Baby Boy Wilder
Son of Laura and Almanzo Wilder
In the afternoon Manly sent Peter to bring Laura’s Ma, and at four o’clock he sent Peter again to town, this time on his running pony for the doctor. But their son was born before the doctor could get there. – The First Four Years
Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The First Three Years and a Year of Grace” manuscript told the story of Laura and Almanzo’s early married years after These Happy Golden Years ended, but it wasn’t published until 1971 as The First Four Years. This was the manuscript mentioned by Laura in letters to Rose as an adult novel she had started long before the Little House series was even finished. After Laura’s death and the manuscript’s discovery at Rocky Ridge Farm, Rose Wilder Lane told Irene Lichty (first curator of the museum along with her husband Lewis, and written by Lichty in a 1986 letter to William Holtz) that “she [Rose] would never publish the manuscript because it wasn’t up to her mother’s writings. It was some time after Rose’s death that Roger MacBride published it.”
The First Four Years contains stories of sadness and tragedy in the young family, and one of the saddest is the story of the death of Laura and Almanzo’s unnamed son, Rose’s brother. After inquiring about upkeep of the family graves in the De Smet Cemetery – something Laura made a stipulation for in her will – Rose Wilder Lane supposedly first learned of her brother’s existence at all, something she must not have remembered and her parents never talked about. This also suggests that Rose never read the “First Three Years” manuscript while Laura was alive, and that she didn’t read all of it when shown it by Irene Lichty. In the late 1950s, Rose told De Smet News editor, Aubrey Sherwood, that she had no information about the birth and death of her brother.
Laura and Almanzo’s son was born July 11, 1889, in the house on his father’s tree claim. After suffering from diphtheria over the winter of 1887-1888, Almanzo had sold the homestead, then relinquished his tree claim and filed on it as a preemption, moving the family there in April 1888. Laura’s cousin, Peter Ingalls, moved in with the family in early 1889, and Almanzo and Peter formed the “Wilder & Ingalls” partnership in order to raise sheep. Laura wrote that when she was in labor, Manly sent Peter to town to fetch Caroline Ingalls, but later in the afternoon, Peter was again sent to town for the doctor. Henry C. Hunter, M.D. was only a few years older than Laura and hadn’t been married long. He operated his medical practice out of Lewis Sasse’s drug store prior to opening an office upstairs in Banker Ruth’s Kingsbury County Bank. He didn’t deliver Laura’s baby, as the baby was born before he arrived. Left out of the published The First Four Years was the following from the manuscript: “There was no merciful chloroform and the baby weighed 10 pounds. There were many painful days in bed for stitches had to be taken by the Dr. and it was so terribly hot that scalded spots came on Laura’s back.” From the July 13, 1889, De Smet Leader: “Dr. Hunter reports the arrival of a 10-pound boy at A. J. Wilder’s on Thursday night.”
Laura and Almanzo’s son died suddenly on August 7, 1889, a day shy of four weeks old. His exact cause of death is unknown; Laura wrote that the baby was “taken with spasms and died so quickly that the doctor was too late.” From the August 10, 1889 De Smet Leader: “Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Wilder’s little child died Wednesday evening.” Grace Ingalls wrote in her diary on August 27th that “Laura’s little baby boy only a month old died a little while ago, he looked just like Manly.”
The unnamed baby boy was buried in the De Smet Cemetery…. but where?
Laura corresponded with the De Smet Cemetery Association in 1943 and apparently mentioned the burial location of their son, and she mentioned Block 21 in some capacity, either as the location of her son’s grave or in remembering the Ingallses’ block incorrectly. At the time, Pa, Ma, and Mary lay at their eternal rest in Block 44. Mary Green wrote Laura on September 10, 1943, telling her that there was no record of the burial location for Laura’s child, but she had written to Mrs. Tinkham to ask if she remembered the burial location. Adeline Tinkham was the widow of Charles H. Tinkham; he had died in 1938 and Mrs. Tinkham was then living in the Odd Fellows Home in Dell Rapids. Charles Tinkham had been the undertaker at the time of the baby’s burial, and he kept the early records of burials in the cemetery (these have not been located). Block 21 is just northwest of the flagpole, which Green noted in her letter. The block contains 11 lots: Lots 2-7 and 11-12 were made up of 12 burial plots; Lots 1 and 8 had 6 plots. There are no Lots numbered 9 and 10 because of the portion of the Block taken up by the 45 foot radius flagpole circle. Buried in Block 21 are the families of George Pirlet (Lot 2), Albert Cornwell (Lot 3), Charles Dawley (Lot 4), Lewis Sasse (Lot 5), Erik Anderson (Lot 7), William Glover (Lot 8), S.O. Sherwin (Block 12), William Glover (Block 7), the Pattersons (Block 8), and Peter Kruse (Lot 11). William Fraser is buried at the north end of Block 1, and at the time of the letter, there were three known unmarked graves (one at the south end of Lot 1 and two others at the north end of Lot 8). There were no known burials in Lot 6 at the time. IF the Wilder baby is buried in Block 21, he was most likely in one of these unmarked graves just north of a Patterson grave in the row just northwest of the flagpole. Click HERE to see a cemetery map with graves of Little House characters located. This row is south of H.W. Cooledge’s grave on the map.
It’s likely that the baby was buried in what became the Charles Ingalls row, in Block 44, Lot 9. The lot contained space for 6 graves, and a 1940 Works Projects Administration cemetery map map of every known burial shows that there were already four graves in the Ingalls row. Note that this was prior to Carrie’s death in 1949. At the time of the map, there were no burials to the west in Lot 10.
Originally, only Charles Ingalls’s grave was marked, with his headstone at the west (back) side of the Lot – at his head. In 1958, Rose Wilder Lane had Pa’s headstone lettering re-cut, and the newly-formed Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Group (now the LIW Memorial Society) added markers for Caroline and Mary, and a memorial marker for Baby Wilder. Pa’s marker was moved to the front of the lot – at his feet. Carries grave had a marker that dated from the time of her burial and it was replaced with one matching the others; surely Carrie’s replacement marker was placed in its original location. It is not known what happened to Carrie’s original marker. With the exception of Pa’s stone, the others in the row were more recently set in concrete so that there are five markers spaced equally apart across the foot of the six burial plots.
baby boy Wilder (FFY: “A Year of Grace”)