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Walnut Grove during the Little House years

Village in Redwood County, Minnesota, platted in 1873 and incorporated in 1879.

Walnut Station is one of the liveliest places on the railroad this spring. There are two new general stores, with new two story buildings and Masonic Hall in one. There is also a new Hardware, a new grocery and Meat market. There are eight or nine dwellings being erected. The farmers who went away during the hard times have returned and many new ones have come in. The government land in that vicinity is all taken and some of the railroad land. – The Redwood Gazette, April 11, 1878.

     
Walnut Grove, Minnesota, was not mentioned by name in any published Little House book; instead, Wilder referred to it simply as “town.”

History of Redwood County, Minnesota. At various times between 1804 and 1863, the land comprising Redwood County had been part of the Louisiana district, Louisiana Territory, Missouri Territory, Michigan Territory, Wisconsin Territory, Iowa Territory, and Minnesota Territory. It also was under no United States government jurisdiction at times.

Prior to being ceded to the U.S. in 1863, it was part of the Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) lands. Much has been written about the Sioux uprising (or Dakota Conflict), some of which involved nearby New Ulm, Minnesota. Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned the uprising in her Pioneer Girl manuscript, writing that when they were traveling from Pepin to Walnut Grove, they saw “grassy mounds which Pa said were ruins of houses where Pa said Indians had killed the settlers in an Indian massacre years before.” Thousands fled from their homes and hundreds were killed. In 1864 – the year Redwood County was surveyed – many people were afraid to settle in the area.

Redwood County, Minnesota is bordered by the Minnesota River on the northeast,Yellow Medicine and Lyon Counties to the northwest and west, Murray and Cottonwood Counties to the south, and Brown County to the southeast and east.

North Hero Township. North Hero Township (Township 109, Range 38, shown in YELLOW in the map here) was originally called Barton Township. The Winona-Tracy line of the Chicago and NorthWestern Railroad crosses east-west through the township at Walnut Grove. The Cottonwood River passes through the northwest part of the township and receives water from Plum Creek to its south.

The Township was surveyed in August 1859 and described as level or gently rolling and dry, with first class soil. Barton Township was changed to North Hero at the time of organization in September 1873 – both the names “North Hero” and “Barton” come from towns in Vermont. Among the earliest settlers were Eleck Nelson (Mr. Nelson in On the Banks of Plum Creek) and Lafayette Bedal.

Walnut Grove. At the time of the Minnesota massacre, two men from Lake Shetek were raising hogs and living in the grove of black walnut trees from which Walnut Grove derived its name. They escaped unharmed, but their livestock was slaughtered.

About 1866, Joseph Steves came to the walnut grove and built a shanty. He was living there when surveyors passed through on their way to survey Springdale Township to the west, North Hero having been surveyed prior to the massacre.

Beginning in 1873, settlers began moving into the area in large numbers, the railroad having been completed in 1872. A post office was established as Walnut Grove Station in 1873, with Lafayette Bedal as the first postmaster. The original plat of Walnut Grove was filed on September 10, 1874, the land being surveyed for Lafayette and Elias Bedal. In January 1873, Lafayette Bedal filed on the future townsite as a homestead claim, which he converted to cash in July 1874. At the time of survey, Lafayette Bedal sold some of the town blocks to Elias Bedal (Lafayette’s father) and Walter Breckenridge (attorney and land speculator from Rochester, Minnesota).

Walnut Grove was incorporated by an Act of the Minnesota Legislature, approved March 3, 1879. John H. Anderson, William H. Owens, and A.F. Sinkler were appointed commissioners. The first election in Walnut Grove was held March 10, 1879, with officers elected as follows: Elias Bedal (President); Thomas Quarton, John B. Leo, and Christ Clementson (Trustees); Frank Hill (Recorder); William H. Owens (Treasurer); Johnson Russell (Constable); and Charles Ingalls (Justice of the Peace).

The first Congregational services were held at the home of James Kennedy; in 1874, Union Congregational Church was built. The Methodist Episcopal church was organized in 1873. In 1874, the first school was organized as District 23. Prior to that, classes were held in the Lafayette Bedal home.

The Chicago and NorthWestern Railroad. The first railroad through Walnut Grove was the Winona-Tracy branch of the Winona & St. Peter (later Chicago and NorthWestern), completed in June 1872. The tracks crossed the southern portion of Redwood County, through Charleston, Lamberton, North Hero, and Springdale Townships; a depot was built in Walnut Grove. Beginning in April 1873, regular rail service was offered between New Ulm and Tracy, with an engine, baggage car, coach, and up to 25 freight cars.

Early in the year 1879 came knowledge that a railroad was to be built west from Tracy into Dakota Territory. This prompted an influx of settlers and a building boom in Tracy. Rails were laid as far west as Lake Balaton by August 1879. The townsite of Balaton was surveyed in July, the train station was completed in August, and regular train service to Balaton began in September, only days after Caroline Ingalls and daughters took the train to Tracy to join Charles Ingalls, prior to moving west to Dakota Territory.
     


     

Walnut Grove during the Little House Years. The original village of Walnut Grove was located in the northwest quarter of Section 30, Township 109, Range 38. The town consisted of 24 blocks, most containing twelve lots each. All lots had an alley behind them. North/South streets were numbered beginning at the east: First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh. East/West streets beginning at the north were Main and Bedal. The two major roads were Main and Sixth; these were wider than other roads.

In the map below, lots in YELLOW were the property of Walter S. Breckenridge during the Little House years. Lots in BLUE belonged to Lafayette and/or Elias Bedal. In Block 6 below, the lots belonging to Lafayette Bedal were where the Bedal Store and Post Office was located. As a point of reference, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum is located in Block 8 today. Block 9 is the current City Park.

Laura Ingalls Wilder remembered only a few buildings or businesses in Walnut Grove from her childhood. These included a blacksmith shop (Hodgkinson property in Block 8), two stores (Owens store in Block 7 and Fitch & Anderson store in Block 10), the Post Office (L. Bedal property in Block 6), schoolhouse (Block 20), Congregational Church (Block 21), and the Ensign and Anderson houses (Ensign in Blocks 24 and Anderson in Block 11). In a 1930s letter to daughter Rose, Laura described Walnut Grove as “just a little wide place beside the tracks,” with only one real street, a road leading north to their claim, and a path that she and Mary took to the schoolhouse once they got to town.

     
Preemption Claims, Homestead Claims, Tree Claims, and Purchased Lands. In Minnesota, alternate sections of land were set aside for the sale or use by the various railroad companies, and these were not available for claiming under the U.S. Public Land Laws. In the map below, odd-numbered sections in PINK were railroad lands. With the exception of 40 acres west of and adjoining the town of Walnut Grove – which William J. Masters purchased from the Winona & St. Peter Railroad in October 1876 – none of the odd-numbered sections were occupied during the years the Ingalls family lived in Redwood County (1873-1879).

In each Township, Sections 16 and 36 were set aside for sale or use by the Schools; these were not available for occupation under the U.S. Public Land Laws.

In Redwood County, Laura Ingalls’ world was a small one; her life stories were centered around the events in Walnut Grove or on the preemption claim on Plum Creek. Mrs. Wilder mentions only the Nelson homestead to the south. By the time the Ingallses settled in North Hero Township, almost all available lands (even-numbered Sections 2-14 and 18-34) were occupied. Only residents with a connection to the published Little House books are included on the map below. Please note: Without exception, all claims shown on the map below are private property today. If you visit these sites, please do not trespass.

Springdale Township
THOMAS POOL, NW 4-108-39, homestead
JOHN ENSIGN, SE 2-109-39, homestead
AMASA TOWER, SE 10-109-39, preemption
WILLIAM OWENS, SW 14-109-39, tree claim
LEONARD MOSES, SW 22-109-39, homestead
WILLIAM MASTERS, NE-NE 25-109-39, purchase
FRANKLIN ENSIGN, SE 28-109-39

North Hero Township
CHARLES INGALLS, SW 4-109-38, tree claim
CHARLES INGALLS, W-SW 4-109-38, homestead
CHARLES INGALLS, NW 18-109-38, preemption
ELECK NELSON, SW 18-109-38, homestead
SAMUEL MASTERS, E-SW 20-109-38, homestead
ROBERT HOYT, NE 24-109-38, purchase
ROBERT HOYT, NE 24-109-38, purchase

     

     

Walnut Grove, Minnesota (PG), called “town” in the published Little House books