De Smet, South Dakota

Video tour of De Smet attractions

While in De Smet, be sure to stop by the Ingalls Homestead!


In 1879, Pa was offered a job with the Chicago and North Western Railroad as storekeeper and timekeeper for the men working on the grade. He worked for the railroad all summer traveling westward through Dakota Territory, while the rest of the family stayed in Walnut Grove.

Ma and the girls then rode the train to Tracy, Minnesota, where Pa met them with the wagon and took them the rest of the way to the Big Sioux Railroad Camp at the present location of Brookings, South Dakota. After a brief stay here, the family moved on with the railroaders to the Silver Lake Camp, which is now the town of De Smet, South Dakota. Here, work on the grade stopped for the winter. The surveyors for the railroad allowed the Ingalls family to live in their house on Silver Lake for the winter if Pa would take care of their tools.

Surveyors House
Early in 1880, Pa filed on a homestead claim near Silver Lake, just outside of the site laid out for the town. That spring and summer, the town grew, and Pa built a store building in town while the lots were available, as well as a claim shanty on the homestead. Laura tells about all of this in By the Shores of Silver Lake. Her next book, The Long Winter tells of the Hard Winter of 1880-1881, where trains were stopped for months and the town nearly starved to death due to lack of provisions.

Little Town on the Prairie discusses the growth of society in De Smet, focusing on Laura and her relationships with her friends, as well as with her former enemy Nellie Oleson. This book is followed by These Happy Golden Years, which is about Laura's teaching experiences and her developing relationship with Almanzo Wilder, culminating in their marriage at the end of the book. Here, the original series stopped.

The manuscript of The First Four Years was found after Laura's death and was published posthumously in 1971. This book tells of the hardships Laura and Almanzo suffered during their first years of marriage, such as crop failure, debt, the loss of an infant son, and fire which destroyed their home, as well as the joys, such as the birth of their daughter Rose.

The Ingalls Home in De Smet
In 1890, Almanzo and Laura moved to Spring Valley, Minnesota, where they lived briefly with Almanzo's parents, and then to Westville, Florida, to live near Laura's cousin Peter, before returning to De Smet. Upon their return, Rose began school, though young, while her parents worked to earn money to start a new life. In 1894, the Wilder family left De Smet for good to begin again in Mansfield, Missouri.

Meanwhile, the Ingalls family was busy trying to survive in town without leaving. When the family first moved to the Dakotas, Pa had promised Ma they would never move again, and he kept his promise. In 1887, the family moved from the homestead into a home that Pa built in town. Pa, Ma, and Mary lived in this house until their deaths.

Children's activities abound in this little schoolhouse
across from the museum.


Visitors to De Smet can see the original Surveyors' House the Ingalls family lived in during the winter of 1879-1880, as well as the house Pa built for the family in town in 1887. Many family artifacts are located here, as well as other items of historical significance to the town of De Smet. A schoolhouse contains hands-on activities for children. Also at the museum site are a replica of the Brewster (Bouchie) School where Laura taught, and the first schoolhouse in De Smet, where Laura and Carrie began attending in The Long Winter.

De Smet's First School, currently undergoing restoration.

Visitors may wish to visit Silver Lake, as well as the Twin Lakes Henry and Thompson, and Spirit Lake, which Laura and Almanzo frequented during their courting days. The Memorial Society owns a corner of the Ingalls homestead where some of the cottonwood trees Pa planted as saplings more than one hundred years ago are still alive. The remainder of the Ingalls homestead is privately owned and has been turned into a wonderful hands-on experience where families can try their hand at many activities described in the Little House books.

In town, visitors can shop at the original Loftus Store where Laura and Carrie bought a pair of suspenders for Pa at Christmas. The home of Banker Ruth still stands, and has been converted into a bed and breakfast.

The town also presents an outdoor pageant during the summer.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, Inc.
Box 426
De Smet, South Dakota 57231

Cottonwood on the Ingalls Homestead

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Frontier Girl

Copyright © 1996 - 2008
Rebecca Brammer & Phil Greetham
Do not use without permission.