Ask Little House Travel: “What Sad Events Happened in Burr Oak?”

Former (and longtime) Burr Oak director Ferneva Brimacomb speaks to a tour group at the Masters Hotel in Burr Oak, Iowa.

Babette at the lovely cooking blog  Babette Feasts (which you all should read … go ahead; I’ll wait) tells us she read the Little House books as a child; her favorite was On the Banks of Plum Creek. After reading this post that details each of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homesites, she says she’s curious: What bad things happened in Burr Oak? 

Judy Green, who presents educational programs as part of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Story Behind the Stories” in Ohio, offers this answer:

While the Ingalls family was traveling to Burr Oak, their son Charles Fredrick Ingalls died from an unspecified illness. He is buried in/near Zumbro Falls MN, but I think his grave is unmarked. (See the Pioneer Girl website.)

Life in Burr Oak was a struggle financially and emotionally. You can purchase a booklet from the Burr Oak homesite called “The Iowa Story.” (See the website for Burr Oak.)

Thank you, Judy!


“Little Trip on the Prairie”

In 2008, FamilyFun magazine was looking for a writer for a Little House travel story. A colleague of mine suggested me to her editor, and after I submitted a proposal (de rigueur in the magazine world), I was assigned the story.

My story about traveling to the upper-Midwestern Little House sites, "Little Trip on the Prairie," appeared in the June 2010 issue of FamilyFun magazine.

The following summer, my husband, my kids and I were scheduled to visit Pepin, Walnut Grove, and De Smet — in that order. Which we did do, sort of. Except my daughter got really sick just before the trip, which meant she and her Dad didn’t meet up with me and her brother until the two of us were already in De Smet. She got to hit Walnut Grove on the way back, but she missed Pepin completely. Plus we had to buy her and her Dad a whole new plane ticket, which the magazine would not reimburse.

From a parenting and a financial perspective, it was a pretty dodgy situation. From a professional one, it was definitely a little tricky—but we got it done.

I will say that I highly recommend visiting the Little House sites when you don’t have a photographer following you around.

The story was ultimately printed at the beginning of the summer of 2010. (My kids quite enjoyed their tiny taste of fame.)

So What Are These “Homesites,” Anyway?

What are these strange things called “homesites”?

Homesites is a term assumed by Laurafans (itself its own self-created term) to describe the places Laura lived throughout her life. All of these places have been commemorated in some way, whether in tiny or grandiose fashion. Although Little House Travel is full of information on these homesites, here’s a quick-and-dirty rundown, in the manner of The Least You Need to Know.

Some homesites are actually located a bit outside of the town they are traditionally associated with (like Malone, Independence, and Westville); for these purposes I will be referring to them by their most popular names.

The following homesites, all found in the Little House books, are listed chronologically as Laura lived there:

Pepin, Wisconsin. Laura and her sister Mary were born here; setting for Little House in the Big Woods, which begins when Laura is four years old.

Independence, Kansas. Little sister Carrie was born here. The Ingalls family spent about a year in what they called Indian Territory/Oklahoma Territory, although in truth they were just a few miles north of the Oklahoma border into Kansas. This is the setting for the book with the best-known title, Little House on the Prairie. (After this the family returned for a second stint in Wisconsin.)

Walnut Grove, Minnesota. When the Ingalls family moved (for the second time) from Wisconsin, they settled in Walnut Grove for a few years. Interestingly, the town is never named in On the Banks of Plum Creek, the book that describes these years.

De Smet, South Dakota. In 1879, when Laura was 12, the family made their last stop in the newly-formed town of De Smet, South Dakota. This town in southeastern South Dakota is the setting for more than half of the books in the series: By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years, whose final chapter depicts her marriage to Almanzo Wilder at age 18, effectively ending the Little House books. The posthumously published The First Four Years also takes place in De Smet.

Looking at the farmhouse from inside the buggy house at the Almanzo Wilder Farm in Malone, New York

Also mentioned in the series is Malone, New York, as recounted in Farmer Boy, the book that depicts the ninth and tenth years in the childhood of her husband, Almanzo. This book was published after Little House in the Big Woods at a time when both books were viewed as standalones. However, it is usually listed between Little House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek (although it actually takes place around the time of Laura’s birth). Yeah, it’s confusing.

The following homesites are places Laura lived that are not written about in the series, again listed chronologically:

Burr Oak, Iowa. The Ingalls family lived here between two separate stays in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Laura did not write about this town in the book series because it represented a sad time in her family’s life, though events from those years were used liberally in the TV series “Little House on the Prairie.”

Spring Valley, Minnesota. When Almanzo’s family moved from Malone, New York, they setted here. Laura, Almanzo, and their daughter Rose lived here for a time in their early married life.

Westville, Florida. Laura, Almanzo, and Rose lived here for less than a year, thinking it would help Almanzo’s health. Rose’s short story “Innocence,” which won an O. Henry award for fiction, recalls this time.

Mansfield, Missouri. In 1894, the family finally left De Smet for good. Laura was 27, and would spend the rest of her life in this town in Missouri. From here, she would write the Little House series. This homesite is also commonly referred to as “Rocky Ridge,” the name Laura gave to her home.

(The Ingalls family also spent a very brief time in Chariton County, Missouri, on their way from Wisconsin to Kansas.)


“No Dogs Allowed.”

The homesite in Independence, Kansas claims the distinction of being the very first homesite I ever visited, way back in 2001. I’d just moved to the southwestern edge of Kansas the year before from Boston, and I planned my visit to Independence around a trip back to the east coast. It was a couple hours out of the way, but I was heading for an eight-hour drive anyway, all the way diagonally across Kansas from the Kansas City airport. I had time.

Back then, the site was just starting to gain momentum. It didn’t have regular hours, or a website (it was 2001, after all). But I had gathered what information I could online and navigated my way south from Kansas City, almost to the Oklahoma border.

My excitement was palpable, at once prickly and whooshing through me. From behind the wheel, I saw a sign, green with white lettering: “Verdigris River.” With a shuddering intake of breath I looked down as I drove over a small bridge, but the brush was so thick I couldn’t identify any water. But still! I had driven over the Verdigris! The same Verdigris River mentioned all over the book! The one that likely fed the creek that Mr. Edwards had braved in flooded conditions, clothes on his head and potatoes in his pockets, just to bring Laura and Mary their Christmas candy.

It’s like that when you first approach the homesites. You see the signs: Lake Thompson or Plum Creek or Pepin. Your heart begins to flutter in a speed directly proportional to the level of your fandom. Your breathing seems to stop.

That Sunday in June, as the sign directed me to turn south off route 160 toward the tiny town of Wayside, Kansas, my anticipation grew. By the time I approached the wide expanse of fields and saw the fenced-off log cabin replica, I was so excited I almost forgot to park. But I managed it, then walked over to the fence, where I was greeted by this handwritten sign:

Ever see that Charlie Brown special “Snoopy Come Home”? Specifically this part (and the song beginning at :33)? And do you remember how you felt? 

Then you know.

Twelve years later, I’m happy to say, the site is much different. And today, May 6, 2012, the Sunday edition of Tulsa World provides a great rundown on the site and what it’s like to visit. I’m pretty picky about my Little House articles; this seems well done.

Ask Little House Travel

Planning a Little House trip and need to work out some details? Trying to figure out when and where to go — or what to do while you’re there? Ask Little House Travel. We’ll be starting a regular weekly feature on submitted questions or questions we’ve been asked in the past. Questions can be specific to one homesite or as general as you need. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll find someone who does.

You may include your name if you like or choose to be anonymous. It’s up to you. All questions will be linked on the Q & A page for easy access.

“Ambition Is Necessary to Accomplishment.”

The beginning: Lake Pepin, where it all began for Laura Ingalls Wilder, author

My goals for the WordCount Blogathon are twofold. Primarily, I am going to write about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homesites — the places she lived throughout her life — and provide tips and general information about traveling to and between them. As each ebook is released, I’ll provide information on them and a place where those who want to buy them can do so.

My second goal is to learn. I’ve been blogging on and off since 2003 and for the past few years have participated in the maintenance of the blog of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association, Beyond Little House. But my knowledge of WordPress is just on the level of keeping myself out of trouble. I have a lot to learn. So for the next 27 days, don’t be surprised by change. I may switch out the theme so it looks different than you’re used to. I’ll be adding and subtracting widgets on the sidebar. I may muck around with fonts and photos. Pages will be appearing everywhere, usually with announcements, sometimes not. I’ll be embracing change, day after day.

If I do everything right, I will have a robust and fully functional Web site, complete with blog and options for ebook purchasing, by June 1.

I’ll also be working to integrate this site more fully with the Facebook page for Little House Travel and the Twitter feed.

You can help. Let me know what you’d like to see. Ask a question. Suggest an idea. I’m all ears, and I’m all about experimenting until June 1.

So Many Ways of Seeing Things and So Many Ways of Saying Them

If you’re interested in learning more about traveling to the Little House homesites, or you just want to hear about others’ shenanigans, we’ve got lots of options. One is to simply to read this blog. You can also become a fan of Little House Travel on Facebook.

Railroad tracks adjacent to Silver Lake in De Smet, South Dakota

Got a friend who always talks about making their way to the Midwest someday to see the places Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about? Send them over.

If you’re on Twitter, follow @chasinglaura.

Want to be alerted when the ebook(s) are ready for your Kindle or Nook? You can certainly keep checking in on the blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter, but you can also write and you’ll get an email when they are available.

Got a question about Little House Travel? Write me and I’ll help.

The Art of Renovation

One of the nice things about traveling to the Little House sites — “homesites,” we Laurafans call them — more than once is seeing how they change over the years. And they do change. Rotating exhibits, continuous improvement … time and resources permitting, it keeps going on. Rocky Ridge Farm at Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura spent the last sixty-plus years of her life (and wrote a book or two), for example, is embarking on an ambitious, complete renovation that will throroughly improve the grounds and all the structures on it.

This picture is of the gift store at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, and that’s what it looked like the last time I was there. (In fact, that there green mug on the shelf to the right is what I drink my fresh-from-the-French-press coffee from at least three times a week.)

Well, that’s not quite true. The coffee mug part is true — I wouldn’t mislead you about coffee — but it didn’t exactly look like this the very last time I was there, in the Spring of 2012. At that time, it was a big, vast expanse of nothing, because everything had been moved out and the gift store was being expanded. But now construction is over, and renovation is complete. Visitors to Walnut Grove in 2012 will be able to shop in a gift store that’s twice the size of the one it replaced.

It sure needed the space. The Walnut Grove gift store is one of the most crowded shops I’ve ever been in. Granted I tend to visit there during events, and with events come crowds. In tiny Walnut Grove, that means big crowds. But still, even though the register kept expelling customers and their purchases at a good clip, it seemed as I tried to select what I wanted to buy I was always moving out of the way of one person or bumping into another. Now, when you shop for books or Charlotte dolls or handmade sunbonnets in Walnut Grove, everyone will have room to breathe.

(I highly recommend the coffee mug.)

See more of Walnut Grove’s gift store renovation on their Facebook page.

Welcome to Little House Travel

You’ve read the books. Perhaps your mother read them first. Maybe now your kids are, too. You’ve followed Laura Ingalls via the pages of the “Little House” series of books as she traveled from Wisconsin to Kansas and Minnesota and, finally, Dakota Territory.

Then, when you were done reading, you wanted to go there. You wanted to go where Laura went, see what Laura saw.

I did, too. I’ve spent the last decade of my life chasing Laura.

My ebook series, Little House Travel, is written for people like you and me, and our parents, and our children. It’s a family travel series. From the Ingalls family’s De Smet to the Wilders’ Malone, I will provide the most straightforward and honest been-there-done-that guidance for families who want to follow in Laura’s footsteps.

Starting today, May 1, 2012, I will be building this website and the accompanying blog to lead up to the release of the first ebook in the series: De Smet, South Dakota.

Won’t you come along for the wagon ride?

Thanks to Michelle Rafter’s fifth annual WordCount Blogathon, I will spend the month of May ramping up this website for my new ebook series, Little House Travel, with 31 days of blog posts.