On the Banks of Plum Creek
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Having left their little house on the Kansas prairie, the Ingalls family travels by covered wagon to Minnesota and settles in a dugout on the banks of Plum Creek. Pa trades his horses Pet and Patty to the property owner (a man named Hanson, who wants to go west) for the land and crops. He later gets two new horses as Christmas presents for the family, which Laura and her sister Mary name "Sam" and "David". Pa soon builds a new, above-ground, wooden house for the family, trusting that their first crop of wheat will pay for the lumber and materials.
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While the book makes the dugout seem idyllic, we learned when examining the dugout replica at the museum that it was tiny, dark, leaked water and I can only imagine was full of bugs. Dugouts were meant to be temporary housing and not built to last. No wonder Pa decided to build the house before the first wheat crop. No wonder Laura went on and on about china doorknobs and “boughten” doors on hinges and glass windows.
The dugout site is marked with a massive sign which only serves to dwarf the small depression in the top of the creek bank that is the dugout ruins.
After entering the property, you drive back on a gravel road a little ways to the creek. There is a circular area to park your vehicle and the site is well marked and has a number of informational plaques. The closest landmark is the big rock which is disappointing since they aren’t really sure if it is THE big rock described in On the Banks of Plum Creek in addition to it being mostly buried under thick layer of dirt and, when we visited, completely submerged in the creek.
If you can read the sign you can see it’s reported to be location of the dugout ruins, spring, big rock, tablelands and plum thicket. I was most excited to see the dugout ruins though I was also really curious about the tablelands and the big rock.
After spending an hour or so going through the Walnut Grove Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, we got directions to the dugout site which is described in On the Banks of Plum Creek. It’s located less than 2 miles north of town on a piece of private property that the family has opened up to tourist for a nominal fee paid on the honor system. The story goes that the family purchased the land in the late 1940s and, when improving the property, took down an old dilapidated building that may have been the house that Pa built with lumber he got on credit. Not long after that Little House illustrator Garth Williams came through in search of the Ingall’s house and old dugout site. (See The Walnut Grove Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder for more detailed information.)
Then Ma told them something else about Santa Claus. He was everywhere, and besides that, he was all the time. Whenever anyone was unselfish, that was Santa Claus. Christmas Eve was the time when everyone was unselfish. On that one night, Santa Claus was everywhere, because everybody, all together, stopped being selfish and wanted other people to be happy. And in the morning you saw what that had done.
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