Little Georgie Dwight
Clarence Dwight, Laura’s student in the Wilkin School, the son of Frances and Dan Dwight.
Clarence A. Dwight is at Brookings taking one of the short winter courses of study at the agricultural college. -Kingsbury County Independent, 1904.
Although Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn’t tell us the names of her Wilkin School students in These Happy Golden Years, they are named in Pioneer Girl and in the manuscripts. Laura’s littlest student was written as being Georgie Dwight or Clarence Dwight, depending on the source.
Clarence Arthur Dwight was born June 13, 1875 in Sumner (Fillmore County) Minnesota, the third child of Frances (Owen) Dwight and Dan Dwight. His mother was the sister of Laura’s De Smet teacher Ven Owen and his father was a descendant of the famous Dwight family which included the president of Yale University. His grandfather was De Smet shoemaker, Samuel Burdette Owen, who once gave Almanzo Wilder a run for his money in a Fourth of July race in town. Going on ten years old when he started in the Wilkin School, and coming from such a learned family, it’s surprising to hear that what Laura remembered most about Clarence was that he couldn’t remember the letters of the alphabet until Laura threatened to whip him if he didn’t learn them!
As a young man, Clarence and his brother Sam ran a draying business in De Smet, then he learned to make butter from A.L. Griffin at the local creamery, taking a class at the agricultural college before running creameries in several South Dakota towns as a licensed buttermaker and cheesemaker. In April 1898, Clarence joined Company E, First South Dakota Infantry, and was sent to the Philippines, serving there five months during the Spanish American War. He was thought to have contracted tuberculous while in the Philippines, because he was unwell from the time he returned, often having to leave his job as a butter-maker to rest at home.
Clarence married Hattie Tillotson of Iowa in October 1904, and they settled in Dell Rapids. Hattie was a teacher before and after her marriage. The couple came to De Smet in 1906 to live with Clarence’s parents, where Hattie gave birth to their daughter, Georgia, in June of that year. Sadly, Georgia died on Christmas eve and was buried in Inwood, Iowa, where Hattie’s family lived and the couple settled briefly. One wonders if Laura Ingalls Wilder perhaps knew the name of Clarence’s child and confused it with the name of her young student?
After their daughter’s death, Clarence and Hattie Dwight moved to a claim at Quinn, South Dakota, near Pierre. Clarence’s heath didn’t improve, and he died on May 10, 1910, at age thirty-four. He was buried in De Smet. Several years after his death, Hattie married her brother-in-law, Homer Dwight, born in 1883. They moved to Idaho and had two daughters.