted a picture of everything she saw. As a young girl, she had to become good at describing things. Her sister Mary became blind at the age of 14, so Pa Ingalls told Laura that she had to be her sister’s eyes and “show” her the scenery. That is why as writers we must show what is happening in our stories instead of telling.  We paint the picture for our readers so they can see what the characters see, and experience what is happening in the story.

We first toured the surveyor’s house. While reading the books, I understood the houses that she lived in were small. “Small” to me was having a living room, a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom. The surveyor’s house did have four rooms—three downstairs (the kitchen with a small pantry, and bedroom, and the parlor) and one upstairs (another bedroom). Laura, used to living in smaller houses, called it a mansion! It was about this point of the tour that I found out that Laura was tiny—4’11”. So, when Laura’s father called her his little “half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up” he wasn’t joking!

Claim shanty at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Claim shanty at the homestead of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Next we drove out to where the Ingalls family had their homestead. The house was gone, but there were other things to experience. The five cottonwood trees that Pa Ingalls planted for each of the girls and Ma Ingalls were still standing. As I stood in that area, I tried to imagine how Laura might have seen everything for the first time. I could truly see why Pa Ingalls had spent the night at the land office to make sure he got that parcel of land. Everything was as Laura described. The Big Slough with its coarse grasses, the soft grasses of the prairie, and the flat land with little prairie swells, though there are more trees there now than were probably there in Laura’s time. Pa Ingalls said at the time that tree claims would put trees all over the area, and it looks to be true.

Author Margena Holmes enjoys the trees around the homestead.
Author Margena Holmes enjoys the trees Charles Ingalls planted around the homestead.

There was also a replica of the dug-out house that they lived in on Plum Creek in Minnesota. It was exactly as Laura described it in her books—dirt floor, sod walls, and you wouldn’t know it was there until you had gone down the hill. I remember reading this as a young girl and I could smell the scents of the dirt as I read. This smelled just like I remembered reading.

Through Laura’s description of the area, I felt like I had seen these places already. That is why, as writers, we need to make our descriptions as real as possible, to bring the reader into the story. Laura did well in describing her life on the prairie.


Margena Holmes

Margena Adams Holmes was born in Bellflower, CA sometime in the 1960s. She has always had a love for both reading and writing, writing her first song/poem in 1st grade. Margena is a big supporter of indie authors and will read anything that draws her into the story. She is an observer of life, and many everyday things could (and do!) end up in her writings. Her publications are available through her author page. Contact Margena via email: jedi_anegram@hotmail.com.