Little House in the Big Woods

A week ago, my minivan was loaded up with three adults, three children and one infant and we headed east into Wisconsin. Our destination was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthplace near Pepin, Wisconsin. It’s nice to start at the beginning of a story.

Our drive to Wisconsin took us along the shore of Lake Pepin which is referenced in Little House in the Big Woods. In my mind there was Lake Pepin and then further west was the Mississippi River which the Ingall’s crossed at the very last moment ack! before the spring thaw to go to Kansas in Little House on the Prairie. Turns out that it’s both Lake Pepin AND the Mississippi River. (Or technically it is only a lake and the Mississippi is both its inflow and outflow, but whatev. It’s the Mississippi River too.)

Along the way we stopped at several historial markers, one of the first was the one for Maiden Rock, which I began reading aloud to the kids before realizing it was about a Dakota girl who threw herself off a cliff after being forced into an arranged marriage. Thank goodness for convoluted historial descriptions like “Nothing could be found of her until morning, when they discovered her at the foot of this precipice, down which she probably precipitated herself.” Precipitated. I want to work that word into a sentence every day.

We arrived in the town of Pepin and pulled up to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum there to check it out and get directions to the Little House Wayside site.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

It looks a little hokey but it’s fine. They have a small display of period furnishings, a gift shop and a nice lady who will give you directions to the log cabin as well as a recomendation for lunch. Which you should definitely get at Two Old Guys directly across the street.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

They have great BLT sandwiches of thick bacon on freshly made bread, decent homebrew beer and award-winning ice cream. The ‘Two Old Guys’ who served us was really nice. We complimented the beer and he brought all of the adults very generous samples of the three other kinds of beer they brew. After he served our food, he looked down at Henry and said, “All you need it ketchup!”

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

After lunch we drove about seven miles east of town up a long curving hill to the site where the Ingalls once lived. There is a replica of their log cabin. A trip to this Laura Ingalls Wilder site is mostly about getting an idea of the lay of the land. Driving up to the property you can imagine what a trek it would be to drive a wagon to and from town – especially going uphill on the return. The book describes the area as being heavily wooded though today it is mostly cleared and surrounded by corn fields.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

My boys are 5 , 4 and 7-months; still a little young for the Little House books though John and I read part of Big Woods and all of Farmer Boy this spring. Still they enjoyed examining how the cabin fit together “like Lincoln Logs” and we talked about everything that wasn’t in the cabin like running water and bathrooms. John was trying to piece together how long ago it was that Laura lived – “Are Laura and Farmer Boy dead?” – so this is really a trip better suited to kids who have studied a bit of American history and can understand things like timelines, etc.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

But, let’s be honest, this trip was about the grown ups and the kids were just along for the ride. I still have my hardback copy of Little House in the Big Woods. It was given to me at my 4th birthday party by a family from our church in western Kentucky. Some of my favorite childhood memories include reading it at bedtime with my mom.

From Laura Ingalls Wilder Pilgrimage

If you missed the rest of the pilgrimage:

The Wilder Life

Walnut Grove

On the Banks of Plum Creek

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8 Comments

Filed under brother bears, little minivan on the prairie, stuff i read

8 responses to “Little House in the Big Woods

  1. Rose

    LOVE IT! I am living out my dreams through you :)

  2. Our trip to Mansfield, MO was one of my favorite historical road trips ever for the same reasons. :) Would love to make it up north one day and visit these sights.

    • I remember reading your blog post about that! It’s definitely the place I want to go next. You guys are always welcome to come visit and we can do the pilgrimage again!

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  6. Ann Morgan

    I love your site. My husband, three kids and I just visited De Smet, Walnut Grove, and Burr Oaks. It was a trip of a lifetime! Too bad our paths did not cross somewhere on Plum Creek. It would be great to meet other Ingall’s fans. If you get to De Smet, I recommend staying at the Prairie House Manor. You’ll get a room fit for an Oleson with an Ingall’s welcome. Moreover, there is so much to see for all things Laura.
    I look forward to seeing more posts from your next stop.

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