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

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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.

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.

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What happened to Laura’s sisters?

Have you ever wondered what became of Mary, Carrie, and Grace Ingalls? We know a little about the lives of Laura’s sisters through the “Little House” book series, but what happened to them after the series ended?

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Mary Ingalls

Mary Ingalls

Wilder describes Mary’s blindness in her fifth book, By the Shores of Silver Lake, stating, “Mary and Carrie and baby Grace and Ma had all had scarlet fever..the fever had settled in Mary’s eyes, and Mary was blind” (By the Shores of Silver Lake, p. 1-2).  A few years ago, new research was presented indicating that Mary may not have suffered from Scarlet Fever but a form of viral meningoencephalitis.

Mary began college at the Iowa College for the Blind in November 1881. She would complete the seven year course eight years later. We are still unsure why Mary missed a year during that time. Mary learned an abundance of information while at college; according to The Ingalls Family of De Smet, some of the subjects Mary studied were Arithmetic, History, Physiology, Chemistry, Literature, Algebra, and Political Economy. Mary also became skilled in music. Laura gave Pa her $75 that she received for teaching the Perry School in order to buy Mary an organ, so she could enjoy it while she was home from college.

After Mary graduated college she would return to De Smet and live with Ma and Pa at their house on 3rd Street. She helped Ma with the housework and enjoyed reading, sewing, and making bead work. Mary returned from college after her first year and brought Laura a gift of “a bracelet of blue and white beads strung on thread and woven together” (These Happy Golden Years, p. 126). After Pa died in 1902, Mary and Ma became extremely close. The two women were loved by the community but often kept to themselves. Caroline Ingalls would pass away in 1924. A couple years later Mary decided to visit her sister, Carrie, in Keystone, South Dakota, and while she was there she suffered a series of strokes and eventually passed away in 1928 at the age of 63. Mary never let her blindness keep her from doing what she wanted and lived a very fulfilling life.

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Carrie Ingalls Swanzey

Carrie Ingalls Swanzey

After graduating high school, Carrie went on to work for the De Smet Newspaper, where she learned about the printing and publishing trade. She also wrote articles and practiced the art of photography. One of the first pictures that she took was of Ma sitting in the Ingalls home parlor. It was not too much longer until Carrie became a homesteader herself. According to The Ingalls Family of De Smet, Carrie claimed land in western South Dakota near the town of Philip, SD. She lived in a small shanty and spent the required six months on the claim. She did not stay there for long, however, because she returned to the newspaper industry when she moved to Keystone, SD.

It was in Keystone that Carrie met David Swanzey. He was 16 years older than her and was a widower with two children. David was looking for a wife to be a mother to his two young children. The whirlwind romance between Carrie and David lasted only 6 months before the two got married. Carrie, who was 42 at the time, would never have any children of her own. She became the stepmother to David’s two children and raised them as her own. Her husband, David, helped name Mt. Rushmore, while his son, Harold, helped build it. Carrie lived a long life. She died in 1946 at the age of 75.

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Grace Ingalls Dow

Grace Ingalls Dow

After graduating high school, Grace attended Redfield College in preparation to become a teacher. She followed the footsteps of Ma and her sister, Laura, and started teaching schools around the small town of Manchester, which was about 8 miles west of De Smet. While teaching she met Nathan Dow, who was 18 years older than her. The two began courting and would eventually get married in the parlor of the Ingalls Home in 1901. The couple moved to their own homestead in Manchester and became farmers.

Grace and Nathan would never have any children of their own. After Ma died in 1924, Grace and Nathan moved in with Mary to care for her in De Smet. They eventually returned to their homestead once Mary left to visit Carrie in Keystone. The town of Manchester no longer stands today. It was wiped out by a tornado in 2003 and is no longer considered a town. Grace, who suffered from severe diabetes, died in 1941 at the age of 63. Her husband outlived her by 2 years.

Check out our blog post about Manchester!

 

Grace Ingalls Dow’s Home: The Fall of Manchester, SD

Grace Ingalls Dow, Laura’s youngest sister, was often overlooked in the Little House book series because of her age. She was only eight years old when Laura married Almanzo in 1885. Grace would grow up and become a teacher herself, get married, and settle in the small town of Manchester, South Dakota. Once a bustling railroad town, Manchester was wiped off the map by a tornado in 2003. A few of our tour guides decided to visit the town that once was and tried to imagine what it was like when Grace lived there.

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Grace Ingalls Dow

Grace Pearl Ingalls was born on May 23, 1877, in Burr Oak, Iowa. She was the final child of Charles and Caroline Ingalls. Her birth was not mentioned in the Little House books since Laura did not include the time spent in Burr Oak. Instead, Grace was already present in By the Shores of Silver Lake and took over the role that Carrie once held as the youngest child. Laura often mentioned Grace sitting on Mary’s lap, especially during the long winter. She got lost in the Big Slough when the family first settled on their homestead, which led the family in a frantic search. Grace never had a big role in the book series, but was more of a supporting character.

Since many of our visitors and Little House fans are unfamiliar with Grace’s life story, this blog post will help fill in the gaps. She graduated high school in De Smet and continued her education at college. Grace followed the footsteps of her Ma and sister, Laura, and became a teacher, often teaching schools in the town of Manchester, a town 7 miles west of De Smet.  It was here that she met her future husband Nathan Dow. The two got married in 1901. The ceremony took place in the parlor of the Ingalls home on third street. The couple then returned to Manchester, became farmers, and stayed there for the rest of their lives.

Manchester was named after a pioneer settler. Like De Smet, it grew at a rapid pace because of the Chicago and Northwestern railroad being right beside it. Numerous buildings were built, including homes, a town hall,  depot, restaurant, bank, hotel, newspaper, lumber yard, two grocery stores, two blacksmith shops, two churches, schools, a town pump, etc. Many settlers flocked to the town, hoping to take advantage of the homestead act and prove up on a piece of land they hoped one day would be theirs. Grace and Nathan settled on their own homestead about a mile from town, near Redstone Creek. Manchester is also the birthplace of Harvey Dunn, a famous painter and illustrator. He often took inspiration from his time in Manchester while creating different pieces of art.

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Early photo of Manchester, SD

picture source: South Dakota State Historical Society

Grace Ingalls Dow died on November 10, 1941 in Manchester. By that point, the town was already struggling to keep its current residents and attract more. The Chicago and Northwester Railroad was no longer of importance. Less train traffic meant less growth. The Great Depression arrived in the 1930s, causing more residents to leave and move to other places in search of work. A once busy town eventually had a population of only 100 people. These residents were farmers that lived on the outskirts of town. On August 27, 1961, over 150,000 people arrived in Manchester to celebrate the Dakota Territory Centennial Gold rush. Entertainment included a carnival, talent show, dance, and fireworks display. During the day hundreds of contestants dug for prices, some of them worth $10,000.  The event brought many well known politicians, actors, and entertainers to the area, including a young Clint Eastwood. This event was sponsored by KELOLand Television to mark the 100th anniversary of the creation of Dakota Territory. This event marked the last time that Manchester saw such a large crowd of people.

By the mid 1980s, the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad abandoned the line, but eventually sold it to the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern Railroad.  In the early 2000s, only two operating businesses were left in the town of Manchester. The fate of the town would be sealed on June 24, 2003 when a F-4 category tornado made its way through the town, leaving devastation in its wake.

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Manchester before and after the tornado

On the evening of June 24, 2003, a F-4 category tornado came barreling towards Manchester from the south. Winds gusted up to 200 miles a hour. The buildings that still remained, including the post office, were immediately destroyed. The tornado then traveled north, demolishing two homes that stood close to town. Buildings, belongings of residents, and trees were mutilated, vacuumed up, or completely destroyed by the fierce winds. The tornado left nothing in its wake, completely erasing the 122 year history of the once bustling town of Manchester.  The tornado made history. The National Geographic Society observed an air pressure drop of 100 millibars in 12 seconds as the center of the tornado approached. Tim Samaras, a tornado researcher, said that it “was the biggest drop ever recorded” and it would feel like “stepping into an elevator and hurtling up 4,000 feet in 10 seconds.”

After the tornado, the town was abandoned. A handful of residents stayed and continued to farm, but the area is now considered a ghost town. A town once full of people, hope, and excitement all but disappeared into thin air. The flagpole that belonged to the town school and the town water pump still remain. Otherwise, the town is now part of the countryside. The old dirt roads are surrounded by prairie grass. Foundations from buildings that once stood sit in decay. In 2007, a granite marker was placed to commemorate the town’s history and past residents. Grace’s married name, Dow, is one of the names listed.

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Sunset over Manchester

Although Manchester is gone, I found visiting the site of it to be peaceful and tranquil. We decided to visit during sunset, so we were able to imagine the many sunsets that Grace could see from her home. The town of Manchester may be gone, but the spirit of the town will live on for many years to come.

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Flagpole from the town school

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The town water pump still remains, despite taking a direct hit from the tornado

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Grace’s last name, Dow, engraved on the granite marker

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Foundation from a building destroyed by the tornado

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The railroad that brought growth to Manchester

The Mystery of the Rocky Mountain Locust

 

 

 

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Minnesota locusts of the 1870s” Source: http://www.mnopedia.org/multimedia/minnesota-locusts-1870s

In Wilder’s fourth book, “On the Banks of Plum Creek,” Laura describes in detail a large cloud that darkened the sky. The family assumed their crops would get much needed rain; however, it would not be rain that fell from the sky, but grasshoppers. Laura describes, “Plunk! Something hit Laura’s head and fell to the ground. She looked down and saw the largest grasshopper she had ever seen. The huge brown grasshoppers were hitting all around her, hitting her head and her face and her arms” (On the Banks of Plum Creek, 194). These grasshoppers, called Rocky Mountain Locusts, rained down on the Minnesota prairie and decimated the land. They would eat everything green in their sight, like leaves, plants, and Pa’s crops. Wilder mentioned that because of these locusts, Pa had to make the 100 mile walk back east to find work. The family was affected by the same grasshoppers the next year. According to the article, Locust, by Jeffrey Lockwood, these locusts would become mysteriously extinct in the 1870’s after a wetter climate came into affect.

Jeffrey Lockwood, a science and humanities professor, wanted to solve the years long mystery of the Rocky Mountain Locusts, calling it “the quintessential ecological mystery of the North American Continent.” Lockwood goes on to explain that this breed of locust was at its greatest abundance on the Great Plains, even rivaling the bison population. He believed the dry weather caused the locusts to come baring down on farmers, sending them into a financial mess.

At the time, the U.S. government decided they needed to do something about the locusts. Although they had given relief to some of the farmers affected, it was not enough. They named three men to the Entomological Commission: Charles Valentine Riley, Cyrus Thomas, and Alpheus Packard. It would be their job to gather information about the locusts, research them, and find a solution to the problem. The three men did not disappoint. They found a large sum of information regarding the locusts’ “ecology, behavior, anatomy, reproduction, and distribution of the locust, and suggested practical ways for the farmers to battle the insects” (Hopkins). The men were about to publish their findings; however, in the late 1870’s the locusts went extinct. The drought had disappeared and the locusts disappeared with it.

Since their extinction, many theories have been put out to explain why it happened. According to BioScience, one of the biggest theories was that the locusts were somehow connected to the bison. When bison started to disappear in the American West, so did the Rocky Mountain Locust. The two species coexisted on the Great Plains for centuries. Maybe bison somehow altered the grasslands to favor the survival of the locust. Another theory involved alfalfa, which grasshoppers considered tasty. In studies, it showed that alfalfa was damaging to the growth of the locust in its premature stages. Therefore, it was the culprit on why the locust went extinct. Lockwood, the author of Locust, offered a new explanation. He believes that, “cattle grazing and homesteaders’ cultivation of restricted region of the plains-the permanent breeding grounds of the insect- during a population recession of the locust in the 1880’s may have irreversibly disrupted locust reproduction.”

While we may never know the true cause of the Rocky Mountain Locust’s mysterious extinction, we have a better idea of what may have happened. Like Laura’s family, these insects affected thousands of farmers and changed the course of history.

Sources:

Hopkins, Theodore L. “Extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locusts.” BioScience, https://academic.oup.com/bioscience/article/55/1/80/248302. Accessed 30 May 2018.

Lockwood, Jeffrey. Locust, New York, Basic Books, 2004.