Following the Trail of Wilder

No so long ago, I found myself making another trip along U.S. Highway 14, this time from Pierre—pronounced “peer”—to Brookings in eastern South Dakota. As I drove, my thoughts meandered between summer road-trip plans and contemplation of the railroad tracks running alongside me. For those of you who don’t know, Highway 14 follows the very railroad line, the old Dakota Central Railway of the Chicago & North Western, that brought Charles Ingalls and his family to Dakota Territory. As I raced trains past Huron, the few remaining buildings of Manchester, and on through De Smet, my thoughts focused on how different distances are now in comparison to the 1800s.

Pierre to Brookings

The famous frontier family traveled thousands of miles by wagon, as well, and as readers of the Little House novels and Pioneer Girl know, it could take days, even weeks, to get from one place to another, depending on the weather and the condition of the “road,” or what we would call a trail today. And, with wagon travel not being especially popular in 2015, it can be hard for a modern audience to fathom the time and effort it took to travel among the homesteads, geographical landmarks, and towns that Wilder mentions in her original manuscript. With the advent of first the railroad and then the car, places have become much closer than they were, figuratively speaking.

That is why one of my favorite things about Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography is the eight maps created for various sections in the book. Taken together, they give contemporary readers a better perspective on the scope of the Ingallses’ journey. Along with several historical maps reproduced in the book, they help me begin to visualize just how big the “Big Woods” were, where New Ulm is situated in relation to Walnut Grove, MN Mapand how close the Loftus store was to “Residence C. P. Ingalls, Justice of the Peace” in De Smet.

As detailed in our blog post from 2012, these maps did not simply appear on our desks one day. Since we did not have Laura Ingalls Wilder there to help with the finer points, Pioneer Girl Project editor Jeanne Ode dived into Wilder’s manuscript and waded through historical maps from archives throughout the region to give readers a clearer picture of the Ingallses’ now-famous voyage. The map-making journey, like the family’s sojourn, was “filled with twists, turns, and the occasional dead end,” Ode says. Determining locations from sources that sometimes conflicted and creating preliminary sketches to guide the illustrator who created the final, well-designed versions was not always a walk in the park. As readers will discover, though, the trip was worth the trouble. As for me, the drive down Highway 14 now has a bit of extra meaning.

Jennifer McIntyre

Follow the Breadcrumbs, Find Missouri

The Pioneer Girl Project is always on the lookout for new information, and sometimes, thanks to the courtesy of readers like you, it just turns up out of the blue—or in this case, out of Minnesota. Here’s the story as Project staff experienced it.

During their second stay in Minnesota, the Ingallses were neighbors of Mr. and Mrs. Pool and their grown daughter, Missouri, who kept house for her parents. In Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, Laura Ingalls Wilder remembers Missouri’s wonderful garden full of beautiful flowers and how she would smoke “a very small, white clay pipe” as she told “stories of Missouri, the state for which she was named.” Missouri even helped to care for Mary Ingalls during the illness that caused her blindness.

According to Wilder, Missouri had several siblings and was the only one not married. At last they learned the reason: Missouri’s mother, hoping to keep her daughter home to care for her in her old age, had been working to thwart Missouri’s courtships. Yet, despite her mother’s machinations, Missouri did finally marry and return to Missouri—only to die tragically during childbirth.

That’s Wilder’s memory. The editors of the Pioneer Girl Project read Wilder’s account and asked, as they had before, “What can we verify?”

Census data got us nowhere; there simply was no Missouri Pool listed in Minnesota at the right times. However, Nancy Tystad Koupal’s close reading of the Redwood Gazette for the years 1876–1879 turned up a Thomas Pool, who lived in Walnut Grove, Redwood County, Minnesota, “with his wife and daughter.”  Armed with this information, we went back to the census: was there ever, anywhere in the United States, a Thomas Pool with a daughter Missouri? There was—and moreover, there was plenty of information to confirm that his family was the one Wilder remembered and to confirm that Thomas Pool and his wife Annie had moved to nearby Brown County, Minnesota, in 1880. But—now here’s the thing—in 1880, Missouri Pool is gone. She’s enumerated with her parents in 1870, but by 1880, she was either married, dead, or both. With no married name, it was impossible to track her beyond that point (Missouri was a more common first name than you might think). So there the matter rested. “There is no further trace of her,” was the conclusion in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography. “She would have been about forty years old” (p. 141n76).

Enter Vincent and Dawn Irlbeck.

These residents of Willow Lake Township in Redwood County read this annotation and recognized a familiar local name. They let us know that Missouri Evans, née Pool, was buried on a nearby farm. When we contacted them to follow up, they even went out and took some pictures of the grave marker for us. As you can see, Missouri Evans died in early 1881 at the age of forty—about the right age for our Missouri Pool. Was it the same woman?

Photograph taken and provided by Vincent and Dawn Irlbeck

Photograph taken and provided by Vincent and Dawn Irlbeck

Yes, it was. Now that we had her married name, everything fell into place. Missouri Evans’s 1880 census data matched what we would expect to see in Missouri Pool’s. The census data led to marriage records, and soon we had a clearer picture of Wilder’s friend. Missouri Pool married widower Henry Evans on March 14, 1880, in Brown County but she died thirteen months later. No death records are immediately available, but according to the Irlbecks, local tradition says that Missouri, like too many women of the nineteenth century, died in childbirth. Clearly, she did not return to her name state of Missouri, as Wilder believed, but had stayed nearby in Minnesota. By the time of her death, however, the Ingalls family themselves had moved on—to Dakota Territory and the Hard Winter.

Incidentally, two of Henry Evans’s other wives are also buried in this private cemetery: Anna, who died February 27, 1880 (we know, right?!), and Amelia, who died March 29, 1884. The women of Minnesota must have breathed a collective sigh of relief when the multiple widower packed up and moved to Canada—taking one final wife with him.

Jennifer McIntyre & Rodger Hartley

We thank Vincent and Dawn Irlbeck for contacting the South Dakota Historical Society Press with information on Missouri Pool and for taking the pictures of the Evanses’ gravesites.

Untitled-1

Photographs taken and provided by Vincent and Dawn Irlbeck

Pioneer Girl is out!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThank you to everyone who pre-ordered Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography from the South Dakota Historical Society Press. We are glad to say that the books will be arriving on your doorsteps in the next few days.

On Friday, November 14, the long-awaited Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography made it safely to our warehouse. As pallets of boxes were brought off the semitrailer, sod-house-like structures began to form and Press staffers Lisa Nold and Rodger Hartley quickly lost their sense of time and place.

However, they soon gathered themselves in preparation for the big sendoff beginning DSCF0259November 17.  That Monday, as if jolly ol’ Saint Nick himself were looking over our shoulders, box upon box was packed with care to be sent off across North America. The project of packing pallets to be shipped to our national and international distributors and bookstores had also begun. Boxes were hauled from one storage area to the next as our muscles protested the change from desk-work to dock-work. Yet, we can report that DSCF0257the work is done and the books are on their way to bookstores around the world.

Thousands of readers will soon discover what advance reviewers have already found:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The pre-orders are stacked and ready to go.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography . . . is clearly the definitive work on Wilder. It thrills with new insights and mature content, educates with historical facts and documentation, and enlightens with cultural perspective and commentary, all while maintaining the spirit of adventure and integrity that is the backbone of the Little House world and Wilder herself.”—Foreword Reviews

With Judy Thompson’s beautiful cover art, maps, photographs, and annotations all enhancing Wilder’s Pioneer Girl, we think the result is astounding.  We hope you agree.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Everyone helped load boxes for the De Smet Memorial Society.

Jennifer McIntyre

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography can still be ordered from the South Dakota Historical Society press for $39.95, plus shipping and tax.

Wheels of Fire(trucks)

On the whole, our circumstances here at the South Dakota Historical Society Press are not much like those of Laura Ingalls. We do, it’s true, work in a building cut into the side of a hill, and oxen could easily wander over the roof, supposing there were any oxen around. But we all felt a little closer to her two weeks ago, when we experienced our very own prairie fire.

Miniature prairie fire at the CHC, October 2013

As you can see, our parking lot is being rebuilt, and the fire began with some sparks from a machine cutting metal. From its humble beginnings, the fire took off downwind, devouring the drought-parched natural prairie grasses that make up our front lawn. (While we evacuated the building, the statue, Dale Lamphere’s Citadel, regarded the threat with more or less equanimity.)

As Ma says with relief in On the Banks of Plum Creek (p. 275), “there is nothing in the world so good as good neighbors,” and presently our good neighbors arrived in the form of the Pierre Volunteer Fire Department.

The firefighters in action

They extinguished the fire in a few minutes. It did no damage to the stone face of our building but scarred the earth impressively.  And yet only two weeks later, green shoots are in evidence on the burned ground. Even so late in the season, the miniature prairie ecosystem is working to restore itself.

Green shoots ascend from the ashes

It’s a sight that might have given Laura Ingalls, and all those who have experienced danger and disappointment on the prairie, hope for the future.

But we’re keeping an eye out for grasshoppers just the same.

Rodger Hartley

Snow Candy

“One morning she boiled molasses and sugar together until they made a thick syrup, and Pa brought in two pans of clean, white snow from outdoors. Laura and Mary each had a pan, and Pa and Ma showed them how to pour the dark syrup in little streams on to the snow. They made circles, and curlicues, and squiggledy things, and these hardened at once and were candy.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods

One of the exciting things I have been able to do in the short time I have been the new Marketing Director for the South Dakota Historical Society Press is to reintroduce myself to the novels of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The passage above is just one part of the story that has stuck with me as I grew up and moved on to reading adult accounts of life in the 1800s. The idea of snow candy —creating patterns out of maple syrup in the snow to make candy fascinated my young mind. In fact, I once sneaked a bottle of Aunt Jemima, or a similar brand, out into the mid-spring snow and ended up with a sticky puddle. Although I cannot remember why I decided I had to be secretive about my experiment, it was probably because I knew that my mother would tell me there was not enough snow or that it was too warm outside and I would have to wait until the next year. Luckily, I have a bit more patience now than I did then, and I look forward to researching recipes for snow candy in the coming months to repeat my experiment under better conditions. I will be sure to let you know how it goes.

Jennifer McIntyre