Friday, April 17, 2009

Field Trip – The Laura Ingalls Wilder Trail

The distance: 6.4 miles
The place: Rural Kane County
The destination: An Ingalls family cemetery plot

Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, including my sisters, hit the trail in search of the locations made famous in her collections of books. This can be quite a task that can rack up the miles on your vehicle because the Ingalls family moved quite a bit.

There are other, lesser known Ingalls-Wilder locations including one just down the road from our home. James and Worthen Ingalls purchased to adjacent sections of land in nearby Plato Township. Somewhere around 1848 Landsford Ingalls moved with his family to a spot near Otter Creek in Kane County, near his two brothers.

Otter Creek

Landsford's son Charles “Pa” Ingalls was 14 years old at the time and lived in this location for ten years until the family moved to Concord, Wisconsin where he met and married Caroline Quiner (Ma).

Nothing is left of the homes of these families but an Ingalls family cemetery remains on a small hill overlooking Corron Road.

Several years ago a very nice home was built on the hillside.

There are gates to the drive up the small hill to the house.

I noticed a small area in front of the house near the road was fenced in with white picket fencing. At first I thought that it was a cottage garden type feature but it was curious that it was located directly in front of the house and not in the back where normal gardens are placed. The landscaping did not fit with a cottage theme and there were never any flowers growing inside the fenced space.

One day a neighbor mentioned to me that “Pa” Ingalls was buried there. That seemed highly unlikely because at the time I wasn’t aware that the Ingalls had ever lived in Illinois. An online search revealed that Charles Ingalls was buried in DeSmet, South Dakota.

The little graveyard, literally in someone’s yard turned out to be a small Ingalls plot where lies the remains of Eliza Ingalls, the daughter of Charles’s great-uncle.

Also buried in the plot are Malvina and Nancy Geutcheus, daughters of Morris and Betsy Ingalls Geutscheus, age 9 and 11 when they died in the early 1850’s after being struck by lightning.

Since this is private property I did not walk up to take photos inside the fence.

This is interesting local history but the story doesn’t end there. In their research my sisters found an amazing Ingalls connection with our own family.

After losing an infant son and suffering setbacks due to crop failures, diptheria and a fire that destroyed their home, Almanzo and Laura moved to live with Laura’s cousin Peter in Westville, Florida. They spent a year in Florida (1891-1892) in the hopes that the southern climate would be beneficial to Almanzo’s health. His health did improve a bit but Laura couldn’t take the heat and had found herself a social outcast among the women of the community, having been branded a “yankee”.

My father was born and raised in Westville, Florida and our family had lived there for many generations. Let me explain that this was a very, very rural and tiny community. I can’t imagine what could have brought Laura’s cousin Peter to live there. There have never been more than a hundred people or so living there and even today there are only 250 residents. So how does a farmer from Wisconsin land in the most rural part of the Florida panhandle?

To say we were shocked is an understatement. My sister was thrilled to know that our family’s stomping grounds for the last 200 years was part of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Trail – which meant she’d done that leg many, many times as a kid.

Our great-grandmother Newton (shown here) would have known Laura.

Great-grandma Newton stripping sugar cane with a machete!

There’s no way she couldn't have know her because like I said it was a very tiny and tight knit community. I can well imagine that she might have been one of the women who branded Laura a “yankee”.

Great-grandma Newton sitting on the running boards in her big bonnet. This is around 1930. My best guess is that she was born around 1869.

Last night I found a book while searching online, written about the Wilder’s years in Westville and I’m anxiously awaiting it’s arrival to see if it sheds any further light on the connection between our families. Stay tuned, I’ll let you know what I discover.

You just never know what interesting stories might be lurking just 6.4 miles away from your home. Get out there and find them!


Anonymous said...

How interesting!!! I am a big fan of the tv series and have the books too. How nice to have a little cemetry in your front yard and such significance..
Can't wait to hear more on your connection..
luv Ann.xx

Heidi said...

OH - when you come up you know we have Laura 'stuff' around here too right??? ever been to our Laura place? What a cool thing to ponder, your grannys possible acquaintance with her..

Lucy said...

I love this. Thanks.

Vee said...

Fascinating information! I'm just imagining how awful it would be to lose two young daughters to a lightning strike. Weird.

This reminds me that my mother sat down at the computer on Monday and pluggged in one name that had been swirling about in the family tree and came up with the missing link. Noooo, not that one.

Needless to say, it is amazing and since new things are added to this great network of information, one can expect to find more and more.

Will be wondering about what you find in the book of Florida history until you fill us in.

Susan said...

I find this very interesting and curious. In NE Iowa there is also a Laura Ingels Wilder home designated. Seems crazy that these people traveled around so much in those days.

Amber said...

to hear "the rest of the story." I am a huge fan, even now I still go back and read the books...even tho I know them almost by heart!

Amber said...

so sorry, meant to start with "I can't wait..."

chocolatechic said...

To say that I am slightly obsessed with LIW would be a total understatement.

I would have walked up to that cemetery and photographed every head stone.

But I am just slightly crazed.

Significant Snail said...

I loved Laura's books! I 'discovered' them in the library when I was young and devoured them. A few years back I read them at night to my girls. Can't wait to hear what you find.

When I moved from the west to the south in 1991 I found myself branded a yankee as well - what a shock that was so many years after the civil war!

Texas Gardener said...

I grew up in Bartlesville, Ok. When you travel north into Kansas there is a house that was a Laura Ingalls house. I took my daughter there when she was young. We also went to the Indepedence, KS cemetary where the doctor is buried. I can't remember all the details now.

Domestic Diva said...

oooh!!! I LOVE LIW!
I have spent weeks of my life (not all at once, lol) researching anything to do with her, and her family. One of my FAVORITE hobbies, but I'd never gotten as far back as pa's families early years, ect ect. I hope you write more about this!

Steph said...

I always loved that tv show. There's a Civil War cemetary a few miles from here, but I don't think anyone famous is buried there!

Mary said...

As a child I loved her books. As an adult I read them to my children. The different perspectives are amazing. As a child I was sure that Ma and Pa would make everything safe. Adult eyes see the dangers. I love the background information you have provided here.

Rue said...

Good morning Suzanne :)

Did you know that people from California are considered Yankees in the South? Living in VA for 6 years, that's something I was called all the time. Or maybe they had another name for us out there and I chose to here Yankee LOL

I can't wait to hear more about this. I used to watch the TV show religiously.


PatQ said...

Wow, I had no idea. You'd think after living here for 49 yrs I'd know that. Thanks for keeping me up on things.

Lisa said...

What a cool connection! I look forward to finding out about the book. What is the title of it?

Farmchick said...

I have always loved LIW and now my daughter is getting interested in her. I actually did some growing up in Minot, ND, and had a teacher with a LIW hobby. She would bring in her collections, information, and books for us to peruse. It was wonderful.

Donna said...

What a great post. I always loved the Little House series as a kid.

Christine said...

Hello from the Pacific North West!
I was very intrigued with your adventures visiting The Laura Ingalls Wilder Trail.

Thanks for the history lesson.

Louise said...

I LOVE this post! As a child and teen I read the entire series of books no less than 8 times--probably more. I always felt a connection to Laura because I had the "hated" brown hair, and I was born in Mansfield, Missouri, where she and Almanzo lived after moving from... WHERE?

I knew NOTHING about the Florida bit. That is SO interesting.

This summer we're going to Missouri (as is usual), then North Dakota for Prince Charming's family reunion, and we're taking a detour to DeSmet on the way because our girls are old enough (5 and 7 then) to appreciate it at least a little. I'm so excited, but I knew NOTHING about the Illinois or Florida connections.


Mom Taxi Julie said...

That's kind of weird that they would build their house so close to the graveyard.

That's neat to know about the whole Floriday thing. I haven't read anything other than the set of LI books.

MJ Krech said...

I just found your wonderful blog! What fun to read about one of my own lifetime favorites! LIW!

My sister and I would each sign out as many of her books from the library as allowed in the 50's in Michigan and read them all, then go back the next week for more.

Last summer my husband and I traveled to southern Missouri (we live in central MO) to visit Laura's last home. It was a lifetime dream. I got to buy all her books in a set. Treasures!

To anyone who can: visit the Missouri places. Great fun!

Also, near the DeSmet, South Dakota homestead, they run wonderful LIW pageants during the summer. This year's dates: July 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19, 24, 25, 26. Worth the time to visit! We took our kids years ago and had a great time.

Rich said...

I would like to thank you for taking the time to post this information on the Ingalls families that lived in the Plato area for about 15 years. My gr gr grandmother was Adaline Amelia Ingalls and she was born there in 1842. She was the daughter of Samuel Worthen Ingalls and Unity Jasckman. It's really nice to see your pictures and now I have a idea of what the area looks like!!

Jennifer Shiflett said...

Oh wow, reading this gave me shivers down my spine!! I read the "Little House" books when I was very young (6 or 7) and then again in my teens. I'm now 29 years old and have once again began to read them over. I recently learned that there are more than the three Rose Wilder books that I own and that there are even some Caroline books, and many more. I live in Florida, not anywhere near where Peter once lived, but I had no idea that Laura and her family ever stepped a foot in Florida until now! I got all of my info on the many books that i had never heard of from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Mansfield Historic Museum. maybe the writing you speak of are there, I will definitely be checking that out. I hope one day to take my family to visit her home, but like Laura's family once was, we are close to poor, and we barely make it "by the skin of our teeth!" Thankyou for this wonderful piece of information!! Good luck in your findings!