Thomas Power family
by Gina Terrana
De Smet merchant tailor.
In Mr. Power’s tailor shop, Mary’s father sat cross-legged on his table, sewing busily. -These Happy Golden Years
Mrs. Power was a friendly, jolly Irish woman. -The First Four Years
Thomas P. Power and Elizabeth Mary (Donnelly) Power covered many miles to live in De Smet. In August 1858, they set sail for America on the packet ship Dreadnought out of Liverpool, and they arrived at Castle Gardens, New York, just three weeks later. They were lower deck passengers, traveling with son James, a toddler.
Son James would later recall that his mother was born in Kilbarron, Ireland, on February 10, 1832, and his father in Waterford County, Ireland, on July 15, 1830. Thomas Power emigrated to Liverpool at age 16 and apprenticed to a tailor. In New York, Mr. Power worked as a tailor, settling in Tuscarora, New York. About 1860, son Thomas joined the Power family, followed the next year by daughter Susannah.
In September 1862, T.P. (pronounced Tay Pay) Power enlisted as a volunteer in Company F, 136th Regiment of the New York Volunteers. His discharge papers record that he was 27 years old at the time, five feet, seven inches in height, with fair complexion, eyes of gray, and black hair. After three years in the Union Army, he was discharged and went home to his wife, his family, and his tailor shop.
On April 3, 1866, daughter Mary was born, the last of the Power children to be born in Tuscarora. On August 10, 1866, T.P. became a citizen of the United States. By 1869, the family had moved to Kasson (Dodge County) Minnesota. Thomas Power set up another tailor shop, and daughter Eliza Jane (Lizzie) was soon born. In 1871, son Charles (Charley) completed the Power family.
The Power family stayed in Kasson until 1880. Lured by the free land of Dakota Territory (and all those men needing suits), the Powers moved west. On June 10, 1880, they were in Kasson. By the 18th of the month, they were homesteading the SW 29-111-56 in Kingsbury County, formally filed on in September. Thomas built a frame house, 12×16 feet, with a board floor, shingle roof, one door and two windows, a stable and a well. The two eldest Power sons didn’t move to Dakota with the rest of the family; they both remained in Kasson to work. So there were six people living in the Power’s claim shanty, the same as the Ingalls family.
Father Power started a tailor shop in De Smet, located on the west side of Calumet, across the street from the Ingallses’ building in town. Charley and Lizzie attended a small private school of about 15 children. This was before the formal school district was formed later in the fall.
In her Pioneer Girl memoir, Laura Ingalls Wilder did not mention Mary Power until she wrote about her classmates during the term taught by Miss Wilder, although the Power family spent the Hard Winter of 1880-1881 in De Smet. Mary Power is introduced in The Long Winter in Chapter 9, “Cap Garland.”
In 1885, after the homestead was proved up, Mrs. Power built a house on Second Street in De Smet. Mr. Power sold his tailor business and left for Ireland. By October, the house was complete, and Mrs. Power moved in. The next month found Mr. Power back in De Smet, and opening a tailor shop in the Leland building. In December 1886, Mrs. Power was midwife to Laura Wilder, aiding at the birth of daughter Rose (see The First Four Years). Mr. and Mrs. Power continued to live and work in De Smet.
April 26, 1901 brought sad news. Thomas P. Power died at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18th. “Strong drink was his only enemy,” his obituary reported. “The world calls many worse men than he– good. It is needless for us to tell of the many good deeds done by the deceased. His many friends who are left behind are amply able to testify to his generosity and whole-heartedness.”
Daughter Lizzie had married Samuel Leitch and moved to Whatcom County, Washington. She made the long trip back to De Smet for the funeral, and brought her children. Daughter Susannah had married Jake Hopp and also relocated to Washington State. Daughter Mary had married banker Edwin Sanford in 1890 and set up housekeeping a block from the Powers’ home. Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Power went on a journey to visit daughters Lizzie and Susie in Whatcom County, Washington. She enjoyed the maritime climate, moist and green like her native Ireland.
Later, Mary and Ed Sanford visited the Pacific coast. They visited Susie and Jake in Bellingham, and the Riesdorphs and Zickricks — old friends from De Smet — in Seattle. They were in San Francisco a few days before the earthquake.
In January 1907, Mrs. Power and Mary and Ed Sanford made the final break with De Smet. After a year’s deliberation, Ed Sanford decided to join the Bellingham National Bank as cashier. The three settled in Bellingham, next door to Susie and Jake Hopp. Sadly, Susie died shortly after her family’s move to Washington.
On February 11, 1909, Mrs. Elizabeth Power passed away. She was ill for more than a month before death came, and was at the home of her daughter when she died. Her obituary said: “Mrs. Power was one of those motherly women who everybody likes, always ready to answer sick calls, and never so happy as when doing some kind deed. She was a life long and consistent member of the Roman Catholic church, and her remains lie in the Catholic cemetery at Bellingham.”
Mrs. Power’s ginger snaps were well known in De Smet. Here is her recipe:
One-half cup butter (scant), one-half cup lard (scant), one cup white sugar, one cup molasses, one teaspoon dissolved in one tablespoon water, one egg, one tablespoon ginger, a pinch of salt. Flour to mix quite stiff.
Susannah Power was older sister of Little House character Mary Power. Born in 1861, Susie Power came to Kingsbury County with her family in 1880, and in 1881, Susie filed on a homestead located two and a half miles west of the Charles Ingalls homestead. In 1883, Susie Power married Jacob Hopp, printer of the De Smet News and Leader. Laura Ingalls Wilder first mentioned Mr. Hopp in Little Town on the Prairie (Chapter 16, “Name Cards”).
Thomas (TLW 9; LTP 16-17; THGY 4; PG), see also Tay Pay Pryor
Eliza (THGY 4)
Susie, see Jacob Hopp
Mary (TLW 9, 12, 14, 31; LTP 11, 13-17, 19-21, 23-24; THGY 4, 11, 13, 16, 17, 20, 22, 24, 27; PG), see Mary Power
Charles / Charley (LTP 13-15, 19; PG), see Charles Power
Power’s Tailor Shop (TLW 8-9; LTP 17; THGY 4)
For more information about Mary Power, see Gina M. Terrana, “Mary Power, From the Prairie to the Pacific Coast.” The Best of the Lore (De Smet: Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, Inc., 2007), 85-87.