The Story of the Brewsters

Laura’s first teaching experience was an unpleasant one. The Brewster school was located about 6 miles southwest of De Smet, not 12 miles like she mentioned in her book. She stay with Mr. and Mrs. Brewster and their son while she taught the school since it was located to far from De Smet to make the trip everyday. Mrs. Brewster was unhappy in Dakota Territory. She desperately wanted to go back east, but Mr. Brewster would not let her. She was sullen and depressed when Laura stayed with the couple, which made for a very displeasing experience. What a lot of readers do not know is that Laura changed some details about the Brewsters in her books. Their actual last name was Bouchie, not Brewster. The Bouchie family would experience a scandal down the road so Laura decided to protect herself as a writer and change the name.

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Replica of the Brewster School

Robert Boast brought Louis Bouchie to meet the Ingalls family in 1883. Louis was looking for a teacher for a school 6 miles from town. The school could not afford to pay her much, just $20 a month. Laura wanted to help her family pay for Mary’s college and whatever else she may need so she jumped at the chance. Laura took the teaching exam and passed with a third- grade certificate on December 10, 1883. A few weeks later and she left home for the first time at just 15 years old.

Louis Bouchie  and Oliv Delilah Isenberger Morrison lived in Iowa in 1880. By 1882, they both moved to Dakota Territory and filed on adjoining claims. The two got married on Christmas day of that year and settled in her shanty, which was built on the property line between her claim and her husbands. Oliv had a two year old son, Johnny, from a previous marriage and she welcomed another son, Leonard, with Louis in 1883. Laura only mentioned one child in These Happy Golden Years and called him Johnny. While writing her book, Laura could have possibly decided to eliminate Leonard from the story or maybe her memory was a bit fuzzy and she forgot about his existence. Laura portrayed the marriage between Louis and Oliv as an unhappy one. Louis would pass away in 1894. Oliv got remarried three years later. She was married to her fourth husband when she passed away in 1919.

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Three of Laura’s students were younger half siblings of Louis Bouchie. Clarance, Ruby, and Tommy were the children that Louis’s father had with his second wife, Elizabeth Currier. Years later, Clarance and his mother, Elizabeth, would be wrapped up in a scandal that caused Laura to change their name in her book.

In Laura’s original manuscript, Pioneer Girl, she writes that Clarance grew up to be a fireman in Chicago and eventually died a hero while trying to save people from a burning building. However, the true story of Clarance Bouchie was vastly different. During the summer of 1884, Clarance, his mother, and his older half brother Issac had a big argument. Clarance was angry and “threw a bone which struck Isaac in the face, producing lockjaw, from which he died” (Daily Huronite, April 1, 1887). Clarance and his mother, Elizabeth, were convicted of second-degree manslaughter three years later. Laura must have known that this happened, yet she told a much different story of Clarance in Pioneer Girl. We will never know for sure why Laura decided to change his story. We can only assume that she changed it so the scandal would not be associated with her stories. Not much is known about Clarance’s life after the conviction. He passed away in 1902 and is buried in De Smet.

Sources:

Wilder, Laura Ingalls, and Pamela Smith Hill. Pioneer Girl:The Annotated Autobiography. Pierre, South Dakota Historical Society Press, 2014.

Fraser, Caroline. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York, Metropolitan Books, 2017.

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One comment on “The Story of the Brewsters

  1. Melanie says:

    *According to the date on Laura’s first teaching certificate, on view at the LIW Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri, which is also referenced in the blog above, she was not 15, but nearly 17 years old when she began teaching. Researcher Nancy Cleaveland has confirmed this in her individual study of Kingsbury County schools records, too.

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