5In our last two posts, we spent some time talking about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s grandmother, Charlotte. Most recently, we learned about her travels from New England to Ohio and from Ohio to Indiana and later Wisconsin with her husband, Henry Quiner, and their growing family. Within the first six years of her time in Wisconsin, however, Charlotte became a widow. Henry drowned in a shipwreck in Lake Michigan in 1845, and Charlotte was left in the Wisconsin woods with her six children who were all under the age of eleven.
Martha Quiner Carpenter, Charlotte’s oldest daughter of the children who survived to adulthood, recounts in a letter to Laura Ingalls Wilder that her mother sold the claim that she and her husband Henry had settled on and bought another nearby. They made the move in 1847. William Anderson, in his biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, explains that the family was able to farm on this new land. As Martha describes it, “When [my mother, Charlotte,] had a piece of land cleared she would take her spade and hoe to make the garden, [and] plant her corn and potatoes among the stumps. It was no easy work I can tell you. She went at it with a will.” The family also had bees on their farm and would have harvested the honey as well as the crops they planted.
The year after the family moved to this new farm, Charlotte remarried. The man she married was named Frederick Holbrook. By this time, Charlotte’s full name would have been Charlotte Wallis Tucker Quiner Holbrook, Wallis being her middle name, Tucker her maiden name, and Quiner the surname from her first marriage.
William Anderson explains that Frederick purchased the land next to the Quiner farm so that the family could have more space to plant crops and let their animals graze. By the 1850 census, Frederick Holbrook, Charlotte, and all of her kids appear listed together as living in the town of Concord in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. According to the record, Frederick was also from back east, having been born in Connecticut. The census lists him as a farmer by trade. His age is also recorded in this account, and it appears as if he was about 11 years younger than Charlotte, who would have been 39 when she remarried.
In January of 1854, Charlotte and Frederick had their only child together, a very pretty little girl named Charlotte E. She would grow up to be the “Aunt Lottie” that Laura Ingalls Wilder talks about in Little House in the Big Woods, the aunt who answers Laura and Mary’s question about whether she likes brown or golden hair better.
In the 1860 census, the Quiner-Holbrook family is still listed as living in the town of Concord. However, by the 1870 census, the family has moved to the town of Sullivan in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. According to modern maps, Concord and Sullivan are only about 5 miles apart. Sixteen-year-old Lottie is the only one of the Quiner-Holbrook children still living at home in 1870 since all of the other children were out of the house or married by that time.
Sadly, by the 1880 census, Charlotte had become a widow for the second time in her life. Her husband Frederick died in February of 1874. He was not even 55 years old. After his death, Charlotte moved in with her youngest daughter, Lottie, who had married a man named Henry Moore. Charlotte most likely stayed with them for the rest of her life. She passed away in 1884 at the age of 75 and was buried next to her second husband, Frederick Holbrook, in the Hoffman Cemetery in Jefferson County, Wisconsin. Their tombstones can still be visited today.
A sign that sits between these two graves describes Charlotte as the “Mother of Caroline Quiner Ingalls” and “Grandmother of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the ‘Little House on the Prairie’ series.” Laura would pass on the pioneering legacy of her grandmother Charlotte for generations to come through the stories told in her beloved books.