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Reverend Edwin H. Alden

Walnut Grove Congregational minister and missionary in Dakota.

The Reverend Alden lived at his real church, in the East…. This was his home missionary church, in the West. – On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 24, “Going to Church”

noteEdwin Hyde Alden was born January 14, 1836, in Windsor, Vermont. He was the son of Elam Alden and Sarah (Hyde) Alden. This Alden family is in both of the direct lines of descendants of Pilgrims John Alden and his wife, Priscilla Mullins.

Edwin Alden graduated from Dartmouth College in 1859 and from Bangor Theological Seminary in 1862. He was ordained to the Congregational ministry two years later. He married Anna Maria Whittemore and they had two sons: George (born 1866) and Frederick (born 1873).

According to The Congregational Yearbook (1912), Reverend Alden served as pastor in churches in Vermont, Minnesota, and Dakota Territory. He served as home missionary in Minnesota from 1867-76 and as general missionary from 1872-75. As missionary, he helped organize churches in such towns as Marshall, Tracy, and Walnut Grove, Minnesota. His pastorates included: Acting pastor, Richmond, Vermont, 1863-1864; pastor, Tunbridge, Vermont, 1864-1867, and 1899-1902; pastor, Waseca, Minnesota, 1867-1870; pastor, Afton, Minnesota, 1870-1871; pastor, Albert Lea, Minnesota, 1875-1876; pastor, Athol, Dakota Territory, 1881-1896; pastor, Ree Heights, Dakota Territory, 1888-1889; pastor, Plainfield, Vermont, 1890-1891. Alden served as Indian agent at Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory, some years from 1876, and he taught in New Orleans under the American Missionary Association in 1864.

Walnut Grove Congregational Church.
Union Congregational Society in Walnut Grove was organized in 1874, with services first held at the home of James Kennedy. Trustees purchased property in the townsite of Walnut Grove, and a church was soon built. Reverend Alden conducted services here when he was in town: see On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 24, “Going to Church.”

Reverend Alden in Dakota Territory.
In March 1880, Edwin Alden was appointed as Home Missionary for De Smet, Aurora, and Ashton, in Dakota Territory. While working under the Congregational Missionary for Dakota Territory, Reverend Alden traveled through the townsite of De Smet in 1880 on his way westward to help organize a church in neighboring Beadle County. Reverend Alden conducted the first religious service in the area in February 1880. It was held at the Surveyors’ House, being occupied that winter by Charles Ingalls and family. Twenty-five persons attended this first service, among them Mr. and Mrs. Ingalls, daughters Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace, Thomas H. Ruth, Walter Ogden, William O’Connell Sr., Bill O’Connell Jr., and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Boast. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about this religious service in By the Shores of Silver Lake (see Chapter 23, “On the Pilgrim Way”).

In September 1880 Reverend Alden relinquished his De Smet mission field to the Reverend Edward Brown; Rev. Brown was appointed to the mission field of De Smet, Nordland, Spring Lake, and Lake Preston in December 1880. Alden settled in Spink County, having been re-assigned to the mission field in Ashton and Aurora (as well as De Smet, although Brown’s name is also listed in official records) in December 1880. On May 16, 1881, Alden filed on a homestead: the N-NE 25 and W-SE 24, Township 118N, Range 65 West. The homestead was just north of the town of Athol, which Alden was appointed postmaster of in 1881. In February 1881, Alden paid $200 cash for his claim. Rev. Alden must have served the Congregational Church in Athol in some capacity, as there was a stained glass window dedicated to him in the sanctuary (no longer standing).

In 1890, Reverend Alden moved back to his home state of Vermont, where he married Carrie A. Johnson in 1897. Edwin Alden died at the age of 75 and was buried in Chester, Vermont.



From my old blog, April 14, 2005. Brother Alden. Not everyone thought as kindly of Reverend Alden as the Ingallses did — click HERE to read the newspaper articles which the following blog entries refer to. In the late 1870s, E.H. Alden was a missionary to the Indians in Berthold, Dakota Territory. He was there for about eighteen months and forced to resign or else be removed by force. His clerk wrote that Alden “is about the most absurd and incompetent man that could have been selected,” that he couldn’t keep his accounts straight, and wouldn’t keep his word with the Indians. Every Indian on the reservation was said to hate him and Alden received death threats more than once.

Alden put his wife on the payroll while she was living in Minnesota and swore that she was living with him and working for him as clerk at a salary of $1000 per year. Alden later admitted that his wife wasn’t there, but a girl was working in her place, making $25 per month; his wife back in Minnesota was being sent the rest.

In Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that Alden left his wife and ran off with a young woman in Dakota, so it makes you wonder if this was the woman… It’s true that Reverend Alden left his wife and two sons when heading west, and he never lived with his Minnesota family again.


From my old blog, August 6, 2006. A is for Alden. A correspondent of the Pioneer Press launches his thunderbolts at Rev. E.H. Alden, 1878. Alden “…has been in office about eighteen months, and his summary removal within the next ten days is one of the certainties of the future. He sent in his resignation last winter; it was accepted… Alden… a bright Englishman who is now on his way to England, ‘is about the most absurd and incompetent man that could have been selected for the place.’ He can’t keep his word with the Indians. Every Indian on the reservation HATES HIM, and last winter they threatened to kill him… He tells the Indians so many lies that they can’t stand him. It is admitted that there has been no big stealing under Alden, but it is thought that he only lacked the courage. He did this, however: He carried his wife on the pay roll when she was in Minnesota for two months, and swore before G.P. Flannery, of Bismarck, that she was present at the agency and actually performing the work. He made his wife clerk, and raised the salary to $1000 from $8000 per annum. The department cut it down to $800 after two months. Alden admits his wife was in Minnesota, but excuses the irregularity with the statement that he had a girl acting in her place, and that girl testifies that she received $25 per month only. Mrs. Alden therefore pocketed $116 belonging to the government…

“Another thing that Alden did ought to remove him and demonstrate his unfitness for any office. He kept the agency prices up to the trader’s figures. To induce the Indians to work they are paid in their own rations at the trader’s prices, so as not to conflict with the trader or injure his business. An Indian works a day and gets a check calling for $1.50. He goes to the agent and gets bacon, for example, for this day’s work. That bacon should be sold him at the cost price laid down at Berthold. The price is twelve cents per pound and the Indian should receive twelve and a half pounds for his day’s work. The trader’s price, however, is twenty-five cents, and the agent is ruled by that. The Indian, therefore, gets six pounds and a half. The cost of coffee to the agency is twenty cents per pound, and the trader’s price is fifty cents per pound. The Indian for his day’s work, should get seven pounds and a half, but he really gets only three. Dry buffalo meat costs ten cents per pound and the trader’s price is twenty-five cents. The Indian, instead of getting fifteen pounds for his work, only gets six. The agent buys his sugar; three barrels at a time, from the trader. It costs him thirteen cents per pound, but he turns it in to the Indians at twenty-five cents. All this is simply swindling, and the reverend agent who does it ought to be drummed off the agency and kicked out of the church he professes to walk upright in. The trader is guilty of a trick like this: An Indian comes in with a five, ten or twenty dollar bill and puts it down for a dollar’s worth of goods; the trader hands out to him in checks and not money. The Indian has to come back there and trade out his checks, and one half of it is profit to the trader. The other day some Indians fired into the steamer Josephine and killed a soldier. If white men were the victims of such petty thieving, what would they do? Shoot one soldier? In Pittsburgh they would redden the sky with the flame of their torch and sprinkle the pavement with the blood of innocent men, women, and children.”


Alden, Edwin H. (BPC 24, 31; SSL 23; TLW 18; LTP 17, 23; PG)