The Pioneer Girl Project sends condolences to the family and friends of Jean Coday. As director of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, Coday was a long-time advocate for the legacy of Wilder and a respected colleague as we worked to bring Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography to the public. As stated in her obituary, “Jean has had an impact on countless lives. . . . She has given . . . selflessly, of her time, talent, money, and most of all her heart to those around her.” The entire memorial can be found at the Springfield News-Leader.
Readers of Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography continue to share interesting information with the Pioneer Girl Project staff. A good example is Nami Hattori, who follows our blog from Canada. She recently wrote to us that she had found some additional information about Laura Remington, whom Wilder mentioned twice in her autobiography. On page 243 of Pioneer Girl, Laura Remington is “among the younger girls” at school, and on page 275, Remington is paired with Alfred Ely as a participant in the sleighing parties on De Smet’s main street in the mid-1880s. The annotation about Laura Remington reads: “The 1880 census includes one family named Remington in Kingsbury County: Francis P. Remington and his wife, Ellen. They had one daughter named Grace—not Laura—and she would have been about six years old in the fall of 1881” (p. 244n46).
Nami Hattori, though, has discovered another source that sheds a little more light on the elusive Laura Remington. A girl by that name not only lived in De Smet in the 1880s, Hattori pointed out, but she also “wrote a message on Wilder’s autograph book,” which the “LIW library in Mansfield owns.” Hattori shared with us and our readers the photograph that she took of Wilder’s autograph book in the 1990s. It contains this handwritten line, “Your true ‘enemy’ Laura Remington.”
While Remington did not date her entry, Hattori noted that many others who signed the book, including Charles Ingalls, Cap Garland, and Ida Brown, had dated theirs from 1882 to 1885. “Judging from her handwriting,” Hattori wrote, Laura Remington “was not a little girl at the time.” Because the signatures appear to have been penned after 1882, Hattori continued, “we can speculate that she might have moved to Dakota after 1880,” which would explain why she is not listed on the census.
With Hattori’s speculation in mind and the album as proof that there was a Laura Remington in the area, we went back to the census data from a different angle and found a second candidate for the family: Laura Remington could be the daughter of William and Helen M. Remington, who moved to Dakota Territory from Wisconsin sometime before June 1883. Their daughter Laura would still have been six years younger than Wilder, closer in age to Alfred Ely with whom Remington went sleighing. However, because the state census records for Kingsbury County are missing, we still cannot be absolutely certain that this Laura Remington is the one Wilder knew. As with so many of the people mentioned briefly in Pioneer Girl, little can be uncovered about them all these years later. Even with the wonderful autograph album, we do not know much more about Laura Remington.
But the album itself is fascinating. It is a resource for modern researchers, and it apparently served Wilder herself as a source of information. “Ida Brown’s verse on the real autograph album is the same as the one in Little Town on the Prairie,” Hattori wrote. “It tells that Wilder used this album when she wrote LTOP.” We are grateful to Hattori for bringing this treasure to our attention.
Nancy Tystad Koupal
I flew into Springfield, Missouri, in a thunderstorm and all but kissed the ground as I deplaned. My fellow weak-kneed passengers agreed that it had been the worst flight in our collective experience. It was an inauspicious beginning to what proved to be a magical trip.
The next morning, Pam Smith Hill and I drove the roughly forty-five miles to Rocky Ridge farm near Mansfield, Missouri, for our first look at the original, handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript. The trip was the culmination of weeks of negotiation and preparation. We had earned the right to publish the manuscript, and we were working our way through various typescripts and digital copies to determine what constituted the core text. Outside of the staff and board members of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, no one had seen the original manuscript in decades. We were excited.
We also had permission to photograph a number of artifacts in the museum collection to illustrate passages of the annotated edition. Pam had prepared the list, and professional photographer Keli Tetzlaff and her boss Angela D. Smith of Springfield accompanied us. With the help of staff member Kathleen Forte, we began in the museum, photographing Pa’s fiddle and other treasures and then moved to the Wilder farmhouse to see Wilder’s writing desk and the small, sunny room in which she did her writing. She had launched her journalism career in this house, writing columns for the Missouri Ruralist, and she penned the later novels here as well. (She had written the early ones in the stone house that her daughter built for her and which we would visit later.)
The scale of everything was so tiny that I felt like a giantess. The small alcove off the living room that formed the author’s library served as a frame for a photograph of Pam and me that proved the point: we modern women were much taller and, in my case, broader than the diminutive Wilder. Again, the exquisite Prairie-style architecture and detail of the house made a deep impression on me, as it had on my first visit to the author’s home ten years earlier. It was so modern for the time period and yet so classic. The beautiful W. H. D. Koerner painting of homesteaders in a covered wagon added a bright splash of color to the warm woods and muted fabrics of the sitting area.
Last of all, we met with museum director Jean Coday, who opened the vaults and brought out the aging tablets that contain the handwritten story of the young Laura Ingalls Wilder. The lined pages of these inexpensive pads of paper have toned over the years and become somewhat brittle, and although they have been treated for acidity, they are fragile. We pulled on white gloves and touched them carefully. Seeing the originals made clear some of the puzzles in the digital copy we were using to create the core text. In the era before computers, there had been no easy way to insert corrections or add text, and Wilder had used the cut-and-paste method, pasting in one edge of a slip of paper that contained additional handwritten text and thereby creating a flap that covered the original text but could be lifted up to continue reading. Or she had drawn lines or directions to additions on the back of a page or later pages. All in all, we learned a lot about the text in a few minutes of examination.
As we drove back to Springfield at the close of an intensely busy but successful day, we were tired but invigorated. We were, in fact, looking forward to the months of study, writing, and editing that loomed ahead of us.
Nancy Tystad Koupal