How did Charles and Caroline meet and fall in love? Without them, we never would have had Laura Ingalls Wilder, one of the most recognized authors in the world. Charles and Caroline had their own stories before getting married and having children. So how did they come together?
Picture source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society
Charles Philip Ingalls was born on January 10, 1836 in Cuba, New York. He was the third of ten children born to Lansford and Laura Ingalls. Caroline Fraser, author of Prairie Fires, talks about Charles’s time in Cuba, describing the town as “dark, dirty, and a gloomy place”(33). In 1842, the family moved to Illinois. They settled in Elgin, which was a short distance west of Chicago. This was the first time Charles laid eyes on the wide open prairie. After living in Cuba for 6 years, it was probably a welcome sight for Charles. He saw plenty of animals, especially prarie chickens. While the family thrived when first arriving to Illinois, in a short time they would lose their land. In 1851, the Ingalls family decided to move to southeastern Wisconsin, near the Oconomowoc River and the village of Concord. Charles was now 15 years old. According to William Anderson, author of The Story of the Ingalls, Charles worked with his brothers and father. He became a skilled woodsman, hunter, trapper, builder, and farmer. Later on in life Charles would use these skills in order to support and take care of his family. The most popular skill he would acquire, however, is learning how to play the fiddle. He was able to provide music to the people around him, allowing them to let loose and have some fun after a hard day. It was around this time that the Ingalls met the Quiner family. The two families were neighbors and often visited with one another. Among the Quiner children was Caroline, a young women who would catch the eye of Charles Ingalls.
Picture source: littlehouseontheprairie.com
Caroline Lake Quiner was born on December 12, 1839 near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was the fourth of six children born to Henry and Charlotte Quiner. According to William Anderson, Caroline’s father traded with the Indians living in Wisconsin and farmed to gain additional income. In the “Little House” books, Laura talks about her Ma being afraid of Indians and didn’t want her daughters anywhere near them. However, seeing and being around Indians wasn’t new to Caroline. Indians visited the Quiner home quite often and Caroline and her siblings were used to seeing them. In 1844, Caroline’s world was turned upside down. Her father, Henry, was on his way to sell lumber when his ship capsized in Lake Michigan. None of the bodies were ever found. This left Caroline’s mother, Charlotte, with five children and one on the way. She had no way of supporting them and the family sunk into a deep depression for a number of years. They struggled to keep warm in the winter and find food to eat. Surprisingly, Indians would sometimes help feed the family. Neighbors would also help out when they could. Still, times were extremely difficult for the family. Charlotte would sell her home and move her family to a farm near Concord, Wisconsin. Their new neighbors were the Ingalls Family. A year after the move, Charlotte got remarried to Frederick Holbrook. The couple would go on to have a a daughter, also named Charlotte. Laura often called this aunt “Aunt Lottie”.
Caroline would become a teacher at 16 years old. Caroline wanted at least one of her daughters to follow in her footsteps. Since Mary went blind, it was Laura who was expected to become a teacher. The Ingalls and Quiner family became close around this time. The two families often visited with one another. Three pairings between the families would end in marriage. Henry Quiner married Polly Ingalls in 1859, Charles Ingalls married Caroline Quiner in 1860, and Peter Ingalls married Eliza Quiner in 1861. Laura often mentioned having “double cousins” because of these marriages.
Picture source: Wikipedia
Charles and Caroline, now married, would move to Pepin sometime in 1863. They would join Caroline’s sister, Martha, and her husband. Charles and Caroline did not move to Pepin alone, however, Charles’s parents, Peter and Eliza Ingalls, and Henry and Polly Quiner joined the couple. Once they arrived to Pepin, Charles and Henry found a piece of land that they wanted to buy. The two men would each build a home for their families on that land and farm it together. Despite being married for almost five years, Charles and Caroline did not have any children. But on January 10, 1865, Mary Amelia was born. Two years later, on February 7, 1867, another daughter was born. Charles and Caroline named her Laura Elizabeth Ingalls.
Anderson, Williams. The Story of the Ingalls, Anderson Publications, April 1994.
Fraser, Caroline. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York, NY, Metropolitan Books, 2017.