While many most often associate Laura Ingalls Wilder with living in the Big Woods (Pepin, Wisconsin), Walnut Grove and De Smet, most don’t realize that she left De Smet, South Dakota as a young married woman, after the time period of The First Four Years. After spending some time in different states, including Westville, Florida, the Wilders finally settled in Mansfield, Missouri.
But why did Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder move to Missouri?
There were several reasons. The first is that they suffered hardship in De Smet, especially after Almanzo was ill with diphtheria and the physical labor of farming became difficult. They tried residing for a time in Florida, hoping the climate change would help Almanzo’s health, but they left after a year.
Laura and Almanzo had also seen advertisements about Missouri being the land of the Big Red Apples, and decided they would try their luck in Missouri instead of on the prairies that they both knew.
They travelled to Missouri, as detailed in On the Way Home, a diary published about their trip from De Smet, South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri. The title was often confusing for readers, as many thought of it as the Wilder’s “leaving home” as in De Smet, not “on the way home” meaning their home in Missouri.
The Wilders were much more successful in Mansfield than they were in De Smet, although they did receive some financial help from Almanzo’s parents when they deeded the small family with their rental house. And they learned their lesson from their time in De Smet, as well as from Laura’s father about diversifying their income instead of relying on a single cash crop as Charles Ingalls did.