ROPE MAKING — A little pioneer girl, with the help of her father, works on crafting a multi-colored piece of rope the old fashioned way during Prairie Days at the Little House on the Prairie Museum Saturday afternoon. Kassie Sanderson | Staff Photo
ROPE MAKING — A little pioneer girl, with the help of her father, works on crafting a multi-colored piece of rope the old fashioned way during Prairie Days at the Little House on the Prairie Museum Saturday afternoon. Kassie Sanderson | Staff Photo

This year's Prairie Days brought in people from all over to experience pioneer life, and although Saturday's weather was seasonably warm, the estimated amount of attendees ranged between 450 to 500, according to officials with the historical site and museum.

"It's been wonderful, seeing all the kids dress up and how many people are out here supporting and learning about Laura and her family," said Mary Kurtis, who, along with museum director, Jean Schodorf. "I think the biggest attraction, as always, are the animals we have here. They love to pet them. We have activities ranging from games, entertainment in the School House, and tours of the cabin, but what makes this year one of the best is the number of supporters we have out here."

Schodorf agreed and credited cities in southeast Kansas, such as Elk City, Sedan, Caney, Independence, and Coffeyville, for all pitching in to make sure Prairie Days was a memorable day for everyone.

"You can tell the kids are having the best time," Schodorf added. "I think this has been a great success. A lot of the activities are based on the books. They are simplistic, but so fun."

"Absolutely," Kurtis said. "We really wanted to have a hands-on experience and participate with everyone. We wanted to stick to our original mission."

Schodorf noted that their mission stems from encouraging children to read books, be imaginative, and learn Kansas history.

"In a way, we're also cross-promoting our area cities, such as Independence, Caney, Sedan, and Coffeyville," she said. "We are very appreciative to have vendors from Elk City and other towns here giving demonstrations, or providing food. It's been a great way to help support tourism in southeast Kansas. Mary's been so good while handling the store, and Bill Kurtis (Mary's brother), has provided us with lots of advice."

One suggestion he came up with is creating new signage for the area after Little House on the Prairie Museum received a grant from the Freedom Frontier Trails.

"With the signs, we want to incorporate quotes from the book," Schodorf said.

"We're also working on a new exhibit that we'll debut in the upcoming future with the Osage Native Americans," Kurtis said. "We have new ideas to continue our mission and encourage people to visit our area."

Some of the games included old fashioned sack races, tractor rides, learning what class was like in the small School House, and how certain items - such as metal and glass - were crafted by a professional blacksmith and glass blowers.

"It feels so good to be out here - all our family history is here, and you can feel it," Schodorf said. 

The Ingalls family history

Charles, his wife Caroline Lake Quiner Ingalls, and their daughters, Mary and Laura, settled in Montgomery in 1869. They settled on land that is approximately 12 miles southwest of Independence. It was while they were in Kansas that the groundwork was set that would change the lives of the Ingalls family through the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Laura Ingalls was born on Feb. 7, 1867 near Pepin, Wis. She married Almanzo Wilder on August 25,1885 in De Smet, Dakota territory. Laura Ingalls Wilder passed away on February 10,1957 in Mansfield, Mo. It was from the many journeys of her family that she was inspired to write the stories of her family's life on the frontier. Her stories share the experiences that includes her time in southeast Kansas. The books that she wrote became known as the "Little House" series of children's books. 

The Homestead Act of 1862 paved the way for many to own land on the new frontier. The Homestead Act made it possible for any eligible person to own 160 acres with the requirement that had to live on the land for five years and pay an $18 filing fee in order for it to become rightfully theirs. In 1869, this opportunity lead the Ingalls family to move to Kansas from Wisconsin. Charles Ingalls built the family cabin on the 4.8 million acre-tract of land called the Osage Diminished Reserve. Unfortunately, this land was not open to white settlement that was in a bitter dispute between the Osage tribe and the United States government. Because of the tensions between the two parties, the Ingalls decided to leave Kansas in the spring of 1871 and return to Wisconsin.

The book Little House on the Prairie was published in 1935. It featured the experiences of the Ingalls family while they lived in Kansas. Other books that she wrote were Little House in the Big Woods,1931 (the first book in the series); On the Banks of Plum Creek, 1937; The Long Winter, 1940; Little Town on the Prairie, 1941; and These Happy Golden Years, 1943.

The Little House on the Prairie Museum sits on the site where the Ingalls homesteaded. The cabin that sits on the museum property was reconstructed, based on Laura Ingalls' own description, by Brigadier General William A. Kurtis and his wife, Wilma Horton Kurtis with a group from the local Independence Jaycees in 1977. 

In 1969, the discovery of the well that Charles dug by hand was a key element in leading Margaret Clements to discover the Ingalls family homestead that was located on the Horton farm. 

Another attraction on the Little House on the Prairie Museum site is the Sunnyside Schoolhouse which was built in 1871 and located approximately four and a half miles from the Ingalls' homestead. However, because the sisters' ages, the girls never attend the school during the time that the Ingalls lived in Kansas. In 1977, to preserve the structure, William and Wilma Kurtis moved the Sunnyside Schoolhouse to the Little House on the Prairie Museum site.

The Wayside Post office was constructed in 1885 and continued to serve the residents of Wayside until the U.S. Postal service closed the facility because of consolidation of services. By the time that the post office was built the Ingalls had already moved back to Wisconsin. It was through the efforts of William and Wilma Kurtis that the building was preserved and moved the the Little house on the prairie site in 1977.

The Little house on the Prairie Museum is located on County Road 2507, Independence, approximately 12 miles southwest of Independence off of highway 75. Travelers are asked to look for the signs for directions to the museum. To contact the museum, call 620-289-4238 or visit the website at: littlehouseontheprairiemuseum.com or email them at: lhopmuseumks@gmail.com

The museum is open April through October, Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for children. 

A photo gallery on Prairie Days can be found on the IDR website.