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Little House on the Prairie – historical perspective

The Ingalls and Quiner families in Chariton County, Missouri. In May 1868, Charles Ingalls purchased eighty acres in Chariton County, Missouri from Adamantine Johnson. Legal documents signed by Charles Ingalls in Pepin County, Wisconsin, in November 1868 suggest that the family didn’t leave Wisconsin until after this time, although it is most likely that the family didn’t leave until after the winter of 1868-69. In Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder described both a “late crossing” of Lake Pepin – when it was possible that the ice would break beneath them – and rain and flooding, both suggestive of a post-winter journey.

It is likely that the Ingalls family did occupy their Chariton County land for a short while, the E-SE Section 32, Township 56 North, Range 19 West. On February 25, 1870, Charles and Caroline Ingalls sold the Chariton County land back to its original owner, Adamantine Johnson. The deed states that at that time, the Ingallses were residents of Montgomery County, Kansas.

Henry Quiner, Caroline Ingalls’ brother and the Ingallses’ neighbor in Pepin County, also purchased eighty acres in Chariton County in May 1868. While it is unclear if the Quiners settled in Missouri at all, they re-purchased their Pepin land in November 1869. If the Ingalls and Quiner families spent any time in Chariton County, it would have been during the summer of 1869. Charles Ingalls was known to be in Chariton County in August 1869 (when legal documents were filed regarding his Pepin land) and he was a resident of Montgomery County, Kansas by February 1870. Thomas Quiner, Caroline Ingalls’ brother, also purchased land in Chariton County, which he kept for many years.

Public Survey Map of Missouri, from the U.S. General Land Office. Washington: Bowen and Company, 1866. Chariton County is in north-central Missouri.



The Ingalls Family in Montgomery County, Kansas. By February 1870, Charles Ingalls and family had migrated to Montgomery County, Kansas, perhaps settling there as early as the fall of 1869. The Ingallses, as Wilder wrote, were most likely lured by the prospect of free land. In 1869-1870, the Osage Indians were negotiating the cession of their last reserve in Kansas. Once this took place, land in Kansas Indian Territory would be surveyed and available for preemption.

Had Ingalls not sold his land back to Mr. Johnson, according to the terms of the sale agreement, he would have had to make a payment on the land in May, totaling over $200, money that he probably didn’t have. As a squatter in Kansas – waiting for the land to be opened to legal settlement – little outlay of cash was required, and eventual preemption prices would definitely be less than the cost per acre of Ingalls’ Chariton County land.

Although Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that the family had settled three miles over the line into Indian Territory and were forty miles from Independence, they were less than ten miles from Independence and a dozen miles west of the eastern line of the Osage Diminished Reserve. It is difficult to believe that Charles Ingalls was such a poor judge of distances, something, however, that Wilder was often guilty of. The Ingallses knew they were in Rutland Township, Montgomery County, Kansas, based on Carrie’s birth entry in the family Bible, as well as on legal documents signed by them at the time. The 1870 Federal Census also places the family in Rutland Township. The exact location of the land mentioned in Little House on the Prairie was pinpointed as being in Section 36, Township 33, Range 14, through Eileen Charbo’s 1960s’ research.

The Ingallses settled on the Osage Diminished Reserve during a period of great unrest, when the lands still belonged to the Osages. Charles Ingalls most likely relied on reports that the Reserve would be available for occupation soon and he wished to have first opportunity to preempt or homestead the land he currently squatted on. Most likely, the family arrived in Montgomery County when the Osages were away on one of their semi-annual buffalo hunts. Upon their return, the Osages/squatter interactions were initially peaceful, yet delays in accepting terms of a pending treaty (see below) and the eventual decision to remove the Osages entirely could only have led to discord.

The Osages were led off the Reserve in the fall of 1870, and the route taken was in close proximity to where the Ingallses were living. In one of the drafts of Little House on the Prairie, however, Wilder wrote that the family remained on the land through the following winter; she also she wrote that the family left Indian Territory because the man who bought their Pepin land could not pay for it and wanted them to take the land back. The Ingallses were definitely back in Pepin County, Wisconsin, by May 1871. Most likely, a misinterpretation of the orders of settler removal combined with the request to return to Pepin led to the family leaving Indian Territory.

The Osage Diminished Reserve was surveyed in the spring of 1871 and settlers were able to obtain title to lands there as early as June 1871. If Pa had not received word about his Pepin land, would they family have stayed in Indian Territory? Possibly, but it’s also possible that payment for the Pepin land was needed in order to pay for Kansas preemption land, and without it, the Ingallses couldn’t afford to remain, available land or no.



Indian Territory – the Osage Indians in Kansas. The Osages began ceding tracts of their Great Plains land to the United States government in 1808. In 1839, they signed a treaty whereby the government agreed to pay them an annual annuity of $20,000 for twenty years, prompting the Osages to consider selling even more of their land. The annuity ceased in 1859, however, and the Civil War years halted further negotiations. A treaty in 1865 further reduced the Osage land holdings, leaving them – at the time of Little House on the Prairie – with 4.8 million acres in southern Kansas that became known as the Osage Diminished Reserve. Montgomery County included a portion of the eastern boundary of this Reserve.

In May 1868, the Osages signed the Sturges Treaty, providing for the sale of the Osage Diminished Reserve to the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston Railroad for what amounted to 19 cents per acre. The Osages agreed to move to Indian Territory – Cherokee land west of the 96th meridian. News of the signing of the Sturges Treaty prompted white settlers to move into the Reserve in large numbers.

The Sturges Treaty caused tension in the U.S. government as political control over ceded lands was in question; note that the treaty was with a railroad company, not the U.S. government. By the end of 1869, the Sturges Treaty had been withdrawn and an earlier treaty was in debate, one that also required that the Osages would leave the lands in question. Diminished Reserve lands would be sold at no less than the preemption rate of $1.25 per acre to settlers in tracts of no more than 160 acres.

At a September 1870 meeting to discuss their removal, Osages stated that they would not sign the new treaty unless white settlers were first removed from their land. The land in question wasn’t the Diminished Reserve, but the Cherokee lands the Osages were to move to. In August 1870, General William T. Sherman ordered that troops be sent to remove the squatters on Cherokee lands in Indian Territory. While squatters in the Diminished Reserve weren’t to be removed at that time, many misinterpreted Sherman’s order, and left before soldiers would force them to. Charles Ingalls may have been one such person.



The Ingallses’ Friends and Neighbors – Fact or Fiction? It is impossible to compile an exact list of the Ingallses’ historical friends and neighbors from Indian Territory, simply because there are so few records with which to trace them. In the handwritten Pioneer Girl memoir, Laura Ingalls Wilder included Mr. Brown (he delivered the Christmas presents), the Robertsons (Pa goes to check on them after hearing the panther scream), and an unnamed doctor. In Little House on the Prairie, these became Mr. Edwards, Mr. and Mrs. Scott, and Dr. Tan.

There are five portions of surviving manuscripts for Little House on the Prairie (based on the number of “endings” the pages contain); it appears that Wilder may have removed chapters from one manuscript and inserted them in another, resulting in partial manuscripts containing chapters which were those most heavily edited. In the manuscripts, Mr. Scott usually helps dig the well, but there is never an accident while digging the Ingallses’ well. Mr. Scott tells of “Thompson and Stover” digging another well, with Thompson dying, or “Edwards and Stover” digging a well, with Edwards dying. At Christmas time – edited out of the published version – Pa and Mr. Edwards sometimes swap stories about other neighbors. These include “John Turner, Jones, Mr. Thompson, Tom, and Dick” in some manuscripts, and “Sam Turner, Bill Jones, Mr. Thompson, Tom, and Dick” in another. Sometimes Mr. Edwards helps build the cabin; sometimes it’s Mr. Thompson. On occasion, Wilder simply left blank spaces in the manuscript where names were to be filled in later.

Since Laura Ingalls was a toddler in Indian Territory, and since there were no older relatives to ask to authenticate her stories (Carrie had been born in Indian Territory, and Mary, Ma and Pa had died prior to the Pioneer Girl memoir), it’s possible that even Wilder was confused over who the family had known there.

Only Dr. Tan (correctly spelled Tann) can be traced to Indian Territory with the same name given him by Laura Ingalls Wilder. George A. Tann (1835-1909) was a pioneer black physician who lived in Montgomery County for forty years.



For more information:
* Anderson, William T. Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.
* Charbo, Eileen Miles. A Doctor Fetched By the Family Dog. Springfield, Missouri: Independent Publishing Company, 1984.
* Linsenmayer, Penny T. “Kansas Settlers of the Osage Diminished Reserve: A Study of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie.” Kansas History 24 (Autumn 2001): 168-185.


Little House on the Prairie, historical perspective