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home : news : national news free July 22, 2017

2/24/2017 4:34:00 PM
This 'little house' needs a makeover too: 'Little House on the Prairie' cabin

INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) — It's time for Laura's house to get a makeover.

The cabin is drooping and logs are deteriorating at the site where, in 1869, Ma, Pa, Laura, Mary and baby Carrie Ingalls settled near Independence in the southeastern corner of Kansas.

The Ingalls family came to Kansas inspired by the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered 160 acres of "free land" to settlers who would farm and live on it for a few years - and coincidentally because Pa's cousin, John J. Ingalls, had gone to Kansas and was a U.S. senator.

"But Ma said all he had was an itching foot," author Laura Ingalls Wilder would write of her famous second cousin.

The current Ingalls cabin is a re-creation that was built in 1977, at the height of popularity of the TV series "Little House on the Prairie," starring Michael Landon and Melissa Gilbert, that was based on the popular children's book series.

The site, 13 miles southwest of Independence, is real. It is, indeed, where the Ingalls family settled.

But in the 1970s as people drove by wanting to see where the Ingalls had lived, all that remained was a hand-dug well.

The farm was owned then by retired Brig. Gen. William Kurtis and his wife, Wilma. She had inherited the family farm from her grandparents, Bert and Lillian Horton.

Their two children, Bill and Jean, eventually became well-known Kansans in their own right.

In 1968, the Kurtis family discovered the farm was the 1869 homestead of Laura Ingalls and her family.

"When we opened the site in 1972, people would drive by and see all these wide, open spaces, sunshine and clouds and say, 'Is that all there is?' We had a little sign over in the barnyard," said Jean Schodorf , Kurtis' daughter and a former Republican state senator from Wichita. She is now the president of the Little House on the Prairie board site. Her daughter Kristin Schodorf is the executive director.

As people became more interested in the site, her family - as well as locals in the area - decided to build a cabin. Eighty trees were cut down on the Kurtis farm, and the Independence Jaycees helped build the cabin.

Schodorf said building the cabin in 1977 to the specifications in Wilder's book was daunting.

When the Ingalls built their cabin, they had three people, a horse and a wagon, and Pa used a hatchet to chop down trees, she said.

It took the Kurtis family three months, 150 volunteers, chain saws and pickups to do the 1977 version.

And now, 40 years later, it is time to do it again.

"We're in quite the predicament, because what is Little House on the Prairie Museum without a log cabin?" wrote Kristin Schodorf in an email to The Eagle. "We're trying to raise money for it, but it's just trickling in. We're applying for grants but need matching monies. We're trying to raise $48,000. So far, we have $2,000."

More than 20,000 people from around the world visit the cabin site each year, Jean Schodorf said.

The site also includes the Wayside Post Office and the Sunnyside Schoolhouse. The mission of the site is to generate among children and families a love of reading, Kansas history and an affinity for the Kansas prairie.

"'Little House on the Prairie' is known throughout the world," Schodorf said. "Douglas MacArthur had the 'Little House' books translated into Japanese so the Japanese could learn about America. "'Little House on the Prairie' is America. It is Kansas."

Families will drive to the site, Schodorf said, and children will climb out of cars dressed like Laura, Mary and Carrie. Mothers will put down blankets, and the families will picnic.

One woman this past year flew from England and rented a taxi from Independence to visit the site.

That's one reason Schodorf would like to see the tourism site continue.

The current cabin was not built to last; log cabins seldom were.

"You can only chink and re-chink and re-chink so many times," Schodorf said.

The current cabin's logs have deteriorated, and almost all the weight of the cabin is resting on the door jamb.

"Eventually, the logs will come down," she said. "We might get another season out of it."

Plans are to raise $48,000 and collect 160 walnut logs to build both a cabin and stable. The walnut logs must be 6 to 8 inches wide, 20 feet long and straight.

"We will have to do this if we are to continue," she said.

A GoFundMe site has been started. Schodorf is hoping to obtain some grant funding and donations, including maybe tree donations.

The site is also in the process of obtaining 94 prints signed by "Little House on the Prairie" illustrator Garth Williams, which will add to a visitor's experience, Schodorf said.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her mid-60s when she began writing about her childhood experiences.

"There was only the enormous, empty prairie, with grasses blowing in waves of light and shadow across it, and the great blue sky above it. . In all that space of land and sky stood the lonely, small, covered wagon," Ingalls wrote.

Kansas, as a homesteading state, had nearly 90,000 successful homestead claims, representing 25 percent of the state's total acreage. Immigrants, Civil War veterans, women and former slaves all came to Kansas to start over.

Some walked. Some came by covered wagon. Others rode trains.

The Ingalls family came by wagon and illegally settled on land that was on the Osage Indian reservation.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Wilder's birth. She was born Feb. 7, 1867, near Pepin in the Big Woods region of Wisconsin. The Ingalls family moved to Kansas when Laura was 2.

They lived on the Kansas prairie for less than two years. During that time, they built a house and stable and survived a visit by wolves, clouds of mosquitoes, a prairie fire and occasional visits by Osage Indians, on whose reservation the family settled.

It was also in Kansas that the Ingalls family nearly died and was saved by a black doctor, George Tann, who happened to be passing by the family's cabin.

In her book, Wilder described the family as having "fever 'n' ague." The family had been so besieged with mosquitoes, they had come down with malaria.

The family slowly recovered, with the help of Tann.

While Laura Ingalls was growing up, the Ingalls family moved several times, each time to a new frontier: Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory and Dakota Territory.


Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle,

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