Navigation Menu+

John Ensign family

Homesteader in Springdale Township (north of Walnut Grove) whose family was friends with the Ingallses.

Mr. John Ensign and family have moved to their farm in the country and do not expect to return before fall. – July 31, 1879, The Redwood Gazette

Although the Ensign family had been in the area for years, Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t mention them in her Pioneer Girl memoir as being friends of the family until after her family moved back to Walnut Grove from Burr Oak, writing that the Ingallses lived with the Ensigns for a while until moving into their own home. The Ensign home was on Lots 5 & 6, Block 24 in the village of Walnut Grove, on the northwest corner of Bedal Street and 8th Street just south of the southwest corner of the park (which was a park during the Little House years).

The Ingallses and Ensigns both attended Union Congregational Church, and family members of both were members of the Good Templars Lodge organized in Walnut Grove in April 1878. In Pioneer Girl, Wilder wrote that she, Mary, and Carrie were students in school with three of the Ensign children: Willard Emerson (1859-1941), Anna Luperla (1862-1880), and Howard Ulysses (1866-1945).

In Pioneer Girl, Wilder wrote that Howard Ensign wanted her to promise to marry him when she grew up, but she changed her mind after he cried because she played with another boy. Laura later competed with Howard Ensign in a Sunday school contest to see who could recite two Bible verses from each Sunday for the past year. Both Laura and Howard were able to repeat all the verses, but there was only one prize, a reference Bible. The preacher’s wife told Laura that if she would wait for her prize, she would order for Laura a Bible with a clasp.



John Ensign was born in Oswego County, New York, on April 15, 1817. He married Phoebe Osbourne (1818-1853) in January 1840 and they had five children, including Franklin, born in 1840. John married Luperla Rosella Farrington (1829-1913) on September 6, 1854, in Madison, Wisconsin. John served with the 12th Wisconsin Infantry during the Civil War, being discharged in 1862 due to disability. His son Franklin served in the 8th Independent Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery. Following the war, the Ensigns moved to Wabasha County, Minnesota.

In July 1872, both John Ensign and his son Frank filed on claims in Springdale Township, Redwood County, Minnesota. John’s homestead (SW 2-109-39) was about two miles northwest of Charles Ingalls’ preemption claim. For ten years, Mr. Ensign also held a tree claim next to his homestead, but he relinquished it in 1887. The 1874 map portion shown above shows the location of the Ingallses’ preemption claim from On the Banks of Plum Creek and the location of John Ensign’s homestead. (Note that on this map, North Hero and Springdale townships are still identified by their earlier names of Barton and Summit.) In January 1876, John Ensign bought two lots in Walnut Grove, where they lived when not on their homestead. The month after Caroline Ingalls and the girls left Walnut Grove in 1879, the Ensigns suffered a devastating loss on their claim:

We regret to learn, from our Walnut Station correspondence, that Mr. John Ensign lost house, furniture and barn by prairie fire. Mr. Ensign is a very worthy man, well advanced in years. / Fires are again devastating this part of the country, and it is astonishing the amount of property that has been burned up during the past week… Among the many sufferers is Mr. J. Ensign, who owns a farm 6 miles from here, in the town of Springdale, where he has been living since harvesting commenced. Last Sabbath while they were at church, and during a terrible high wind, the Gates Bros. set fire intending to burn around their stacks. They could not control the fiery element they had kindled and it is now sweeping over the prairies, bringing terror and desolation to many families. Mr. Ensign’s house, stable, hay and grain, in fact every thing he had, except his stock, was burned. They have a house in town, but their effects all being in the house that was burned they are left in very bad circumstances. They have the sympathy of all their friends in town and I have no doubt the people will try to do what they can for them. – The Redwood Gazette, October 9, 1879.

In January 1880, Willard left Walnut Grove to attend college in Northfield, Minnesota, but was summoned home when his sister Anna died on February 26; her burial location is unknown:

Died on the 26th ult., Miss Anna Ensign, aged 16 years, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Ensign. Anna was a young lady of irreproachable character and beloved by all who knew her. Her loss will be felt greatly in society, as well as by her parents and brothers on whom the blow falls heavily. Her brother Willard was summoned by telegram and arrived home in time to attend her funeral. The funeral services took place in the Congregational Church Sunday the 29th. Rev. H. C. Simmons preached the funeral sermon. Mr. W.E. Ensign has gone back to Northfield College where he expects to remain for a number of years. -The Redwood Gazette, March 18, 1880.

Willard returned to Walnut Grove to teach school between college terms, but in June 1883, John Ensign sold the house in town and the family moved to Northfield. Willard was married three times and had at least ten children.

The Ensigns moved to Butte County, California, where John Ensign died January 31, 1900. Mrs. Ensign lived with Howard and his wife Emma (they married in 1892) following her husband’s death. Luperla Ensign died on February 10, 1913.


John Ensign family (PG)
     The Ingalls family lives with the Ensigns (PG)
     Laura competes with Howard for prize Bible (PB)
     Anna (PG)
     Howard (PG)
     Willard (PG)