Today many visitors come to De Smet, South Dakota, hoping to see the Silver Lake that Laura Ingalls Wilder described in her fifth children’s book, By the Shores of Silver Lake.
“The lake shore went lower and lower toward the Big Slough, until really there was no shore. The lake melted into the slough, making small ponds surrounded by the harsh, rank slough grass that stood five and six feet tall. Little ponds glimmered between the grasses and on the water the wild birds were thick” (By the Shores of Silver Lake, 77).
Wilder made Silver Lake sound like a wonderful place to be! Any Little House fan knows their trip to De Smet would not be complete without seeing Silver Lake. Unfortunately, Silver Lake no longer exists today or at least not the Silver Lake that Laura knew and loved.
In the early 1920’s Silver Lake was drained with the hopes of turning the land into farm land. The De Smet News described the plan in 1923. The News stated they intended to “turn the wet marsh into hay and pasture land” and in addition, to ensure that the nearby roadways were able to be driven if the lake was flooded (“Extensive Ditching”). The last picture we have of Silver Lake before it was drained is from 1914 and on the back of the picture it stated that Silver Lake was drained into Lake Henry in order to keep the water from washing over the railroad tracks (LORE 27,2).
Between the 1930’s – 1980’s the lake never recollected water (Pioneer Girl 159). However, starting in the mid-1980’s Silver Lake’s bed started to fill with water after large rainfalls. In June of 1984, Silver Lake was filled once again. That year in the month of June alone De Smet received 11.92 inches of rain. By the end of October that year De Smet had received 34.47 inches of rain which is over 10 inches above the annual average (LORE 10,2). Again, in the spring of 1986 Silver Lake flooded again due to the amount of snow from the winter. With that amount of snow it even created a problem for planting crops (LORE 12,1). Ever since 1986, Silver Lake and the Big Slough have never been dry enough to use as farm land. Today, the land is a thriving wetlands area. Visitors can see the Silver Lake Vista off of Highway 14 as they come east into De Smet. At that pull-off what you are actually looking at is the Big Slough and then behind it is where Silver Lake was located.