By chapter three of By the Shores of Silver Lake, Ma, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace are heading west on a new adventure. They travel by train from Walnut Grove, Minnesota, to join Pa by the shores of Silver Lake, where he has taken a temporary job with a railroad.
Laura describes that trip as a great adventure; and it was for girls who had never traveled by the power of anything besides a horse or their own two feet. Ma and her girls rode the train as far as they could and then had dinner in a real hotel. Pa picked them up; and they traveled by horse and wagon to the shores of Silver Lake in what was then Dakota Territory.
The trip is quicker and easier than it was when the Ingalls traveled it in 1879. We left Walnut Grove early in the evening and drove the two-hour-and-nine-minute drive to DeSmet, South Dakota — the little town on the prairie founded near Silver Lake not long after the Ingalls arrived.
We traveled economically on our trip, enjoying off-season accommodation rates and eating almost all of our meals out of the cooler; but we did splurge in DeSmet. We stayed one night at the Prairie House Manor Bed and Breakfast.
The next morning our hostess served me this pancake shaped like a gingerbread man, like Ma used to make in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. I loved hearing the story of our hostess. She is a Laura fan. She and her husband and children stayed here several years ago and found out that it was for sale. Eight years ago they left their home in New Jersey and went west to a new life as bed and breakfast hosts in Laura’s home town.
The Wilder Memorial Society in DeSmet maintains a complex devoted to buildings and artifacts related to the Ingalls family. Even its restrooms continue the theme.
The complex includes the three white buildings below: a house (at left), which now serves as a gift shop, museum, and offices; the school Laura and Carrie attended (center); and the Surveyor’s House (right). The center and right buildings were moved here from their original locations. The unpainted replica of Brewster’s School is barely visible behind the Surveyor’s house in the picture below.
We poked around the gift shop and museum where we saw a pretty white nightgown that belonged to Laura and bead work created by Mary, just two of the thousands of artifacts in the care of the Memorial Society in DeSmet (most are not on display). We began our guided tour in the Surveyor’s House, where the Ingalls were invited to live after the railroad men went back east for the winter. When Laura first went inside, she thought it was a mansion and was in awe of the amount of food stored there, including even soda crackers! In the loft upstairs, we saw a beautiful chest of drawers that Charles Ingalls crafted himself.
Next we went inside Laura and Carrie’s school. It was a private home the last time we were in DeSmet, so it was especially exciting to get to go inside where restorers have found original blackboards and flooring. It had rows of old desks similar to those the children used during Laura and Carrie’s schooldays, along with “slates” and McGuffey Readers.
Our next stop was the replica of Brewster School, where Laura began teaching when she was fifteen years old. Laura taught all ages; Ray was the oldest student the day we were there. You can see the front of Brewster School in the photo above of the Surveyor’s House.
When Laura taught at the school, she boarded with a homesteader and his very unhappy, complaining wife who demanded night after night that he take her back east. Proverbs describes what that was like!
A foolish son
is destruction to his father,
And the contentions of a wife
are a constant dripping.
Almanzo Wilder patiently rescued Laura almost every weekend, driving her home to her family and back again behind his matching Morgan horses. He did this even though she told him emphatically that she was not interested in him as a beau. Later she changed her mind, as you know.
Almanzo knew who he wanted to be with for the rest of his life. It was worth the wait. They were married for 64 years.
Then the Lord God said,
“It is not good for the man to be alone;
I will make him a helper suitable for him.”