De Smet Cemetery
We ask again, is it not about time that something should be done looking to the formation of a cemetery association in our town? We believe that it is, and we have been forcibly reminded of the fact lately that it should be taken hold of immediately and without further delay. Let a meeting of citizens be appointed wherat committees may be selected to attend to the matter in every detail and we shall be saved henceforth the embarrassment of having no suitable place to bury our dead. Let us be up and doing in this matter. – Kingsbury County News, February 24, 1880
In the early rush of building on homesteads in 1880, a cemetery site wasn’t foremost in settlers’ minds. An accident during the Hard Winter emphasized the need of a burial ground, when Thomas Brown, a farmer from England, fell in his open well in January 1881 and either drowned or died of exposure before neighbors noticed he was missing. A marker to his memory in the De Smet cemetery reads: Erected to the memory of Thomas Brown, born… Sandwich Orkney Feb. 17, 1853 – Died at Lake Preston S.D. Jan. 1881, aged 27 yrs 11 mo’s.
The De Smet Cemetery Association was organized in March 1881 and chartered in August, with the Reverend Edward Brown serving as its first president. Charles Tinkham served as first funeral director and association secretary. Residents who signed the Articles of Incorporation include Reverend Edward Brown, Charles Tinkham, John Owen, Vischer Barnes, John H. Carroll, Thomas Power, Charles Dawley, Elwin Dixon, David Gilbert, and Reverend Horace Woodworth.
Land for the original ten-acre cemetery was purchased from Jacob Hopp for $150, with payment made in 1885 (after Hopp had title to the land). In 1897, two acres were purchased for an adjoining Catholic cemetery. Several more parcels have been added to the original cemetery lands since that time; there are currently over 2000 burials recorded in the De Smet cemetery and over 700 burials in St. Thomas cemetery. The De Smet and St. Thomas Cemeteries are located a mile southwest of De Smet, on 208th Street.
The De Smet Cemetery was platted the same as a town, in 48 blocks around a central flagpole. Each block contains up to 16 lots of up to 12 graves. Each grave is 4×8 feet in size. Paths of six or eight feet wide (some of which today are navigable by automobile) separate groups of lots, and the cemetery is further divided by two twenty foot gravel roads and an interior angular roadway.
The cemetery wasn’t always the beautiful, calm site it is today. In 1888, scarcely a day passed without someone complaining that horses and cattle were allowed to roam there freely, and grass grew so thick and tall that a prairie fire would do considerable damage by scorching existing tombstones, with many graves not marked due to fear of such a destructive fire. On Memorial Day that year, an entertainment was held in Couse hall to raise funds with which to fence in the cemetery; $25 of the $100 needed was collected. The next year, an elaborate wire fence was put installed under the direction of Mr. Couse. Many marble headstones were put in place, and families began to plant trees and shrubbery to honor loved ones, now that the threat of cattle trampling them was no longer a problem. The wire fence was replace with a steel fence in 1913, but as neighboring farms were fenced in later years, the cemetery fencing was removed.
The road to the cemetery was first graveled in 1919 with re-graveling a WPA project of the 30s. Around 1920, a well and windmill were added to supply water (the same well is in use today), and lawn grass replaced native grasses. A tool shed was an early addition, and a mausoleum was built in 1978 as a place for winter committals until weather permits ground burial. The cemetery roadways are not plowed during the winter, and heavy snowfall makes the interior of the cemetery inaccessible.
For many decades, Memorial Day and Decoration Day exercises involving school children and the community were held in the cemetery, such as this one in 1897:
Memorial Day Services. Decoration Day exercises will be held at Couse’s hall Saturday May 29, under charge of the G.A.R. At 10 a.m. the band and militia will form on main street and proceed to school building to escort the school children to Couse’s hall. The G.A.R. and W.R.C will meet at Society hall and march to Couse’s hall at 10:30, where the usual exercises will take place, to conclude with an address by Rev. W. Ross. At 1:30 p.m. a parade will form and march to the cemetery where a salute of twelve guns will be fired and soldiers graves decorated. All school children are invited to participate in the exercises. By order of Committee.
Veterans’ graves are still decorated with flags on Veteran’s Day, and in 2008, a school group installed a Garden of Remembrance at the southeast corner of the cemetery. The De Smet cemetery is lovingly cared for and is a beautiful place for visitors to pay their respects to beloved Little House characters. The cemetery is maintained through donations; a collection box is located near the Ingallses’ graves for your convenience.
Graves of members of the Charles Ingalls family. Follow signage to the graves of Caroline & Charles Ingalls, Mary Ingalls, Carrie Ingalls Swanzey, and the infant son of Laura & Almanzo Wilder, with the graves of Grace & Nate Dow nearby (follow the cement sidewalk). Originally, only Charles Ingalls’s grave was marked, with his headstone at the west (back) side of the Lot. In 1958, Rose Wilder Lane had Pa’s headstone lettering re-cut, and the newly-formed Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Group (now the LIW Memorial Society) added markers for Caroline, Mary, and Baby Wilder. Pa’s marker was moved to the front of the lot. Carrie’s grave had a marker from the time of her burial and it was replaced to match those added to the row.
Little House characters buried in the De Smet Cemetery. In the summer of 2015, I conducted cemetery tours multiple times daily during pageant weekends. Although I had files on most of the people I would be talking about, I spent a month in De Smet the previous August and again in March, photographing headstones and looking up newspaper obituaries and writing family histories for each family. My tours started at the Ingallses’ graves and as we walked around the cemetery, I pointed out markers with familiar names and told stories about the lives of many characters familiar to Little House readers. I also pointed out important people in Kingsbury County history who weren’t in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.
To help in locating graves, I drafted a map of the cemetery and printed copies to hand out. If you’d like to print a copy for your own non-commercial usage, HERE is a version you can print at home; the link is also below. You have permission only to print the map for personal, non-commercial use, not to change or copy or upload it elsewhere on the internet, including genealogy sites or find-a-grave.
Little House characters buried here include Laura Brown (wife of Reverend Brown), Ella & Robert Boast, Thomas Power, members of the Louis Bouchie and Joseph Bouchie families (fictional Brewster family), Charles Tinkham, Edward Couse, Daniel Loftus, Charleton Fuller, Frank Schaub, George Wilmarth, Amos Whiting (first Superintendent of Schools), Susan Johnson (mother of Minnie and Arthur Johnson), Florence Garland Dawley (first teacher in the De Smet school), and Gennie Masters Renwick (composite Nellie Oleson character).