Walnut Grove – Then and Now

For the last 20 years, I have collected antique post cards and old photos from across the US and Europe. Given my interest in all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, I have gravitated towards those that illustrate the towns where she lived and the places her daughter, Rose visited.

During a Laura Ingalls Wilder road trip in the summer of 2010, I purchased an early 20th century photo of Main Street, Walnut Grove from an antique store in New Ulm, MN. Stirred by the idea of a “then and now” comparison, I made my way to the same location in Walnut Grove and took a picture.  Before Main Street underwent too many changes (and there have been a few), I wanted to create a montage that combined that antique image with my modern day picture.

Here it is – a “then and now” montage of Main Street, Walnut Grove.

Walnut Grove Then and Now 2

2015 Laura Ingalls Wilder Days in Pepin, Wisconsin

Laura Ingalls Wilder Days 2015The lakeside town of Pepin, Wisconsin will be hosting its 25th annual Laura Ingalls Wilder Days festival on September 12 and 13. The event is family friendly, with plenty of entertainment focused on the life and times of America’s early pioneers – including the town’s most famous resident, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

This year, noted Wilder historian, author and researcher, William Anderson will be joining the festival as a special guest. Mr Anderson has written and edited numerous books about Laura Ingalls Wilder, and has authored publications about Mark Twain, the von Trapp family and more. Mr. Anderson will be making several appearances during the two-day event in various locations which will include book signings, interviews, and other presentations.

Visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder Days website for more information.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Trail in Independence, Kansas

In 1868, Charles Ingalls sold his farm near Pepin, Wisconsin and together with his wife, Caroline and his two daughters, Mary and Laura, embarked on a journey to Chariton County, Missouri. After a relatively brief stay, the family moved to Kansas and attempted to settle on a piece of land south of Independence in 1869. Their period of residence in Kansas would not be a long one. After building a cabin; triumphing against a number of hardships and rejoicing at the birth of a third daughter (Caroline Celestia on August 3, 1870) – the Ingalls family left the area in the spring of 1871 and back-trailed to their farm in Wisconsin.

Exterior of Ingalls Replica Cabin

The Ingalls family had been illegally squatting on land set aside by the Government for the Osage Nation. It was known as the Osage Diminished Reserve. The circumstances that resulted in the family’s departure have been the subject of much research and debate. Whether the Ingalls family was driven out by Government soldiers, or they simply reacted to the threat of being removed is unknown. Another factor that potentially influenced their departure was that Gustaf Gustafson, who had purchased the family’s farm in Wisconsin, had been unable to make the necessary repayments.

Although the Ingalls family lived in the vicinity of Independence for just a short time, there is still plenty for visitors to see and do. Most of the attractions can be viewed in a matter of hours, although people with an interest in history could easily spend a full day. For example, visitors who wish to supplement their exploration of all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, with some learning about the town’s earliest days of settlement may find the Historical Museum and Art Center (Cnr 8th and Myrtle Street) of interest.

Little House on the Prairie Museum
The most significant Laura Ingalls Wilder attractions are located at the Little House on the Prairie Museum, which is situated on the same land the Ingalls family attempted to settle between 1869 and 1871. The museum is situated at 2507 County Rd 3000 and is open between April and October. Upcoming events and admission prices are listed on the museum’s website. The museum features a log cabin, old school house, heritage post office and a hand-dug well, which is believed to have been constructed by Charles Ingalls.

Interior of Ingalls Replica Cabin

The log cabin (pictured above and below) was dedicated in 1977 and was constructed and decorated in accordance with the descriptions provided by Wilder in her 1935 novel, Little House on the Prairie. The building itself is located on what is thought to be the foundation of the original cabin constructed by Charles Ingalls. The interior features a straw tick bed, a table covered in a red checked cloth and of course, a china shepherdess on the mantle.

Interior of Ingalls Replica Cabin

The Sunnyside School (pictured below) was constructed in 1871 and was used until the middle of the 20th century. Although the building has no connection with the Ingalls family, it was moved to the Little House on the Prairie Museum site to ensure its protection and to provide visitors with an insight into early one-room school education.   The Wayside Post Office (next to the school) has no connection with the Ingalls family either, but for the same reason it was moved to the museum for visitors to enjoy.

Sunny Side School


Wayside Post Office

The discovery of an abandoned, hand-dug well (pictured below) in close proximity to the archaeological cabin footings leads to the reasonable conclusion it was constructed by Charles Ingalls in 1869. It is concreted over for safety reasons, but for serious Wilder fans, it is one of the most interesting features of the historic site.

Hand Dug Well

The “Prairie Store” is located inside the old farmhouse (pictured below) east of the log cabin. The store sells a variety of books written by or about Laura Ingalls Wilder, in addition to a series of heritage inspired items, including soaps and candles. Cold drinks are available for purchase. The air-conditioning provides welcome respite during the heat extremes of summer and the rocking chairs on the front porch are the perfect spot for resting at the end of a visit.  The farmhouse has no connection with the Ingalls family.

Farm House Little House on the Prairie Museum

Mr Brown? Mr Edwards? Mr Mason?
In her Pioneer Girl manuscript, Wilder wrote about a kindly neighbour, who brought the family Christmas gifts. She called him Mr Brown. In her 1935 novel, Little House on the Prairie, Wilder changed the neighbour’s name to Mr Edwards. Unfortunately, the 1870 census of Rutland Township shows no evidence of a Mr Brown or a Mr Edwards having lived in the area. Despite this, the census does list a 25 year old bachelor who resided in close proximity to the Ingalls family. His name was Mr Edmund Mason. Could he be the neighbour Wilder referred to? It has been the subject of discussion for many years.

Visitors who wish to see the grave of Mr Edmund Mason (pictured below) can find it at Harrisonville Cemetery, which is located off County Rd 2700, about 9.5 miles south-west of Independence. Coincidently, County Rd 2700 is the best turn-off from Highway 75 to get to the Little House on the Prairie Museum (when you’re coming from Independence), so it’s easy to combine a visit to both locations.

Edmund Mason

Dr George Tann
While living on the Osage Diminished Reserve, the Ingalls family suffered from what Wilder described as “fever ‘n’ ague”. They were treated by Dr George Tann, an African American doctor who lived a short distance away. Visitors who wish to see Dr Tann’s grave (pictured below) can find it at the Mount Hope Cemetery off East Oak Street in Independence. Although it’s always more interesting to hunt for grave-sites independently, the enormous size of the cemetery (86 acres) warrants a hint to its location. The front of Dr Tann’s headstone faces Highway 75 and it is relatively close (although not immediately adjacent) to the road. If you look out for the metal sign attached to the top of the head stone, then it’s relatively easy to find.

Dr George Tann

Verdigris River
In her fiction, Wilder described crossing the Verdigris River. There are many locations to view the river; however, the perspective from Marsh Arch Bridge (pictured below) is particularly beautiful. The bridge is situated on County Rd 4400, about 1000 yards from the eastern boundary of Independence. Turn left off Highway 160 before the river. Be warned that although the road is relatively quiet (with most traffic using the adjacent Highway 160 bridge), cars still pass through, so caution must be exercised. The road shoulders in the area are also very narrow – so the only “relatively” safe place to pull over is well past the bridge on the east side of the river.

Verdigris River

Verdigris River

Enjoy your visit to Independence, Kansas.

Remember the Boring Dime Sociable?

Biography Button - Charles TinkhamToday, we continue our biographical series featuring the people Laura Ingalls Wilder lived with and wrote about. Our focus this time is on Charles H. Tinkham. You may remember him as simply “Mr. Tinkham”, the owner of the furniture store from Little Town on the Prairie. It was upstairs, above Mr. Tinkham’s store, where Laura and her friend, Mary Power went to their first dime sociable.  Sadly, it was a bit dull for the girls because it was attended by mostly older ladies.  I remember feeling so disappointed for Laura when I first read that chapter.

Click here to see a terrific photo of the real Mr. Tinkham standing inside his furniture store, courtesy of the South Dakota State Historical Society.

Our series is sourced from Memorial and Biographical Record, published in 1898 by G.A. Ogle. The publication contains a “series of biographical sketches of prominent old settlers and representative citizens of South Dakota with a review of their life work”.   Once again, I draw your attention to the advice from our first week’s post.

And with that, I bring you instalment number two – Charles Tinkham.

CHARLES H. TINKHAM is one of the leading merchants of De Smet, Kingsbury County. He operates a large furniture house, dealing also in picture frames, wallpaper, shades, etc., besides having a department devoted entirely to undertaking. Mr. Tinkham was born in Somerset County, Maine, May 28, 1854.

His parents, Orville W. and Clara (Holbrook) Tinkham, are natives respectively of Massachusetts and Maine, and of English and Scotch extraction. Orville Tinkham was born September 14, 1820, and his wife, November 25, 1825. They were married in Maine, and settled in Somerset County, where they still reside, and are the parents of five children: Frank M., Charles H., [the subject of this sketch], Granville C., [deceased], Orville C., and Emma, [deceased].

Charles spent his early days upon the farm in Maine receiving his education in the district schools, and at the Eaton Family and Day school, of South Norridgewock, Maine. At the age of seventeen, he commenced teaching school, and followed the profession during the winter months for the next seven years, in the summer working in a shoe factory at West Bridgewater and Campello, Massachusetts.

In the spring of 1876, Mr. Tinkham went west to Minnesota, filing on some land in Rock County, that state. Later he accepted a position with Angell & Loomis, dealers in furniture and harness at Luverne, in the same state. He remained there until 1879, when he went back to Massachusetts.

On the 21st of October of that year he was married to Miss Addie L. Jennings, at Cochesett. Mrs. Tinkham was born at Taunton, Massachusetts, November 25, and is the daughter of William H. and Harriet (Lona) Jennings.

In the spring of 1880, Mr. Tinkham came to South Dakota, locating immediately at De Smet. Soon afterward he engaged in his present business upon a small scale. He has been very successful, and has continued year after year to enlarge and put in new lines, until today he has one of the best and most complete stocks of furniture, household wares, undertaker’s goods, etc., to be found in any town of similar size in the state.

Mr. Tinkham is also president and one of the largest stockholders of De Smet Stove Company, incorporated, manufacturers of straw consuming stoves, ranges, etc. This is also a large and flourishing concern.

Mr. Tinkham is prominent among the Odd Fellows, being now a past grand patriot in the fraternity. He is a Republican in politics, and always manifests a keen interest in public affairs. He was one of the first trustees of De Smet, having been one of the original village board. In 1884 he was elected treasurer of Kingsbury County, and served one term, giving general satisfaction in the discharge of his duties.

Mr. and Mrs. Tinkham have one son, Harold, who was born October 19, 1882.

Compendium of Biography – Charles Ingalls

Charles Ingalls Biography ButtonOver the next several months, The Cottonwood Tree will be gradually adding to a series of resources from historical texts, which are relevant to the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder. We hope these resources will be of interest to our readers.

We are starting with relevant sections from Memorial and Biographical Record, An Illustrated Compendium of Biography, published in 1898 by G.A. Ogle and Company. It contains a “series of biographical sketches of prominent old settlers and representative citizens of South Dakota with a review of their life work”.

But first, a word of advice. You are welcome to use these pieces; but please remember that although the publisher states the articles were derived directly from liaison with individual subjects, the articles themselves are not primary sources. Like most short professional biographies, there is a limit to how long they can be – and the individuals in question are almost always illuminated in the best possible light. As a result, the articles (aptly named “sketches”) include omissions and other liberties. Indeed, this is what makes this particular biography of Charles Ingalls interesting. Amongst other things, it fails to mention his period of residence in Burr Oak, Iowa. It is also silent on the fact that he was actually squatting in Kansas (but granted, yes – he WAS working) and that his residence in Walnut Grove was split into two separate periods, not all of which was spent on a farm.

It reminds me of something that Laura said during a speech she delivered at the 1937 Detroit Book Fair.  She said, “All I have told is true, but it is not the whole truth.”

With this in mind, I give you instalment number one – Charles Ingalls.

CHARLES P. INGALLS, one of the leading settlers of Kingsbury County, South Dakota, who is now making his home in the village of De Smet, and is following the trade of a carpenter, is of English descent. His ancestors, who took a prominent part in the Revolutionary War, settled in Vermont and marched with the “Green Mountain Boys” for the freedom of their adopted country. Charles’ grandfather fought in the war of 1812.

Our subject was born in the city of Cuba, Allegany County, New York, January I0, 1836, the second in order of birth at the home of Mr. Ingalls of a family of nine children born to L. W. and Laura (Colby) Ingalls, both natives of New York. He lived on his father’s farm in New York until about twenty-four years of age, and then purchased a farm in Pepin county, Wisconsin, and operated the same for eighteen years. He spent two years working in Kansas, and four years on his farm in Minnesota. In 1879 he drove overland with his family from Tracy, Minnesota, to Dakota, where he secured a position as time-keeper and camp overseer of the C. & N. W. railroad construction gang from Brookings to De Smet. Near De Smet he took government land, the northeast quarter of section 3, township 110, range 56, whereupon he lived and farmed for about seven years.

Prior to this, the family lived on the present site of De Smet, he being in the employ of the railroad company and living in their section house. This was the winter of 1879-80, which was fortunately very mild. The lakes were open in the month of February, and geese, ducks and swans were very numerous.

In January, 1880, was given the first oyster festival in Kingsbury County, and on the second day of February, 1880, was held at the home of Mr. Ingalls, the first Congregational Church service of De Smet, conducted by Rev. E. H. Alden, of Minnesota. So far as is known, this was the first religious gathering in the county of Kingsbury.

In the spring of 1880, a committee appointed by the Governor for the purpose of organizing the county met. This committee consisted of Mr. Barber, chairman; Mr. Burvee and A. Whiting, and they chose De Smet as the temporary county seat. For the county officers they made the following selections: J. K. Smith, sheriff; Will Whiting, county register of deeds; and Captain Gibson and Charles Ingalls, Justices of the Peace. Politically, Mr. Ingalls is a Populist, and for six years he held the position of deputy sheriff.

He is a member of the Masonic Lodge of De Smet No. 55, and he, his wife and his daughter, Caroline, belong to the Eastern Star lodge. Mr. Ingalls was married in 1860, to Miss Caroline L. Quiner, a lady of Scotch descent, daughter of Henry and Charlotte (Tucker) Quiner, of Boston, Massachusetts. Mrs. Ingalls was born December 12, 1839, at Milwaukee, Wisconsin territory. To this union have been born five children, viz: Mary A., a graduate of the class of 1889, Iowa College for the Blind; Laura E., wife of A. J. Wilder; Caroline C., Fredrick, deceased; and Grace P. The family are charter members of the Congregational Church of De Smet.

To LauraPalooza from the Bridges of Madison County

BridgesOfMadisonCountyIt was an unlikely romance. He was a photographer from National Geographic, taking pictures of Madison County’s covered bridges. She was an Italian war bride, transplanted into rural Iowa, with her American husband and two children. Over four days in 1965, these two – Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson would find each other, fall in love, but ultimately part ways forever.

Based on Robert James Waller’s best-selling novel of 1992; the film, “The Bridges of Madison County” hit the big screen in 1995. Starring Clint Eastwood (who also directed) and Meryl Streep, the movie was filmed almost entirely in Winterset, Iowa.

If you’re headed to “LauraPalooza” (the national Laura Ingalls Wilder conference) from Iowa or will be on the Interstate 35 in the vicinity of Des Moines, you might like to explore some of the locations depicted in both the book and the film.

To get you started, here’s a map. Each location is numbered and corresponds with the following descriptions.

1. Francesca’s House (Private Property). 130th St, Cumming (off Cumming Rd).
The farmhouse that was used as the set for Francesca Johnson’s home stood abandoned for many years before being renovated by the film’s producers. Located approximately 18 miles north east of Winterset (and 16 miles south west of the Des Moines International Airport), it was once available for tours; but it was heavily damaged in an arson attack in 2003 and is no longer open. Today, the farmhouse can only be viewed from the road, but it is still worth a look, albeit one from a distance.

2. Roseman Covered Bridge.  Elderberry Ave (off Roseman Bridge Rd).
Between 1868 and 1884, Madison County constructed 19 timber covered bridges. Over the years, most of them have been lost due to flooding and fires, land use change – even deliberate destruction. Luckily though, Roseman is one of just several that have survived. Constructed in 1883, it featured prominently in Eastwood’s film as a subject for Robert Kincaid’s photography. It carried traffic for nearly a century, until it was bypassed in 1981. The roof and siding were added to prevent deterioration of the timber underneath. Since Eastwood’s film was released, the bridge has become a popular location for weddings and a gift shop is now located nearby. The shop sells a selection of local wines, food products, and souvenirs inspired by the book and movie.

3. Holliwell Covered Bridge.  Holliwell Bridge Rd (off Norwood Ave or St Charles Rd).
The Holliwell Bridge was featured in the film as the location where Robert and Francesca met prior to their second dinner together. It was constructed in 1880 and was used to carry traffic until a bypass was constructed in 1986. It was rehabilitated / refurbished in 1995.

4. The Stone Bridge.  Southern end of S. 9th St, Winterset.
Robert and Francesca’s ‘away-from-home’ picnic, was actually filmed right in the town of Winterset – at the City Park. The stone foot-bridge featured during these scenes is located a short distance from the park’s entrance, just south of the Cutler – Donahue Covered Bridge. The park also has a hedge maze, campground and Clark Tower offers good views of the surrounding area.

Cafe5. The Diner.  61 E Jefferson St, Winterset.
The restaurant where the character of Lucy Redfield [played by Michelle Benes] was shunned by members of the Winterset community is a good place to stop for a bite to eat, but this place offers more than just greasy, small-town diner food. The folks who run the Northside Café are serious about their fare and it shows. It doesn’t hurt that Clint Eastwood ate here, either. Park yourself at one of the bar stools for a quintessential Bridges of Madison County experience.

6. Farewell Scene.  Intersection of Green St. & John Wayne Dr.
Easily the most heart-wrenching scene in the movie is when Robert Kincaid [Eastwood] stands in the rain outside his car, and pleadingly looks at Francesca in the distance as she sits in her car with her husband. It is when Francesca silently makes the mature choice – to stay with her husband. She watches Robert drive away – and out of her life, forever. Today, the intersection of Green Street and John Wayne Drive still has some features that are recognizable from the movie. The diagonally aspected building on the north east corner is still standing [it’s now a Frostee’s] and the private house with the stone siding [seen behind Eastwood as he watched Francesca] is still visible. The grocery store is now a parking lot.

The Wandering Chick blog has some great photos of these locations, which you may wish to see before you go.

If you’re a fan of western movies, you may also be interested to know that John Wayne was born in Winterset.  Be sure to check out the John Wayne Birthplace Museum, located at 205 S. John Wayne Drive.

Enjoy your visit to Madison County and have a safe journey to LauraPalooza 2015!

Looking Back: Independence Day in Mansfield – 1915

Independence Day1 On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. In 2015, this most American of holidays will be marked with red, white and blue flags, fireworks, parades and backyard barbecues across the country.

In 1915, the Fourth of July fell on a Sunday and consequently, most Independence Day celebrations in Laura’s home of Mansfield, Missouri were held on Monday the fifth. The following article, published 100 years ago in the Mansfield Mirror – shares how the town’s residents spent the day.  I felt a little discomfort when I discovered that F. C. Huntington’s Minstrels was one of the draw-cards.  For me, it’s impossible not to remember the ugly stereotypes of black Americans portrayed in the early minstrel shows of the 19th century. But after reading everything I can on the subject, I have concluded that Huntington’s show was far removed from the carousing, raucous and cruel lampooning affairs of the antebellum period and was focused on beautiful singing and clean comedy.  In one article, I even saw it described as a “love letter” to black American music.  The talent of some of these musicians was simply incredible.

Wishing all Cottonwood Tree readers a sparkling Fourth of July, filled with peace, pride, honor and lots of fun.

Huntingtons Mighty Minstrels1

The Mansfield Mirror – 1915

Monday was an ideal day for the celebration of our country’s natal day, and an immense crowd enjoyed the occasion in Mansfield. The crowds came early and stayed late, and the people
seemed to have a good time all day long.

The celebration was under the auspices of the Mansfield Concert Band, and the various committees did their work well, thus providing a big day’s entertainment for old and young.  F.C. Huntington’s Mighty Minstrels were here and gave some splendid exhibitions. This is a high class company and they gave a show up to and surpassing expectations. Their band also assisted the home band in furnishing music during the day. They also showed here Thursday while enroute to Ava, where they gave performances to crowds Friday and Saturday. They have two special cars in which they travel.

The celebration opened with a parade at 10 o’clock. The parade was a dandy and was much
appreciated by the large crowd of people present as they marched around the square. Mayor F.H. Riley and Constable S.J. White headed the parade on horseback as marshals of the day, followed by the Mansfield Concert Band.

The band was followed by a couple who just walked in from Arkansas – or somewhere.

Then came the automobiles. Congressman T.L. Rubey’s car, with the speakers, in the lead.
Next came the W.C.T.U. ladies in R. N. Farren’s car. The Presbyterian Sunday school children rode in the G.W. Freeman and A.T. Friend autos. Postmaster M. E. Gorman’s car, which won the $2.50 prize for the best decorated auto, was next in line, followed by the N.J. Craig and Andrew Newton cars.

Order of Events1J.A. Cover and family of Mountain Grove, who were on their way to San Francisco in their Case car, took part in the parade. The Christian and M. E. Sunday schools had prettily decorated floats, full of children, waving flags. Boys on bicycles, came next, followed by F.C. Huntington’s Mighty Minstrel Band. Carriages and cowboys were the finishing touches to the parade, and they were gorgeously decorated.

The celebration was held in Burney’s beautiful grove, where amusements and concessions galore were on hand to supply the wants of the crowd, as well an abundance of ice water and shade.

The program was opened by Mayor F.H. Riley, who delivered an appropriate address of welcome in his usual pleasing way.

Congressman T.L. Rubey, wife and niece, Miss Mary Winter, were here in the congressman’s auto, in which they made the trip from Lebanon. Congressman Rubey spoke at Manes Saturday and spent Sunday in Mountain Grove.  As he desired to start home early in his auto, his place on the program was advanced from the afternoon to the morning session, and Rev. J. W. Needham, who was to have spoken in the morning, spoke in the afternoon. Both are able, eloquent and forceful speakers, and their addresses on this occasion were of an unusually high order. Our people are always pleased to hear the talented member of congress from the 16th district, and Rev. Mr. Needham has won for himself such a warm place in the hearts of our people that he is always assured of a good audience whenever he speaks in Mansfield.

The prize-winners in the afternoon contests were as follows:
– Foot race for children under 8, 50c, Frank Potts.
– Potato race in tow sacks; first prize, $1, Leslie Strong; second, 50c, Ellison Gaines.
– Ladies heavy weight throwing; first prize, $1, Miss J. Newton; second 50c, Mrs. J. Eldridge.
– Blind-fold stake race, $1, Percy Rippee.
– Ring tournament, $2, Lova Keeling.
– Men’s foot race; first prize, $1.50, Orel Dennis; second, $1, Frank Peacock.

The celebration closed with a grand illumination of fireworks at night.

The crowd was large and good natured, the cities, towns and villages in all directions being
well represented. All roads led to Mansfield Monday – and the people came in goodly numbers,
and the day’s exercises well repaid them for their visit.