Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Little House in a Wilder Neighborhood

My great-grandmother, Kate E. Pettis, was born on 2 October 1864. Two years and four months later, on 7 February 1867, Laura Ingalls Wilder was born. The Ingalls' Little House in the Big Woods at Pepin, Wisconsin, was about fifty miles up the Mississippi River from Kate's birthplace, Winona, Minnesota.

Of course, I didn't know that when I discovered the Little House books at the school library. I must have been ten or eleven years old at the time. My interest in genealogy and family history was still several years in the future. My interest in Laura, however, was triggered with the first book I read. Thereafter, every time I went to the school library, I turned left just inside the door and made for the far end of the shelves along that wall. The Little House books lived on the second shelf up from the floor. Was there one available that I hadn't read yet? Oh, good!

I think I started buying Little House books for my daughter before she could even read. They're my first answer to the question, "What did you like to read when you were a kid?" Yes, there were a few other answers too, but I never considered buying a whole set of Nancy Drew books for my daughter. You could easily borrow those and happily give them back. The Little House books? Those were keepers.

The Little House on the Prairie was southwest of Independence, Kansas. The Ingalls family lived there in 1870-1871. Forty years later and 140 miles north, my grandpa Rosmer Kerr, then just 17, worked as a hotel clerk in Topeka for awhile. Rosmer, being a city boy, would have enjoyed quite a different experience from that of the rural-dwelling Ingalls family.

Laura lived for awhile at Walnut Grove, Minnesota. My dad's brother raised his family there. (Different centuries, of course. My uncle's first child was born eighty years after Laura.) I have cousins who live there still, less than ten miles south of where the Ingalls family lived On the Banks of Plum Creek.

The Ingalls family stayed at the Masters Hotel in Burr Oak, Iowa, for about a year, helping to run the hotel. My cousin Judy and her family live a bit over a hundred miles southwest, as the crow flies, of the Masters Hotel, which is now preserved as the Laura Ingalls Museum.

Charles Ingalls finally settled his family in the Little Town on the Prairie, De Smet, South Dakota, which was the setting of several more books: By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, These Happy Golden Years and The First Four Years. Members of the Ingalls family were still living there when my grandpa John Krentz and some of his siblings moved to Lisbon, North Dakota, 150 miles north of De Smet.

Laura and her husband, Farmer Boy Almanzo Wilder, eventually left the Ingalls home for a place of their own; they were On the Way Home to Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura lived until her death in 1957. My kids have first cousins who grew up in the Ozarks about 50 miles southeast of there a quarter century later.

On impulse during a road trip in 1998, I altered my route so as to pass through De Smet, where I stopped briefly at the Ingalls' home, now a museum. There was more to see and do than I had time for, so maybe I'll stop by there again someday.

Laura and Almanzo buried their baby son while they still lived in De Smet. Several other members of the family are buried there with him. Their daughter Rose was the only other grandchild of Charles and Caroline Ingalls, and because Rose had no children, the family's lineage ended at her death in 1968. Still, their legacy lives on in the stories Laura shared, and the stories live on because they parallel the stories of so many of our ancestors.

What about you? What bits of your ancestors' history might be illuminated by commonality of place or time with the Ingalls family? Did you read Laura's books when you were a kid? I'm especially curious to know whether boys read them, or were they considered girl-stuff? Are you of the generation that grew up with the TV show? Did that have any effect on whether you read the books?

Will you find yourself in the vicinity of any Ingalls or Wilder homes during your summer vacation? You might want to plan a stop. You'll find links to plenty of background and planning information at Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Sites: A Guide to Little House Country.


DianaR said...

What a great trip back through time! I loved all the Little House books growing up - which, just incidentally was WELL BEFORE any thought of the TV show. I even have a book that Rose wrote, although now the name escapes me.

When my nieces were little, I bought them some Little House books that were aimed at even younger children. They were shorter - generally just a story taken out of a book - and had a lot my pictures. One of my nieces named her American Girl bitty baby "Baby Grace" because of those books!

(but sorry, I have to admit that I wanted to BE Nancy Drew. Used to buy those books with my own, hard earned money as a child)

T.K. said...

Hey, I never said I didn't wanna be Nancy Drew! LOL! And I admit, I had a few volumes myself, but my best friend across the street had 'em all. I got to borrow!

Greta Koehl said...

Unfortunately, I did not get to read the Little House books when I was growing up. I made up for it by buying the set and reading the series all the way through to both of my girls, and enjoyed it hugely as an adult! I was struck by how straightforward the books were about the hard life back then, without excess sentimentality.

Cheryl said...

TK, wonderful post which I really loved. Brought back memories of my love of all things "Little House". I always compared my great-grandma, Julie, with Laura, as Julie and Laura were born close together with Laura in 1867 and Julie in 1870. There the similarities end as Julie grew up in the larger area of Detroit.

DianaR said...

Well glad we have that straightened out about being Nancy Drew ;-) That blue roadster!! Oddly enough my parents didn't buy me a sports car (or any car for that matter) when I was 16.

T.K. said...

Greta, how come you didn't get to read them as a kid?

Diana, I'm thinkin' that roadster is what made it 'fiction'...


Cheryl said...

Wonderful post, TK. I just loved it as I am an avid "Little House" lover. I have all the Little House books, other books about Laura, a book by Rose called "The Ghost In The Little House" and all the DVD's of the TV series with Melissa Gilbert. I even have tapes of the other two Little House movies made after the TV series that were supposed to be more true to the 'real' story.

I have often compared my great-grandma, Julie Feucht, with Laura as Laura was born in 1867 and Julie in 1870 and one of the few photos I have of Julie resembles in some fashion the early photo of Laura. But there the similarities end as Julie grew up in the 'big' city of Detroit so I am sure her life was of a different style than Laura's. Still I should write a post on 'my' 5 Feucht sisters and compare it to the 4 Ingalls sisters of the same time frame. Sounds like a plan! Now to just DO IT. Your daily posts are inspiration I must say.

T.K. said...

That'd be an interesting post, Cheryl... yep, just do it! ;-)

Alana said...

When my daughter was about 12 or 13 we paid a trip to Malone, NY (about an hour's drive from where we live in Montreal) where Almonzo Wilder grew up and visited his childhood home, which is now a museum. It was quite interesting. They also have a small store and we bought a few books we didn't have (one being one written by Rose Wilder). I bought a cook book that has the recipes from the food mentioned in the "Little House" books. There is one book (can't remember which one) where Laura is describing the slaughtering of the pig and how every morsel is used. She describes how her mother cook's up the pig's tail as a treat for the kids - well that recipe is in the cook book! Not sure I would want to eat a pig's tail, but if I ever did, I have the recipe!

T.K. said...

Alana, I had no idea about the Wilder museum in New York. Good to know, as I may be heading east sometime in the next year or two for a research jaunt.

The Rose Wilder book... I think I bought that at some point... when my daughter was old enough to have read all the others...

Thanks for stopping by. I don't think I'd been to your blog before. I'm a follower now!

Alana said...

Hi T.K.

Thanks for stopping by my blog and becoming a follower - I have been following yours for awhile now.

Here is the website for Wilder home: I mentioned that it is in Malone, but it is actually in Burke, which is just down the road from Malone.

T.K. said...

Thanks for the link, Alana. I just watched the trailer for the Almanzo Wilder DVD. Now I want to reread Farmer Boy. Actually, after all these comments, I want to reread the whole series. It's been interesting to see what details have stuck in people's minds!

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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