Mr. Edwards / Edmund Mason
Neighbor of the Ingallses in Indian Territory, possibly Edmund Mason.
Mr. Edwards rose up on one elbow, then he got up and began to dance. He danced like a mad jumping-jack in the moonlight, while Pa’s fiddle rollicked. – manuscript, Little House on the Prairie
One of the most interesting characters in the Little House books is Mr. Edwards, who not only helps Pa build the family’s log cabin in Indian Territory, but meets Santa Claus in Independence and delivers Laura’s and Mary’s Christmas presents, then later visits the family in Dakota Territory and leaves money for Mary, which she will use to help pay for college. Played by Victor French in the Little House on the Prairie television show, Mr. Edwards – given the name Isaiah Edwards for television – was an even more flamboyant character than in the books.
Edmund Mason is believed by many to be the inspiration for Mr. Edwards, as he was living in southeast Rutland Township and was enumerated on the 1870 census near the Ingallses. With the exception of various Osage Indians, Mr. Edwards, along with Mr. and Mrs. Scott and Dr. Tan, are the only non-family members in Little House on the Prairie. Laura Ingalls Wilder describes Mr. Edwards as being “lean and tall and brown…. He told Laura he was a wildcat from Tennessee,” (see Chapter 5), but Edmund Mason had only recently arrived from England. It is unknown but entirely possible that Mr. Mason had journeyed to Indian Territory via Tennessee.
That Wilder was confused over the names of other squatters in Indian Territory is obvious. Maybe the Ingalls family talked about their stay there; maybe they didn’t. And Wilder couldn’t ask anyone anything while working on Pioneer Girl or her Indian juvenile. Ma, Pa, and Mary were dead. Carrie had been born in Kansas and was an infant when the family left. Plus, readers need to remember that Laura Ingalls was a toddler when the family lived in Indian Territory, and her own memories of the period would be vague at best.
Edmund Mason was born September 14, 1846, in Lifton, Devonshire, England, the son of Johanna (1808-1888) and Thomas Mason (1809-1866), who farmed 100 acres in Lifton. Edmund was the seventh of nine children, five boys and four girls, and worked as a laborer on the family farm prior to emigrating to America in 1869. According to the History of Montgomery County, Kansas (see below), Mason settled on the Osage Diminished Reserve and built a cabin on land surveyed in the spring of 1871 as part of Section 36, Township 33 South, Range 15 East. The first legal claims in the area were filed in Humboldt, Kansas, in June 1871; Edmund Mason preempted his land in September 1872. Two of Edmund Mason’s brothers – James and John – also preempted land within two miles due north of their brother.
In 1875, Edmund Mason married Etta Howard, born in Kansas in 1860 to Alex and Elizabeth Howard of Kentucky. Etta and Edmund had eleven children: William (1877), Ida (1879), Ira (1881), Stella (1883), Charles (1885), Delia (1889), James (1892), Anna (1893), Henry (1896), Opal (1899), and Marie (1904). Edmund and Etta divorced in the early 1900s.
Edmund Mason lived on his farm in Montgomery County, Kansas, the rest of his life. He made a trip back to England in 1905, returned to his farm, and died in Independence on January 25, 1906. He was buried in Harrisonville Cemetery. Etta Mason died in 1920.
EDMUND MASON. This gentleman is one of the most extensive farmers in Rutland Township, where he settled, in 1869, on a portion of section 36. By careful management and close attention to business, he has, since that time, accumulated a large farm property, consisting of seven hundred and ninety acres, which he devotes, largely, to the raising of stock.
Devonshire, England, is the place of birth of Edmund Mason, the year being 1846. He was a son of Thomas and Johanna (Mason) Mason—of the same name, but no blood relation. These parents passed their lives in the old country, never having removed to America. A brother of our subject, John Mason, came to this country in 1856. Edmund Mason remained in England until 1867. Four years later, a younger brother, James, came over and died at Edmund’s home, February 15, 1900. These three brothers, with another, Henry, were the only members of the family who left England. The father died there, March 22, 1856, while his widow survived him until the year 1889.
Reared to farm life, Mr. Mason found himself in possession of knowledge which has stood him in good stead in the country to which he emigrated. He came immediately to Montgomery County and settled on the quarter section where he now resides. It was purchased of the state school fund and was without improvements. He was the first settler in this part of the township and, at different periods, as he increased in financial ability, he added to his domain, until he is now one of the largest land owners in the county. His success is due wholly to his own efforts and the splendid judgment which he uses in the marketing of stock and the products of his farm.
Mr. Mason married Miss Etta Howard, of Château county, Kansas, in 1875, and they have seven children, as follows: William, a farmer of Spring Creek, Kansas, born August 22, 1877, married Josie Brown, and has a daughter Lena; Ida, born October 14, 1879, is the wife of Barnard Lindley, of Independence, Kansas, and they have one child, Rex; Ira, born April 14, 1881, married Gertie Brooks and is a farmer of Rutland Township; their one child is Carrol; Stella, born in 1883, resides at home; Charles, born May 15, 1885, is deceased; Delia, born in 1889, resides at home; James, born in May, 1892, also resides at home.
Our subject is a gentleman of fine, high, social and business standing, and he and his family are respected and favored in the community where they have resided for so long. He is a valued member of the Modern Woodmen, of the A.O.U.W. and that liberal social order, the B.P.O.E. His religious faith is of the Established Church of England. — L. Wallace Duncan, publisher. History of Montgomery County, Kansas, By Its Own People (Iola, Kansas: Press of Iola Register, 1903), 507-508.
Was Edmund Mason the inspiration for Mr. Edwards? Some of the stories connected to Mr. Edwards in Little House on the Prairie are attributed to other characters in Pioneer Girl or in one of the (at least) five complete or fragment manuscripts for Little House in the Prairie. Inn Pioneer Girl, it’s Uncle Hiram Forbes (not Mr. Edwards) who leaves “a handful of bills” for Mary Ingalls as he leaves Dakota Territory in the portion of the memoir that inspired the writing of By the Shores of Silver Lake. Also in Pioneer Girl, it’s Mr. Brown who brings the Christmas gifts in Indian Territory; Pa goes to check on the Robertsons when he hears a scream in the night, and the doctor is not named. In one (1) of the manuscripts when working on what became Little House on the Prairie (which was told from Mary’s point of view, not Laura’s), both Mr. Thompson and an unnamed neighbor man help build the cabin.
In the second version (2), Mr. Thompson helps with the cabin. Mr. Edwards brings the Christmas presents. There are stories about John Turner and Jones, and two bachelors, Tom and Dick.
In the third version (3), Mr. and Mrs. Scott are present, and Mr. Edwards brings the Christmas presents. He also tells the family that there are two bachelors living nearby – John Turner and Jones – and mentions a Mr. Thompson. Pa tells another story about two men named Tom and Dick.
In the fourth version (4), Mr. Edwards helps with the cabin and Mr. and Mrs. Scott are the neighbors. As Mr. Scott helps Pa dig the well, he tells about Mr. and Mrs. Thompson’s well, and their being helped by Mr. Stover. Mr. Thompson dies from the gas in the well. Carrie’s birth is included, and Mrs. Scott helps during the birth. Mr. Edwards brings the Christmas presents, and there are stories about Sam Turner, Bill Jones, and Mrs. Thompson’s house. Pa tells another story about Tom and John.
The fifth version (5) includes Mr. Edwards. Mr. Scott tells of another well-digging in which Edwards and Stover are digging and Mr. Edwards dies. In this version, the Ingalls family doesn’t leave Indian Territory because of the possibility that soldiers will come remove them from the land, but because Pa receives a letter from Mr. Johnson, the man who bought the Big Woods cabin, asking Pa to return and take it over.
It’s interesting to note that it was a Mr. Johnson who Charles Ingalls bought the Chariton County (Missouri) land from, and who bought it back from him. There are Scotts, Joneses, Thompsons, Turners, brothers and bachelors and men from Tennessee on the 1870 Montgomery County census, and among squatters who purchased Osage land in the vicinity but arrived after the 1870 census. And on several federal and state censuses, Edmund Mason was enumerated as… Edward Mason.
Mr. Edwards (LHP 5-7, 10, 15-19, 22-23, 25; SSL 19, 25; TLW 11; THGY 25)
gives Mary $10 (TLW 11)
helps Pa file on the homestead (SSL 25)
meets Santa Claus (LTP 19)
described as a “wildcat from Tennessee” (LHP 5; SSL 25; TLW 11)