"...we traveled to the Indian Territory... My childish memories hold the sound of the war whoop, and I see pictures of painted Indians."
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Feb. 1918
The Little House on the Prairie, the home the Ingalls lived in in the second book of Laura's series, was one of the harder sites to get to. I had the opportunity in October of 2009 when I was making a trek around the southern states and so planned my route to go by Independence, Kansas and the Little House.
From maps, and remembering Laura's descriptions, it looks like it's hard to get to the Little House site, but in reality all the roads are wide and excellent--mostly four-lane highways. The area isn't unsettled prairie but is farmland. This means the area doesn't look like the prairie you and I probably see in our minds. Trees have been planted and there are houses and farms everywhere.
In Independence, Kansas you will have crossed the Verdigris River if coming from Missouri. The river is on the east edge of town and worth taking a look at just for the perspective. When I saw it, the river was low and muddy, but from the depth of the banks down to the river, it would be easy to imagine it running bank-full, wild and dangerous.
The Little House site itself is very easy to find off the highway south of Independence with the turns well-marked. Admission is by donation. They've created a lovely site and a very nice stop, all very casual and pleasant.
The Little House you'll see, in the top photo, is a reconstruction based on descriptions of how the Ingalls' cabin looked. It may not be in exactly the correct spot, but based on the location of the well, should be close. The size is probably quite accurate--I banged my head inside once and I'm not terribly tall! It is tiny and would have been tiny, with just enough room for the essentials. I know when I read the book, written from very young Laura's perspective, it seemed like a huge cabin, especially when she's crawling across the floor for the water dipper, but this reconstruction is very likely the correct size.
Though it only takes a moment to see, the hand-dug well on the site is one of its most enjoyable features as this, with very little doubt, is the well Charles Ingalls dug.
As you may know, if you've followed the research into Laura's life and travels, finding the exact location of the Little House on the Prairie site is relatively recent. At one point, while she was writing the books, Laura and Almanzo took a trip through this area of Kansas and nearby Oklahoma, obviously looking for the site. Of all the books, this one is the least based on Laura's own memories. She was only about three-years-old when they lived here and, so, it is more the memories and stories told by Ma and Pa of the time and place.
The Ingalls were part of a group of illegal settlers to this area--squatters, really--hoping to get a jump on anticipated settlement of the area. That didn't happen, at least not then, and they were forced from the land. The Ingalls do appear in the 1870 census, and Carrie's birth is recorded here, so their presence and location are not in doubt. I looked up newspaper accounts of the time and event. These illegal settlers, including the Ingalls, had no sympathy in the press, with their removal regarded as right and correct.
As with all the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites you visit, be sure to go into the gift shop. I always look for the small, local publications and books. Often a local historian will have done some bit of research that's generally not available elsewhere. Also, strike up a conversation with the people who are working at the site. They generally are there because they're interested in the Little House history and are glad to chat. I've gotten lovely insights and information this way, plus I always take the opportunity to thank them for their care and preservation of the site, which is always a labor of love on the caretakers' part.
The photo of the restored prairie at the bottom is not from the Little House site, but was taken at a highway interchange/rest area location not far east of Independence. If you're coming from Missouri you'll probably pass this. It's a small patch of restored prairie grasses and plants that give an idea of the height and thickness of the original prairie the Ingalls passed through.