Rose Wilder Lane: The Forgotten Author Part 3


After Rose’s successful political article, Credo, was released she continued to voice her strong opinions. Now living in New York, Rose started a new project titled Free Land. She wrote it in response to people complaining about how much things have changed. The Homestead Act was repealed in 1935, so the government no longer offered land for free. Rose argued the land was never free anyway. Farmers worked and sacrificed in order to get anything. It was never just handed to them. Free Land was an instant success and topped the bestsellers list. Shortly after, Rose was told that her yearly income of $100,000 would increase even more if she went along with Communism and supported their principles in her writing. Rose did not like to be told what to do. She was fed up with what the publishing industry had become and no longer wanted to be apart of it. Magazines and editors were begging Rose for more pieces, but Rose decided it was time to make a change.

RWL in congress 1939

Rose testifying before Congress in 1939

Rose purchased a farmhouse in Danbury, Connecticut and settled in. She started remodeling it immediately, almost doing all the work herself. She poured cement, built bookcases for her expansive book collection, painted furniture, and planted a garden. Although her time spent writing was dwindling, Rose was enticed to write articles for Woman’s Day, mostly about her homemaking skills. When she wasn’t writing, she was reading in her study. Rose’s thirst for knowledge was never quenched. She became an expert in government, economics, history, religion, and philosophy. This knowledge served her well for her next project, The Discovery of Freedom. In the book, Rose wrote about the history of having an authoritarian figure, whether it be a king, priest, or someone else. She believed every human being should be free to do what they want and shouldn’t have to answer to anyone. The Discovery of Freedom wasn’t promoted by the publisher, nor were critics impressed with it. Communists thought Rose’s ideas for personal freedom threatened their idea of socialism. At first, Rose saw no success or money. Eventually, copies of the book made it to the hands of the public, which changed the political attitude for many. Rose was now at the forefront of the Libertarian movement.

Rose despised the American Government. She had no desire to be told what to do. She raised her own food, she avoided writing so her income would not go towards income tax, and she refused to be social secured. By 1944, Rose stopped writing completely. She did not want a dime of her money going towards New Deal policies. The last decades of her life were dedicated to keeping the basic American rights and principles alive and educating the public on such matters. Rose believed Libertarianism would one day take over America.

In 1949, Almanzo Wilder passed away at the age of 92. Rose returned to Mansfield, Missouri for the funeral. Now that her mother was alone, Rose spent more time visiting Mansfield over the next eight years. Rose saw first hand the fame Laura received from her Little House books. She witnessed her mother write back every single fan who wrote her and even helped entertain fans that stopped by Rocky Ridge. Everyone wanted to know what happened to the famous family.

Rose’s life in Danbury did not slow down. She was very active in the community and entertained guests of her own who wanted to speak to her about Libertarianism. She also continued with remodeling her home and tending to her garden. After traveling and living in different places for the majority of her life, Rose finally found her home in Danbury. Apart from the time she spent visiting Laura in the Ozarks, Rose stayed at home in Connecticut. In 1956, Laura turned 89 and Rose turned 69. Rose made the trip to see her mother for Thanksgiving, but found Laura very ill with diabetes. Rose stayed with Laura in the hospital that holiday season before the both of them returned to Rocky Ridge in late December. Rose and friends hoped for Laura’s recovery, but Laura passed away on February 10, 1957. Rose was now the last one left in her family.

Rose circa 1960s

Rose Wilder Lane circa 1960s

Rose was devastated after losing her mother. She returned to Danbury, but wasn’t herself for quite sometime. She eventually fell back in to her routine of tending the garden and promoting Libertariansim. She went back to writing, publishing a few articles about needlework in Woman’s Day. She received thousands of letters praising her work. She also received the letters her mother could no longer answer. Rose did not have the time to answer every single one, so she decided to publish Laura’s diary that she kept during their journey from South Dakota to Mansfield. She titled it On the Way Home and published it in 1962.

An exciting opportunity arose for Rose when Woman’s Day wanted to send a correspondent to Vietnam and report on the war from a woman’s point of view. Despite being 79, Rose could not say no. She arrived overseas and started talking to locals about their thoughts and feelings, what they hoped for, and what they feared. She sent back an article titled “August in Vietnam” to Woman’s Day, which appeared in the December, 1965 issue. When she returned to the states, Rose gave interviews, spoke to groups, and continued writing about her experiences while overseas. As time went on, Rose realized that most of her friends and fellow writers had passed away. This gave her a new outlook on her own life. When she turned 81, Rose decided to plan a three year around the world trip to see the places she hadn’t made it to yet. One stop she wanted to make was Spain, so she started taking Spanish lessons. Fall was approaching and Rose made sure her home was ready for her to leave it. She made her famous bread and stuck it in the freezer for her friends to enjoy while she was away. The night before she was to leave, Rose spent time with her friends. Later, she bid them goodnight and went to bed, excited about the adventure that awaited her. Sadly, Rose never made it to Spain. She passed away in her sleep that night. Rose died on October 30, 1968 at the age of 81.

Rose may be gone, but her name will be remembered for years to come. Not only was she a world famous author herself but she also helped shape the books that would be read and loved by millions of children. Without Rose, Laura’s life might have been forgotten in history like so many other pioneers who worked and sacrificed to be successful. Rose Wilder Lane may not be the author we remember, but she played an instrumental part in getting the “Little House” books from being written down on paper to being published.

“The longest lives are short; our work lasts longer.” -Rose Wilder Lane


Anderson, William. Laura’s Rose, Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, 1986



Rose Wilder Lane: The Forgotten Author Part 2


Rose became a “Bachelor Girl” when she made the move to Kansas City, Kansas to become a telegraph operator. She joined other young women who wanted to get out and work, rather than get married and become mothers. She worked at the Midland Hotel and earned $60 every month. When she heard that all the girls who didn’t know how to type would be fired the next day, she did not back down from the challenge. She simply went home that day and spent the entire night mastering her skills on a typewriter.


Rose in her twenties

Rose moved on to Mount Vernon, Indiana before stopping in San Francisco, California in 1908. She grew tired of being a telegraph operator and decided to become one of the first female realtors in the California area. Her fellow workers were all men who did not like seeing a woman in their workplace. These men  allowed sales to go to a rival firm rather than let it go to a woman. One coworker was nicer to Rose. His name was Claire Gillette Lane and the two of them had the same outlook on life. The two had a whirlwind romance and got married on March 24, 1909. The two agreed their partnership would be an equal one. They would both contribute in order to make a living. The beginning of their marriage was happy as they traveled, made friends, and made a decent living. Rose soon fell pregnant, but the baby came to early and he passed away. He was the only child Rose would ever have.

Rose met Bessie Beatty, an author for the San Francisco Bulletin, and was able to get some freelance writing pieces published in the paper. The paper loved Rose’s work and soon offered her a position as Bessie Beatty’s editorial assistant. It was not long before she was writing her own features, usually about San Francisco and the people living within. Rose was becoming well known throughout California for her work. In 1915, Gillette was struggling to find work. Their equal partnership was becoming more one sided. Rose went on to work for Sunset Magazine and published her first biography about Henry Ford in 1917. Soon, the couple realized they no longer shared the same goals and decided to separate. Their divorce was final in 1918.

Rose published her first novel, Diverging Roads, right after her divorce. She took inspiration from her own failed marriage in order to write it. Rose decided to leave San Francisco and went to explore new opportunities in New York. Soon, readers found Rose’s articles in Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and Pictorial Review. Most of her friends were up and coming artists and authors. She started to get involved with the Communist Party and attended meetings and discussions. She believed communism was the best portrayal of American ideals. Rose wanted to get more involved with the Party, but was offered a job by the American Red Cross. For the next few years, Rose traveled throughout Europe and reported on the conditions of countries during World War I. She wrote numerous articles for magazines like the National Geographic, Harper’s, World’s Traveler, and Ladies Home Journal. She also published two novels, The Dancer of Shamakha and The Peaks of Shala after taking inspiration from places like Albania. After being oversees for so long, Rose decided to return home to Rocky Ridge Farm in 1924.

Pictured left: Rose in Brittany, France circa 1921. Pictured Right: Rose at Rocky Ridge Farm in 1926

Now home, Rose set up her typewriter in her upstairs bedroom and continued to write. She took inspiration from Mansfield for her stories now and often explored the hills and countryside looking for information that she could use. Her articles were immediately published by popular magazines and often fetched a high price. After three years at Rocky Ridge, Rose decided she wanted to return to Albania. She loved the country and their way of life. She met a young boy, Rexh Meta, and became his surrogate mother. She eventually funded his education at Oxford in England. Even though she was in another country, Rose’s name was still big in the United States and was considered to be the highest paid female author. After many years in Albania, Rose decided to return to Rocky Ridge once again.

Rose built a brand new Rock House for her parents and kept the Farmhouse for herself and fellow authors to stay and visit. She spent a lot of time with her mother and kept up with the social scene in Mansfield. Many visitors loved hearing about Rose’s writing career and experiences while abroad. Rose offered hope in the form of her novel, Let the Hurricane Roar, during the Great Depression. She wanted people to know that the spirit of pioneers couldn’t be broken. Instead, they should look forward to the future. The book became a bestseller during 1933 and 1934. During the 1930s, most of Rose’s stories were published by the Saturday Evening Post and talked about the hardships farmers and pioneers faced. She took a lot of inspiration from her own life, including the lives of her close family. While writing, Rose realized her mother had a desire to write as well. She pushed Laura to write down her experiences as a young girl. Rose took over the editing process and communicated with the publishers. The rest is history. Laura’s first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was published in 1932 and her last book, These Happy Golden Years, was published in 1943.


A newspaper ad for Credo

In 1936, Rose turned 50 and was now interested in the political aspect of the United States. She loved talking to people from all walks of life and hearing their opinions and beliefs. Rose was a firm believer in Individualism, which meant that everyone is entitled to control his or her own fate. Rose’s next project was titled Credo, which turned out to be an explosive article about personal liberty. Rose was now anti-communist and against Roosevelt’s New Deal. She believed the government was becoming to involved with people’s personal lives and wanted her opinion to be known. The article was a huge success, considered by some to be the most successful magazine article of all time. Rose received thousands of letter from people who agreed with her outlook. Individualism was the backbone of the United States and it needed to stay that way.

Stay tuned for the conclusion to Rose’s story!


Anderson, William. Laura’s Rose, Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, 1986.

Rose Wilder Lane: The Forgotten Author Part 1

What many fans don’t know is that Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was a well known and established writer before Wilder wrote any of her “Little House” books. Rose led a very interesting life, traveling to places around the world, reporting on a variety of subjects, and finding fame in being an author. She played an instrumental role in getting Laura’s books published. Without Rose, we might not have the books so many have come to know and love. Keep reading to learn about the life of Rose.

Rose 1

Rose circa 1890


Rose Wilder was born on December 5, 1886 in De Smet, South Dakota. She was the first child for Almanzo and Laura Wilder and the only one to survive to adulthood. Her parents were extremely attentive to their first born. Grandparents Charles and Caroline and aunts, Mary, Carrie, and Grace loved spending time with Rose. While Rose brought her parents joy, the farm only caused them more stress. Crops failed due to drought. The Wilders were deep in debt, which only worsened when the couple both came down with diphtheria and doctors bills started piling up. Rose went to live with Grandma, Grandpa, and her aunts while her parents recovered. She escaped the sickness herself, but the fate of her parents looked grim. Thankfully, Laura and Almanzo started to regain their health and Rose was returned to her parents soon after.

Almanzo went back to work too soon after his sickness and suffered a paralyzing stroke. They did not believe he would walk again. With help from Laura, Almanzo eventually recovered, although he was never the same after that. He walked around with a cane for the rest of his life. Laura found out she was expecting another baby soon after, but her son only lived for 28 days. They never named him. Later in her life, Rose admitted she didn’t know much about him. Her mother never spoke of it, so she didn’t either.

Two weeks after her brother passed away, Rose saw her parents suffer once again. She remembered feeding the cook stove with hay sticks and seconds later the little kitchen went up in flames. Laura grabbed Rose and a few belongings and made it outside. Nothing could be done to save the house. Rose always blamed herself for the fire, but whether she caused it or not is still up for debate. Stoves could be unpredictable. Hot ashes could fall on the floor and ignite a fire. We may never know the true cause or whether it was Rose’s fault or not.

Laura and Almanzo no longer saw a future in De Smet. Grandpa and Grandma Wilder invited the couple and Rose to come live with them in Spring Valley, Minnesota. The family stayed there for a year before making a trip to Florida. Almanzo’s health still troubled him and they thought the warm climate might help him. Rose remembered Florida vividly. She remembered the hot, humid climate and even wrote a story based in Florida later in life, taking inspiration from her experiences while there as a child.  The Wilders eventually returned to De Smet and lived in a house in town not to far from Grandpa and Grandma Ingalls. Rose was enrolled in school, although she disliked going.  Rose was an extremely intelligent child. She learned to read by three, could write by five, and was already dreaming up stories in her head to write down. School was not challenging and she often grew bored in class and would spend her time daydreaming. Rose was seven when her parents decided to make a new home in “The Land of the Big Red Apple” near the Ozarks area of Missouri. She said goodbye to De Smet for the last time in 1894.

Rose enjoyed the trip from De Smet, South Dakota to Mansfield, Missouri. The Cooley Family joined the Wilders on their journey and Rose often played with the Cooley’s two sons, Paul and George. Rose was equally fascinated with all the towns, creeks, rivers, cities, and people she saw. The two families arrived in Mansfield in late August. Finally, they had found their forever home. Rose was enrolled in school once again and found that school in Mansfield was just as dull as school was in De Smet. She longed for lunch time when she could spend time reading books. She loved learning new words and ideas from each story and couldn’t wait to write herself.. Rose even made up her own language and would speak it to her donkey, Spookendyke, on their trips to and from school.

Rose with Spookendyke

Rose with Spookendyke

A few more years went by. Rose spent time exploring the farm, which her mother named Rocky Ridge. She waded in the creek, picked berries, and even walked into Williams Cave by herself, which was about one mile underground. Rocky Ridge was doing well,  Rose continued with school and was finally able to have new dresses and schoolbooks. Meanwhile, Laura and Almanzo decided to move into town and work. Rose was now a town girl, but she was still an outsider when it came to other kids her age. She did not mind that she was not invited to certian events. For Rose, staying home on the farm or reading a new book was just as satisfying.  Laura soon realized that her daughter and school did not get along. Rose often stayed home and educated herself. Another family in town had a whole wall of books for Rose to devour. She spent hours reading about novelists and playwrights and dreamed about being one herself. In 1903, Rose’s Aunt Eliza Jane Wilder offered for her niece to live with her in Crowley, Louisiana and finish high school there. Rose was happy to leave Mansfield behind her for a year. While attending high school in Louisiana, Rose took a three year Latin course in one year and graduated at the top of her class. Now 17, Rose was finished with her educational career and back living in Mansfield. She yearned to leave Missouri behind her and find a new life elsewhere. It would not be long until she took that next step.

Stay tuned to learn even more about Rose Wilder Lane!


Anderson, William. Laura’s Rose, Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, 1986.


Charles and Caroline’s Love Story

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?

Charles Ingalls0001

Charles Ingalls

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.


Caroline Ingalls

Picture source:

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 1845, Caroline’s world was turned upside down. Her father, Henry, was on a business trip 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.

Charles and Caroline

Charles and Caroline after their marriage

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.

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?


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.


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.

Image result for grace ingalls

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.

Image result for grace ingalls

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.

manchester depot

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.


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.


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.


Flagpole from the town school


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


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


Foundation from a building destroyed by the tornado


The railroad that brought growth to Manchester

The Mystery of the Rocky Mountain Locust




Minnesota locusts.jpg

Minnesota locusts of the 1870s” Source:

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.


Hopkins, Theodore L. “Extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locusts.” BioScience, Accessed 30 May 2018.

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