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Carrie Ingalls, Homesteader

160 acre homestead claim filed on by Carrie Ingalls in 1907 and commuted to cash purchase the following year.

The rush of homesteaders and new settlers into the territory west of the Missouri river still continues. They are coming in even larger numbers than they did last year. On March 20, according to the books of the agents at Pierre, five hundred cars of immigrant goods had crossed the bridge at that place since the first of the year. – The Bad River News, Philip, South Dakota, March 26, 1808.


View of Carrie’s homestead claim today, looking south.

In September 1907, Carrie Ingalls and Chloe Fuller traveled from De Smet to Philip, South Dakota, to look over available land near the ranch of family friend and former De Smet mayor, Edward A. Morrison. After Morrison’s De Smet flour mill had burned in 1900, he sought his fortunes in the “wild and wooly west.” Morrison and four of his adult children filed on homesteads along West Plum Creek in Haaken County (then part of Stanley County). Morrison built up a huge cattle, horse, and sheep ranch, and although he spent the rest of his life as a prosperous rancher west of the Missouri River, he remained a frequent De Smet visitor. When he died at age 99 in 1951, Edward Morrison was buried in the De Smet cemetery.

At the Pierre land office, Carrie Ingalls filed on a homestead, the W-NW & W-SW Section 9, Township 4 North, Range 20 East of the Black Hills Meridian. Her claim was about 20 miles north of Philip, South Dakota, and 90 miles west of Pierre. Carrie’s claim was a mile east of Edward Morrison and between two post offices: Topbar (3 miles to the north) and Elbon (3 miles to the south). Other De Smet friends had filed on claims nearby, including Eva Cooledge (widow of De Smet photographer H. Warren Cooledge), Eva’s son Floyd, and Samantha and George Burd (parents-in-law of Frank Harthorn), whose claim adjoined Carrie’s. The railroad reached Philip a couple of months before Carrie filed, no doubt a major factor in her decision to homestead.

History records how Carrie’s homestead went from being part of the undivided Great Reservation of the Sioux Nation west of the Missouri River to public domain land made available for settlement. The treaties and acts mentioned below are only a few of the events involved:

By treaty in 1868, the Great Sioux Reservation included all of present-day South Dakota west of the Missouri River. 1891 South Dakota map was highlighted to show reservation lost in 1877 (red) and diminished reservations established in 1889 (yellow), leaving land restored to the public domain (green), where Carrie’s homestead was located.

1868 TREATY OF FORT LARAMIE. The boundary of the Great Sioux Reservation was established by the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868 and included all the land west of the Missouri River (blue line on the map) in present-day South Dakota. Discovery of gold in the Black Hills in 1874 made it impossible to stop the flow of fortune hunters though the reservation and into the Black Hills. In These Happy Golden Years (see Chapter 13, “Springtime”) Laura Ingalls Wilder includes a De Smet visit by her uncle, Thomas Quiner, in which he tells the story of his own illegal 1874-1875 quest for gold as a member of the Gordon party, and of their forced removal from the area by the U.S. Army.

ACT OF FEBRUARY 28, 1877. Following defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876, Congress cut off aid to the Sioux until they ceded the Black Hills to the United States. By treaty in 1877, the Sioux were restricted to the area east of the Black Hills and west of the Missouri River, having lost the portion of the map shaded in red. Travel was allowed through the reservation from eastern Dakota Territory to the Black Hills via three wagon roads, and for any further cessation of reservation lands, 3/4 of the adult male Sioux (those with signatory rights) would be required.

1887 DAWES ACT. In an effort to assimilate the Indians and turn them into citizen farmers, Congress passed the 1887 Dawes Act, which allowed for the allotment of surveyed tracts of reservation land to Indians, as well as the sale of some parcels to non-Indian farmers and ranchers, from whom the Indians would learn farming and ranching. Indian allotments would be held in trust by the United States for 25 years prior to issue of patent, at which time the Indians would be forced into compliance with private property laws of the United States. As the allotment process progressed, a commission sought–and obtained–the necessary signatures in order to reduce the size of the Sioux reservation further.

ACT OF MARCH 2, 1889. During the last hours he was in office in 1889, President Grover Cleveland signed the Sioux Bill, by which the Great Sioux Nation of Dakota Territory would be divided into separate reservations for Indians receiving rations and annuities at the following agencies: Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Lower Brule, and Crow Creek in Dakota Territory. It also affected the Santee Sioux on the reservation in Nebraska. Each member of the tribe would be allotted land on the thus diminished reservations, and the surplus would be restored to the public domain.

Under terms of the 1889 Act, these lands weren’t “free” in the way Charles Ingalls’ Kingsbury County homestead had been. The 1889 claims were sold for cash, but because purchasers had to comply with some provisions of the homestead acts, they were called homesteads. In addition to the fulfillment of residency requirements and improvements plus payment of filing fees, land disposed of within the first three years of availability cost $1.25 per acre. During the next two years, the cost was $.75 per acre, and for all lands disposed of after that date, the cost was $.50 per acre.

None of the 1889 public domain land involved land lotteries, although there were lotteries for diminished reservation land that took place after Carrie first filed and before she made final proof, which has led to many Little House readers assuming that Carrie’s claim was also obtained by lottery (it wasn’t). One lottery was for surplus on the Lower Brule Reservation and another lottery for surplus on the Rosebud Reservation.

Although the Preemption Act had been repealed, the commutation clause of the Homestead Act was still in effect, so homesteaders could purchase their claim sooner than five years, once the residency requirement under the commutation clause had been fulfilled and specified improvements had been made. The length of residency prior to commutation had been increased from 6 months to 14 months in 1896.



Carrie Ingalls first filed on her homestead on September 30, 1907; she was required to pay fifty cents per acre ($80) at the end of five years, or sooner if she commuted her claim. Carrie clearly intended to purchase her claim early, as can be seen here:

Miss Carrie Ingalls left Monday morning for her claim near Top Bar, eighty miles west of Fort Pierre, and that will be her home for the next eight months at least. Miss Ingalls is located near the Morrisons, Cooledges and the Burds, so she does not want for neighbors who are also old friends and she does not anticipate a very lonely time. -De Smet News, March 27, 1908

Although the residency requirement prior to commutation was 14 months at the time of Carrie’s filing, the accepted practice had been that the 6 months given to allow for construction of a residence under the Preemption Act (usually described as being the six months allowed between first filing and establishing residency on a claim) was considered part of the fourteen months of residence, whether the homesteader was on the claim or not. This left eight months of unbroken residence required before a homesteader could take advantage of the commutation clause.

After spending the winter of 1907-1908 in De Smet, Carrie established residency on her claim in March 1908. She had built or brought in a 10×12 foot claim shanty of frame construction and covered with tarpaper and lath. There was a coal shed but no barn or stable. She had six acres broken and planted potatoes and garden vegetables, and 40 rods of fencing were added around her shanty. The photo shown here must have been taken soon after Carrie settled on her claim. Another photo shows the improvement of fence posts, root cellar, window shutter, stovepipe, sod banking, and a screened door.

Carrie left no record of how she spent her time on the homestead, but she was by no means isolated from civilization. Except for the rented school section to her south, she was surrounded by other homesteaders or settled families on almost every parcel, many who had been there for years. The Morrisons were a mile away and the Burds were on the next claim north. In addition to working in the garden, there were newspapers to read, church services, general stores, and post offices about as far away from Carrie’s claim as Pa’s had been from De Smet when she and Laura walked to school. There was telephone service with branch lines running off the main line between Topbar and Philip, a daily stagecoach, and mail was delivered to the post offices multiple times per week. There were dances and picnics, a number of weddings on claims nearby, and a grand 4th of July celebration only a few miles away, complete with dancing, fireworks, and a hot air balloon!

In December 1908, Carrie went to Pierre and paid $80 for her land; the patent was issued in September 1909. Although Carrie owned her homestead the rest of her life, she must have rented it out, as she doesn’t seem to have spent any time there other than for brief visits.

A marker was placed on a road near Carrie’s claim by a local school group, but as the land isn’t accessible by public road, the marker was/is miles from Carrie’s landlocked claim. Click HERE to see an aerial view of the area marked to show the location of Carrie’s claim. The site is privately owned; please do not trespass.


Carrie’s 1907 homestead claim – Click HERE for more information about Carrie Ingalls. Click HERE for the long version of this entry.