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Mary Power & Edwin Sanford

by Gina Terrana

Laura’s school friend, the middle daughter of Eliza and Thomas Power; she married a De Smet bank cashier.

One of the strange girls was tall and dark. Her smooth, black hair was twisted into a heavy knot at the back of her head. Her dress of indigo blue woolen was longer than Laura’s brown one. -The Long Winter

Mary Power was born April 3, 1866 in Tuscarora, New York, the fourth of six children of Thomas Power and Elizabeth Mary Donnelly, both born in Ireland. She had older brothers James (born 1857) and Thomas (born about 1860), and older sister Susannah (born 1861). She had younger sister Elizabeth (born 1869) and younger brother Charles (born 1871).

Mary Power became good friends with Laura Ingalls in De Smet, and was introduced as a character in the Little House books in The Long Winter (Chapter 9, “Cap Garland”). Laura Ingalls Wilder described Mary Power as having smooth black hair and dark blue eyes fringed with long, black lashes.

When Mary Power was about three years old, her family moved to Kasson (Dodge County) Minnesota. They stayed in Kasson until 1880, when they were lured to Dakota Territory by the availability of free land for homesteading. On July 18, 1880, they were living on the SW 29-111-56 in Kingsbury County. Mary’s older brothers remained in Minnesota and did not homestead with the rest of the family.

In her Pioneer Girl memoir, Laura Ingalls Wilder did not mention Mary Power until she wrote about Miss Wilder teaching school (see Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 11, “Miss Wilder Teaches School”). At that time she says that Mary Power and Ida Brown were her good friends, and strangely, both would look to her to solve questions that arose. Mary, Ida, and Laura all tried to be friendly to Genevieve (Nellie Oleson) Masters, but she rebuffed them all because she was from New York, and above them all. Laura may have made Pa laugh when she told him about this, but Mary Power must have had a private giggle herself, for she was also born in New York.

Mary would propose things to do to bother Miss Wilder, and Laura Ingalls asked her not to.

Mary would often visit the Ingalls’ Calumet Avenue home on winter Saturday afternoons, and bring her work basket. One Saturday afternoon, Mary brought news of a dime sociable. The Ladies’ Aid Society held the sociable in Mrs. Tinkham’s rooms over the furniture store (see Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 17, “The Sociable”). Mary was a Catholic, and she attended the sociable held by the ladies of the Congregational Church. Her parents did not fret over these things.

Edmund (Cap) Garland was the informal beau of Mary Power. They paired off at group activities, but he did not escort her home from church events. There was no permanent priest assigned to De Smet at that time, so Catholic church activities were rather limited. Missionary priests would stop by every now and then to baptise and bless unions, distribute Holy Communion and hear confession. Confirmation classes would be held once every few years.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that Mary stopped “going around” with Cap, and was going with a banker. Eventually this was so, but in the meantime Mary did not settle with any one beau. Hattie Dorchester and Jake Zickrick raced Mary Power and D. LeSuer in a mile race at the skating rink. Mary and Mr. LeSuer won the December 1884 race.

Mary Power was involved in the De Smet Dramatic Company, performing the role of “Kathleen Malvorneen” in a traveling production during the spring of 1885. The Lake Preston Times reported that Mary “showed talent of a superior order.”

In March 1884, a young bank cashier by the name of Edwin Sanford accepted a position as bookkeeper in the Kingsbury County Bank. In De Smet, Ed moved in the same social circle as Mary Power, and he attended the Catholic church. Soon Mary and Ed were a couple.

On August 2, 1890, Mary Power married Edwin P. Sanford at the home of Mary’s sister and brother-in-law, Susie and Jake Hopp. The couple purchased a house across from Charles and Caroline Ingalls on Third Street. In the early 1907, they moved to Bellingham (Whatcom County) Washington.

Mary and Edwin Sanford had no children. Mary Power Sanford died in October 1929; she is buried in Bayview Cemetery in Bellingham.



Edwin P. Sanford was born in Prairie City, Illinois in 1865, the son of Herman and Mary Sanford. In 1882, Herman Sanford and daughter Emma filed on homesteads in Spirit Lake Township. Following Mr. Sanford’s death in 1884, Mrs. Sanford continued to live on the claim.

In March 1884, when Edwin was 19 years old, he was hired by Thomas Ruth as bookkeeper in the Kingsbury County Bank. He later became both stockholder and cashier.

Following a move to Bellingham, Washintgon, Edwin Sanford was cashier and then Vice President of the Bellingham National Bank (shown at right). In the fall of 1907, the Bellingham Herald printed a story about the home E.P. Sanford was building in the Spanish Mission style. The home had two main floors and an attic apartment, where Mary’s mother lived. Edwin and Mary lived several blocks from the bank for many years.

About every five years or so the Sanfords would visit old friends in De Smet, and many parties were given to honor them. Their last visit was in 1923.

Edwin P. Sanford died in May, 1932 in Bellingham; he is buried in Bayview Cemetery beside Mary.


Mary Power (TLW 9, 12, 14, 31; LTP 11, 13-17, 19-21, 23-24; THGY 4, 11, 13, 16, 17, 20, 22, 24, 27; PG)
     Ed / Edwin Sanford (THGY 20, 22)