It's time I finish telling about this trip. In previous enteries, I wrote about DeSmet, SD and the Big Woods of Wisconsin.
After attending the old church where Laura and family worshipped, we left DeSmet and drove east on US 14. The highway parallels the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern railroad, the old Chicago Northwest line that brought Pa Ingalls out to the Dakota territories in 1880. At the time he worked as a paymaster for the railroad, back when they were laying tracks across the tall grasses. All the small towns around here, “out on the prairie” as Garrison Kellior would say, were laid out by the railroads and appear to be cut from the same pattern. Main Street T’s off from the railroad tracks. One end of Main Street would be next to the tracks, the other along Highway 14. The crammed into the ground next to the tracks are grain silos and it appears the railroad is getting ready to haul in this year’s crop as empty hoppers have been positioned along the sidings next to the silos.
I would have liked to have stopped at South Dakota State University in Brookings to see the Harvey Dunn exhibit they have there, but weariness had overtaken us all. Hearing moans, I keep driving toward Walnut Gove, our last scheduled stop along the Laura Ingalls trail.
Walnut Grove is set off from the other communities along the prairie with its water tower. Instead of the old can type tower, held up on steel stilts, the type that looks like the cover shot for Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Walnut Grove has a modern tower that looks like an alien space ship hovering over the hamlet. Pa and Ma must be rolling in their graves.
The Ingalls family lived in Walnut Grove twice. They moved here from the Big Woods back and first settled in a dugout along Plum Creek, a few miles north of town. They later built a small house, but Pa had a hard time making payments on the land. They then moved for a year to Burr Iowa, where they ran an inn and their only son died as a young boy. Afterwards, with some more money in their pocket, they moved back to Walnut Grove and lived here till they moved to the Dakota’s in 1880.
We went through the museum there along the railroad tracks, it consisting of several converted homes and a school. By this point, my daughter was losing interest. One soon reaches a point that you just can’t look at another rug beater or butter churn or scrub board without rolling your eyes. Because Walnut Grove was the setting for the Little House in the Prairie television shows (even though they were shot in California), the museum has a nice collection on the shows and photos of all the actors visiting the hamlet.
After visiting the museum and shooting my obligatory photos along the railroad tracks, we headed north to the site of the Ingall’s dugout. I pulled up into the parking place behind a Honda from North Dakota with a “Sushi” license plate. It seemed such a dichotomy that I had to take a photo.
The dugout is no longer visible, even though there is a depression where it was suppose to sit. It was at the dugout that my daughter finally met her match, a retired teacher from Arkansas, who estimates she’s read each of the Little House books at least 35 times. The two of them had a great chat as we waded in the creek (if that’s possible in 3 inches of water). My daughter kept warning everyone to watch out for leeches, recalling some story from the book On the Banks of Plum Creek. If there had been leeches in the water, they would have had to be pretty small. My thoughts about camping along Plum Creek and taking my daughter fishing were shattered. Plum Creek wasn’t much more than a mud hole. As it was still early afternoon, we decided to keep heading east and spend out last day back again in the Wisconsin Dells. Our “themed trip" had come to an end.