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A wind instrument containing numerous pipes of various dimensions and kinds, which are filled with wind from a bellows, and played upon by means of keys similar to that of a piano-forte. A cabinet organ is an organ of small size, resembling the reed organ, but superior to it. — Webster, 1882

“…What my mother told me was this: I was to give her books to the Mansfield library… all the household furnishings to you; and I was to keep any “keepsakes” that I wanted. I told her that I wanted the clock, the writing desk and sewing cabinet… and maybe a few other things, and that I thought the organ… should go to some museum. So when the committee called on me and proposed a memorial museum in Mansfield I left in their care all those things that should be in such a museum…” – letter from Rose Wilder Lane to Neta Seal, April 30, 1957.

In addition to academic classes and industrial training at the Blind School in Vinton, Iowa, music classes were offered at the Blind School in Vinton while Mary was there, including vocal, harmony, piano, organ, violin, guitar, flute, clarinet, and cornet. According to school records, Mary took vocal, piano, and harmony as a second primary student beginning in 1881-1882, and she continued to study piano throughout her college career, taking up the organ in February 1886. Mary performed on both organ and piano while in school.

In her handwritten Pioneer Girl memoir, Laura wrote that she and Pa purchased an organ for Mary to enjoy playing after her graduation and return home to live. The memoir implies that Mary graduated in 1885, when she actually graduated in 1889, two years after the Ingallses had moved into their home on Third Street. According to These Happy Golden Years, Laura used her salary from teaching the Perry School ($75 in the book / $50 in real life) in the spring of 1884 to help Pa buy a $100 pump organ for Mary. In the story, a family in town had an instrument to sell because they were leaving to go back east. Unfortunately, early tax records (for personal property meaning “stuff” as opposed to real property, which meant “land”) didn’t itemize musical instruments, but for the year 1885, the Ingallses claim ownership of $25 in musical instruments, but whether this includes Pa’s fiddle and the organ is unclear. In 1887, they declare $15 in musical instruments. It’s not until 1892 that an organ valued at $20 is listed (no mention of Pa’s fiddle), and in 1894, the organ is valued at $15, and in 1895, at $10. Later tax records are for real property only.

There’s no way to know exactly how Pa and Laura obtained the organ for Mary, who manufactured it, or from whom it was purchased. Many families had an organ or piano, and many schools did as well. In 1884, when George Westervelt rented the Ingalls building in town over the winter while the Ingallses wintered on their claim, he taught lessons on playing the organ and piano at a cost of twenty lessons for two dollars. When the De Smet graded school opened in January 1885, an organ purchased by Edwin Knapp and played at the dedication of the schoolhouse by his daughter Freddie was deemed too small for the family, and the school purchased it for $65. Freddie was organist of the Baptist Church in De Smet. Hattie Bradley let her organ be used at one of the town literaries, and Minnie Barrows loaned hers to the primary department of the school when she was the teacher.

There’s even an organ on display in the Surveyors’ House in De Smet. According to the De Smet News, June 27, 1968, it was the first one used in the Congregational Church and had no association with the Ingalls family other than it being seen and heard by the Ingallses and Wilders. According to the Memorial Society, Mary’s organ was given to someone named Thelma (it wasn’t Thelma Bouchie, but does anybody remember who it was? Thelma McCaskell? Thelma Markel?), and it was later sold at a farm auction.

Another organ is on display at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri. Although this one was in the past identified in books as “Mary’s organ,” it’s an 1890 cottage organ manufactured by Western Cottage Piano & Organ Company of Ottawa, Illinois. De Smet tax records show that Almanzo Wilder’s family had an organ valued at $30 in the year 1893; it unknown if that organ was shipped to Mansfield or was purchased after the Wilders settled there. L.W. Cooke’s Music Store in Huron opened a branch store in De Smet in 1887, and they sold Western Cottage Organs.

Perhaps young Rose – like Grace Ingalls – twirled on the organ stool until the seat unscrewed itself and she tumbled to the floor.


organ (LTP 10, 19, 23, 25; THGY 18-21, 28, 30; PG)
     Laura gives teacher salary to help purchase organ for Mary (THGY 18, 21; PG)
     levers (THGY 19) – Paddles located above directly above the foot pedals and worked with the organist’s knees. The left knee moved the left lever to activate all the stops together, playing together all the sounds the organ was capable of playing. The right knee moved the right lever to open the two sound shutters, allowing the organ to produce as much volume as it was capable of making.
     organ stool (THGY 19, 28)
     parlor organ (LTP 10)
     pump organ (THGY 19)
     stop (THGY 19) – The closing of an aperture in the air-passage or pressure of the finger upon the string, of an instrument of music, so as to modify the tone; hence, any contrivance by which the sounds of a musical instrument are regulated; as, an organ-stop, which is also called register.
     tremolo (THGY 19) – A certain contrivance in an organ, which causes the notes to sound with rapid pulses or beats, producing a tremulous effect.