Publication of a New Book: Laura Ingalls Wilder and Education in Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory 1880-85

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society proudly announces the publication of “Laura Ingalls Wilder and Education in Kingsbury County, Dakota Territory 1880-85” by Nancy S. book copy

Using school and tax records, newspaper archives, homestead files and deeds, and much more, Nancy S. Cleaveland has thoroughly researched and compared the information Laura Ingalls Wilder provided in her PIONEER GIRL autobiography and the LITTLE HOUSE books to the historical facts. She answers just about every question you’ve ever had about Laura’s school days and her teaching career in the De Smet area during the LITTLE HOUSE years. Without a doubt, this is the most comprehensive study of education and teaching in De Smet and Kingsbury County ever written and includes maps, new information, and never-before-seen photographs of the friends, classmates, and teachers you first met in the LITTLE HOUSE books.

Eliza Jane Wilder. Florence Garland. The Bouchie (Laura called them “Brewster”), Perry, and Wilkin families. Facts about Laura’s short but important teaching career – including the best explanation on record about the discrepancy in Laura’s age when she started teaching – 15 years old vs. 16 years old. The history and restoration of the First School of De Smet attended by Laura and her sister Carrie. It’s all here!  As a bonus, the earliest known teaching exam given to teacher candidates in De Smet is included. Are you smart enough to have taught in 1880s De Smet?

This monograph is the perfect companion piece for the recently-published PIONEER GIRL and the LITTLE HOUSE books. The Memorial Society is honored that Nancy generously donated her unparalleled research with us, and we’re delighted to finally share it with you!

About the Author

Nancy S. Cleaveland is one of the most respected Laura Ingalls Wilder and LITTLE HOUSE researchers in the world. In 1998 during a research trip to De Smet, South Dakota, Nancy discovered the first school records of De Smet, previously thought to be destroyed. And in 2010, she found the earliest tax records for De Smet. Nancy has conducted over 25 research trips to De Smet alone and has traveled coast to coast in her quest for new information about old friends from the LITTLE HOUSE books.

Nancy studied art as an undergraduate and architecture in graduate school, and she has been researching Laura Ingalls Wilder full-time for over twenty years. Like millions of people around the world, Nancy first read the LITTLE HOUSE books as a young child, and her passion and love for the people and places in these rich and important stories knows no end.

Purchase a copy of the book at our main website for $14.95 + S & H.



Schaub Harness

Frank Schaub was born in Baden, Germany, and came to America in 1868 with his parents and settled in Blue Earth, Minnesota. At the age of 16, he learned the harness business in Mankato, Minnesota. He had several businesses in Minnesota. Then in 1882, he believed there were more opportunities in the Dakotas and came to De Smet.

Schaub was the only harness maker in De Smet and thus carried the largest stock in the county. He was a very successful businessman and was also the mayor of De Smet at one time.HarnessShop2

This excerpt came from the book “These Happy Golden Years”:

Laura was waiting at the door of the homestead shanty when Almanzo arrived to take her for a ride. Almanzo had a new team of horses that Laura had never seen. They headed north through town. The team had not been broken to ride and were full of energy. As Almanzo pulled the horses down into a trot, he told Laura that he had bought a new harness, made to order at Schaub’s. The harnesses made there could hold even the wildest horses because they were made of strong leather, wax-sewed and double-riveted.

HarnessShop1  HarnessShop3 HarnessShop1909postcard

De Smet Harvest Scenes & Quotes from Laura’s writing

Fall is in full swing here in De Smet! In 2014, that means it is harvest time for local farmers, just as it was for the early pioneers in the early 1900s.

Our archives collection features several unique farming photos from previous generations of Kingsbury County farmers.

1904-1905 Era Threshing Crew

This photo was taken in 1904 or 1905 and shows local farmers threshing grain. Threshing the grain was an important task and often required assistance from neighbors.

Laura wrote about a threshing machine in her book “On the Banks of Plum Creek”:

“One morning at daylight three strange men came with a threshing-machine. They threshed Pa’s stack of wheat. Laura heard the harsh machinery noises while she drove Spot through the dewy grass, and when the sun rose chaff flew golden in the wind. The threshing was done and the men went away with the machine before breakfast.”


Horses Swathing Grain

This photo shows a team of four horses swathing grain. It was taken by Aubrey Sherwood of the “De Smet News” at the Colwell farm, four miles north of De Smet.

Laura wrote about the busyness of harvest time in “Farmer Boy”:

“Then the rush of harvest-time came. The oats were ripe, standing thick and tall and yellow. The wheat was golden, darker than the oats. The beans were ripe, and pumpkins and carrots and turnips and potatoes were ready to gather. There was no rest and no play for anyone now. They all worked from candle-light to candle-light.”


Threshing Scene Postcard

This photo of threshing was taken near De Smet and then turned into a postcard. On the far left side of the photo, the remaining straw can be seen. The straw and the grain were separated by the threshing machine.

Laura wrote about the large straw pile left behind after the threshing crew came in “On the Banks of Plum Creek”:

“When Laura and Mary went up on the prairie to play, that morning, the first things they saw was a beautiful golden straw-stack. It was tall and shining bright in the sunshine. It smelled sweeter than hay. Laura’s feet slid in the sliding, slippery straw, but she could climb faster than straw slid. In a minute she was high on top of that stack.”


Bird’s-Eye View of Area Farms

This photo was taken at an unknown location in Kingsbury County. It shows the lay of the land divided into sections and long, straight graveled roads leading from one farm to another.

In one of her adult columns published in the “Missouri Ruralist on October 20, 1916, Laura describes the joy of fall colors in the country:

“What a beautiful world this is! Have you noticed the wonderful coloring of the sky at sunrise? For me there is no time like the early morning, when the spirit of light broods over the earth at its awakening. What glorious colors in the woods these days! Did you ever think that great painters have spent their lives trying to reproduce on canvas what we may see every day? Thousands of dollars are paid for their pictures which are not so beautiful as those nature gives freely.”


Hinz Saloon

Mr. Henry Hinz first visited the town site of De Smet on January 8, 1880 while he was driving from Volga with four others who were considering locating in the town that was to be built here. The party stopped at the Ingalls and Boast homes, two railroad shanties on the banks of Silver Lake. After supper there, they walked on west to view the staked-out town site. They found nothing but stakes.


Mr. Hinz returned in February, hauling lumber overland with his partner, a man named Hall, to open the first business in De Smet: a saloon. They understood they could obtain a license in De Smet. The first building erected on this piece of prairie was a 16-by-24-foot building located on the third lot south from the corner where the Mead Hotel stood. After using it for a month, the partners replaced it with a larger one.

Eventually, this site was used as a Buick garage and an Oliver Tractor dealership. It was converted into Harvey’s Jack & Jill. Throughout the years, it has continued to be a grocery store and Maynard’s Grocery Store stands there in 2014.

This section from “Little Town on the Prairie” refers to the saloon location:

“As Laura sat sewing for Mrs. White in Clancy’s store on Main Street, a great commotion aroused her attention. A man had come out of a saloon on the opposite side of the street. He apparently had too much to drink. He took one look at the door and stuck his foot through the mosquito netting, tearing it. He met up with a short little man and together they marched down Main Street, sticking their feet through every screen door until they reached the saloon next to the Mead Hotel. Arm-in-arm they went into the saloon. The screen door slammed shut, but that one door’s mosquito netting stayed smooth and whole. Laura thought it was quite funny but Ma and Pa had a different opinion.”

Wilmarth Grocery


George B. Wilmarth was one of the first settlers to choose De Smet for a business location. He came from Marshall, Minnesota, before the railroad was built. George is believed to have spent the winter in Watertown, South Dakota, arriving here in early 1880. Mrs. Wilmarth and their two sons came in June when the railroad was completed. The winter of 1880-81 was a trying one for a merchant, and Mr. Wilmarth did all he could to keep supplies in his store.

An early article in the newspaper for the store stated that, “Today they are at the head of one of the largest and best-stocked general stores in Kingsbury County”. Wilmarth was a respected citizen and very active in the community until his death in 1897.

Willmarth Grocery was located on the northeast end of Main Street. It was the location of Larks Cafe and Barbershop, Ford Implement dealership, car dealership, car wash and several different banks. It now houses City Hall.

In The Long Winter, Laura spoke of the grocery store:

“When Miss Garland, Mr. Foster and the students were lost in the blizzard after being dismissed from school early, the Wilmarth boys had only to cross the street to their home and grocery store.”

The Mystery of Ma’s China Shepherdess

A Modern Mystery

The china shepherdess has always been a favorite Ingalls family belonging from the Little House series. However, the whereabouts of the shepherdess have become a modern mystery. The following research explains what is known about the little china figurine:

  • Mrs. Irene Le Count of the Wilder home in Mansfield, Missouri, personally asked Laura about the figurine. Laura replied, “Since it was Ma’s I did not bring it with me to Missouri.” Laura also added, “I have to admit, I didn’t know what happened to it.”
  • Noted historian William Anderson has also researched the topic. His research reveals that most of the family belongings ended up with Carrie Ingalls, and many of the Ingalls’ family items were scattered with the death of each family member. At the time of Carrie’s death, there was a small four-inch bisque figurine of a shepherd, but not a shepherdess.
  • Later findings included a letter from Laura which is now housed in a Detroit public library rare book and gift room in the Wilder collection. Laura wrote, “Sister Carrie has the china shepherdess.”

After much research and debate, the question still remains – where is the china shepherdess?

Quotes from the Books

It is easy to see why Laura fans have come to love the china shepherdess. Laura mentioned the figurine multiple times in her books:

  • Little House in the Big Woods, page 62
  • Little House on the Prairie, page 117
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek, page 301 and 315
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake, page 265 and 283
  • Little Town on the Prairie, page 18

Laura’s Description

“The little china woman had a china bonnet on her head, and china curls hung against her china neck. Her china dress was laced across in front, and she wore a pale pink china apron and little gilt china shoes. She was beautiful, standing on the shelf with flowers and leaves and birds and moons carved all around her, and the large star at the very top.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods, page 62

An Artist’s Interpretation

Although we cannot be sure of how the china shepherdess may have looked, Laura’s descriptive literary power is certainly helpful. Based on the quotes and descriptions from the book, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet commissioned an artist to hand paint and recreate the china shepherdess. The shepherdess is for sale in the gift shop for $39.95, plus shipping and handling.


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The Harvey Dunn School

Local artist Harvey Dunn attended what is now the Harvey Dunn country school in Sioux Falls, which can be seen in the background of one of his most favored paintings, “After School”, shown below.

Photo Credit: South Dakota Art Museum

Photo Credit: South Dakota Art Museum

Harvey Dunn was born in 1883, south of Manchester, De Smet’s neighboring town. Dunn was the nephew of Nathan Dow, Grace Ingalls Dow’s husband. Grace was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s youngest sister.

Dunn received art education at South Dakota State University, the Chicago Art Institute and Howard Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware. He settled in Tenafly, New Jersey, from 1919 until his death in 1952.

Dunn became one of the leading magazine illustrators for the Saturday Evening Post,which was a leading bimonthly American magazine at the time. He was named president of the American Society of Illustrators and was also an influential art teacher. In depth biographies of his art career are available here and here.

Although he built a life in New Jersey, he frequently returned to the prairie to rekindle his memories of pioneer days and captured its beauty in many of his paintings. He even gifted four original paintings to the library of De Smet and one to the De Smet American Legion and 37 to the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings, South Dakota. To view an online gallery of those paintings visit the South Dakota Art Museum website.

To the south of the present Dunn school location, you can walk down the old brick sidewalk that dates back to when De Smet first became a town. You can also view the old town bell, which was used in the earlier days as a curfew bell.

The school was originally located northwest of De Smet, but was moved to its present location in 2000 and restored by the Harvey Dunn Society.