George Wilmarth family
Mr. Fuller and Mr. Mead and Mr. Hinz took their places in a row, facing Pa and Mr. Wilmarth and Royal Wilder. All their mittened hands were on the two long wooden handlebars that crossed the handcar, with the pump between them. – The Long Winter, Chapter 11, “Pa Goes to Volga”
George Bester Wilmarth was born April 7, 1844, in Hartford (Susquehanna County) Pennsylvania, the eldest son of George P. Wilmarth and Martha Payne. During the Civil War, George B. joined the 57th Pennsylvania Volunteers; he served from October 1861 until he was released in January 1864. He married Margaret Murray in May 1876, and the couple had ten children; most were born in De Smet. George and Margaret Wilmarth’s children were Delbert (1877), George (1878), Michael (1880), Alice (1881), Helena (1883), Martha (1885), Henry (1887), Anne (1889), John (1890), and Albert (1896).
In the 1870s, George B. and Margaret (Maggie) Wilmarth lived in Redwood County, Minnesota. They moved to Gary, Dakota Territory, located on the Minnesota / Dakota border between Marshall, Minnesota, and Watertown, Dakota Territory. George came to De Smet in 1880, where he opened a grocery store on the east side of Calumet; it was known as George Wilmarth and Company. Mrs. Wilmarth arrived with their three sons prior to the Hard Winter of 1880-1881.
While Laura Ingalls Wilder included “the small Wilmarth boys” as students in the De Smet school when the blizzard struck during classes (see The Long Winter, Chapter 9, “Cap Garland,”), the two oldest of the Wilmarth children – Delbert and George – were ages 3 and 2 in 1880, and definitely not in school at the time. Mr. Wilmarth is also mentioned as one of the men who takes the handcar to Volga to clear the tracks (see Chapter 11, “Pa Goes to Volga”). During the Hard Winter, George Wilmarth sent sledges to Huron for groceries. One item he received was a barrel of brown sugar, which was in short supply in De Smet. He parceled it out in lots of three pounds for half a dollar. According to an early settler, one of the “monied men” in De Smet insisted on purchasing more sugar, saying, “Isn’t my money as good as anybody’s?” Mr. Wilmarth replied, “Yes, but you are not a bit better than everybody else and three pounds is all you can get here!” The first train that arrived after the Hard Winter contained not food, but agricultural implements. Mr. Wilmarth told others waiting for supplies that he was hungry, too, and all he succeeded in getting was “a dragtooth for breakfast and a Randall harrow for dinner.” This amused the waiting men, and everyone was jolly. [stories from the De Smet News]
Following the Hard Winter, George B. Wilmarth’s father, George P. Wilmarth, and two brothers, Albert W. and Delbert W. Wilmarth (twins), also made their homes in Dakota Territory. Albert Wilmarth practiced law in Huron, and was both Huron city and Beadle County attorney.
In December 1885, Delbert Wilmarth married Nora Peirson, sister of liveryman J. D. Peirson (Wilder spelled it Pearson or Pierson when writing the Little House books). This Wilmarth couple was great friends with Mary and Ed Sanford.
George P. Wilmarth and his wife Martha both died in De Smet and are buried in the De Smet Cemetery. George Bester Wilmarth died in De Smet on February 11, 1897. He is buried in St. Thomas Catholic Cemetery.
Following her husband’s death, Margaret Wilmarth remained in De Smet. In 1909, she filed on a preemption claim in Haakon County, South Dakota – at the same time and in the same county where Carrie Ingalls had a preemption claim. After final proof, Mrs. Wilmarth made her home with various of her children: in Aberdeen, Iroquois, Minneapolis, and San Diego. At age 92, she moved to Seattle, Washington; she died there in May 1947.
George (TLW 11, 31; LTP 3)
small / little Wilmarth boys (TLW 9, 14)
Wilmarth’s Grocery (TLW 9)