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Near DeSmet is the site of Pa’s homestead claim where he planted one cottonwood tree for each of his girls. A memorial stone marks one portion of it.

The memorial marker is the stone at the top of this hill, as seen between these two cottonwood trees.
The memorial marker is the stone at the top of this hill, as seen in the distance between these two cottonwood trees.

We visited the memorial and these cottonwood trees in 1996 and 2006, but this time I am grateful that we checked out the Ingalls Homestead next door. The Ingalls Homestead is a privately-owned attraction, built on the land that the Ingalls family homesteaded. The federal government approved Charles Ingalls’ homestead claim on July 12, 1886, six years after Pa claimed the land in 1880.

Signature Page of Homestead Claim of Charles P. Ingalls. Courtesy National Archives.
Signature Page of Homestead Claim of Charles P. Ingalls. Courtesy National Archives.

In summer you can rent a covered wagon and stay overnight, see farm animals, and watch pioneer craft demonstrations. We got in for half price since the animals and crafts are gone for the winter. However, during our late October visit, we almost had the Ingalls Homestead to ourselves. We saw only two or three other couples about Ray’s and my age. We and Mary Evelyn’s family were free to explore to our heart’s content. It was a blast.

We had a picnic lunch in this recreated dugout.


The grandchildren played inside this real claim shanty, moved here from another homesteader’s land.


The grandchildren made crafts in the reconstructed home, built to the specifications Charles Ingalls wrote about when he filled out his homestead application and described the home he had built here.


This organ in the parlor reminds visitors of the room Pa built on to house the organ they bought for Mary to play when she returned from the Iowa school for the blind.


In the yard, the grandchildren pretended to do laundry in real laundry tubs and ran them through a real hand-cranked wringer. Then Clara hung hers on the clothesline.


Wesley mowed the grass with this mower.


Inside the barn, we sat in a horse-drawn sleigh and a stagecoach.


Nearby we sat in a covered wagon.


We climbed the Ingalls Homestead tower and saw its church in the distance.


We drove over to the Homestead’s one room schoolhouse, brought here from a nearby location. One of Laura and Carrie’s classmates once taught school here.



During our entire visit, not one employee told us, “Don’t do that. Don’t touch this!” We had the schoolhouse to ourselves, and Mary Evelyn taught our class.


We pulled out a few of the many, many books that were in this book closet.


We watched the sunset.


At dusk, we drove to the Homestead’s church, also brought here from its original location.


Inside were artistic renditions of Jesus that are identical to ones I saw as a little girl growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.




When we visit a church building in our travels, Ray and I continue a tradition we started when our children were still at home — taking photo of their preacher daddy in the pulpit.


Our grandchildren loved playing in the church building. They led singing, served the Lord’s Supper, and took up a collection, while we parents and grandparents sat on the front pews.

It’s fun and instructive to learn about the way things used to be. Sometimes it’s tempting to be nostalgic about them and to regret that we don’t live in those long ago days with their long ago ways.

But God has decided that this is the best time and place for us to live.

. . . and He made
from one man
every nation of mankind
to live on all
the face of the earth,
having determined
their appointed times
and the boundaries
of their habitation . . .
Acts 17:26

While living here and now, we can rest and trust, because . . .

Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8


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  1. We visited here twice with our 6 children. First time in 2005 we had so much fun that the kids begged to do it again when we headed West again in 2011. We did not know we could spend the night the first time so we made sure that happened the second time. Along with the covered wagons they also have electric and water hook up for campers. Paying full price in the summer is worth every penny, because there are demonstrations going on and a few actors roaming the grounds. You even can take a covered wagon to the school house and experience a school day. If I hear of a homeschool family heding west i always tell them they need to make time to visit here.

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