Fourth child of Charles and Caroline Ingalls; brother of Laura Ingalls.
Coming home from school one day, we found a strange woman getting supper and a little brother beside Ma in the bed. We were very proud of him and always hurried home from school to see him… – Pioneer Girl
Charles Frederic Ingalls (this is the spelling used in the Ingalls family Bible; Laura Ingalls Wilder always wrote his name as “Freddy”) was born November 1, 1875, in Walnut Grove (Redwood County) Minnesota, the fourth child of Charles and Caroline Ingalls. He had older sisters Mary (born 1865), Laura (born 1867), and Carrie (born 1870). Grace Ingalls was born in 1877.
On the 1875 Minnesota state census taken that May, the Ingalls family was enumerated as living in North Hero Township, most likely on their preemption claim; this was the land mentioned in On the Banks of Plum Creek. Of the 45 families enumerated in the township, the Ingallses are listed second. Laura Ingalls Wilder never mentioned Pa’s tree claim in the area in any of her writings, but on June 2, 1875, Charles Ingalls filed on the SE 4-109-38, about three miles northeast of his preemption claim. A tree claim had no residency requirement, and it’s entirely possible that Laura never visited the site at this time.
In her Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote that her family moved to a little house in Walnut Grove “behind the church, and not far from the schoolhouse” so that she and Mary could attend school during the winter, and it must have been here that her brother Freddy was born. The Ingalls family moved back to their preemption claim on Plum Creek in the spring, and grasshoppers once again destroyed the crops. Local history reported that the damaging insects were present the entire month of June, 1876.
The Ingallses decided to move to Burr Oak (Winneshiek County) Iowa to help the William Steadman family run the Burr Oak House, formerly owned by Walnut Grove resident William J. Masters. Charles Ingalls paid for his preemption claim on July 7, 1876, and sold it three days later to Abraham Keller. The family had decided to visit Peter and Eliza Ingalls, who were living in Zumbro Falls (Wabasha County) Minnesota, until time to move to Iowa in the fall.
Wilder wrote that while at Uncle Peter’s, brother Freddy became unwell and the doctor came to see him. Most likely, this was Dr. Harvey Rogers, who lived and practiced only a short distance from where Uncle Peter lived in Zumbro Falls. “But little brother got worse instead of better, and one awful day he straightened out his little body and was dead.” (handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript) The Wabasha County death records (Book A, page 135) show that “Fred Ingles” [sic] died August 27, 1876; the cause of death was listed as diaorrhora (an often-used misspelling of diarrhea in these death records). A number of other children in the county from ages 28 days to a year old died of the same cause that year. Diarrhea can quickly cause dehydration in children and can lead to death in only a few days. Whether Freddy’s death was caused by a bacterial infection, viral infection, parasite, food intolerance, or something else is unknown, but it is likely that if Freddy had lived in the modern world, his illness could have easily and successfully been treated.
The Ingalls family Bible recorded that Freddy was buried in South Troy, Minnesota. In 1876, there was no cemetery in Zumbro Falls where Peter and Eliza Ingalls lived; the closest cemetery was two miles south of the Zumbro River and across the road from the South Troy post office and settlement. It is possible that Freddy was buried with the Robert and Elizabeth Phelps family. Their son Martin died of “liver complaint” the same day as Freddy and Mr. Phelps was a member of the cemetery board. It is possible that he offered burial space at the end of his family row for Charles Ingalls’ own son.
Over forty years ago (before most Little House readers even knew Laura Ingalls had been in the Zumbro Falls area or had a younger brother who died there), as caretakers were probing the cemetery for sunken headstones, a rough-hewn limestone marker was found buried near the shrubbery at the end of the Phelps row. All of the headstones for the Phelps family were original and accounted for. This marker was unearthed and moved to the front of the cemetery, where it remains today.
Wilder once wrote, “If only Freddy had lived,” everything would have been different. There would have been a boy in the family to help Pa on the farm and with hunting and chores, and a son to carry on the family name. And possibly, Freddy would have also been taught to play Pa’s fiddle…
Freddy Ingalls (not mentioned in any Little House book, but Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about his birth and death in Pioneer Girl)