These weren’t the only places on my friend’s family’s itinerary but they are the only highlights I can remember. Both of the houses are near small towns where life moves at a slower pace and charm is part of the draw as well as their unique spots in American history.
Starting in Kansas and Missouri isn’t a chronological approach to Laura Ingalls Wilder travel, but it is a way to pick up two significant Little House locations. Although Laura was born in Pepin, Wisconsin, these other landmarks were significant to her life–one provided the framework for the 1970s-1980s TV series. The other is where Wilder lived during her adult years until she died.
The Little House on the Prairie Historical Site is about 13 miles from Independence, Kansas and is a small reconstructed cabin that reminds me of Lincoln’s boyhood home in Indiana, although a bit more rough around the edges. Even though the rustic log cabin is not the actual home of Wilder, it is close to where the original cabin once stood about 13 miles from Independence. Built according to descriptions from Wilder’s book, the cabin, along with the 1872 school house, general store and post office offers a glimpse into what it was like to be a family creating a life in the early Midwest.
The cabin’s surroundings are similar to how the area looked when Wilder lived here with Ma and Pa and her sisters. I imagine if you look over the tall waving grass and the clouds drifting across the sky in the summer you can almost hear the TV show’s theme song.
For a bigger taste of life on the prairie living head to the Prairie Days Festival on June 13 where food, wagon rides, costume character contests, a petting zoo and craft vendors tap into the nostalgia of that time period. If June is too soon, I noticed Bluegrass on the Prairie on October 10 and Christmas on the Prairie, November 28.
For more Laura Ingalls Wilder travel head to Mansfield, Missouri. Rocky Ridge Farm, about 30 miles from Springfield is where Laura moved with her husband Almanzo and penned all nine of the “Little House” books. At this house are Wilder family artifacts and details about early American pioneer life. Here’s a tour of the house that provides an excellent overview of what you’ll see here, as well, as details of the changes the farm has gone through over the years from the first time Wilder settled here.
Mansfield, like Independence, throws a Laura Ingalls Wilder-themed festival each year. Wilder Days is on September 19. From the description, it seems like the crowds participate in 19th-century style fun. Don’t come expecting to just sit around.
There’s also Laura’s Memories, an annual outdoor theatre production in August and September that chronicles Laura’s life and her grave, along with her husband’s at the Mansfield Cemetery.
One place that sounds like a worthwhile eatery is the Owl’s Nest Cafe. The food is a mix of Native American and recipes from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Cookbook and the cookbook Good Ol’ Downhome Cookin.’
As a three-day weekend trip, making a loop that takes in Independence and Mansfield might be a simple, relaxing and interesting getaway. My friend’s trip exceeded her family’s expectations. If you do go, I’d bring a copy of Little House on the Prairie to add to the experience. The book is also on audio CD that includes fiddle music. Listening to the book while driving through land that can seem as flat as a pancake would nicely pass the time.
While you’re tootling around, for more Laura Ingalls Wilder travel, you might as well head to Marshfield, Missouri to see her star on the “Walk of Fame” outside the Webster County History Museum and to the State Capitol Building in Jefferson City to see the bronze bust of Wilder as part of the Hall of Famous Missourians collection.
Because Independence and Mansfield are only a little over three hours from each other, you could put them together into an inexpensive travel option. Joplin, Missouri is almost exactly in the middle of the two and would be another worthwhile stop.
For an account of Little House travel starting in Minnesota and taking in South Dakota read Marla Elena Baca’s article about her experience recently published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.