This is another post on De Smet, and while it is for the girls, everyone might like to read it because Evan, Aaron, and Jonathan play important roles in the afternoon's events.
When I left off of the De Smet day, I was picking up the boys at the hotel. They were ready to roll and very amenable to taking in the last site of the town. I wanted to see Pa and Ma's original claim site and the 5 cottonwood trees Pa planted for the girls as a windbreak. It was right outside of town, less than 1/2 mile from our hotel so we were there in a flash. It's hard to believe they were so close to town, yet in the stories, walking to town was a serious undertaking.
We got to the claim and were so pleased to see a living museum built on the 160 acres! There were so many things to do and see...I didn't know where to start first. A little movie introduced us to the place and with our map in hand, we set off to do everything we could cram into a few hours.
Up the observation tower we went to overlook the place and decided to go clockwise, starting with the dugout. There was no actual dugout on this particular property, but there was one constructed for all of the fans, for us to see how it was made and how it might be to live in one. First of all, it was tiny! Sod blocks stacked on each other formed the outer walls, and the total space was no more than 10x10, the floor was packed dirt and the window miniscule. I personally don't know how they got an entire family in there along with beds, stove, etc. A tight squeeze isn't enough to describe it! John read the directions on how to make it because I really want to have one and someday I will.
Down the bank we went until we got to a claim shanty, the size Pa had built for the girls when they first staked the claim. It was a great little space for a play house, but for a real house, one in which an entire family would have to spend a winter cooped up....NO WAY! It was furnished with a rope bed, a little stove, a drop leaf table and a few other items. Pioneers had to be smart about storage and they used every item they could get their hands on, so in this case, a wooden crate was hung on the wall and shelves had been built into it to hold dishes and pots/pans. I know Pa built one of these for Ma because when they moved into the surveyor's house in By the Shores of Silver Lake, Pa loaded it up and took it with them. The place was stiflingly hot, and the only breeze came from the tiny side windows and the open door. Along with breeze, flies entered and I would have been miserable because South Dakota flies bite and they appear to love me.
Down the slope to the sod barn. It was a square building, with the door on one side, a chicken run on one and a little window on the other. We were pleased to see a gentle, reddish-brown mama cow in one half, chewing on some hay. I began to pat her head and she rolled an amber eye in my direction, checking me out, but not shying away. Evan discovered her little calf in the other half of the barn, but it was too tired to be bothered by us. The barn was small and not enough space existed for the horses, so I don't know if Pa had his animals crammed in that space or if his sod barn was bigger. The horses on this particular farm have their own space in a bigger stable.
On to the pump where we had a little fun bringing water up out of the ground. I drank it, and Evan did too, and we decided that it was metallic tasting, but cool and refreshing. It was closer to the stable than the house, but I'm sure much more water was required for the animals than for the humans.
Next we came to the replica of Ma's house. The people who built these buildings closely followed the descriptions in the book and so looking at this house was special for me. It helped me to visualize Little Town on the Prairie better, and how the family would have been arranged within the structure. 4 rooms, including 2 bedrooms, a kitchen/eating space, and the organ room was the entire house. The original building was one room, with the stove up front and the beds in the back. I don't have a clue how they got it all crammed in, but they did it for a YEAR! Pa added on as he could afford it and as he had time and materials, and the next spring, had added the second bedroom space and then the next year he added the parlor. All together it was still small, but much more realistic as a family home.
Laura shared a room with all of her sisters, 4 girls in a space about 8x8. So, Pigpen girls, imagine all 4 of you in two rope beds shoved into the corner, having to climb over each other every night and the only storage for your stuff is an L shaped shelf up above. No pictures on the wall, just beds, quilts, and about 2 feet of extra space for the door to shut. Doesn't sound like a space that would make you good friends, but these girls were thrilled to have their own room! Pa and Ma were next door and their larger bed took up the space in that. I think they had a little dresser for clothing storage, but that's it. All the windows had little white cotton curtains over them.
The kitchen had a drop leaf table to one side, with cooking stuff on it, and in the opposite corner was the wood stove and the wood box. By the wood box was the door into the parlor. An ironing board was set up, as was a quilting frame. A sewing machine like Ma used was under the window and the wall between Ma/Pa's room and the parlor was the organ purchased for Mary. The house was very plain in its decorations, yet I remember Laura remarking about how cozy it was and the way she described it, it was beautiful. I suppose her opinion was that when you are with the people you love and you have everything you NEED, your home is beautiful.
Next, off to the stable, but first a stop by a little colt lying in the grass. His name was Firefly and he is a three week old Shetland pony. We fell in love with him and he let us pet him and stay by him until a very cute boy named Matt came to tell us the wagon ride was getting ready to start. I asked cute Matt if he was going to play Almanzo in the pageant that night and he blushed and said "no" and I teased him a little. Remember my tour guide that morning was Kristin, the girl who would play Laura...and I asked Matt if there would be any kissing in the pageant. Again, he blushed and said yes, and that wasn't enough of a temptation to get him to portray Almanzo:)
On the wagon, there were two little girls sitting up front "driving" the horses. They were the cutest things! We rode out to a little school house, an original to the area, but not one that Laura and Carrie attended. There was a lady who met us at the door, an actual high school teacher from the area whose summer job is to be the teacher for tourists. She slapped straw cowboy hats on my boys (they were the only boys on the ride) and all the little girls got aprons and sun bonnets. Then class started and we had to do some things for her. Now is when the fun started! Evan got to portray Willie Oleson, Aaron was Almanzo and Jonathan was Cap Garland. Aaron had to go up front and read a poem about trying hard in life, and when Willie (Evan) admitted he had not brought in a bucket of water for after recess, he had to go to the board and stand with his nose on an X. Evan is pretty tall, so he had to stoop to do it, and when the teacher asked him if he would forget the water in the future, he answered emphatically, No Ma'am!
After that, the 2 little girls led the 5 children around the room while the grown ups sang Yankee Doodle. She said this was what they would do when they arrived to school cold in the winter time. So, imagine my boys, marching around a little one room school, straw hats on their heads while the grownups sang for them. Priceless!!! This was followed by a short spelling bee between Cap, Willie, and Almanzo, and then a few riddles to solve. We got to ring the bell as were leaving and class was dismissed! What a great time we had and the boys were such good sports!
Back on the wagon and this time Jonathan and I got to drive. I actually got to steer two big work horses and now I'm inspired to take riding lessons.
To the barn we went to make rope (fun!), corn dolls, and learn how to make hay twists. It's remarkable that the Ingalls survived that horrible winter with only hay to burn.
I picked some wheat to keep and stood by the wheat field for a while knowing that only 10 acres or so were planted with oats, wheat and corn, and for Pa this represented all he was physically able to do. It seemed so small compared to the vast fields with which we were surrounded, but to Pa it meant financial independence. Of course, he had to nearly kill himself to do it, and it's understandable why his heart condition would keep him from continuing on the farm.
What a glorious day for me and what a fun time the boys had. They allowed themselves to get involved and enjoyed it. Once again, when I get the pictures figured out, I'll post some. Sorry for the length of this, but there was so much to see!
I'll save Plum Creek for another post.
Seeya pigpen girls:)