Traveling with Laura to Walnut Grove and the Banks of Plum Creek

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We spent our second night on the road at the home of our good friends Brad and Nancy Bjorkman, owners of Heppner’s Legacy and sacrificial servants of homeschoolers in their community, at their store, and at homeschool conventions from North Dakota to Illinois and south to St. Louis. The next morning they hosted us for a meet and greet the authors at their store. I love meeting mamas like you and children like yours!

With Brad and Nancy Bjorkman at Heppner's Legacy
With Brad and Nancy Bjorkman at Heppner’s Legacy

From there it was on to Walnut Grove, Minnesota, and the banks of Plum Creek.

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Walnut Grove is perhaps the most famous place that the Ingalls family lived, but that is only because of the Little House on the Prairie television show. The only books related to Walnut Grove are On the Banks of Plum Creek and the very beginning of By the Shores of Silver Lake. The real Little House on the Prairie was in Kansas. And here is the real timeline of the Ingalls family.

1867 • Laura Ingalls is born near Pepin, Wisconsin.

1868 • Laura and the Ingalls family move to Chariton County, Missouri.

1869 • Laura and the Ingalls family move to Montgomery County, near Independence, Kansas.

1871 • Laura and the Ingalls family move back to Pepin, Wisconsin.

1874 • Laura and the Ingalls family move to Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

1876 • Laura and the Ingalls family move to Burr Oak, Iowa.

1878 • Laura and the Ingalls family move back to Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

1879 • Laura and the Ingalls family move to DeSmet, Dakota Territory.

Sadly, we learned when we arrived in Walnut Grove, that we did not come at an ideal time. The museum . . .

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. . . closed just minutes after we got there and the site of the Ingalls dugout by Plum Creek had just closed for the season. We had to content ourselves with posing in front of the museum . . .

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“Pa” and “Ma” at Walnut Grove

. . . and peeking at the museum buildings over the fence.

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Very few (perhaps no) real Ingalls artifacts reside in the museum at Walnut Grove. It concentrates more on the television series. There is a back story to this. Since five of Laura’s books are set in DeSmet, South Dakota, a delegation of folks from there went to California and tried to talk Michael Landon into setting the show in DeSmet rather than Walnut Grove. I guess Walnut Grove had a better ring to it.

The Ingalls worked at the Masters Hotel in Walnut Grove, and it is the only surviving building related to the family. It stands across the street from the museum, but it has not yet been restored and opened to the public.

Masters Hotel, Walnut Grove, Minnesota
Masters Hotel, Walnut Grove, Minnesota

You may remember the story from On the Banks of Plum Creek about Pa giving his last two dollars to help purchase a bell for their church. The church is no longer standing, but the bell is still there and hangs in a new church building.

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We decided that if we couldn’t go inside the museum or drive to the site of the Ingalls dugout, we would go in search of a different section of Plum Creek and here it is!

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We decided to climb over the guard rail and go exploring! It was such fun! I still have a rather large bruise to prove it. You see, most of me made it over the guard rail, but one pesky foot stayed on top and down I went — in the dirt, not in the creek!

Plum Creek
Plum Creek

The grandkids had such fun playing in the prairie grasses, just as Laura and Mary did.

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Ray and I liked it, too.

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Mary Evelyn stood on the banks of Plum Creek and reminisced into the camera about when she and Bethany used to enjoy “pioneer imaginings” from Laura’s books. As she wrote in our field trip guide, Laura’s Little Houses: “When you have traveled on a covered wagon and lived in a dugout with Laura through her books, there is something very special about standing “on the banks of Plum Creek” yourself.

As I read On the Banks of Plum Creek to our children, as always, I was listening to Ma and longing to be like her. This is how it closes:

“Supper is ready,” Ma said in her gentle voice.

Pa laid the fiddle in its box. He stood up and looked around at them all. His blue eyes shone at them.

“Look, Caroline,” he said, “how Laura’s eyes are shining.”

My prayer for you is that your children’s eyes will shine today.

Let your gentle spirit be known to all men.
The Lord is near.
Philippians 4:5

 

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  1. This is so neat! We went to Pepin, WI this summer with our kids and found the homestead with a remake of their cabin on it. We had been listening to the audiobook Little House in the Big Woods while we were traveling. We also went by Caddie Woodlawn’s cabin, but we were unable to stop there because of construction. It is so great to connect real life to the books we are reading

  2. I’m so sorry that the museum closed right before your arrival. I have really enjoyed this tour through Ingalls history. Thank you for sharing.