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Mary & Samuel Ray / Ellen & Amos Leonard

Sisters who settled near Walnut Grove with their husbands, one of whom had unsuccessfully sought to marry the husband of the other, then plotted to end up with their New York homeplace as revenge.

“Look here, wife. You’ve been hating them for twenty years. Seems to me kind of a waste of energy. Hated ’em worse every time anything went wrong. It’s kind of habit you’ve got into. Put it that you married me in a hurry, that you’d’ve married any Tom, Dick, or harry, just to jilt him before he jilted you. Take both of us now: if you had a choice, would you take him?” – Object Matrimony, Rose Wilder Lane, Saturday Evening Post

The tale from Pioneer Girl about the emotional upheaval and legal transaction between two Walnut Grove area families is one that unfolded before Justice of the Peace, Charles Ingalls – apparently with his family listening nearby.

Late in the Ingallses’ second stay in Walnut Grove, so the story goes, an elderly couple, Mr. and Mrs. Ray, and their grown son, Will Ray, plus another couple named Mr. and Mrs. Welch, came before Charles Ingalls to sign some papers. Mrs. Welch and Mrs. Ray were sisters. Laura relays that there had been queer stories about Mrs. Welch, her temper, and her outlandish behavior. Most shocking was the fact that Mr. Welch had advertised in a newspaper for a wife, she appeared, and they were married beside a haystack. “And what,” people said, “could you expect of a woman like that?” [Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pioneer Girl]

The story goes on to say that Mr. and Mrs. Welch had a claim and their nephew, Will, came to work for them. Mrs. Welch then persuaded Will to invite his parents for a visit, even paying for their train tickets. Once in the area, the Rays’ visit was prolonged until they had been there all summer. When they were ready to go home, they learned that Mrs. Welch had the power to take over their homeplace due to the mortgage she held on it, a mortgage that contained a residency requirement the Rays had broken, thus allowing Mrs. Welch to foreclose.

According to Laura, the two families came to sign the deed before Charles Ingalls, and Laura realized that the Ray farm must have been a beautiful place from the way it was described in the deed. Mrs. Ray was distraught and Mrs. Welch triumphant in her revenge. Mrs. Ray had married the man Mrs. Welch wanted, and she taught school to earn the money to buy the mortgage on Mr. Ray’s farm and had schemed and waited for years for the opportunity to get even with her sister.



Samuel T. Ray and Mary Jane (Welsh) Ray. Mary Jane Welsh and Ellen Jane Welsh (not Welch) were Ireland-born sisters who emigrated to America. Mary was born in 1819 and Ellen in 1835. Mary married Samuel Ray (born in Ireland in 1819) and they were living in New York City at the time of the 1855 census with their two sons born in Brooklyn: Samuel (3) and James William (10 months). The next year, Samuel Ray and George Welsh purchased 160 acres in Minerva Township, Essex County, for $160. In 1857, they added another 40 acres to their property. George remained in New York County and the Rays settled on the Minerva Township farm adjoining Trout Brook. There were soon six family members: Daughter Eliza was born in 1856 and son Robert in 1859.

The Rays lived on land that had been purchased from the Mohawk Indians in 1771 by Joseph Totten and Stephen Crossfield. There were marble quarries, silver and garnet mines, and lumber and saw mills in the vicinity, but the rapid consumption of timber soon gave way to agricultural pursuits. For twenty years, the Rays farmed the land, but by the time of the 1875 New York state census, Samuel Ray was 75 years old. Agricultural statistics recorded that he had 115 acres of improved land and 145 acres in woods, for a total of 260 acres valued at $760. Buildings on the farm were worth $250. He had plowed 12 acres of land the previous year and sold $100 in farm products. His 2 acres of potatoes yielded 150 bushels.

In August 1878, George Welsh and Samuel Ray sold 160 acres of land; the remainder of land south of Trout Brook was owned jointly by Samuel and Mary. On April 23, 1879, the Rays sold one-half interest in all mineral, precious stone, ore, sand, clay and other rights (it’s a long list) to their neighbor to the south, James McLaughlin. They also sold him all mining rights and privileges including the right to build roads, erect buildings, and chimneys and to bring in machinery of any and every kind, plus McLaughlin owned the rights to use all necessary water or water power on the property to separate ores, salts, and minerals, allowing the right of ingress and egress with teams and vehicles.

Ten weeks after selling half-interest in their mineral rights (they retained half-interest in McLaughlin’s operation) and two weeks after the official beginning of summer, the July 10, 1879, Currie Pioneer (Murray County, Minesota) reported that “The parents of W.J. Ray arrived on Thursday’s train.”

Seven weeks later, this happened:

AUGUST 19, 1879. Warranty Deed. Samuel Ray and Mary Jane Ray his wife, of Walnut Station, Redwood County, parties of the first part, sold to Ellen J. Leonard, of the same place…

In consideration of the sum of $890.00 (eight hundred and ninety dollars): Two parcels of land – sixty acres and forty acres – lying in Lots Sixty-one and Sixty-two of Totten and Crossfield’s Purchase [south of Trout Brook], reserving certain mineral rights belonging to James McLaughlin.

Charles P. Ingalls, Justice of the Peace, took testimony in Walnut Grove on the above date, and the transaction was witnessed by Caroline L. Ingalls and Amos Leonard. Sealed and Delivered in the Presence of A.D. Leonard and C.L. Ingalls.

This transaction took place at a time when Charles Ingalls was supposed to be away from Walnut Grove and working for the railroad. This separation of 20 days suggests a much different timeline than outlined by Pioneer Girl or On the Banks of Plum Creek, when Pa was gone for “weeks and months” before Ma and the girls rode the train to Tracy to meet him, an event that historically occurred on September 6. Had Pa been gone for months prior to being in Walnut Grove on August 19, and weeks afterward?

The area of the Ray farm is shown in a recent aerial photo. Laura Ingalls Wilder described the farm in Pioneer Girl:

From the deed as Pa read it I knew it must have been a beautiful old place. It was in New York and the description read from a certain tree on a hillside to a certain stone in a valley, then following the course of a brook to another stone, twisting and turning here and there, not square with straight lines like the farms I knew.

Below is a portion of the legal description of the property sold to Mrs. Leonard from the August 1879 deed:

…all the following pieces and parcels of land lying and being in the town of Minerva in the county of Essex and State of New York, being part of lots sixty-one and sixty-two in the due south of the Twenty-fourth township of Totten and Crossfield’s Purchase, commencing at a stake and stone on the west side of Trout Brook running easterly ten chains thence southerly ten chains and thence south westerly nine rods and twenty chains to a spruce stake, from thence north sixty one degrees east sixty chains to a hemlock tree from thence north twenty nine degrees east to the west bank of Trout Brook, from thence south along the bank of said creek to the place of beginning, containing sixty acres of land be the same more or less, ten acres of which is in said lot sixty two and the balance in said lot sixty one. Also a part of said lot sixty-two bounded as follows to wit: commencing at a stake and stones on the east bank of Trout Brook, running thence north only to lot number fifty-one in the Twenty-fifth Township, same Purchase, thence westerly on the line of said lot fifty-one to a stake and stones, from thence in a southerly direction to a large elm tree on the west side of Trout Brook, from thence up said brook to the place of beginning, containing forty acres of land be the same more or less…

Amos D. Leonard was born in New York State in 1834, the son of Clarissa and Isaac Leonard. By 1840, Isaac’s family as well as his parents, Elizabeth and Thomas Leonard, were living in Essex County. The Leonards owned more than 130 acres in Minerva Township. Around 1854, Amos married his first wife, Mary (born in England), and they had daughter Elizabeth, born around 1858. Mary’s fate is unknown, but in 1861, Amos married his second wife, Eleanor Turner, daughter of Jonathan and Eliza Turner, in Pelham, Massachusetts. Daughter Nellie was born the following year.

In September 1862, Amos enlisted as a private in Company G, 52nd Massachusetts Regiment, to serve for nine months. He went with his regiment to Louisiana, returning to New York in August 1863. Their son, William, was born in 1866. Eleanor Ray died in August, 1866, and was buried in Minerva.

Amos was married to his third wife, Sarah (born in England) by 1870. In July 1873, the Rays moved to Redwood County, Minnesota, and Amos filed on a homestead, the N-SW & S-SW 34-109-30, about three miles southwest of Walnut Grove and just north of the Murray County line. Sarah died.

On Saturday, September 8, 1877, Amos Leonard married wife #4, Ellen Jane Welsh, in Murray County. They were both about 43 years of age. Contrary to the story in Pioneer Girl, the couple did not marry the same day they applied for a marriage license, nor were they married by a Justice of the Peace; they were married in front of a minister with family members present as witnesses. Laura didn’t include the story in manuscript or published On the Banks of Plum Creek, perhaps because Rose had written it up as a short story titled “Object Matrimony,” published in Saturday Evening Post in September 1934. You can read Rose’s story in William Anderson’s Little House Sampler.

There was no mortgage on the Ray farm that Ellen Leonard paid $890 to purchase. Ellen and Amos Leonard were still living in Springdale Township at the time of the 1880 census, then her whereabouts are as yet unknown. Amos married his fifth wife, Katie Price, in Springdale Township in December 1889. They divorced, and Amos married his sixth wife, Elizabeth, after 1900. His last days were spent in the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Dayton, Ohio, where he died at age 81 in 1915. He was buried in Dayton National Cemetery.



Mary and Samuel Ray, plus their son Will, were living in Gales Township in 1880, but their son Robert was boarding with a family a mile from the Leonards and working as a laborer. William Ray didn’t file on claim until November 1881, when he made first filing on a homestead in Gales Township, the SW 20-110-39. In March 1883, Samuel Ray made first filing on a homestead in Gales Township, the N-SE 18-110-39. He relinquished the claim in November and it was filed on a former Essex County neighbor, Chauncey Griswold.

Of the four Ray children: Samuel G. Ray (1853-1937) married Carrie Cheney and they had one son, Roscoe. They moved from Essex to neighboring Warren County, where they lived for many years. Sam was a painter and carpenter, later a railroad flagman. He died in Virginia in 1937. William James Ray (1854-1939) married Della Jane Mills in Tracy in 1885. They had one daughter, Addie. William is buried in Tracy Cemetery. The later history of Eliza Jane Ray is as yet unknown. In 1886, Robert J. Ray married Addie Welch (born 1867), the daughter of James and Charlotte Welch, who lived in Essex County before moving to Walnut Grove. Robert and Addie had a daughter Minnie. Robert died in the 1880s and is buried in Tracy Cemetery beside his father, Samuel, who died in 1886 at age 81. Mary Jane Ray died in 1897 at age 78. She is buried in Lake George (Warren County) New York, suggesting that she moved back to New York to live with her son Samuel after her husband’s death.


Mr. and Mrs. Ray and their son, Will Ray (PG)
     Mr. and Mrs. Welch (PG)