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Ida Belle Wright

Daughter of Catharine and Thomas Wright, adopted after their deaths by Rev. and Mrs. Edward Brown.

She seemed about as old as Laura, and as shy. She was small and slim. Her soft brown eyes were large in a small round face. Her hair was black and softly wavy, and around her forehead the short hairs curled. -Little Town on the Prairie

     
Ida Belle Wright was born on September 24, 1866 in Chicago, Illinois. Ida lost her parents, Thomas and Catharine Wright, and some of her siblings in the Great Chicago Fire. Little has been learned about Ida’s adoption; she was supposedly “taken out of a home” and adopted by Reverend and Mrs. Edward Brown. On May 2, 1867, Rev. Brown married his second wife, Laura Jane Goodale, and the couple lived in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Wisconsin prior to settling in Dakota Territory.

Ida Wright became one of Laura Ingalls’ closest friends in De Smet. Included in stories of Laura’s courtship with Almanzo Wilder in These Happy Golden Years is mention of Ida’s beau, Elmer E. McConnell. On December 3, 1885, Ida and Elmer were married. Their wedding announcement in the De Smet Leader read: “McConnell – Wright – At the residence of the officiating clergyman, Rev. Edward Brown, in De Smet Dak., Mr. Elmer E. McConnell and Miss Ida B. Wright, adopted daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Brown. This newly married couple have the hearty congratulations of their many friends. They will make this their future home.”

Ida and Elmer lived on a tree claim west of De Smet. Three children were born there: Laura (1886), Mark (1888), and Robert (1890). Not much is known about Laura’s contact with her old school friend after they were married, but one might imagine the two of them visiting each other now and then, especially as their daughters were so close in age and they both were expecting their second babies in the same summer. We can also only wonder if Ida’s choice of name for her oldest daughter was influenced by the name of her best school friend, as much as for her adopted mother.

About the time Laura, Almanzo, and Rose left De Smet for Spring Valley, Elmer relinquished his tree claim and the McConnells moved to northern Wisconsin. Two more children were born to Elmer and Ida there: Eva (1893) and James (1901).

Around 1911, the McConnells moved to California, just east of Sacramento. Here, Elmer farmed and Ida was a housewife. Their daughters Laura and Eva became public school teachers; Laura had married in Wisconsin, and the couple moved close by with Ida and Elmer’s first grandchild. Son James became a dentist and moved to Arizona, but he soon returned to California. Robert became the local mail carrier. Mark went into banking, married in Montana, and worked in Idaho and Washington before returning to California. Ida and Elmer soon had both children and grandchildren living close by.

Ida and Elmer apparently never made it back to De Smet, and sadly, Ida died before the Little House books were even written. Ida died at age 59, on January 26, 1926; she is buried in the Masonic Lawn Cemetery in Sacramento.

Following Ida’s death, Elmer lived with daughter Eva. Elmer died at age 81 on November 13, 1942. And what happened to Ida and Elmer’s children? Laura died in Sacramento in 1965 at age 78; Mark died in 1939 (Elmer is buried beside him); Robert died in Sacramento in 1952. Eva married in 1931 and had no children; she died in 1961. James returned to California after Ida’s death and set up practice in Columbia, where he died in 1961.

Ida and Elmer had nine grandchildren, and some of Ida’s descendants were aware of the Little House books written by Ida’s old school friend, Laura. While two grandchildren did visit the memorial societies in both De Smet and Mansfield in the 1980s, the full story of what happened to Ida B. Wright was not widely known among fans until my research partner and I published an article about her in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Lore in 2004.

A photograph postcard of Ida Wright is available at the Ingalls Homestead in De Smet, published by SeventhWinter Press. For more information about Ida and her family, see the following: Nancy Cleaveland (me!) and Penny Linsenmayer. “Ida B. Wright, Laura’s Friend” in Laura Ingalls Wilder Lore (De Smet, South Dakota: Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, Inc.,Spring-Summer 2004), 1-3. Reprinted in Best of the Lore (De Smet: Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, Inc., 2007), 83-84.

     

Ida B. Wright (LTP 11, 13-17, 19-21, 23-24; THGY 1, 4, 6, 11-13, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 33; PG)
     is engaged to Elmer McConnell (THGY 24)
     witness at marriage of Laura and Almanzo (THGY 33)