On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894

On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894

3.8 5
by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane

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In 1894, Laura Ingalls Wider, her husband Almanzo, and their daughter, Rose, packed their belongings into their covered wagon and set out on a journey from De Smet, South Dakota, to Mansfield, Missouri. They heard that the soil there was rich and the crops were bountiful - it was even called "the Land of the Big Red Apple." With hopes of beginning a new life, the


In 1894, Laura Ingalls Wider, her husband Almanzo, and their daughter, Rose, packed their belongings into their covered wagon and set out on a journey from De Smet, South Dakota, to Mansfield, Missouri. They heard that the soil there was rich and the crops were bountiful - it was even called "the Land of the Big Red Apple." With hopes of beginning a new life, the Wilders made their way to the Ozarks of Missouri.

During their journey, Laura kept a detailed diary of events: the cities they passed through, the travelers they encountered on the way, the changing countryside, and the trials of an often difficult voyage. Laura's words, preserved in this book, reveal her inner thoughts as she traveled with her family in search of a new home in Mansfield, where Rose would spend her childhood, where Laura would write her Little House books, and where she and Almanzo would remian all the rest of their happy days together.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Little House Series
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.57(d)
Age Range:
8 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

For seven years there had been too little rain. The prairies were dust. Day after day, summer after summer, the scorching winds blew the dust and the sun was brassy in a yellow sky. Crop after crop failed. Again and again the barren land must be mortgaged, for taxes and food and next year's seed. The agony of hope ended when -there was no harvest and no more credit, no money to pay interest and taxes; the banker took the land. Then the bank failed.

In the seventh year a mysterious catastrophe was worldwide. All banks failed. From coast to coast the factories shut down, and business ceased. This was a Panic.

It was not a depression. The year was 1893, when no one had heard of depressions. Everyone knew about Panics; there had been Panics in 1797, 1820, 1835, 1857, 1873. A Panic was nothing new to Grandpa, he had seen them before; this one was no worse than usual, he said, and nothing like as bad as the wartime. Now we were all safe in our beds, nobody was rampaging but Coxey's armies.

All the way from California Coxey's Armies of Unemployed were seizing the railroad trains, jam-packing the cars and running them full speed, open throttle, hell-for-leather toward Washington. They came roaring into the towns, yelling "Justice for the Working Man!" and stopped and swarmed out, demanding plenty to eat and three days' rations to take with them, or they'd burn the town. People gave them everything to get rid of them. In all the cities Federal troops were guarding the Government's buildings.

I was seven years old and in the Second Reader at school but I had read the Third Reader and the Fourth, and Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels.The Chicago InterOcean came every week and after the grownups had read it, I did. I did not understand all of it, but I read it.

It said that east of the Miss-Issippi there were no trains on the railroad tracks. The dispatchers had dispatched every train to the faraway East to keep them safe from Coxey's Armies. So now the Armies were disbanded and walking on foot toward Washington, robbing and raiding and stealing and begging for food as they went.

For a long time I had been living with Grandpa and Grandma and the aunts in De Smet because nobody knew what would become of my father and mother. Only God knew. They had diff-theer-eeah; a hard word and dreadful . I did not know what it was exactly, only that it was big and black and it meant that I might never see my father and mother again.

Then my father, man-like, would not listen to reason and stay in bed. Grandma almost scolded about that, to the aunts. Bound and determined to get out and take care of the stock, he was. And for working too hard too soon, he was "stricken." Now he would be bed-ridden all his days, and what would Laura do? With me on her hands, besides.

But when I saw MY father again he was walking, slowly. He limped through the rest of his ninety years and was never as strong as he had been.

We lived then in our own house in De Smet, away from Main Street, where only a footpath went through the short brown grasses. It was a big rented house and empty. Upstairs and down it was dark and full of stealthy little sounds at night, but then the lamp was lighted in the kitchen, where we lived. Our cookstove and table and chairs were there; the bed was in an empty room and at bedtime my trundle bed was brought into the warmth from the cookstove. We were camping, my mother said; wasn't it fun? I knew she wanted me to say yes, so I did. To me, everything was simply what it was.

I was going to school while my father and mother worked. Reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, penmanship filled days almost unbearably happy with achievements satisfying Miss Barrows's strict standards. "Procrastination is the thief of time," I wrote twenty times in my penmanship book, without error or blot; and "Evil communications corrupt good manners," and "Sweet are the uses of adversity," every t and d exactly twice as tall as a vowel and every I exactly three times as tall; every t crossed; every i dotted.

All the way home down the long board walk in late afternoons we diligent scholars warmly remembered our adored Miss Barrows's grave, "Well done," and often we sang a rollicking song. It was the song of those days, heard more often than Ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay, My aunt Grace, a jolly big girl, often sang it, sometimes my mother did, and nearly all the time you could hear some man or boy whistling it.

0 Dakota land, sweet Dakota land,
As on thy burning soil I stand
And look away across the plains
I wonder why it never rains,
Till Gabriel blows his trumpet sound
And says the rain has gone around.
We don't live here, we only stay
'Cause we're too poor to get away.

My mother did not have to go out to work; she was married, my father was the provider. He got a day's work here and there; he could drive a team, he could carpenter, or paint, or spell a storekeeper at dinner-time, and once he was on a jury, downtown. My mother and I slept at Grandma's then, every night; the jury was kept under lock and key and my father could not come home. But he got his keep and two dollars every day for five straight weeks and he brought back all that money.

My mother worked to save. She sewed at the dressmaker's from six o'clock to six o'clock every day but Sunday and then came home to get supper...

On the Way Home. Copyright © by Laura Wilder. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867–1957) was born in a log cabin in the Wisconsin woods. With her family, she pioneered throughout America’s heartland during the 1870s and 1880s, finally settling in Dakota Territory. She married Almanzo Wilder in 1885; their only daughter, Rose, was born the following year. The Wilders moved to Rocky Ridge Farm at Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894, where they established a permanent home. After years of farming, Laura wrote the first of her beloved Little House books in 1932. The nine Little House books are international classics. Her writings live on into the twenty-first century as America’s quintessential pioneer story.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
February 7, 1867
Date of Death:
February 10, 1957
Place of Birth:
Pepin, Wisconsin
Place of Death:
Mansfield, Missouri

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3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Naninsight More than 1 year ago
This book represents a truly exceptional opportunity to access something of the authentic, uncompromising struggle of a young pioneer family, to find good farming land. The summer of 1894 is given over to Laura Ingalls wilder's daily observations gleaned from her perch on the covered wagon, as the family (with chickens, horses and an adopted stray dog) travels 650 miles from South Dakota to Missouri. Observations about the dust, the wind, the temperature, the failing crops, water scarcity and water quality, the beauty of the prairie, the kindness of settlers and the waves of migrant movement provide lively testament. Bookending this journey are the gripping introduction and the epilogue by daughter Rose Wilder Lane. All is relayed as a matter of historical fact, without any excess sentimentality. These pioneers were tough, resourceful people. This fascinating slice of American history is for the fan of the Little House books, rather than the Little House TV series so influenced by actor/producer Micheal Langdon's "particular" vision. This is the gritty source material, stripped of that TV show's caricatures, made up plotlines and smothering version of spirituality.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
JanetA1966 More than 1 year ago
these stories by Laura were the most memorable of all my childhood reading,,, by a country mile! i lived through her and all her adventures. I grieved after i finished the last book.,, as i felt i'd lost a dear friend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a terrible journal. I didn't know a L.I.Wilder book could be so boring