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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The Visitor’s Guide to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Homesites Part 2

Keep reading to see more of Laura’s homesites you can visit!

De Smet. South Dakota

Charles and Caroline Ingalls made their final move in 1879 to Dakota Territory, settling in the eventual town of De Smet. Laura would stay in De Smet for a combined total of 15 years. She based By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years in De Smet. Here, she befriended Mary Power and Ida Brown, courted and married Almanzo Wilder, and gave birth to two children.

The first stop to make while in De Smet is to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society. They offer a guided tour of three original buildings and one replica. See the Surveyors’ House, where Laura lived during the first winter in Dakota Territory, the First School of De Smet, where Laura had the infamous teacher Eliza Jane Wilder, a replica of the Brewster School, where Laura taught when she was 15 years old, and the Ingalls Home on third street, which was the last home of Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Your guide will tell you about the family’s travels, their experiences in De Smet, and what happened to them later in life. After your tour you can browse the gift shop and visit an exhibit that displays items from the family. The Memorial Society is open year round for tours. Check out their website for exact details!

Click here to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society’s website!

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The Surveyors’ House

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The Ingalls Home

The Ingalls Homestead is another stop visitors should make while in De Smet. The Ingalls lived there for 7 years before building their final home in town on third street. Charles’ original 159 acres is now owned by another family. They run a “Living History Farm” that offers many hands on activities. You can take a wagon ride, make a corncob doll, go to school in a one room schoolhouse, see animals, etc. They also have a gift shop and camping. Visitors can spend the night in a covered wagon, bring a tent, or an RV.   The original home and buildings no longer remain, but replica’s have been built to show visitors what their home could have looked like. The first acre of the original homestead is still owned by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society and has the five cottonwood trees that Pa planted for Ma and the girls. See them for yourself while visiting De Smet!

Click here to visit the Ingalls Homestead website!

Next, visit the cemetery where the entire Ingalls family is buried except for Laura, Almanzo, and Rose. Then, take a self guided walking tour down main street to see the site of Pa’s store building, the Loftus Store, and many more!

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Pa’s Cottonwood Trees

 

 

Mansfield, Missouri

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Mansfield Museum

After many failed crops in De Smet, South Dakota, Laura and Almanzo decided to move to “The Land of the Big Red Apple” in Missouri. In 1894, they settled in the town of Mansfield, purchased land and a home that Laura called “Rocky Ridge Farm” , and settled down with Rose. Laura and Almanzo eventually became the successful farmers they always wanted to be and turned their one room cabin into a ten room farmhouse. It was in Mansfield where they finally achieved their American Dream and remained for the rest of their lives.

Today,  the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum offers a guided tour of Laura’s beloved farmhouse and the Rock House that Rose built for her parents. Your tour guide will tell you about Laura’s experiences in Mansfield, including details about her unique farmhouse and how it came to be. After your tour, you can spend time looking in the Museum, which houses artifacts from Laura and her family. See Pa’s fiddle, Laura’s original “Little House” manuscripts, Rose’s desk, and so much more. The Mansfield Museum has the biggest collection of Laura artifacts that any fan would love to see! Make sure to stop by the gift shop before you leave to browse books, clothes, and souvenirs to add to your Laura collection. The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum is open from March until the middle of November. Visit their website for exact details!

Stop by the Mansfield Cemetery to see the graves of Laura, Almanzo, and Rose and the Historic Town Square to see a sculpture of the famous author!

Click here to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum website!

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Laura and Almanzo’s Farmhouse

 

Malone, New York

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Almanzo’s Boyhood Home

Almanzo Wilder was born on February 13, 1857 in Malone, New York. His boyhood home was a prosperous farm, which had been purchased by his father James in 1840. Almanzo’s future wife, Laura Ingalls, would write about her husband’s time in Malone in her book, Farmer Boy. The Wilder family remained in Malone until 1875. At that time, James sold the farm and moved his family to Spring Valley, Minnesota.

Today, Almanzo’s boyhood home still stands. The Wilder Homestead Association offers a guided tour of the house, reconstructed barns, and the museum. Learn more about Almanzo’s life in Malone and see artifacts from the family. Next, explore the grounds, which include a henhouse, pump house, and a replica of a one room schoolhouse. Stop by the gift shop before taking the walking trail to Trout River, where Almanzo helped wash sheep. The Wilder Homestead is open from the middle of May through the end of September. Check out their website for exact details!

Click here to visit the Wilder Homestead website!

Keystone, South Dakota

Keystone museum

Keystone Historical Museum

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey moved to Keystone, South Dakota in 1911. After a long career of working in the newspaper industry, Carrie was offered a manager position at the Keystone Recorder. She met David Swanzey and the two married in 1912. Carrie lived a comfortable life in Keystone. She became a stepmother to David’s two children and was very involved in the community.

The Keystone Historical Museum, a former Victorian schoolhouse, has many different exhibits pertaining to Keystone history. Learn more about the role mining played in the community and see rock collections, old photos, and some of Carrie’s memorabilia. Next, you can take the “Old Town” walking tour and learn more about the homes and businesses that were there when Keystone was exploding with growth. Check out the museum website to see their months and times of operation!

Click here to visit the Keystone Historical Museum website!

Other homesites to visit!

Danbury, Connecticut- The final home of Rose Wilder Lane

Crowley, Louisiana- Home of Eliza Jane Wilder and where Rose graduated high school

San Francisco, California- Home of Rose Wilder Lane Read our blog post on Rose’s home!

Spring Valley, Minnesota- Home of the Wilder family and Almanzo and Laura during 1890-1891 Visit Spring Valley! 

Westville, Florida- Home of Almanzo, Laura, and Rose during 1891-1892

Vinton, Iowa- Where Mary Ingalls went to college Learn more about Mary’s college experience!

Cuba, New York- Birthplace of Charles Ingalls

The Visitor’s Guide to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Homesites Part 1

Laura traveled to many different places throughout her life. Her father, Charles Ingalls, had a deep desire to keep moving west. He wanted wide open spaces that were unsettled and untouched. Now, museums sit where Laura lived in order to preserve her lasting legacy. Thousands of people travel to each one, eager to learn more about the famous author’s life. Listed below are Laura’s home sites that are open for visitors!

Pepin, Wisconsin

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Pepin  Museum

Laura Elizabeth Ingalls was born in Pepin, Wisconsin on February 7, 1867. Laura talked about this part of her life in Little House in the Big Woods. She lived there a combined total of about 5 years, leaving the state permanently in 1874 when Charles Ingalls moved his family to Walnut Grove.

The Pepin Museum is open for visitors from 10am- 5pm daily from mid-May to mid-October. There, you can browse their gift shop that’s filled with Laura souvenirs, see displays about the Ingalls family, and learn more about the early life of the famous author. While here, make a stop to the Little House wayside cabin. Situated on three acres of Charles Ingalls’ original land, this replica cabin is modeled after Laura’s home in Little House in the Big Woods. During September, Pepin holds the Laura Ingalls Wilder Days Festival. Visitors can see antiques, a craft fair, parade, a Laura look-alike pageant, and a play based on Laura’s time in Pepin. One last stop to make is to Lake Pepin, where Laura and her family visited. Start planning your trip to Pepin today!

Click here to visit the Pepin Museum’s website!

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Replica of Laura’s first home

Montgomery County, Kansas

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Replica of Laura’s home

Charles Ingalls moved his family to Montgomery County, Kansas during 1869-1870. He wanted to leave the crowded woods of Wisconsin behind and have a fresh start on the wide open prairie. The family was in Kansas for about 1 year before returning to their home in Pepin. During that time, Caroline “Carrie” Celestia Ingalls was born on August 3, 1870.

The land that the Ingalls settled on was found by Margaret Clement and Eilene Charbo. It is now owned by a family, but is still open for fans to come and see. A one room log cabin was built to model the home that Laura described in Little House on the Prairie . A hand dug well was also found and could possibly be the one that Charles Ingalls dug himself. The land surrounding the replica cabin is still wide open prairie, which gives visitors a sense of what Laura saw everyday and how vast the land was. While visiting, you can also check out the Wayside Post Office, built in 1885 and the Sunnyside Schoolhouse, built in 1871. Both are now located near the replica cabin on the original land. The Kansas Museum is open during the summer and early fall months. Check out their website for exact details!

Click here to visit the Kansas Museum’s website!

Walnut Grove, Minnesota

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Walnut Grove Museum

In 1874, Charles packed up his family once again and moved them to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. They first lived in a dugout on the banks of Plum Creek before Charles built a brand new house. The family lived in Walnut Grove for a combined total of 4-5 years, living in Burr Oak, Iowa for a year in between. Laura wrote about her time in Minnesota in On the Banks of Plum Creek.

The first stop you should make in Walnut Grove is to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. There, you can browse the gift shop that has books, clothes, and souvenirs. You can also take a self guided tour through a complex of buildings including a depot, a schoolhouse, a “little” chapel, and “Grandma’s house”, which was built sometime in the 1890s. You will see different exhibits about Laura, her family, and what life was like back then. Stop by the T.V. show room and snap a picture with the fire mantle that belonged to Laura’s home on Little House on the Prairie. The gift shop is open year round, but the museum is open in the summer and early fall months. Check out the website for exact details!

One and a half miles north of Walnut Grove, visitors can visit the site of the dugout and Plum Creek. The original homestead land that belonged to Charles Ingalls is now owned by another family. When they found out it was once Laura’s home, they opened up Plum Creek for visitors. Native prairie grasses were planted so fans could see what it was like when Laura lived there, walking trails were made, and a picnic area was put in. Fans can wade in Plum Creek just like Laura did. The original dugout the family lived in caved in many years ago, but the site is marked. Plum Creek is open during daylight hours from May to October.

Click here to visit the Walnut Grove Museum’s website. Check out other things to do while in town!

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Plum Creek

Burr Oak, Iowa

Masters Hotel Today

The Master’s Hotel today

After two consecutive years of failed crops in Walnut Grove, Charles Ingalls moved his family to Burr Oak, Iowa. The Steadmans, a family the Ingalls met through church, had just purchased the Master’s Hotel in Burr Oak and wanted Charles and his family to help them run it. The Ingalls only stayed in Iowa for 1 year, from the fall of 1876-1877. Laura chose to leave this part of her life out of her books, saying it would disrupt her theme of the family always moving west.

Stop by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, which is housed in the restored 1910 Burr Oak Savings Bank, and sign up for the guided tour. Your tour guide will lead you through the Master’s Hotel right across the street and talk about Laura’s time there, including stories and details she left out of her books. The museum also has a gift shop and the original bank vault that you can explore. Learn more  information about the history and restoration process of the building.

The town has “Laura Days” that takes place every 4th weekend in June. Activities include a parade, games, crafts, food, contests, and a 5K run. The Museum is open for visitors May through October. Check out their website for exact details!

Click here to visit the Burr Oak Museum’s website!

Stayed tuned for Part 2 of the Visitor’s Guide to see more places you can visit!

The Long Winter: What really happened?

The winter of 1880-1881 was one of the worst winters that South Dakota had ever seen. Blizzards began in early October and continued into late April, bringing catastrophic conditions to the western plains.  The blizzards themselves would come every few days and last 2-3 days. Houses were completely covered and trains were trapped on the tracks. Men attempted to clear the way for trains, but it ended up being a lost cause when another blizzard arrived. Newly formed towns, like De Smet, were quickly running out of supplies. Settlers soon found themselves without food and a way to keep warm. At this point in history, it was rare to see a tree on the Dakota prairie. The town of De Smet had one lone tree standing, otherwise it was flat, open prairie. Once they ran out of coal and wood wasn’t an option, settlers began to burn hay. Pa and Laura would spend hours making the hay into twists. It would take a lot of them to keep the back room of the store building warm. Food was becoming scarce. Laura describes Ma using her coffee grinder to make the seed wheat into flour, which was a long and exhausting task. The family lived on bread for a couple of months. By the end of the winter, Laura never wanted to see brown bread again.

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A train trapped in snow during the winter of 1880-1881

Laura originally titled her sixth book The Hard Winter, but the publisher thought that children wouldn’t want to read about something that was “hard”, so Laura agreed to change it to The Long Winter instead. Laura also chose to leave out a very big detail when it came to this book. The Ingalls’ were not alone in the store building Pa had built. A young couple, named George and Maggie Masters, and their newborn son lived with the Ingalls the entire winter.  George Masters was the son of Walnut Grove schoolmaster Uncle Sam. He had moved out west and started working for the De Smet railroad. He brought his Scottish wife, Maggie, with him. The situation with the young couple was a difficult one. Caroline Ingalls said that Maggie would have a baby, but to soon after the time she was married. George’s family were disgraced that he had married Maggie and refused to let the couple stay with them. They had no where to go and the Ingalls felt bad for them. The couple’s stay was supposed to be brief. When winter set in the Ingalls had no choice but to let them stay. The alternative would be kicking them out in the street. The Ingalls family would soon find out that the hard winter was going to be even worse than expected.

 

Around one hundred people were trapped in De Smet during the long winter. Pa was stuck with nine mouths to feed instead of six. Servings got smaller and smaller as the winter dragged on. George was usually the first one at the table and always took more than his share. Laura despised the man for his careless attitude towards other people. He never helped Pa with chores. Instead, he would stay huddled by the stove with his wife and son. When it came time to grind seed wheat into flour, Maggie took no part in helping Ma and Mary. She sat in one of the prime spots near the stove and left the household chores to everyone else as well. George told Pa that he would pay his part of living expenses once he found work in the spring. In Pioneer Girl, Laura wrote that he paid a “scant” amount next fall. When winter was over and the Masters finally left, Laura wasn’t ashamed to be happy about it.

Laura did not include the Masters in The Long Winter because she wanted to keep the focus on her family and their struggles. In a letter written to her daughter Rose, she further explained her decision, saying the couple would have to be portrayed “as they were and that would spoil the story” (Pioneer Girl 215). Laura was happy when she finished writing The Long Winter because it had been a trying time for her and her family. She felt like she had been transported back to that time and in no way did she want to relive it for longer than she had to.

Sources:

Fraser, Caroline. Prairie Fires. New York, Metropolitan Books, 2017.

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

Eliza Jane Wilder: From the Prairie to the Louisiana Swamps

When you mention the name Eliza Jane Wilder to readers of Little House, they immediately think of Laura’s former teacher that had a difficult time teaching her class and keeping her pupils focused on their lessons. Laura and Eliza Jane did not get along then and they never became particularly close after becoming sisters-in-law. Was Eliza Jane really like the person described in Laura’s books? Research shows that she wasn’t. Laura perceived Eliza Jane’s character when she was a young girl and wrote her in a way that children could relate to. Was everything that Laura said about Eliza Jane wrong? I would say no. No one will ever know for sure what the relationship was like between the two women, nor will we know the true personality of Eliza Jane Wilder. However, for this blog I wanted to talk about the woman behind the character and hopefully shed a new light on Eliza Jane’s life.

Eliza Jane 1

Eliza Jane Wilder was born in Malone, New York in 1850. She was the third child of James and Angeline Wilder and joined her older sister, Laura, and older brother, Royal. The family lived a comfortable life in New York.  Angeline and James were equal partners when it came to their farm and expected hard work and determination when it came to their children. The couple also believed an education was necessary and enrolled all of their children in Franklin Academy, a boarding school in Malone. Eliza Jane excelled in school and taught her first school at age 19. While teaching wasn’t her only profession through the years, Eliza Jane relied on it throughout her life. It was a way for her to earn extra money when she needed it.

Angeline Wilder’s brother and the Day family relocated to Western Minnesota. While James Wilder was visiting his wife’s family, he fell in love with the land and decided to buy a farm near the town of Spring Valley. He moved his entire family there, but Royal, Almanzo, and Eliza Jane stayed behind to run the farm in Malone. Eliza Jane became the woman of the house. She was in charge of the cooking and cleaning and she was also teaching a school during this time as well. The three siblings eventually joined their family in Minnesota a year later. The land boom in 1879 caught the attention of Eliza Jane and her two brothers. They heard about “free land” and thought the best place to homestead would be in the town of De Smet, where the railroad was currently being built. Eliza Jane, Royal, and Almanzo all filed on their own homesteads, paying $14.50 in fees. The three claims neighbored each other. Eliza Jane’s adjoined the soon to be town of De Smet, SD.

Eliza Jane 2

Almanzo built a small shanty on his sister’s homestead and Eliza Jane paid for her land to be broken up and corn and potatoes to be planted. She spent a lot of time tending to her garden. She planted sweet corn ,peas, beans, lettuce and kept the garden watered and free of weeds. Eliza Jane would have a difficult time on her homestead in the years ahead. Like many homesteaders, she dealt with the loss of crops and a dwindling amount of cash. She would spend days on her homestead alone, listening to the wind that never stopped. During the infamous long winter, Eliza Jane stayed with her parents in Spring Valley. She heard about the conditions back in De Smet and was glad that she didn’t have to experience them herself.

Eliza Jane returned to De Smet that spring and continued to work on her homestead. Later that year in September she was offered the teaching position at the new school in town. She reluctantly accepted the position and started school. Two of her students would be Laura and Carrie Ingalls. Eliza Jane didn’t write much about her time teaching, only that she was extremely tired once it ended. For the next couple of years, Eliza Jane continued to improve her homestead, but she constantly faced set back after set back. She began having trouble with her health and friends and family tried to convince her to sell her land and do less strenuous work. She finally gave into their demands and moved to Washington, DC in 1888. Here, she worked for the Appointments Division of the Department of the Interior and was a secretary. Eliza Jane was a very big supporter for equal rights and made friends with fellow suffragists while in Washington. In 1892, Eliza Jane returned to Spring Valley, MN. She did not stay for long, however, because she met Thomas Jefferson Thayer and the two began courting.  The Thayer family was also from Franklin County, NY, and the two families may have already been acquainted.

Thomas was an older, rich, retired gentleman who lived in Crowley, Louisiana. The two got married on September 6, 1893 and eventually made their home in Crowley. Eliza Jane became the homemaker and mother to Thomas’s 6 year old daughter, Etta. At the age of 44, Eliza Jane became pregnant with her first child. She have birth to a son on June 15, 1894 and named him Walcott Wilder Thayer. Eliza Jane loved her life in the south and wanted her family to join her. She convinced some of her siblings and her parents to move to Crowley and invest in a rice farming venture that eventually left the family in financial ruin. Eliza Jane’s husband passed away in February 1899, leaving behind his wife and their four year old son. Once again, Eliza Jane was alone. She continued to live in Crowley and invited her niece, Rose Wilder Lane, to live with her while Rose finished her high school career. The two women hit it off. Rose looked up to her aunt and adopted her feminist views. The two often attended political meetings, which might have influenced Rose’s future view on politics. After Rose graduated and returned home to Mansfield, Eliza Jane married Maxwell Gordan on July 1, 1904. She had met him through her political work. Their marriage wasn’t successful. He was always in financial trouble and feared that he would be the cause of Eliza Jane losing her home and assets. Maxwell left Eliza Jane sometime in the early 1910s.

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Wilder Thayer at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, MO with Uncle Almanzo in 1938

Eliza Jane’s son, Wilder, was now grown and out of the house. She decided to live with her younger brother, Perley’s, family. They also lived in Louisiana. Eliza Jane became a door to door salesman, selling soap. She was finally able to establish her own home in Lafayette and she spent the rest of her life in her little home. She enjoyed the days spent with her grandchildren, often telling them stories of her experiences out west. In 1930, Eliza Jane became ill. During the next few months she suffered two separate strokes but did not pass away until June 1, 1930. She was 80 years old.

Eliza Jane lived during the period of history where women were seen as inferior to men. She didn’t conform to the social norms that were expected. Instead, she became a farmer, business woman, feminist, wife, and mother during her long life. Despite suffering many hardships, Eliza Jane didn’t let them stop her from achieving what she wanted.

Want to learn more about Eliza Jane Wilder? Purchase a copy of A Wilder in the West by William Anderson and learn more about her life!

Sources:

Anderson, William. A Wilder in the West. Anderson Publications, 1985.

 

The Untold Story of Burr Oak, Iowa

Many readers of the Little House books series are surprised to find a time jump in between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake. Readers learn that Laura has a new baby sister, Grace, and Mary is now blind. We don’t know much about these details because Laura started her story after the fact. So what happened during the year of 1876-1877 and why did Laura leave it out of her books? Keep reading to find out the answer.

Masters Hotel late 1800s

Masters Hotel circa late 1800s

After grasshoppers came and destroyed Pa’s crops two years in a row, the family was ready to make a change. Laura’s little brother, Charles “Freddie” Ingalls was born November 1, 1875. Now, with four children to feed, Pa wanted to continue west and  try his luck once more at being a successful farmer. However, his wish wasn’t granted. While living in Walnut Grove, MN, the Ingalls’ met the Steadman family through church and were friends. The Steadmans had just purchased a hotel in the town of Burr Oak, Iowa and wanted Pa and his family to help run it, which was an offer they couldn’t refuse.  They packed up  their belongings and started making there way towards Iowa in the summer of 1876. They decided to stop in South Troy, MN to visit Uncle Peter and Aunt Eliza Ingalls. Mary and Laura were excited to see their cousins Peter, Alice, Ella, Edith, and Lansford. The cousins played together throughout the summer, while Pa worked in the harvest fields for wages. In August, Freddie became ill and died at the age of 9 months. The family was heartbroken. Laura never mentioned Freddie in her books. Losing her brother was very tragic and emotionally difficult for her to deal with. Because Laura’s books were for children, she left out the tragic death of her baby brother all together. The family, now sad over losing Freddie, left for Burr Oak that fall.

The Ingalls arrived at the Masters Hotel, which was called the Burr Oak House at the time, and found out it was right next to a saloon. Ma wasn’t happy. She didn’t believe it was a good environment for her girls to grow up in. The Steadmans had three sons, Johnny, Ruben, and Tommy. Both families lived in the hotel and ran the day to day operations together. Pa and Ma were constantly tired.  Pa was busy working around the hotel, while Ma would help with the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Laura and Mary also helped with duties when they weren’t watching the youngest of the brothers, Tommy. Mrs. Steadman had promised the sisters a gift for Christmas in exchange for their help, but Christmas came and went without a gift for either Mary or Laura. The sisters also dealt with the constant teasing and torment from Johnny. When the sisters became ill with the measles, Johnny would taunt them in their beds until he became sick with it as well.

Burr Oak School

Burr Oak School that the sisters attended

Ma and Pa were growing tired of the noisy hotel. Ma was now pregnant with her fifth child and was done with the grueling and exhausting work. The events taking place next door in the saloon only became worse. One incident with a drunk man and a gun was the last straw for Ma and Pa. They decided it was time to leave the hotel and find a new place to live. They moved into rooms above Kimball’s Grocery. The family enjoyed their quiet and comfortable living quarters for the rest of the winter. Pa, who left the hotel, started a feed mill in order to make money. He used his team of horses to turn the mill-stone in order to grind the corn and wheat. Mary, Laura, and Carrie started attending the red brick schoolhouse in town. The sisters enjoyed their time learning and making friends. The family abruptly moved again after an incident in the grocery store below them. The grocer and his wife woke the family one night screaming and fighting. Pa went downstairs, found the grocer drunk and holding a kerosene lamp upside down. Kerosene was running down his arm and was dangerously close to lighting the entire building on fire. Pa stopped him before that could happen. A short time after that the Ingalls rented a small red brick house on the outskirts of town and moved for the third time since living in Burr Oak.

Masters Hotel Today

The Masters Hotel today

Grace Pearl Ingalls was born on May 23, 1877. Mary and Laura helped Ma with household chores and watching the new baby. One of Laura’s favorite chores was leading the cow out to the pasture in the morning and bringing her home at the end of the day. Laura described the time the family spent in the brick house as happy. They were finally away from the noisy and dangerous events that happened in town and enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside. Not everything was going well, however. The family was very poor and Pa struggled to pay rent and others bills that were accumulating. The family did not see Burr Oak as their final home and started making plans to return to Walnut Grove. Pa offered to send Mr. Bisbee, the landlord, money for rent once the family was settled back in Walnut Grove. Mr. Bisbee threatened to take Pa’s horses if he was not paid the money he was owed. One night, Laura was awakened to find the house empty and their belongings loaded into the wagon. The family left in the middle of the night, leaving behind unhappy memories and hoping for a fresh start ahead of them.

The family returned to Walnut Grove in the fall of 1877. Here, Mary became ill with Brain Fever and went blind at the age of 14. In her books, Laura talks about her sister going blind from scarlet fever. She chose to change the source of Mary’s blindness because scarlet fever was more relatable and well known to her readers. The fifth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake, starts here and readers are no longer in the dark. Later in life Laura said she didn’t include Burr Oak in her stories because it would interrupt the theme of the family moving west. She also wanted her books to be light hearted since they were for children. While the family did experience some happiness in Iowa, it was overshadowed by the unhappy times. Laura chose to leave Burr Oak out of her stories and move forward, much like the Ingalls family did when they left Iowa behind.

Sources:

Anderson, William. The Iowa Story: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life in Burr Oak, Iowa. Laura Ingalls Wilder Park & Museum, 1990.

Ida Brown and Mary Power: What happened to Laura’s friends?

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

“Mary Power’s eyes smiled. They were dark blue eyes. fringed with long, black lashes.” -Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter

Mary Power

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

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.

Sources:

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.

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