Rare Charles Ingalls Letter Discovered

In working with newspapers as we conducted background research for Pioneer Girl, we ran across a letter, dated February 2, 1880, from Charles Ingalls to the Brookings County Press that has gone unrecorded until now.

In the 1870s and 1880s, newspapers relied on “correspondents” for news of outlying towns. For example, the Redwood Gazette of Redwood Falls, Minnesota, published newsy letters on a weekly basis about Walnut Grove from a number of different writers, one of whom was a member of the Ensign family. The Ingallses lived briefly with the Ensigns when they moved back to Walnut Grove from Iowa in 1877.

In the short period before De Smet acquired its own newspaper in the spring of 1880, Charles Ingalls appears to have tried his hand at corresponding with the Brookings County Press. Appearing in the February 12, 1880, issue, Ingalls’s letter was headlined “From Kingsbury County” and is datelined “De Smet, Feb. 2d. 1880.” It is signed “C. S. I.”  At first glance, this signature does not appear to match Charles P. Ingalls, but several clues indicate that it actually does. First, De Smet had few residents in February 1880 and only one man with the initials “C. I.” Second, the letter mentions another county resident, “W. H. Seck,” who can only be W. H. Peck, the man whose livestock Walter Ogden, a boarder at the Ingalls home, had been caring for through the winter. Clearly, the typesetter was misreading Ingalls’s capital “P” for a capital “S.”

But it is the content of the letter that most clearly reveals its writer:

From Kingsbury County.

                                  De Smet, Feb. 2d., 1880 .

   Editor Press.—Thinking a few lines from this vicinity might be interesting to your readers I take the liberty of sending them to you.

   De Smet is situated in the center of Kingsbury county, on the Chicago & N. W. R. R. and on the bank of Silver Lake. It is surrounded by as fine a country as can be found in the west. There are some claims to be had here yet; some very fine chances for stock-raising.

   Times are lively here again. W. H. Seck has removed his herd of stock from this place to his homestead 15 miles east. D. I. Egleston and party gave us a call last week. They seemed very much pleased with the country and its prospects; they were a jolly good natured party and seemed determined to have a good time. We hope they will call again.

   Trappers and hunters have been on the go to and from the “Jim” all the winter. They seem to have had a poor success in both vocations.

   The wolves, foxes, coyotes, and keeping warm have made lively times for your correspondent this winter; he has made a successful warfare and hopes to bring more stirring news when next he enters your sanctum.                         

C. S. I.

As Laura Ingalls Wilder’s novels and Pioneer Girl clearly show, Charles Ingalls did successfully trap foxes and coyotes, among other animals, during the winter of 1879–1880. Having settled at De Smet, rather than thirty-some miles farther west on the James, or Jim, River, Ingalls was not only broadcasting his own prowess but advertising the greater bounty of the De Smet vicinity at the same time.

Nancy Tystad Koupal

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23 thoughts on “Rare Charles Ingalls Letter Discovered

  1. Oh how wonderful! I loved this. Wonder what he meant by “to and from the Jim”. Again with the old time language. Gotta go look that up.

  2. So glad to have purchased the Press microfilm from you years ago! For those who don’t know, the editor, George Hopp, was brother of the soon-to-be editor of the Kingsbury County News, Jake Hopp.

  3. Love this! Pa apparently had a talent for writing as well! I hope the original copy will be featured somewhere. Thank you for sharing this!

  4. The explanation of why the letter was overlooked as being from Pa is satisfactory…the P in Pa’s signature was misread as an S! Thank you for publishing. I am glad Ingalls’ discoveries are still being made!

  5. I remember Nancy Cleaveland had this information and explanation on her website/blog several years ago. Glad to see that the same conclusion has been reached by a research team.

  6. I wouldn’t say this is a new discovery, seeing as how Nancy shared this quite a few years ago? But it is nice to see it listed here as well.

    • Thank you, Jammie. We think it is interesting and, given Nansie Cleaveland’s extensive work on Wilder, not surprising if she had seen and commented on that letter long ago.

  7. Jean M: Look on Amazon!!! You can order it now and I think it comes out in November. I’m trying to decide if I can wait for Christmas or not :).

  8. The publication of this piece has caused quite a stir amongst a few Laura Ingalls Wilder researchers! Although some people might be aggravated by its publication, because they believe they found it first, I’m pleased it has been shared once again. Thank you for doing so. I don’t think it matters who found it first (even IF it could be proven – which it can’t). I would imagine that people who call themselves professional researchers would understand that two people can indeed uncover the same piece of information from the same source. Sour grapes = unattractive.

  9. What a wonderful find. Thanks for posting it. I can’t wait to read the final book. SIGH…. I also posted on links regarding finding a copy online of Almanzo’s signature, but haven’t had a response yet. Does anyone know where I can find it online?

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