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Hamlin Garland

Author of stories and novels about midwestern farm life.

“…it was not until my fifteenth or sixteenth year that our Sunday school rose to the extravagance of a tree, and it is of this wondrous festival that I write. – Hamlin Garland, “My First Christmas Tree”


Illustration by H.C. Wall for “My First Christmas Tree” (1911)

There are a number of connections that can be made between the author, Hamlin Garland (1860-1940), and the people and places in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life. For example: Hamlin Garland was born in West Salem, Wisconsin, where Reverend Edward Brown and family also once lived. Garland had a claim in Dakota Territory, just like Charles Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder. In his mid-twenties, Garland settled in Boston to work as a writer, and that’s where Laura Ingalls Wilder’s great-grandmother, Martha Morse Tucker, also had lived. In the 1870s, Garland’s family moved to Iowa, as did the Ingallses.

There is one association you may read about that is incorrect. Hamlin Garland’s family did not live in Burr Oak (Winneshiek County) Iowa, and he did not write about a Christmas tree celebration that the Ingalls family may have attended in 1876. Young Hamlin lived in Mitchell County, and Laura Ingalls lived sixty-five miles to the east, in Winneshiek County. Both had townships named “Burr Oak.”

When Wilder biographer William Anderson published The Iowa Story in 1990, he wrote: “The Ingalls family attended the Congregational Church in Burr Oak, and at Christmas, a tree and program were scheduled at the school-house. On Christmas eve, Laura sat among the Burr Oakers with a farm-boy named Hamlin Garland. Later, as an author, Garland wrote of the Burr Oak Christmas program in 1876 for The Fireside Book of Christmas Stories.” After realizing that Garland was writing about a different Burr Oak, Anderson omitted this reference from subsequent printings. Garland’s story is still incorrectly being linked to Wilder, most recently in Caroline Fraser’s LIW biography, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, published in 2017.

Hamlin Garland’s “My First Christmas Tree,” first appeared on page 13 of the December 1911 issue of Ladies Home Journal, with illustrations by H.C. Wall. His drawing of Hamlin and his brother Frank is shown here. It was included in the book, Fireside, published in 1945 (after Garland’s death) by Bobbs-Merrill Company. In the short story, Garland tells of being a young lad of fifteen or sixteen years of age, and trudging through the snow in ten-below weather to a Christmas tree service at the Burr Oak schoolhouse. You can read Garland’s story HERE. In his story, Garland mentions that the family lived in Mitchell County and also included names of local residents that can be found on 1870 federal and 1875 Iowa state census records for Mitchell County. The year Hamlin moved to Boston, the lovely Betty Burtch married August Benson back in Burr Oak.


Hamlin Garland