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"Mrs. Brown was queer. The neighbors all thought so and, what was worse, they said so.

"Mrs. Fuller happened in several times, quite early in the morning, and although the work was not done up. Mrs. Brown was sitting leisurely in her room or else she would be writing at her desk. then Mrs. Powers went through the house one afternoon, and the dishes were stacked back unwashed, the bed still airing, and everything 'at sixes and sevens,' except the room where Mrs. Brown seemed to be idling away her time. Mrs. Powers said Mrs. Brown was 'just plain lazy,' and she didn't care who heard her say it.

"Ida Brown added interesting information when she told her schoolmates, after school, that she must hurry home and do up the work. It was a shame, the neighbors said, that Mrs. Brown should idle away her time all day and leave the work for Ida to do after school.

"Later, it was learned that Mrs. Brown had been writing for the papers to earn money to buy Ida's new winter outfits. Ida had been glad to help by doing the work after school so that her mother might have the day for study and writing, but they had not thought it necessary to explain to the neighbors."

Laura Ingalls Wilder, December 1917
The Boasts In "On the Shores of Silver Lake" Laura introduces the Boasts. Laura describes them as a young, newly married couple from Iowa with Mrs. Boast barely older than Mary Ingalls. Rob and Nell Boast quickly become close friends of the family and reappear often in the later books with their role climaxing in an odd way in "The First Four Years" when they ask Laura and Almanzo to give their daughter Rose to them to raise as their own.

Robert and Ella Boast were actually ten years older than Laura describes them when they arrived in Dakota Territory in 1880. Robert was 37 at this time, being born in May of 1848 in Canada of English parents. Ella was 28 years old at the time she met the Ingalls, having been born in Illinois in March 1852. They married in January 1870 and farmed in Iowa where they were reasonably prosperous.

In her unpublished memoirs, Laura describes them, "He was tall and strong, with black hair, the blackest eyes, and such a laugh... no one could help laughing too... She was small and plump and merry, with light hair and blue eyes."

They moved into the town of De Smet with Robert later working as a cattle buyer and real estate agent. They had no children.

Ella died at age 66, Robert at age 73. They are buried in the De Smet cemetery.

Cap Garland Cap is the young man Laura really fancied, for a time more than Almanzo. In her unpublished memoirs, she said, "To be perfectly truthful, I was noticing Cap... The truth is that when I came back from the Bouchie's [the real name of the family she stayed with the first term of school she taught] I had rather hoped to leave Manly [Almanzo] and go with Cap, but when one day Cap drove up to the door alone and asked me to go sleighing I discovered that I did not want to make the change."

Cap's future, unfortunately, was not to be a long, happy one.

Cap Garland (whose real name was Oscar Edmund Garland) was the son of a widow named Margaret Garland. In 1880 he was 15, born in Wisconsin, as were his two older sisters, Sarah Lovenia, 23, and Florence, 18 (who was one of Laura's schoolteachers in De Smet). His father, Walter Garland was an Irish immigrant who died in 1874. Cap Garland died tragically at age 26 in the explosion of the boiler of a threshing machine. He was unmarried.
This website contains a good history of Cap Garland and his family, including pictures of them.

Mr. Edwards Mr. Edwards is one of the most puzzling characters to appear in the "Little House" books. He has never been conclusively identified. Mr. Edwards appears three times in the stories. His first and largest role is in "Little House on the Prairie" where he's described as a bachelor who lived near the Ingalls. Laura calls him a "wildcat from Tennessee" who was lonely with his bachelor life and enjoyed the company of the Ingalls family particularly at Christmas. At the end, when they're leaving Kansas, Mr. Edwards heads south, deeper into Indian Territory. Mr. Edwards next appears (off screen) in "On the Shores of Silver Lake" when he helps Pa out in a brawl at the door of the office where land claims were filed. In this instance it's said he had taken a claim somewhere south of De Smet. He makes his final appearance in "The Long Winter" when he arrives on a work train from Volga (this suggests he may have been a railroad worker at this point). He was planning to head to Oregon in the spring.

Identifying Mr. Edwards:

There are several possibilities for the identity of Mr. Edwards (a first name is never given)...
  • He was a compilation character with "Mr. Edwards" representing several different real people who met the Ingalls family. This is possible--Laura did this with other characters, notably Nellie Oleson.
  • He was a purely fictional character--unlikely, while the Little House books are fiction, they are strongly based in autobiographical fact.
  • Mr. Edwards was really a man named "Ed Mason". Mason was a neighbor of the Ingalls in Kansas and appears near them in the 1870 census. Mason is, however, very unlikely to be Mr. Edwards. Mason was an English-born farmer who never left that area of Kansas and is buried there. Also, Mason had relatives very nearby (probably brothers) which negates the family-less bachelor aspect. He could not be the "Mr. Edwards" who appears ten years later in South Dakota.
Some possibilities I think are likely that I've never seen considered anywhere else are:
  • Mr. Edwards was really met in Missouri. Before they lived in Indian Territory, the Ingalls lived for a time in Chariton County, Missouri. This was one of the most strongly Rebel counties in Missouri with countless bushwhackers and guerrillas coming from there. A northern family in this area at this time would be in dire need of a friend. Tennessee was a common place for Missouri residents to have migrated from, most of them with southern-leanings. Perhaps Edwards was a friend there with Laura transferring his appearances to the "Little House on the Prairie" setting.
  • "Mr. Edwards" was an alias, or if not an alias, the name of a man who tried not to be identified and purposely avoided things like the census. The Indian Territory area of Kansas where the Ingalls settled was a haven for outlaws and Mr. Edwards may have been one of them. Bear in mind, not all outlaws were criminals in the classical sense, but many were ex-Confederates (which a young man from Tennessee could well be), often ex-guerrillas who were not recognized by the Federal government as having been legitimate soldiers and were not granted amnesty at the war's end. As is mentioned often in "Little House on the Prairie," there were numerous outlaws about (note the number of times horse thieves were mentioned and the security measures Pa took that aren't discussed in books that took place in other areas). The famous James brothers, Frank and Jesse, in their personal accounts of these exact years discuss hiding in and passing through Indian Territory. So does Cole Younger in his autobiography. Charles Ingalls was the sort to judge a man by his character, not his background (recall his fondness for a known horse thief in "On the Shores of Silver Lake"). As the Ingalls are leaving Kansas, recall that Mr. Edwards was said to have left quickly too, before the soldiers--Federal soldiers--arrived. What's more, he headed south, deeper into Indian Territory and outlaw hideout country.
Finding Mr. Edwards...

There are a number of approaches, each quite difficult and each with its drawbacks.

CENSUS RECORDS: Mr. Edwards should appear on both the 1870 and 1880 censuses. However for Montgomery County, Kansas in 1870 there are no conclusive candidates. The problem with the census is that not everyone in an area appears. If Mr. Edwards was trying to avoid being identified he could be one of the many from that area who avoided the census or gave a false name. He should also appear in the 1880 census for Dakota Territory. There are 41 men with the surname "Edwards" indexed in this census and 5 with the surname "Edward". I've checked about ten so far with no matches. The same problem exists with the 1880 census as the 1870--"Edwards" may not be his correct name, and even if it is, he may not be listed for any number of reasons.

MILITARY RECORDS: It is extremely likely that Mr. Edwards had been a Civil War soldier--his stated background by time and place makes it very probable. His 'yow-ee-ee' that Laura describes may well have been a Rebel yell. The National Archives index lists almost 350 men named "Edwards" as having served from Tennessee. Nearly 300 of these were Confederate, the rest Union. There were 286 "Edwards" who were in the Civil War from the state of Missouri, 96 of them Confederate, and 37 from Kansas, all Union. Confederate service records are not complete so the numbers may be higher. These records also do not take into account hundreds, if not thousands, of irregulars--partisan rangers, guerrillas, bushwhackers--who considered themselves legitimate soldiers but for whom no service records exist.

LAND RECORDS: No land claim may exist for Mr. Edwards for Kansas (none does for Charles Ingalls for reasons explained in the book--they were essentially squatters on land they had no right to claim). However a land claim for Dakota Territory should exist filed the day, or near to it, that Charles Ingalls filed his De Smet land claim. Whereas Charles Ingalls shows a land patent grant in the Bureau of Land Management files, it was said that Mr. Edwards relinquished his claim, so no land patent would show up, however the claim record should exist... if it could be found and reconciled to other records (census and military), may conclusively establish an identity. Such a search would need to take place by criteria other than name (like approximate age, marital status, and states of prior residence) which adds to the complexity. This would be a large, involved project for anyone who would care to tackle it. No one lives without leaving a paper trail and, faint as it is, this one may someday be found.

Tom Quiner Laura's uncle Tom--Caroline Ingalls' brother--visited the family in De Smet and told a tale of an expedition he'd been on to settle in the Black Hills. The story he told is documented by the woman who was with them on the trip, Annie B. Tallent. She wrote a book about the adventure titled "THE BLACK HILLS; or, The Last Hunting Ground of the Dakotahs" published in 1899. Copies of this book are available.

Ida Brown Ida married her beau, Elmer McConnell, and they ended up in California with several children. She is buried in a cemetery in Sacramento. On an odd personal note, I drove right past this cemetery every day for five years on my way home from work in Sacramento, yet didn't know this was Ida's resting place until after I had moved back to Minnesota. The lace Ida crocheted for Laura as a wedding gift is in the museum at Laura's Rocky Ridge home in Mansfield, Missouri.

In her unpublished memoirs, Laura said of the Browns, "Mrs. Brown was literary and wrote for several church papers, neglecting her personal appearance and her house, which was always dirty and in disorder. Ida worked hard and cheerfully, but she couldn't do all the work and keep the house neat while she walked two miles to school every day. I disliked Mr. and Mrs. Brown, but I did like Ida, who was not a bit like either of them and was no relation to them but had been adopted from a Home." Laura was rather more charitable in her description quoted at the top of this page. Of Reverend Brown, she said, "None of us liked him, he was so rude and rough and dirty. His white hair was thick and long, his whiskers were bushy and he did not always spit over them. His nails were black and his white shirt grimy and rumpled." By contrast, in her memoirs, Laura describes Ida as, "...a pretty French girl..."

Mary Power Mary Power married not long after Laura to a young banker named Sanford. I found her in Washington state, her husband a banker. I did not find children for her.

1900 census:

DeSmet, SD

Mary, age 34, b. Apr 1866 in New York, parents born in Ireland. Married 10 years., no children (none born, none living)

Edwin, age 35, b. Jan 1865 in Illinois, father born in New York, mother born in Mass., a bank cashier

1910 census:

Bellingham, Washington, address 617 Chestnut. Mary and Edwin, no children. Edwin is a bank cashier.

1920 census:

Bellingham, Washington

Mary and Edwin, still no children, living at 3018 Lake Drive.  Edwin is a bank teller.

1930 census:

Edwin a widower, living with a servant, a widow named Emma W. Longhurst, age 61, b. Canada. Edwin is a bank officer of the Commercial Bank. Same home address as 1920.

Nellie Oleson Nellie is a combination character of two girls from Walnut Grove ("On the Banks of Plum Creek"), Nellie Owens, whose father owned the store with the candy, and Genevee Masters who was the snooty girl who thought she was better than the other children because she had come from the East. The girl who was in De Smet was Genevee Masters and is described in Laura's unpublished memoirs exactly, and as insufferably, as she is in the published books.

The Benders While they certainly were not friends of the Ingalls, or possibly anyone else, the Benders of Kansas bear mention. The Benders were serial killers on the Kansas prairie, murdering and robbing travelers, dumping the bodies in the cellar and burying them in the back yard. Charles "Pa" Ingalls is said to have stopped at the Benders but moved on, possibly saving his life.

Laura, in her memoirs, says, "...he had had some thoughts of stopping at the Benders' for the night... Kate Bender came out and asked him to have supper there and put up for the night... Mary and I had those names in our minds, Independence, Kansas and Benders... I heard Pa say 'dead... Already twenty or more, in the cellar... Benders--where I stopped for a drink. She asked me to come in... They found a girl, no bigger than Laura. They'd thrown her in on top of her father and mother and tramped the ground down on them, while the little girl was still alive...' Laura then describes Pa riding off, returning to say, 'Yes, Caroline. Kate Bender with the rest. She deserved it just as much as they did.'

Laura says, "For a long time, even for years, after that, I dreamed about a little girl thrown on top of her father and mother and buried alive. Sometimes I was the little girl."

She says she was grown before she ever asked Pa about the Benders. The information she records in her memoirs is correct, and the dates and location are correct for her Pa to have passed by the Benders' house. But the date the Benders were found out doesn't fit having Charles Ingalls being part of the group who went after them. That took place in 1873, a couple years after the Ingalls had left Kansas--they were back living in Wisconsin at that time. It is somewhat possible Pa made the trip to Kansas, or was there on some business or exploration trip, however.

Asking Pa about it, Laura recounts, "Wasn't he one of the Vigilantes who went after the Benders, and didn't the catch them? He only said, 'We thought you were too little to understand.' As for what became of the Benders, he would not answer. He said, 'Don't worry. They'll never find Kate Bender anywhere.'"


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