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Horace / Homer Heath

Brothers who worked on the Dakota Central Railroad in 1880, along with Almanzo Wilder and others.

The Chicago & Northwestern Railway company is operating 150 miles west of Tracy, Minn., whence it started its engineer corps into the field on the 17th of June last year. It is tarrying for a few days at Huron, on the west side of the Dakota or James river, merely to allow materials to accumulate with which to finish the nearly graded line to Fort Pierre, on the Missouri river. – The Redwood Gazette, July 22, 1880

Only mentioned once in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s handwritten Pioneer Girl manuscript, Homer and Horace Heath were said to be two brothers from near De Smet, who, with Almanzo Wilder and others, were in Stebbins’ railroad camp at the time of a possible Indian outbreak of violence. The episode in the manuscript is said to occur after the Hard Winter of 1880-1881, when the railroad was under construction between Huron and Pierre. For more about this story, see the A-Z entry for mummy.

Horace and Homer Heath were two sons of Brookings County homesteader, Richard Bailey Heath. It is not known if the brothers worked on the railroad after the Hard Winter, but they were enumerated on the 1880 census in Beadle County, Dakota Territory, as was Almanzo Wilder. The census records page after page of laborers living in various boarding houses, including railroad contractor H.J. Stebbins. Both the brothers and Wilder were enumerated “at home” as well. Almanzo Wilder is listed on the Kingsbury County census and the Heaths in Brookings County. On the Beadle County census, Horace is said to be 24 and N.H. (Homer) is said to be 19. On the Brookings County census, Horace’s age is given as 25 and Homer’s as 20. Here, the brothers were listed as laborers in the household of their parents, Cerissa and Bailey Heath, along with sibling Henry (21), Frederick (18), John (9), Hattie (7), Charles (4), and Alvin (2).

A brief biography of Homer and Horace’s father was published in 1898:

Richard Bailey Heath. Among the men who are gaining a good support by tilling the soil of Bangor township, Brookings county, and are laying by something for a rainy day, is the gentleman above named. He is located on the southeast quarter of section 3, on the pleasant and profitable farm owned by Judge P. C. Truman.

Mr. Heath was born in Clinton county, New York, September 8, 1832, the son of Charles H. Heath, a native of Canada [and Priscilla Bailey]. Mr. Heath moved to Minnesota in September, 1865, and settled in Fillmore county and engaged in farming. In 1878 he went to South Dakota, filed a homestead claim, and the following year moved his family to their new home.

The estimable lady who presided over the household affairs for over forty years, and who has shared alike with her husband the hardships and privation through which he passed, became his wife in New York, May 22, 1856. She bore the maiden name of Miss Cerissa E. Wead, and her natal day was MArch 27, 1836. To this congenial union have been born twelve bright and interesting children, nine of whom are now living and are known by the following names, respectively: Henry, Homer, Chauncey, Fred, John, Frank, Harris, Hattie, and Helen. Mr. and Mrs. Heath are members of the Christian Church. Mr. Heath has always taken an active and wholesome interest in local political and educational matters, and has been called upon by his fellow citizens to perform the duties of some of the local offices.

Mr. Heath is an old soldier, having served three years in the Union army during the Civil war. He enlisted at Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the Thirty-second Wisconsin Infantry, and was sent to Memphis, and from there to Jackson, Tennessee, and participated in the engagements there and at Vicksburg. We next find him in the Shenandoah, where he helped to destroy the railroad, and then went to Cairo, and from there by boat up the Tennessee to Decatur, and participated in two engagements with Hood, and accompanied the command from there to the following places respectively: Atlanta, Nashville and Louisville. At the last named place Mr. Heath was taken sick and sent north on a furlough, but returned in time to participate in the second battle of Nashville. From Nashville he moved to Louisville, where he received his honorable discharge.

Mr. Heath is a man of the very best character, thorough and systematic as a farmer, pleasant to meet, and is held in high respect by all with whom he comes in contact. The farm is stocked with ten horses, two cows and one hundred and nine hogs. This year (1897) the farm produced eight hundred bushels of wheat, eight hundred and twenty-eight of oats, two thousand seven hundred of barley and thirty-five acres of corn. — George A. Ogle, Memorial and Biographical Record, An Illustrated Compendium of Biography (Chicago: Geo. A. Ogle & Co., 1898), 914-915.

As the Heath family lived in Spring Valley, Minnesota in the 1870s, it’s possible that Almanzo Wilder knew Horace and Homer before they worked on the railroad together. Horace and Almanzo were the same age. It’s also possible that Almanzo knew John Kilbourne Heath, one of the brothers who lived many years in De Smet.



Homer Nathan Heath was born June 3, 1861, in Wisconsin. At the time of the Pioneer Girl story, Homer wasn’t yet 21 years old, so not old enough to file on a homestead claim. He later filed on the SE 17-110-52 in Brookings County, preempting it in 1887. Shortly afterwards, the farm was sold to Charleton Fuller of De Smet. In 1885, Homer married Hilda Ferguson (or Frederickson). Hilda was born in Norway in 1860 and came to America in 1883. Homer and Hilda had at least six children and spent the rest of their lives in Brookings County. Hilda died in 1920 and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Brookings. Homer died January 19, 1942, and was buried beside his wife. Bailey Heath and other Heath relatives are also buried here.

Horace S. Heath was born in 1857 in Clinton County, New York. On April 1, 1880, Horace filed on a homestead in Brookings County, the SE 3-110-52. He made final proof in May 1885 and the farm was sold to Judge Philetus C. Truman and farmed by Horace’s father, Bailey, who also had land in Winsor Township. Horace was working for the railroad in Wisconsin several years later when a team and wagon he was driving was struck by a train, and he was badly injured. His death date is unknown, but as Horace was not included in the list of Bailey and Cerissa’s children living in 1897, he must have died prior to that time.


Heath brothers, see also mummy
     Homer (PG)
     Horace (PG)