Whatever Happened to Silver Lake?

Today many visitors come to De Smet, South Dakota hoping to see the Silver Lake that Laura wrote about in her 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)

Laura made Silver Lake sound like a wonderful place to be! Any fan of the 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 Laura knew and loved.

In the early 1920s Silver Lake was drained with the hopes of turning the land into farm land. The De Smet News described the plan in 1923. They said they intended to “turn the wet marsh into hay and pasture land” and in addition 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).

Throughout the 1930s until the 1980s the once lake rarely filled with water (Pioneer Girl 159). Starting in the mid-1980s though the lake 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 the amount of rain it even created a problem for planting crops (LORE 12,1). Ever since that year, what was once Silver Lake along with 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 into De Smet today. At that pull off what you are actually looking at is the Big Slough and then behind it is where Silver Lake was located.



2 comments on “Whatever Happened to Silver Lake?

  1. Ellie says:

    Another interesting read. Thank you! I greatly enjoy your blog.

  2. Ann Dahl says:

    Thanks so much for this article. I had heard snatches of this info, but it is good to see them combined into one explanation.

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