Stories of the Visitors on the Prairie
Every year thousands of people from all over the United States and from around the world visit De Smet. Most are fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some are outdoor sportsmen and some are interested in 1880s homesteading history. For some, De Smet is their destination; for others, it is a stop along the way. Tourists contribute a great deal to the economy of De Smet and Kingsbury County. We acknowledge their importance by sharing some of their stories.
The Martz Family
Mom, Jessica Martz, is an ardent fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories. She, her husband, Greg, and their two daughters, Lilly, 17 and Amelia, 12 set out in their RV June 3 this summer from their hometown of Berwick, Penn., to visit the Laura sites.
Greg owns an Engineering Consultantcy firm in Berwick and Jessica keeps busy as a tour guide at the Jackson Mansion, a local historical site.
She is a lover of history and a practiced and passionate musician. Besides playing the piano and harp, she directs a 140-year-old community band which had its start as a military band.
Lilly will be a senior next year and Amelia is going into the 7th grade. They decided to visit the sites this year while Lilly was still living with the family.
Their tour plans included all of the sites except for Almanzo Wilder’s home in Malone, N.Y., which they had visited in 2015.
Their first stop was Pepin, Wis., then they drove to Burr Oak, Iowa, and after that visit, went on to Walnut Grove, Minn. Jessica regretted that they had not known that the Ingalls spent a year in Springfield, Minn. As a result, they did not stop there.
They said they liked all of the sites they visited and then they drove into De Smet. They had three days and four nights in De Smet and Jessica was determined to see everything.
They toured the Memorial Society first and walked around town. She described seeing the original surveyor’s house and school, both of which were described thoroughly in Laura’s books, as a magical experience.
They visited the cemetery, which Jessica described as “absolutely beautiful, well-kept and so peaceful.” She was glad that most of the Ingalls family ended up in such a beautiful place.
The next day, they toured the Ingalls Homestead and again wandered the prairie. They liked seeing the different examples of housing that the Ingalls had lived in.
A sod house, a primitive shanty and the more complete home built from additions to the Ingalls’ claim shanty. They loved the prairie and in Jessica’s words, “We spent roughly four magical hours walking around the homestead prairie, sometimes barefoot, in the whipping wind. It was magical! Time seems young here. The same things Laura describes in her books about the prairie are still here over a hundred years later.
“The look of the land and its obstacles haven’t changed. We walked up to the northwest part of the property. This was my favorite part.”
This is where five cottonwoods that Pa planted are still thriving and Jessica views Pa’s planting the trees as a testament to his love and respect for Ma and his girls.
The next day, they left for Lawrence, Kan., and then on to Mansfield, Mo. They loved Mansfield and all it had to offer, but Jessica was emphatic that De Smet was her favorite site. She said of all the sites they visited, De Smet was the most welcoming and the most inclusive.
There was time to browse and to absorb. Instead of feeling outside looking in, Jessica felt she was inside with the residents and with Laura and her family. She appreciated that the emphasis was not just on Laura but on the entire Ingalls family and she was happy to learn about Ma and Pa and Laura’s sisters.
Experiencing De Smet and the prairie and the wind she said had given her insight into Laura’s character, values and independent spirit.
Even though they had stayed a day longer than originally planned, she felt frustrated that she had not been able to see and experience everything.
Maybe they will come back for another visit some day.
The Tuck Family
Elise and Dan Tuck were coming home from a visit with a relative in Ohio when they saw a billboard featuring De Smet and decided to detour the 90 miles to visit.
Elise has read the Little House books over and over again since the age of six and was excited to see Laura’s prairie and home. Dan was amenable to watching the children while Elise enjoyed the sites.
The Tucks are from Boseman, Mont., where Dan owns a tile setting business and Elise in a homemaker and an aspiring author. Daughter Mattia is 8 and the Lyris and Perla are 4.
They were here for one day, but they packed a ton of activities into that day. In the morning they visited the Memorial Society and walked around town where Elise read the historical markers on the buildings and visited Ward’s Store and Loftus Store. The afternoon was spent at the Homestead where it was almost impossible to lure the girls away from the kittens. They also got to the cemetery.
The kittens were the girls’ favorite part and Elise loved seeing the family artifacts at the society. She and Dan were both interested in the various homes and were amazed at how small the homes the pioneers lived in were.
They found De Smet residents friendly and helpful and thoroughly enjoyed everything they did. And, Elise reported, Dan would like to come back to the area and take advantage of the fishing here.
The Wien Family
Enya Wien says her cross- country flight with her father has been the best vacation ever.
Enya and her father, Kent, landed in De Smet about noon Aug. 30 and left about mid-morning the next day. They planned to fly over the Badlands, the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower before spending the night in Wyoming.
They are flying from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to Seattle, Wash., where they will meet up with other family, some of whom are currently backpacking in the Tetons.
Enya lives in a village near Dusseldorf, Germany, with her mother. She’s been in Germany since she was 9 years old. She is now a junior in high school. Kent lives in Poughkeepsie. He flies for American Airlines and is normally piloting an Airbus A320.
On this trip, he’s flying a Flight Design CTSW, a light sport, two- seater made in Germany. He said it has a maximum speed of about 130 miles per hour and will hold enough fuel for about six hours in the air without stopping.
The two-seat plane they are flying is only about 20 feet long and weighs just 700 pounds empty, Kent said. Because it’s classified by the FAA as a light sport, pilots don’t have to meet all the requirements they would need to fly other planes.
They planned on taking a week to go from Poughkeepsie to Seattle. But they spent an extra day at the air show in Oshkosh, Wis.
Enya is an avid Laura Ingalls Wilder fan and has been reading the books since she was four. She was such an avid fan, Kent said, they had to take the books away from her at times to get her to do other things.
They also made a stop in Walnut Grove, Minn. Both said Walnut Grove was beautiful from the air and since they were running low on fuel, they landed and pulled
up to the pump, only to see a sign that the pump was out of order.
They flew on to Brookings where they refueled.
When they arrived in De Smet, they were surprised to see how many trees are here. Enya said she envisioned what De Smet looked like because of Laura’s books.
“The trees are what makes it so beautiful,” Kent said, adding it was with great foresight that pioneers to this area planted those trees.
They landed too late in De Smet to make one of the tours from the welcome center. But, with a borrowed car, they looked around, visited the Ingalls Homestead and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society. They stayed the night at Prairie House Manor Bed and Breakfast and said they thoroughly enjoyed their stay in De Smet.
The kittens at the homestead were a particular hit with Enya.
Enya said she particularly likes historical novels, and said with Laura’s books she always imagined she was actually living the life described. Enya said she’d like to become an author, but she
also wants to fly.
This trip was Enya’s idea. She
said she thought it would be nice to be an exchange student. But because she has already spent part of her life in the United States, it just didn’t make a lot of sense.
So she proposed this vacation flight instead.
Their first stop was at Niagara Falls. From there, they went to Michigan and then to Oshkosh.
Kent is a third-generation pilot. His grandfather was a barnstormer in the 1920s and at Oshkosh he got to sit in a biplane like the one his grandfather flew.
In 1924, his grandfather went to Alaska as one of the first pilots up there. He also founded the first Alaskan airline.
Kent also lived in Alaska before moving to the “lower 48.”
With American, he flies out of Boston or Maryland and frequently flies into the desert southwest. He said he’s flown numerous times across the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon and was looking forward to seeing the Badlands and the Black Hills.