Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Little House Roadtrip: On the Banks of Plum Creek

I drove from De Smet to Walnut Grove, the location of the book "On the Banks of Plum Creek". Interestingly in reality the Ingalls' progress West was not entirely as described in the childrens books and reading the adult version of the story that Laura wrote (Pioneer Girl) does present a slightly different perspective on the childrens books as a mixture of truth and fiction.

In "On the Shores of Silver Lake" which follows 'Plum Creek' in the series the girls follow Pa to Silver Lake on the train after he goes to work on the railroad camp. There is a lot of description of this journey to Tracy so I was really surprised to find that Tracy is only a few miles from Plum Creek.  I did check out the railway depot, but no photos!

Walnut Grove is another seasonal tourist location mainly because the TV series is all set in the town. As I never watched the TV show I was not really interested in the town itself - but as it turns out there is really not much in the town, and again, no other visitors at all.  The only Laura-related thing I saw was the church bell - once funded (partially) by Pa when he donated the money he had for new boots to buy the church bell.  Its now located outside the local congregational church - obviously not the original!
'Pa's Bell'

My destination at Walnut Grove was the site of the Ingalls' house on the banks of the creek. They initially move into a Dugout (like the one in De Smet) built into the creek banks. This appalls Ma, and having visited the one in De Smet I can understand why.  The dugout is no longer there, but you can clearly see the depression where it was located.

Remains of the dugout

Before I came on this trip I re-read all the books with special attention to the ones relating to these locations.  What I loved about Plum Creek was that it was so clearly the same location as described by Laura.  I could stand where the dugout door would have been and look across the creek.

View from the dugout

The creek water level was high, so the big rock that Laura and Mary played on was submerged, but it was easy to imagine falling into the creek and nearly getting swept away like Laura did.

Plum Creek
I walked along the creek banks, seeing where Laura would wait on the 'table land' for the cows to come home. The wind was gently blowing the grassland and it was peaceful. The farmer has left a wild grassland area on the creek banks for visitors to explore. You can see below how the dugout sheltered under the creek banks, and how Pa would have sheltered just along the creek for 3 days in a blizzard over Christmas.

Looking back across the creek to the dugout site

While I was there (and again the only visitor) I met the farmer who owns this land. He told me that he was the 5th generation of his family farming the land. His farmhouse is most likely built on the site of the house Pa built eventually so they could move out of the dugout - but of the house itself there is no trace.

The current farmhouse

The farmer related that the dugout had actually been intact until a few years previously, but had become dangerous with visitors ignoring his warning barriers so he had let it fall down.  I had planned to walk from the dugout site into town, as Laura and Mary did to get to school but there was no pathway and it started to rain. I got in my car and reflected on what a terrible pioneer I would have been!


Ingrid said...

Thank you for sharing this. It takes me back to all those hours spent reading and re-reading the books. I look forward to your Borrowers tour!

Christina said...

Was very interested to read about your trip as I did not realise you had completed your diary. Almost at the same time you were doing this, it was a wet bank holiday weekend in the UK and I was watching the two films "Beyond the Prairie". Although it is still a sanitised version it was dramatised as Laura speaking as an elderly woman about her youth. Overall a moving account of what we know must have been terrible hardships; the first film ending on a rather poignantly sad note with she and her husband finally abandoning their farm (even though this was presented as a new beginning).
I have to say I was (probably overly) struck by Laura's exchange with her husband-to-be as he was showing her the frame of their new house and talking about their future life together -
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing - it's just that I didn't expect it to be so small...."
"It's OK - we can make it bigger..."
"No ... I mean ... my life. I never expected my life to be so small...."

And now apparently (and rather awfully) it seems she's a franchise.