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De Smet during the Little House years

City in central Kingsbury County, South Dakota, founded by Western Town Lot Company in 1880, and named for Father Pierre Jean De Smet, a Belgian Roman Catholic priest and missionary.

De Smet. The Seat of Justice and Metropolis of Kingsbury County. A Prosperous Young City, the Center of Wonderful Resources. – The De Smet Leader, March 1887

The land that became known as Kingsbury County was ceded by the Yankton Sioux Indians to the United States in 1858 and was part of an Indian reservation prior to being opened to white settlers. During the summer of 1873, township lines were located, and maps were drawn for each township (6 by 6 miles in size; each “square” in the map at right is a township) showing the location of bodies of water, sloughs, Indian mounds, and other obvious physical features of the land.

In 1874, surveyor Peter Royem filed survey field notes in which he described the markers placed at section corners: charred stakes 4 feet long placed 1 foot in the ground in mounds of dirt 4 feet in diameter and 3 feet high. Homesteaders initially used these mounds of dirt and stakes to locate the boundaries of their claims. Kingsbury County was named for George W. Kingsbury, legislator and historian of Yankton, Dakota Territory. The first white setters began arriving in 1873, with the first homestead claims filed in April 1878. In 1879, the Winona and St. Peter Railroad (Dakota Central branch) began construction of a line west from Tracy, Minnesota into Dakota Territory.

The Chicago and NorthWestern Railroad crossed the Minnesota state line into Brookings County, Dakota Territory, on October 2, 1879, with tracks laid at the rate of about one mile per day. They reached Main Street in Brookings on October 18, 1879.

The grading crews reached Township 111 – Range 56 in the summer of 1879. The railroad surveyors had constructed a house on the north shore of Silver Lake, which had been designated as “Lake Silver” at the time of the 1873 survey. Railroad tracks were not laid in Kingsbury County until the spring of 1880, and the surveyors and graders pushed on westward after closing shop for the winter. By the summer of 1880, the railroad had reached as far west as the town of Huron, in Beadle County.

De Smet was founded in 1880 by the Western Town Lots Company and named for Father Pierre Jean De Smet (1801 – 1873), a Jesuit priest from Belgium who had worked among the Indians in Dakota Territory and the northwest. The original town consisted of four blocks at the intersection of Main Street (Calumet) and Second Street. Each block contained 21 town lots: smaller business lots facing Calumet, larger residential lots behind them with an alley between the two. The railroad tracks were to the north, with the Depot built south of the tracks and to the northeast of Calumet. Over the years, Carroll’s Addition was added to the west, Brown’s Addition to the southwest, and the Railroad Addition to the east.



De Smet during the Little House Years. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about many of the residents and businesses in De Smet in Little Town on the Prairie, The Long Winter, and These Happy Golden Years, plus she drew a map to show the location of some of them. Wilder didn’t mention all of the residents and businesses in De Smet at the time of the Little House books; the town was much more “up and coming” than she described it. For example, there was a skating rink, opera house, jewelry store, multiple banks, meat market, two shoe stores, a law office, and many additional stores and homes that weren’t included in any memoir, manuscript, or publication. Based on tax records and property deeds for 1883 – 1884, the map below gives an idea of the layout of the four main blocks in the town of De Smet at the end of Little Town on the Prairie and the beginning of These Happy Golden Years. By 1885, there were numerous residential blocks surrounding the orignal town’s four blocks, and some of the lots below had already changed hands more than once.

Caroline L. Ingalls purchased Lot 21, Block 4, on October 2, 1882 from Western Town Lots Company, having been contracted to be sold to Charles Ingalls in 1880. The family wintered here for several years, including the winter of 1880 – 1881 (see The Long Winter).

Laura Ingalls Wilder introduced a number of businesses in The Long Winter, among them Mead’s Hotel (the Exchange Hotel in the map above), Henry Hinz’s Saloon, Royal Wilder’s Feed Store, Barker’s Grocery Store, the Beardsley Hotel (the Kingsbury House in the map above), Harthorn’s General Store, Couse Hardware, Wilmarth’s Grocery, T. H. Johnson residence (where Minnie and Arthur Johnson lived when in town), Fuller’s Hardware, Bradley Drugs, the Loftus Store, Thomas Power’s Tailor Shop (where Mary and Charley Power lived), Thomas Ruth’s Bank, and Mrs. Garland’s Boarding House (where Cap and Florence Garland lived).

In Little Town on the Prairie, Wilder introduced Charles Tinkham’s Furniture Store and Jake Hopp’s Printing Shop.

In These Happy Golden Years, Wilder introduced Florence Bell’s Millinery Shop and Mrs. McKee’s Dressmakers Shop. Miss Bell had been in business in De Smet for years prior to this time, although Wilder wrote that her shop was new. Mrs. McKee purchased Lot 9, Block 2, from Carey J. Thomas, July 10, 1883. This was the same location as Chauncey Clayson’s former Drygoods Store, where Laura Ingalls worked briefly sewing for Mrs. White after the Hard Winter.



Homestead Claims, Preemption Claims, and Tree Claims. In Kingsbury County, Laura Ingalls’ world was a small one. Without exception, all claims mentioned by Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House books and/or remembered by her were fewer than ten miles from De Smet. The vast majority of homesteaders weren’t mentioned at all by Mrs. Wilder; but by 1885, virtually all land available for homesteading had been filed on and was occupied. Only homesteaders with a connection to the Little House books are included in the map below; it shows a portion of Kingsbury County. The table below gives the legal description for claims marked on the map; you do know how to read a map, don’t you?

AMOS WHITING, SE 20-111-55, homestead
FRANK COOLEY, SW 20-111-55, homestead
ROBERT BOAST, SW 7-110-56, tree claim
JOHN OWEN, E-SE & E-NE 30-114-55, homestead
CHARLES INGALLS, NE 3-110-56, homestead
SAM MASTERS, NW 5-110-56, homestead
DELOS PERRY, NE 10-110-56, homestead
TIMOTHY JOHNSON, SW 10-110-56, homestead
RUSSELL ROSS, E-NW & S-NE 11-110-56, preemption
OLIVER PERRY, E-NE 15 & W-NW-14-110-56, homestead
CHARLES INGALLS, NW 28-110-56, tree claim
ROYAL WILDER, SE 5-111-57, tree claim
CHARLETON FULLER, NW 8-111-56, homestead
REUBEN WEBB, NE 8-111-56, homestead
ELIZA JANE WILDER, SE 8-111-57, tree claim
ALMANZO WILDER, SE 9-111-56, tree claim
OLIVER SHELDON, NW 10-111-56, homestead
THOMAS WILKIN, NW 17-111-56, homestead
GERALD FULLER, NE 17-111-56, homestead
JAMES GLOVER SE, 17-111-56, homestead
JAMES WELLS NE, 18-111-56, homestead
DANIEL LOFTUS, SE 18-111-56, preemption
SAM OWEN, NW 20-111-66, preemption

SAM OWEN, NE 20-111-66, tree claim
DANIEL DWIGHT, NW 21-111-56, homestead
ALMANZO WILDER, NE 21-111-56, homestead
ROYAL WILDER, SW 21-111-56, homestead
SILLIMAN GILBERT, NW 23-111-56, homestead
ROBERT BOAST, SE 25-111-56, homestead
HORACE WOODWORTH, NW 26-111-56, homestead
ELIZA JANE WILDER, NW 28-111-56, homestead
VISSCHER BARNES, SW 28-111-56, homestead
THOMAS POWER, NW 29-111-56, homestead
EDWARD BROWN, NE 32-111-56, preemption
GEORGE BRADLEY, NW 13-110-57, homestead
LOUIS BOUCHIE, SW 13-110-57, preemption
NATHAN DOW, NE 17-110-57, tree claim
WILLIAM DUNN, SE 17-110-57, homestead
DAVID GILBERT, SE 22-110-57, homestead
JOSEPH BOUCHIE, SW 23-110-57, homestead
OLIVE BOUCHIE, SE 27-110-57, homestead
LOUIS BOUCHIE, SW 27-110-57, homestead
HORACE RUNDLE, NE 35-110-57, preemption
JAMES MCKEE, SE 24-111-56, preemption
ELMER McCONNELL, N-NW & N-NE 27-111-57, tree claim

PLEASE NOTE: Without exception, all claims shown on the map below are private property today. If you visit these sites, please do not tresspass.


De Smet, Dakota Territory (SSL 23, 25, 27; TLW 31; LTP 15, 19; THGY 14; PG)
     first church service in De Smet (SSL 23)
     dancing club (PG)
     Laura teaches first school in De Smet (SSL 27)
     Pa as oldest settler in De Smet (LTP 3)