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World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition

Friends Wilder, I received your letter today and was glad to hear that you were doing well… – Charles Ingalls to Royal and Almanzo Wilder, 1884

Main building of the 1884 Exposition in New Orleans, which the Wilder Brothers didn’t quite make it to

When fictional Almanzo Wilder “Goes Away” in Chapter 24 of These Happy Golden Years, he was said to be heading back home to Minnesota for the winter. In real life, Royal and Almanzo Wilder left De Smet in early November 1884 with plans to go to New Orleans to visit the The World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition in New Orleans. They traveled in Royal’s peddler’s cart, and were to spend the winter on the road, returning to De Smet in time to put in next year’s crops. Eliza Jane Wilder had left De Smet in late October, and she was bound for Spring Valley, but by train.

In her handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura wrote: “The first of November, Manly and his brother Roy started south with a covered hack and a stock of notions to sell on the road. They expected to travel through Nebraska into and through Iowa and come to Spring Valley where their father lived to spend the winter.” Wilder only uses the state name Minnesota once in Pioneer Girl, although she refers to many individual towns. Royal Wilder is never mentioned in Pioneer Girl.

There are a number of mentions of the Exposition in Dakota newspapers, plus requests for Dakota products to send to the fair for exhibition. The Wilder brothers’ planned trip to Louisiana – and mentions of their travels – can be found in Kingsbury County newspapers, so Laura had to have known their true destination. The Wilder brothers never made it to New Orleans, however, both abandoning their trip in southwestern Nebraska and returning to De Smet during Christmas week.

While Laura remembers letters from Almanzo, apparently the brothers kept in touch with friends at the newspaper offices as well. They obviously also wrote to Charles Ingalls. A handwritten letter dated November 19, 1884, from Charles Ingalls to “Friends Wilder” – obviously kept by Almanzo and preserved by Laura – is on display [see note below] at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. What this letter suggests is that the Wilders must have also been scouting out the conditions of farms and prospects south of Dakota’s severe winters. Where they thinking about leaving Dakota so soon? It also suggests that Pa’s “wandering foot” was still itching to travel elsewhere, perhaps even south.

According to my notes, I transcribed Pa’s letter back in 2001. I also made a note that the pages of the letter seemed to be on display out of order, and there may even be one or more pages missing, based on content. There were several bits I couldn’t decipher, and I haven’t had the transcription with me on subsequent trips in order to make corrections, so I apologize for any errors. Here is Pa’s letter:

De Smet, November 19, 1884. Friends Wilder, I received your letter today and was glad to hear that you were doing well. How do you like the country as far as you have gone? Is it as good as it is here? I wish I was with you and getting South as far as you are. The wind is in the NW and it looks like a storm; last Sunday was a bad day here, cold and it blowed so hard that my back hair is all loose and it looks tonight as thought it could be blown clear off.

If you can find a place that is as good land as it is here and is far enough south to be out of the blizzards be sure to make a memorandum of the spot– for I am getting tired of watching the northwest and then looking every building over to see if it is air tight. Greenman says he watches the clouds and he feels a little scared all the time for fear that it will storm before he can get home. —- how the wind does blow but let it blow.

I have got the passage done on the north side of the stable. The horses are all right. I have put two loads of corn in the barn and there will be about two more loads to —- in everything is all.

—- if you might so far. Now boys don’t be discouraged but take time and take a good look but first get far enough South to be out of these bad storms then good land is the next – and good running water. The lay of the land does not matter so much. If it storms tonight I will send you descriptions so you will know what we mortals up here in Dakota are getting. Have you overtaken that old brand that I saw in the storm when you were here? I expect you must be nearly up to him by this time. When you do catch him tell him I am coming. I will look after the matches and everything far as I know that is necessary.

I don’t expect this north wester has caught you yet it made the dirt fly here at 4 o’clock p.m. and it hasn’t stopped yet. So you can tell how long it takes to come from here to where you are. Royal, I hope your thumb is better so you can enjoy the travelling as I would enjoy it if I were in your place and was all right. I don’t suppose that I need to tell you that it is winter here now and if you have cold storms you must not think that we are not catching Hail Columbia up here. Whew. Skip out or this north wester will catch you. Surely well my paper has plaid out so this letter must play out too. Please tell us as much as you can of what you see as you go along in the country. You can take turns studying this out. Yours truly. C.P. Ingalls. The item that is with this was in the news everyone wants to know what time you expect to get to the camp.

Note: This entry was posted on my old blog in June 2012. The letter was on display on one of the flip-charts at the old museum at Rocky Ridge. It isn’t known if the letter is on display in the new museum, which opened years later.


Minnesota Minnesota (LHP 1; BPC 1, 6, 10, 17, 27, 29, 31, 34; SSL 2, 7, 15, 22, 24, 26; TLW 10, 18, 20, 23; LTP 8, 11, 16, 23; THGY 10, 13, 17, 24-25, 31; PG)
     Royal and Almanzo head to Minnesota in the fall of 1884 (THGY 24)
The World’s Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition