A Brief History of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Family Home on Third Street in De Smet, South Dakota

In June of 1886, Caroline Ingalls purchased two lots on Third Street in De Smet, South Dakota, from Eliza Jane Wilder for just $100.

Earliest known photo of the Ingalls Home on Third Street in De Smet, SD. However, the date of the photo is unknown.

Earliest known photo of the Ingalls Home on Third Street in De Smet, SD. However, the date of the photo is unknown.

Farming was a tough time and Pa, Ma and the girls moved to town from the homestead to be closer to work and school. First, Pa dug the cellar in 1887. It was a simple cellar with a dirt floor and dirt walls. His efforts on the new home were noted in the De Smet news, therefore an accurate date is available. Next, he began building the house. It was a simple, small home. Like many pioneer homes, this one was built one section at a time as time and funds allowed. The first portion of the home consisted of two rooms on the main floor and a large room upstairs. Pa and Ma slept downstairs and the girls slept upstairs. At this time, Laura was no longer living with her family. The rest of the additions to the house are not as easily dated, although studying the wood, layout and family history enables historians to make educated speculations. The next portion of the house was the back kitchen. It is most commonly noted for the beautiful wall of cupboards on the west side that Pa built for Ma. It’s most likely that this addition to the house was made in the spring following the family’s first winter in the home. 1997.101.1313   1997.101.1312 In 1906, the city added a sidewalk in front of the homes on Third Street. Later, at an unknown date, the house was added onto again for the final time, and a parlor and a bedroom were added. At this point, the house felt large and spacious. Ma and Pa slept in the newest portion of the home, Mary slept in a small bedroom near the dining room and Carrie and Grace slept upstairs. Eventually, the house passed from Ma, to Mary, and finally to Carrie. Carrie was the last Ingalls family member to own the home. Fast-forward to 1957, when the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society held its very first meeting. By 1964, they incorporated with the state of South Dakota. In October of 1973, the LIWMS acquired the house and began the long process of restoration. At the time of purchase, the house was in a poor state. The initial repairs were conducted by the local Jaycees and Jaycettes.

Project summary from the 1973 restorations.

Project summary from the 1973 restorations.

In the process of restoring the house, they discovered newspaper on the main floor in the walls of Mary’s bedroom. The newspaper had been used for insulation and is dated to be from 1890. The following three photos were taken following the initial restoration process.1997.101.1317 1997.101.1319 1997.101.1318 Today, during the historic homes tour, visitors can see the original newspaper on display in the original location in the home. In 1977, a new foundation and basement were built, and in 1978, the roof was outfitted with cedar shingles.

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Notice the shingles in this photo of the Ingalls Home.


Before the addition of the basement.

After the addition of the basement.

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Ingalls Home after the addition of the basement.

This information was collected from interviews with Cheryl Palmlund, The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society archives and “The Laura Ingalls Wilder Lore”, Volume 5, Number 2.

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

Discovery Center


Former Governor Sigurd Anderson taught in this one-room country school from 1927 to 1928 in order to make enough money to continue his education.

Albert Rusche purchased the structure after it was abandoned as a school. He kindly donated the schoolhouse and it was moved to De Smet and situated across the street from Pa Ingalls’ Surveyors’ House.

Through many contributions, the school was restored and equipped with country school memorabilia. However, some original pieces were still intact, like the original pot-bellied stove. Some of the former teachers’ old records and notes were also found in the fire box.

The dedication of the restored LeSeuer Township District No. 1 country school took place in 1976 with its one-time teacher, former Governor Sigurd Anderson, who was in attendance.

The school once again hears the sound of children laughing. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society has created a hands-on pioneer activity center. Those who visit the Historic Homes of De Smet have the opportunity to tour the school and play inside of it.

Earlier this spring, during our field trips, many visiting students learned about “Hunting with Pa” in the Discovery Center.

This post is part of a series: A Virtual Tour of “The Little Town on the Prairie.” If you are new to the series and would like to start at the beginning of the tour, please click here!

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 Surveyors’ House

History of The Surveyors’ House

Built around 1879, one year before there was even a town, The Surveyors’ House is the oldest building in De Smet and served as a railroad company house. According to Pa’s journal, the Ingalls family moved in on December 1, 1879, and spent their first winter there. The house often served as a hotel for the many homesteaders coming through the area. Laura wrote about many of the experiences from that first winter in her book By the Shores of Silver Lake.

The Surveyors’ House originally stood on the north shore of Silver Lake until it was moved to town in 1884. Many different families have lived in the house throughout the years; however, no major changes were made to the house until 1945. At that time, the old planks and batten still covered the outside. The sketch below provides a visual image of how the house would have looked before improvements were made.


Improvements were made to the house, including siding the exterior and adding a basement. Running water and indoor plumbing were also installed. The steps and entry were later added to the basement.

In 1967, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society purchased the home and the task of restoring the Surveyors’ House began. With the Society and local groups hard at work, the home soon started to look like it had in 1879. The Surveyors’ House was opened the following year to many visitors interested in seeing the Surveyors’ House of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood.

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On-Site Tour of the Surveyors’ House

Tours at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homes begin in the gift shop. The first home toured is the Surveyors’ House, which holds many unique artifacts.


A guide explains the Ingalls’ family travels and how they came to live in the Surveyors’ house during their first winter in De Smet.


After learning about the home, guests are free to explore the home and enjoy all of the artifacts and unique items. Many people who visit are surprised by how small the home is, but remember what Laura said the first time she saw the house?

Her memory is recorded in By the Shores of Silver Lake: “Laura thought that there must have been a great many surveyors to need so much space. This would be by far the largest house she had ever lived in.”


By the Shores of Silver Lake also describes setting up Grace’s trundle bed in the new house:

Pa came in bringing a large, shallow packing box.

“What’s that for, Charles?” Ma asked, and Pa said, “This is Grace’s trundle bed!”

“It’s the only thing we needed!” Ma exclaimed.

“The sides are high enough to hold her covers tucked in,” said Pa.

“And low enough to go under our bed in the daytime, like any trundle bed,” said Ma.

Laura and Carrie made up a little bed for Grace in the packing box, and slid it under the big bed.


This post is part of a series: A Virtual Tour of “The Little Town on the Prairie.” If you are new to the series and would like to start at the beginning of the tour, please click here!

Meet our Team: Dianne


Please tell us a little about yourself:

I grew up in Yale, South Dakota and I moved to De Smet in 1975. I have four grandchildren who keep me very busy and entertained.

What do you prefer: coffee or tea?

I am partial to tea.

What is your role at the Historic Homes?

I am the assistant director and am responsible for hiring our tour guides, purchasing items for the gift shop, organizing tours. Basically, anything we need, I’ll do!

How long have you been working at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society?

I started 11 years ago.

Which book in the Little House Series is your favorite?

I like By the Shores of Silver Lake. Since I’ve worked here, my favorite part of the tour is telling the stories from that book while standing in the Surveyors’ house. It makes such a strong impression on people, because it is all real – just like they read in the book. Once, I was giving a tour and a little boy said, “I get it! Laura actually lived here!”

Which book about Laura’s life and legacy is your favorite?

Laura by Donald Zochart. I enjoyed that particular book because it teaches you facts about Laura and her family that you didn’t learn from the Little House books.

What projects are you excited about working on right now?

First, we are restructuring our school field trips to be more hands-on. I think it will be more fun for the students – and for us! I’m really looking forward to the students coming this spring.

We are creating porcelain-like Christmas ornaments for four of the books that will feature illustrations by Garth Williams. We are using the illustrations that we have the original drafts of here in our collection, so I think they will be really special. Eventually, we would like to do one for each book. For the first group, we are doing ornaments from By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, The Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years.

Which of the historic buildings on the Historic Homes tour is your favorite? Why?

I bet that Cheryl said her favorite was the Ingalls Home. (She did; Dianne was right!)

My favorite would be the Surveyors’ House, because it so closely matches the books. When you go into that house during a tour, you realize how little they had. Yet, Laura and the girls thought they were living in two-story mansion! Today, it seems like a very small house, but the Ingalls were so grateful for the little things.

If you were giving a tour of the Historic Homes and only had time to show visitors two artifacts, which two would they be?

First, I would say the Garth Williams illustrations, because they are so closely tied to our community. It is so nice to have them here. I also really like to show people the pipe organ that Ma and Mary played at the church.

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Family Tree

Included in this version of Laura’s family tree are Laura’s parents, siblings, husband and daughter. Laura also gave birth to a son in 1889, but he died in infancy. He was buried in the De Smet Cemetery.

Ma & Pa Ingalls

Charles Phillip Ingalls
Born: January 10, 1836, Cuba, New York.
Died: June 8, 1902, De Smet, South Dakota.
Age: 66, buried in De Smet.
He was 52-years-old when he built the Ingalls home.

Caroline Lake Quiner Ingalls
Born: December 12, 1839, Brookfield, Wisconsin.
Died: April 20, 1924, De Smet, South Dakota.
Charles and Caroline were married on February 1, 1860 in Concord, Wisconsin.
Married 42 years, 5 childeren were born to this union.Ma & Pa Ingalls

Mary Amelia Ingalls
Born: January 10, 1865, Pepin, Wisconsin.
Died: October 17, 1928, Keystone, South Dakota.
Age: 63, buried in De Smet, South Dakota.
Mary became blind at age 14.
She graduated from the Iowa College for the Blind, Vinton, Iowa on June 12, 1889.
Never married, no children.

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Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder
Born: February 7, 1867, Pepin, Wisconsin.
Died: February 10, 1957, Mansfield, Missouri.
Age: 90, Buried in Mansfield, Missouri.
Laura and Almanzo were married on Brown’s Hill, De Smet, South Dakota on August 25, 1885, and were married 64 years.
One son, died in infancy and one daughter, Rose Wilder Lane.Copy of laura mo ruralist

Almanzo James Wilder
Born: February 13, 1857, Malone, New York.
Died: October 23, 1949 in Mansfield, Missouri.
Age: 92, buried in Mansfield, Missouri.


Caroline (Carrie) Celestia Ingalls Swanzey
Born: August 3, 1870, near Independence, Kansas.
Died: June 2, 1946, at Keystone, South Dakota.
Age: 76, buried in De Smet.
Carrie married David N. Swanzey (1854-1938) at the age of 42 on August 1, 1912 in Keystone, South Dakota and were married 26 years.
Two step-children, Mary and Harold.


Charles Frederick Ingalls
Born: November 1, 1875, Walnut Grove, Minnesota.
Died: August 27, 1876, buried in South Troy, Minnesota.
Age: 9 months.

Grace Pearl Ingalls Dow
Born: May 23, 1877 in Burr Oak, Iowa.
Died: November 10, 1941 at Manchester, South Dakota.
Age: 64, buried in De Smet, South Dakota.
Grace married Nathan William Dow at the Ingalls home in De Smet, October 16, 1901. They were married 40 years, with no children.
Nate Dow’s (1858-1943) nephew was Harvey Dunn, famous prairie artist.1997101900.grace

Rose Wilder Lane
Born: December 5, 1886 in De Smet, South Dakota.
Died; October 30, 1968 in Danbury, Connecticut.
Age: 81, buried in Mansfield, Missouri.
Rose married Claire Gillette Lane on March 24, 1909 in San Francisco, California. They divorced in 1918 after 9 years of marriage. No children.