Navigation Menu+

On the Banks of Plum Creek – historical perspective


The Ingalls Family Travels. The Ingalls family left Indian Territory between August 1870 (after Carrie’s birth) and May 1871 (when legal documents were signed in Wisconsin) to return to their former land in Pepin County, Wisconsin. Little House in the Big Woods includes events which occurred both before and after the time spent in Kansas. Note: CLICK HERE to open a much larger version of the above map. It may take a while to open!

In October 1873, Charles Ingalls sold his Pepin land and, according to Pioneer Girl, the family went to live with Uncle Peter Ingalls’ family (Pa’s brother) north of Pepin in Pierce County. In the spring of 1874, the two families crossed Lake Pepin to Lake City, in Wabasha County, Minnesota. Uncle Peter’s family stopped in Gillford Township, just south of the Zumbro River, but Laura’s family continued west. In Pioneer Girl, Wilder mentioned going through the town of New Ulm.

In May 1874, the family reached North Hero Township in Redwood County, Minnesota, and here they decided to stay.

Charles Ingalls’ Land Dealings in Redwood County, Minnesota. On June 26, 1874 Charles Ingalls filed a declaration of intent to preempt (purchase for cash) the NW Section 18, Township 109, Range 38 in Redwood County, Minnesota. As this land was a preemption claim, the family was required to establish and maintain residency on the land for six months and to pay $2.50 per acre for the land within 33 months following this occupancy. July 7, 1876, Charles Ingalls paid $430.50 for the quarter section, but he sold it three days later!

Little known – but discovered by Laura Ingalls Wilder researchers Nancy Cleaveland (author of this website!) and Penny Linsenmayer in 2000 – is the fact that Charles Ingalls also filed on a tree claim in Redwood County, the SE 4-109-38, on June 2, 1875. He continued to hold this land during the year the family lived in Burr Oak, Iowa.

After returning to Minnesota from Iowa, Charles Ingalls relinquished the tree claim and filed on the west half of the quarter section as a homestead. Under the Homestead Act, he was required to establish residency within six months and to live on the land for six months each year for five years, at which time he could file for a patent. Laura Ingalls Wilder never wrote of either Pa’s tree claim or this first attempt at homesteading in Minnesota.

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder wrote that after their return to Walnut Grove from Burr Oak, her father purchased property from William Masters and built a small house in which the Ingallses lived. There is no legal record of Charles Ingalls owning any lot in or near Walnut Grove at any time.

Charles Ingalls relinquished his homestead December 1, 1880, over a year after the family settled in Dakota Territory. It’s possible that his intent was to return to the homestead for the winter of 1879 after working on the railroad and finding another homestead claim on which to settle in Dakota Territory. The railroad’s offer of the Surveyors’ House near the townsite of De Smet most likely enticed the family to remain in the area rather than return to Minnesota for the winter.

The map above right shows who was holding claim to eighth or quarter sections in part of North Hero Township at the time of the Minnesota State Census taken in June 1875. Sections in yellow were not available for filing because they were owned by the Railroad. June 1875, Charles Ingalls had just filed on the SW 4 as a tree claim; he also held his preemption claim on the NW 18. Eleck Nelson is shown holding the SW 18, yet according to his homestead file, he didn’t legally file on the land until 1878 because of failure to file a declaration of intent to become a U.S. citizen. He made final proof in 1884 with patent issued January 15, 1885.

The Grasshopper Years. The Rocky Mountain Locust (Caloptenus spretus) was responsible for the midwest’s “grasshopper” plagues of the 1870s.The insect is now extinct; the last reported sighting was in 1902.

Although there had been reports of locusts in Redwood County in June 1873, it wasn’t until July 15, 1874 that a large invasion came into the county from the south. Note that this arrival is less than a month after Charles Ingalls’ filed his intent to preempt land on the banks of Plum Creek. The locusts destroyed crops and laid billions of eggs across the county to continue their reign of devastation the following year. According to the 1875 Minnesota state census, the locusts destroyed crops again in 1875; they were observed during the entire month of June 1876 as well.

In May 1876, the locusts hatched, but took flight in the middle of July without doing considerable damage. Farmers who risked putting in crops in 1877 were rewarded, as a banner crop was raised that year. In 1878, however, severe drought followed by excessive rain proved disastrous.

For More Information:
Anderson, William T. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Walnut Grove. Walnut Grove, Minnesota: Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, 2013.
—. Laura Ingalls Wilder Country. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.
—. Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
Cleaveland, Nancy and Penny Linsenmayer. Charles Ingalls and the U.S. Public Land Laws. Missoula, Montana: Seventh Winter Press, 2001.


On the Banks of Plum Creek, historical perspective