Little House on the Prairie

April 30th, 2013 at 8:35 am

Today’s Flyover People column as seen in The Emporia Gazette:

little house

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE

Every afternoon, Mary Louise Wilhite read to her second grade students at Pawnee Rock Grade School. Following our after-lunch recess, my classmates and I came in from the playground, windblown and energetic. But we settled down quickly when we sat at our desks; it was reading time.

Mrs. Wilhite pulled her chair out from behind her desk and placed it in the center of the classroom, to read to us from one of the nine books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. For 15 minutes, nothing was required of us except to be quiet and listen.

Day by day, Mrs. Wilhite led us through the childhood of Laura Ingalls Wilder. My classmates and I took in all of the adventures of Laura and Mary and Carrie, Ma and Pa and Jack the dog. We heard about storms and illnesses and daily pioneer life. As Mrs. Wilhite read, we pictured the log cabin and the girls doing their daily chores of helping Ma with the cooking and sewing.

After listening to our teacher read these books in 1967, I read them all myself at least once. Seven years later, in 1974, the “Little House on the Prairie” series began on TV and I had the chance to see Laura and Mary and Carrie grow up all over again.

Now, decades later, I can’t say that I remember the details of Laura’s stories, but I do remember being a wide-eyed listener in that second-grade classroom.

A few weeks ago, Dave and I were in southern Kansas near Sedan and we had some extra time for exploring, so we headed east to check out the historic location of the Ingalls home which is about 12 miles southwest of Independence, just off of U.S. 75.

In the 1960s, research began to determine the exact location of the Ingalls family cabin. Thanks to the presence of Charles Ingalls’ hand-dug well, the property was found. In 1977, a replica one-room log cabin was built on the site. It’s a tiny dwelling with a couple of windows, and standing inside it’s easy to see where the term “cabin fever” comes from. It’s very close quarters for a family of five including infant Carrie who was born in Kansas.

The story of the Ingalls family begins in “Little House in the Big Woods,” the book set in Wisconsin where Laura was born in 1867. In 1869, the Ingalls family moved to Kansas and we read about their times here in the third book, “Little House on the Prairie.” In her books, Laura makes herself and her siblings a few years older than they were in real life.

Because they had unknowingly homesteaded on Indian Territory in southeastern Kansas, the Ingalls family needed to move and they left the state in 1871. From Kansas, they relocated in Minnesota, then Iowa, and later in the Dakota Territories.

To add more layers of history to the replica cabin, the Sunnyside schoolhouse and the Wayside post office were moved onto the historic site. These two buildings were not in use until after the Ingalls family had left our state, but the structures offer visitors a better sense about the early days in Kansas.

An outhouse is on site and it is also not historic; I was pleased to find that the outhouse had running water and flushable toilets. Also on the property are a few farm animals, as well as the (now sealed) hand-dug well.

A two-story farmhouse serves as the gift shop. A clerk told me about Prairie Days which she described as a fun event with reenactors, games for kids, music, and craft and food vendors. Prairie Days is Saturday, June 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

It wasn’t until I stood in the gift shop and saw a shelf filled with the Laura Ingalls Wilder books that I remembered Mrs. Wilhite reading these books to us. Immediately, I saw myself back in that second-grade classroom, sitting at my desk, leaning into those stories of life on the Kansas prairie a long, long time ago.

The Little House on the Prairie Museum is a privately owned and not-for-profit site. Requested donations are $3 for adults and $1 for children. Special events are scheduled almost every weekend at the Little House on the Prairie Museum. For more information, visit www.littlehouseontheprairiemuseum.com.

Copyright 2013 ~ Cheryl Unruh

Wilder books

columns, Kansans, life on the ground, nostalgia, other people's stuff, writing

  1. ginger porter
    April 30th, 2013 at 09:43 | #1

    Loved this article Cheryl. These books were my favorites as a child and then I enjoyed reading them to my children. Fond memories!

  2. Anna Keller
    May 2nd, 2013 at 23:54 | #2

    Enjoyed this column so much, would love to visit this museum one day! Lucky students to have a teacher reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books to the class. This made me think of my wonderful 4th grade teacher who read to us every day after lunch. I especially enjoyed “The Secret Garden” & can trace the beginning of my love of reading to that year. Good teachers (and good writers) can help spark a lifelong interest!

  3. Donna Boese
    May 4th, 2013 at 19:21 | #3

    Cheryl,

    THanks for sharing this with us. I loved the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. We lived in Sioux Falls, SD for a couple of years and our daughter went to the “Laura Ingalls Wilder” grade school. They displayed a few items of Laura’s and a letter she had written to the school. We bought the set of books for our daughter, who will one day pass them on to her daughter. What wonderful memories.

  4. roger
    May 5th, 2013 at 11:10 | #4

    I think to walk in the steps of an author and/or a story is a great thing. That is why working to support the legacy of the White family at the Red Rocks State Historic Site is worthwhile, especially for the young people touring.

    Another great column, Cheryl.

  5. 1206SWMO
    May 5th, 2013 at 17:45 | #5

    Theres one place I need to go and visit..