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Oscar Rhuel / Röhl

Hired man of the Wilder brothers, a young man who followed the love of his life from Stockholm to San Francisco (via De Smet) in order to marry.

At his home in Sweden he had fallen in love with and become engaged to a girl, whose parents objected, Oscar being poor and they rich. They had taken their daughter to America to keep her away from him and were settled in California as far away as they could get. – Pioneer Girl

Oscar Gerhard Röhl was born December 1, 1861 (a few sources say he was born in 1862) in Stockholm, Sweden, to Ulrika and George Rohl. As the story goes in Pioneer Girl, Oscar fell in love with a girl in Sweden, but her parents wouldn’t let them marry because Oscar was poor. The family brought their daughter to California to get her away from the unfortunate swain, but Oscar’s heart made him follow. He got as far as De Smet, and his travel money ran out, so he worked for the Wilder brothers until he could earn enough to continue to California, where he found – and married – his girl. Laura Ingalls supposedly saw Oscar at literary society meetings in De Smet where he stood with Almanzo Wilder and Cap Garland, and knowing the story, thought him a romantic figure.

Did this story really happen? Who knows? His sweetheart, Elisabeth Ryden, and her siblings and parents came to America in 1878, and Oscar not until 1882. Oscar Röhl married Elisabeth Ryden (born in January 1860), daughter of Louise and Frank Ryden, in December 1883; they married in San Francisco, and raised a large family there. Oscar worked as a laborer, then was a mailman for many years, and the family was active in the Swedish community in the area.

The literaries of which Wilder wrote were apparently in the spring of 1883. How does one get “as far as De Smet” when searching for someone in California, and then get to California from De Smet? There’s no record of Oscar in De Smet – that’s not to say that he was never there! He didn’t own property or pay personal property taxes or register a horse or get his name mentioned in the newspapers that I could find. I did find a description of young Oscar, as being almost six feet tall (he must have really towered over Almanzo Wilder!), with gray eyes and dark hair, and he had a fair complexion. Oscar as an old man is shown above.

There must have been something unusual about the Röhl’s marriage, because at their fiftieth wedding anniversary, their best man traveled across country to be with them to celebrate, and it was hinted that the 1883 marriage had been a reunion of sorts. Hopefully a descendant will get in touch, and the circumstances of Oscar and Elisabeth’s marriage was something passed down through the years!


Oscar Rhuel (PG)