In 1894, after seven years of drought and a series of personal disasters, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband, Almanzo, decided to leave De Smet, South Dakota, and move to the Ozarks near Mansfield, Missouri. The journey, made in a wagon and covering a period of six weeks, was detailed in a diary that Laura kept along the way. Years later, after her death and after her Little House books had achieved wide popularity, Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, wrote a preface and an epilogue to the diary and published it as On the Way Home: The Diary of a Trip from South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri, in 1894.
The book is divided into three chapters: Chapter 1 contains Lane’s preface, chapter 2 is Wilder’s diary, and chapter 3 is Lane’s epilogue. Photographs enhance the text, and a map of the route traveled makes it possible to follow the journey in its day-to-day progression. In chapter 1, Lane tells of the conditions that motivated the move to the Ozarks, the Land of the Big Red Apple. The Wilders had endured a series of hardships, there had been a long drought, and Almanzo, who “got a day’s work here and there,” wanted to farm. The two had saved one hundred dollars to buy land in Missouri. With it carefully hidden in Laura’s writing desk, they packed their wagon and left De Smet on July 17, 1894. Their sturdy wagon rolled smartly along as the chickens in the jostling hencoop fluttered and squawked and the colts, Little Pet and Prince, followed behind.
Chapter 2 contains Wilder’s daily notes of the trip, recorded “in a little 5-cent Memorandum book.” A second family, Mr. and Mrs. Cooley and their sons, Paul and George, traveled the 650 miles with the Wilders. Wilder’s diary ended August 30, 1894, when the travelers reached Mansfield and “camped in the woods in the western edge of town.”
Lane resumes the story in chapter 3 and tells of the purchase of Rocky Ridge Farm after an initial scare when the hundred-dollar bill could not be found. The family settled into a cabin on the place, and Laura began planning for the house that they would someday build. “It would be a white house, she said, all built from our farm.”