We began our day at a very sacred Indian site, known as Pipestone. This was the preferred quarry among the Plains Indian tribes for over 300 years of what we call pipestone. This is a durable yet soft stone that is used to carve the pipes for ceremonial smoking, and which continues to be mined to this day, though only Native Americans are allowed to use the quarry. Warring tribes have always put aside their differences to make pilgrimages to this as a special and sacred place shared by all.
There is lots of sadness connected with the way Indians had to persevere to maintain access to Pipestone, but it is heartening to see that all the carving traditions have been maintained, and that the importance of this stone, from this place, continues to this day. Indians demonstrate the carving technique, and their results are available to buy.
Yes, we now have a pipe stem from Pipestone.
Of course the pioneers ended the Indians’ access to the land for quite a while. Among those pioneering families, one of the most popular voices was that of Laura Ingalls Wilder, with her Little House on the Prairie and other books about her childhood on the plains. I grew up on those stories and loved them.
Of course, now rereading them in the context of history and the wisdom of my (many) years, I see stories that still remain charming, but that tell a tale of manifest destiny and the wanderlust of a father who could never quite make a success of the tough prairie farm life. The Indians were treated as noble, but as a people who weren’t using the land – in other words, farming – so who might as well just move to reservations.
One of the many places the Ingalls family lived was in a sod house in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. We visited there today, and were reminded of the huge popularity of the TV series that supposedly brought her books to life. There was a big reunion of the “stars” here in July, and eleven of them came back. Little girls still seem to revel in the stories, judging from the gift shop merchandise – which is rather sweet.
I do remember not liking the show, but there are certainly hordes of fans who worship at any shrine of Laura’s.
In addition to the recreation of many period buildings in Walnut Grove, we also visited the site of the actual sod house the family lived in on the banks of Plum Creek. What a life – see the size of the house dug out of a hill that the family of five occupied. It has since caved in, but the size is tiny! The dreams were certainly larger than the reality of that life on the prairie.
And to end our day, we visited one more sod house, this one luxurious compared to Laura. First of all, it wasn’t a dugout. And look – real windows with glass! This would have been the Ritz Hotel to the Ingalls family. One can actually rent it for the night, but we passed. Guess my pioneering fantasies have all gone away…