Laura mentions a lot of different people she came to know throughout the Little House book series. When she got older and her family finally settled in De Smet, SD, she was finally able to make some friends. She spent time with Ida Brown, Minnie Johnson, Mary Power, and Florence Wilkins during school. For this blog I’ll talk about two of Laura’s friends and what happened to them after Laura got married and lost touch.
“Mary Power’s eyes smiled. They were dark blue eyes. fringed with long, black lashes.” -Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter
Mary Power was born on April 3, 1866 in Tuscarora, New York. She was the fourth surviving child of Thomas and Elizabeth Power. Thomas had served in the Civil War, but was discharged in 1865. He resumed his job of being a tailor afterwards, but found that there was a lot of competition in the trade. He decided it would be best to move the family west. Mary was around the age of 4 when the family moved to Kasson, Minnesota and started a new life there. Mary gained another brother and sister during the approximate 12 years they lived there. In 1880, Mary’s father wanted to go west again and take advantage of the Homestead Act. He also hoped to gain new clientele for his tailor business. The family arrived in De Smet shortly after that. Thomas filed a claim on the southwest of town and opened up his tailor shop on main street.
Laura met Mary Power when the two girls attended school together. While Laura and Almanzo paired off, so did Mary and Cap Garland. The two couples took a sleigh ride one day that Laura wrote about in her books. Mary and Cap continued to see each other for the next few years. The relationship between the two ended after Mary met Edwin P. Sanford and the two started courting. Laura talked about Mary and her new beau, Ed, coming to singing school in These Happy Golden Years. Ed was the bookkeeper at the Kingsbury County Bank until it was incorporated in 1885. He then became a stockholder and cashier. Mary and Ed were married on August 9, 1890, which was five years after Laura and Almanzo got married. In 1900, the couple finished building a home on 3rd street in De Smet. They were very involved in the social scene in town, often entertaining guests at their home. By 1907, Mary, her mother, and Ed sold their home and moved to Bellingham, Washington. Ed became the director of the bank there and provided a comfortable living for Mary. They purchased a beautiful piece of land and built a home with modern amenities such as air conditioning and plumbing.
Mary became ill in 1928 and passed away a year later at the age of 63. The couple never had any children, but doted on their many nieces and nephews. Ed joined Mary in 1932, dying at the age of 67.
Ida B. Wright
“She seemed about as old as Laura, and as shy. She was small and slim. Her soft brown eyes were large in a small round face. Her hair was black and softly wavy, and around her forehead the short hairs curled.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Town on the Prairie
Ida Belle Wright was born on September 24, 1866 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the fourth child of Thomas and Catherine Wright. Tragically, Ida lost the majority of her family in the Great Chicago Fire in the fall of 1871. Her older brother, Henry, was adopted and taken west. Ida was supposedly adopted from a children’s home by Reverend and Mrs. Edward Brown, although what year this occurred isn’t clear. Ida did live with the Browns in Salem, Wisconsin before moving to a claim south of De Smet. Here, Ida would meet Laura and the two girls became close friends. Laura never mentioned Ida teaching in her books, but Ida was teaching a small school in Manchester, SD while Laura was teaching the Wilkin School. Ida was present at Laura and Almanzo’s wedding in 1885 and gifted Laura a strand of white silk lace. She was there with her beau, Elmer McConnell, who she eventually married on December 3, 1885.
The couple moved to a tree claim near De Smet and had three children while living there. In the early 1890s, the couple moved to West Superior, Wisconsin. Elmer worked odd jobs around town to support their family, which grew by two while in Wisconsin. The McConnells made one last move to Perkins, California in 1911. Their children were now married and lived throughout the United States. Some of them stayed in California to be near Ida and Elmer. Ida passed away in January of 1926 at the age of 59. Her husband, Elmer, passed away in November of 1942 at the age of 81. Ida died before Laura started writing her books, but descendants of Ida were aware of the connection shared between the two friends.
Terranna, Gina. “Mary Power, From Prairie to the Pacific Coast.” Lore, vol. 31, no. 2, 2005.
Cleaveland, Nancy and Linsenmayer, Penny. “Ida B. Wright, Laura’s Friend.” Lore, vol. 30, no. 1, 2004.
The Lore is a newsletter published by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet, SD. If you are interested in learning more about Laura, her family, and friends, then make a contribution of at least $25 to receive a free subscription to the Lore. You can also purchase The Best of the Lore, which is a compilation of the newsletter, in our gift shop or through our website.