W is for Walnut Grove

Do you know where Walnut Grove, Minnesota is? It’s in the southwestern part of the state. And, it is a real city! Sam and I drove through it a couple of years ago on our way to visit the Pipestone National Monument. It is still a small town with a population according to the 2010 census was 871.

Walnut Grove was developed after the end of the civil war when citizens were seeking new beginnings and were coming from the eastern parts of the country to settle. The city was named for the grove of black walnut trees located near the original town site. It was also known as Walnut Station. The first postmaster, Lafayette Bedal, built a shanty near the Chicago and North Western Railway right-of-way and called it Walnut Station in 1872.

The town was also known as a place where a young girl, Laura Ingalls (Wilder), before she became a well-known author, moved with her family in 1874. Her book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, talks about the move from Kansas to Walnut Grove. When the city was incorporated in 1879, her father Charles Ingalls was listed as the justice of the peace.

After some tough times, Charles moved his family several times to make ends meet. The family finally settled in De Smet, SD, where Charles and Caroline would live out their lives with their oldest daughter Mary, who had lost her eyesight due to Scarlet Fever, which they have recently concluded was really viral meningoencephalitis . Her book, The Long Winter, talks about the winter of 1880-1881, the second one that the family spent in De Smet and one of the worst ones in South Dakota history.

Laura Ingalls met her husband Almanzo Wilder here and they were married on August 25, 1885. They gave birth to Rose in 1886. She was their only child to survive to adulthood. They also had a son in 1889 who died two weeks later before he was even named.

The Wilders also had their share of tough times and did a lot of moving around like her family had done to make ends meet and to deal with Almanzo’s  health issues caused by diphtheria. They wound up settling in Mansfield, MO at a place they called Rocky Ridge Farm in 1894. In the custom-made farmhouse that Almanzo designed is where the Little House on Prairie book series was written. Her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane talked Laura into writing the books about her life journey and Rose became the editor. A museum is there now, which was created by Rose in her family’s honor.


I grew up watching the television series, Little House on the Prairie, and I followed the story line of the characters. I also read all of her books. The television show, which was ultimately based on her book series, makes it seem like the Ingalls family lived in Walnut Grove for a long time. In reality, they only lived there a few years (1874-1879). They also lived in Wisconsin, Iowa and even South Dakota.

It was very interesting for me to read some information about the real Laura Ingalls Wilder and her life story. I think that the television series did a pretty good job, but I can see where some of the facts were changed to make the series work for television.

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