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James Kennedy family

Friends of the Ingalls family in Walnut Grove. The Ingallses lived temporarily with the Kennedys upon their return from Burr Oak, Iowa. — Webster, 1882

Mr. Kennedy looked like Sandy only there was white in his hair. Mrs. Kennedy’s hair and eyes were very black and they both had a funny, burry way of talking. – On the Banks of Plum Creek, manuscript

noteIn On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes that her friend and classmate is named Christy Kennedy, and that Christy’s older sister Cassie is Mary’s friend. The book text also has red-headed Christy describe her siblings to Laura: “The big one’s Nettie, and the black-haired one’s Cassie, and then there’s Donald and me and Sandy…” (see On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 20, “School”). However, in the Plum Creek manuscript, Wilder wrote: “Christy, the oldest girl was red haired and blue eyed like their father. The next girl, Cassie, had great black eyes and hair so black it shone. Daniel was next, with hair a reddish brown and very dark blue eyes. He was a cripple and walked very slowly. Then came Sandy with hair like a flame and light, laughing blue eyes in his freckled face. Youngest was Nettie whose hair was brick colored and eyes dark blue. Laura never could decide which one she liked best to look at. They were all so jolly and laughing that she loved them all but Nettie best of all. Mary and Christy and Cassie were always together. They and Anna Ensign were the big girls.”

James Kennedy was born January 14, 1825, in Glengarry, Ontario, Canada, the son of Donald Kennedy, a minister who came to America in 1817. James Kennedy made several extended visits to Minnesota before settling in St. Peter in the 1850s. He returned to Canada where he married Margaret McEwen, daughter of Alexander McEwen, on January 7, 1859. Of their eight children, five were born in Canada: Christine “Christie” (1860), Catherine “Cassie” (1862), Daniel (1863), Alexander “Sandy” (1865), and Jeanette “Nettie” (1866).

noteMap at left shows portions of Redwood and Lyon Counties, Minnesota, showing the location of the James Kennedy homestead in relation to Walnut Grove, Marshall, and Tracy.

The year after Nettie’s birth, James Kennedy returned to Goodhue County with his wife and children, living for a time in Goodhue County. After farming in Brown County for seven years, where children John (1872) and Edwin (1874) were born, the Kennedys moved to Walnut Grove, where they lived for only three years. Daughter Anna (1877) was born in Redwood County. In 1875, James Kennedy purchased Lots 4 and 5, Block 5 in Walnut Grove, on the east side of Fifth Street at the railroad. It was during this period that the Kennedy and Ingalls families became aquatinted; Laura and Mary attended school with the Kennedy children.

In September 1877 – about the time the Ingalls family was returning to Walnut Grove after spending a year in Burr Oak, Iowa – James Kennedy filed on a 160-acre homestead at the northwest corner of Gales Township, the SW 6-110-39, over ten miles by road from Walnut Grove, and halfway between Marshall, Minnesota (in Lyon County), and Walnut Grove. Daughter Cassie filed on a neighboring forty acres as a preemption. Both Mr. Kennedy and Cassie made final proof on their claims in the 1880s. The Kennedys lived on this land for the next twenty-one years, then they moved into the town of Marshall.

James Kennedy died in Marshall in August 1911. Margaret Kennedy died in March 1928. Christie, Cassie, and Nettie died prior to the publication of On the Banks of Plum Creek and it is unknown if Daniel knew of his family’s connection to the Little House story.

In her unpublished Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that after leaving Walnut Grove in 1879, she never saw Nettie Kennedy again, but they spent a memorable day together prior to her departure: “I walked out to where Nettie Kennedy lived two miles from town and spent a long, lazy day with her. How I did enjoy that day with Nettie and Sandy. Christy and her mother made an extra good dinner and wouldn’t let Nettie do any of her work, so we had the day to ourselves with her books and pictures and the sunshine and flowers. Sandy, with his red hair and freckled face, his pants legs rolled up from his bare feet was on his good behavior and he and Nettie walked part way home with me when it was time to go. I never saw them again.”

As the Kennedys had moved permanently to their farm in 1877 and it was many miles from Walnut Grove, it is more likely that Laura’s visit with the Kennedy children took place prior to the Ingallses’ move to Burr Oak, not Dakota Territory.

The following is known about the Kennedy siblings:

Christine M. Kennedy was born in 1860; she became a teacher in Lyon County, Minnesota. Christie married George Dillman (son of Catherine and George Dillman) around 1884. The couple lived in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, then in Minneapolis, where George worked as a drayman for the electric company. They had one son, Edwin, born in 1890. Christie died in Minneapolis in 1917.

Catherine I. Kennedy was born in July 1862. As a young adult, Cassie filed a preemption on forty acres near the family homestead in Lyon County. In 1887, she married Eugene Harding, a plasterer, and the couple lived in Tracy. They had nine children. In the 1890s, the Hardings moved to Santa Monica, California. Following Eugene’s death in 1912, Cassie lived in Colorado for a while before returning to Santa Monica. Here, Cassie died in 1928.

Daniel Kennedy was born in 1863. Although Laura describes him as being crippled, it is not known what he may have suffered from. Daniel worked for the railroad in St. Peter, then sold real estate and worked for Internal Revenue in St. Paul. Daniel and his wife Jessie had three children: Cassie, Alan, and Joyce. He died in Florida in 1947.

Alexander Kennedy was born in October 1865. Little is known about Sandy; he worked on the family farm, and he married Mary Clements in 1890. The couple moved to Denmark, where Sandy died in the 1920s.

Jeanette Kennedy was born November 21, 1866, in Ontario. Nettie became a school teacher and lived with her parents until after her father’s death. She married Owen Owens in Tracy; the couple had two daughters and moved to Nebraska, where Nettie died in 1925.

John Duncan Kennedy was born in 1872 in Brown County, Minnesota. He became a dentist and worked for a while in Tracy. He and his wife Anna had three sons.

Edwin James Kennedy was born in 1874 in Brown County, Minnesota. He and his wife Anna moved to Colorado, where he worked in real estate.

Anna Elizabeth Kennedy was born near Tracy, Minnesota, in 1877. Lizzie married a Mr. Hanks and died in the 1960s.


Kennedy family
     Christy (BPC 20; PG)
     Cassie (BPC 20)
     Donald / Daniel (BPC 20; PG)
     Sandy (BPC 20; PG)
     Nettie (BPC 20; PG)
     Kennedy house (PG)