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V. A. Family on Third Street

April 16, 2013

Mary Ingalls graduated from the Iowa College for the Blind on June 12, 1899, when she was 24. At commencement exercises on June 10 she read a Robert Burns essay, ” Bide a Wee and Dinna Weary”, which, as Laura said ” showed the influence of Pa’s old Scots songs. After graduation she returned to De Smet to live at home. She never regained her single and never married.

For Mary Ingalls, life became a procession of day filled with housework, music of the parlor organ, church, craft work and visiting with friends who stopped in. She moved around the house with ease. Strangers seldom sensed that she was blind; her blue eyes were only slightly vague. She helped Ma with  housework, sewing and cooking. Her days had a set routine; housework in the mornings and afternoons in the parlor filled with reading, writing and crafts. 

Mary wrote many letters to family and college friends, using  her Braille slate and stylus or penciling letters with the guidance of a wide grooved insert on the slate. She had a library of Braille and raised print books d read widely from them. 

Ma and her sister read aloud everything that came into the house, so Mary did not lack for news and knowledge.

Mary’s health was sometimes a family concern and in July of 1892 she and Pa made a trip to Chicago to consult with eye specialists. They were told that nerve damage would never allow Mary’s sight to return, but a delicate operation was performed to relieve severe neuralgia pains in the head and face. When asked about Mary’s sight years, Laura mentioned that all that could be don for  her blind sister had been done.  

While Ma and Mary ran  household; Carrie and Grace were in school. The 1894 school building was two blocks west of the Ingalls home and there the two youngest Ingalls daughters finished their educations. When Carrie finished high school she taught briefly and then learned the printing trade at  The Dee Smet News and Leader. Hers was along working career alternating between printing, clerk in in stores, helping in the Post Office and other occupations. Her wages were welcome at home, for the Ingalls family was never prosperous.

Grace sometimes known as ” Gracie” at school. She, along with Mary and Carrie, was involved in Sunday School and young people’s league at the  Congregational Church around the comer from their home.

The Ingalls family were well-known in the neighborhood and at church, but one neighbor recalled that they ” kept to themselves”. They lived quietly, with much of their attention centering on Mar and old friends like the Boasts. Ella Boast suffered with severe arthritis so her husband gave their arm to move to De Smet. Though very crippled, Mrs. Boast directed her hired girls to   prepare bountiful holiday dinners and other celebrations and the Ingalls family was often present.

When a Masonic order was started in DE Smet, Pa became an active member. In 1892, Bethlehem Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star was formed and both Ma and Carrie were charter members. Pa soon joined the Eastern Star along with them.

It was Pa who was most active in De Smet community life. He held many civic jobs, some of them paying small fees which supplemented his carpentry business. He was town clerk, deputy sheriff, street commissioner, chief of police and for several years was justice of the peace. As justice, Pa served papers o cases including assault, intent to kill, and illegal sale of liquor. He was personally a prohibitionist and The De Smet News and Leader mentioned in 1890 one of cases he handled as justice : Drink lovers a shining mark, but C. P. Ingalls seems in duty bound to exert the ‘ powers that him lie’ to redeem the fallen and bring justice those who willfully violate the probationary law”. 

Pa may have sold insurance and is said to hae canvassed the county taking orders for twine farmers needed to bind their grain. IN 1892 he decided to start his own store. It was called Ingallas and Company and has several locations in downtown De Smet. The store featured groceries, variety good, tinware, school supplies and ” notions”. Mar’s fancy fly nets for horses were on sale as well as harnesses and halters.

The store was short-lived. The drought years of the 1890s slowed farming and business all through S.D., ( the territory became a state in 1899). Pa’s store was not match for the larger concerns like the Loftus an Harthorne’s operations. “Ingalls and Company” closed out after a year and Pa started traveling across the prairies with a grocery wagon. He stopped at isolated farms selling his goods to farm wives who seldom got to  town.  

The drought of the 90s led Laura and Almanzo Wilder to leave De Smet in 1894, taking their daughter Rose and all their remaining possessions to a new farm in Mansfield, Mo. Pa and Ma, Mary, Carrie and Grace all stood around the house on Third Street to bid them farewell. It was the first permanent separation  within the family. It was the last time any of the family saw little Rose.

Ma was pleased that three of her girls taught school, carrying on the tradition that stretched back to their grandmother Charlotte Quiner. Grace prepared for her teaching career at Redfield College, a small Congregational School west of De Smet. She took a ” normal course” which was common preparation for teachers of that era. For Grace, the late 1890s were busy as she finished her schooling and then taught in country schools.

While Grace taught Lincoln School on the prairie near Manchester ( a small town seven miles west of De Smet), she met pioneer families like the Dunns, the Aspinwalls and the Dows. Soon Nate Dow was courting her. H was the son of a homesteader and farmed the family land near Manchester. On Oct. 16,1901 Grace and Nate were married at the Ingalls home. The groom was 42; the bride 24. They settled on the Dow farm.

Pa health worried them all that fall of 1901. His heart was failing him and through  he winter and spring of 1902 he became seriously ill. Grace often came n fro her new home to help, but Pa grew no better They sent for Laura, who made the train trip from Mansfield to De Smet. She arrived in time to see Pa again. But on Sunday afternoon, June 8, 1902, with family around him, Charles Ingalls died.

Pa Ingalls, De Smet’s first citizen, was buried on the prairie hill near town. Charles Ingalls did his life’s work well… said The De Smet News. : As friend and neighbor he was always kind and courteous and as a husband and father he was faithful and loving. An what better can be said of any man?” 

 

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