Mr. and Mrs. Scott
Said to be near neighbors of the Ingalls family in Indian Territory
Our nearest neighbor is down the creek only a little way. Man and his wife, name of Scott. – handwritten manuscript, Little House on the Prairie
In all versions of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl memoir, Mr. and Mrs. Robertson are the couple whose actions are given to the characters called Mr. and Mrs. Scott in published Little House on the Prairie. The Scott surname – not Robertson – is also used in all surviving manuscripts for Little House on the Prairie. Did the Ingallses really have neighbors named Robertson and/or Scott in Indian Territory?
On the 1870 census, the Ingallses are enumerated in Rutland Township, Montgomery County, Kansas. Margaret Clement’s 1964 research determined that the Ingallses were living on the SW 36-34S-14E, now the location of the Little House on the Prairie Museum and replica cabin. Neither Clement nor Donald Zochert (who confirmed Clement’s research) looked at claim files or school land purchase records, relying on deeds and census records. In Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography (2014), Pamela Smith Hill wrote that “No one named Scott appears on the  census” (see 13n29), which is incorrect. There are both Robertsons and Scotts found on the 1870 census in Montgomery County, including (listed one after the other) the Lewis Scott family and the LeGrand Robertson family. These families were in Westralia, however, the southeasternmost township in the county, not Rutland. Using deeds and census records places these families near the Verdigris River and Coffeyville, or about 15 miles from the Ingallses, so too far away to be considered neighbors.
Nancy Koupal suggests in Pioneer Girl: The Revised Texts (2021), that the Ingallses’ neighbors in Little House on the Prairie, Mr. and Mrs. Scott, may have been based on William and Roxanna Scott “who lived in Montgomery County near the Ingalls home during the 1870 federal census” (see 13n14), which is also incorrect. These Scotts were enumerated in Verdigris Township, so they were a minimum of 6 miles from the Ingallses, as Independence Township separates the two. Six miles isn’t exactly near.
Neither Charles Ingalls nor this William Scott filed a claim or purchased property in Montgomery County. On the 1870 Montgomery County census, William and Roxanna Scott were family #153 in Verdigris Township. Using the same method Margaret Clement employed to locate the Ingallses, deeds and claim files were studied to locate census households #149 Joseph Phillips, #150 John Simpson, #151 Allen Foster, #155 Timothy Billings, and #156 Rufus Miller (and others, but you get the idea), whose claims were all clustered around the early village of Verdigris City (in 22-33S-16E) on the east side of the Verdigris River, southeast of Independence. To put these Scotts’ nearness to the Ingallses in perspective: not only would Pa have walked 10+ miles in dark of night to check on the Scotts after hearing a scream he thought came from these near neighbors, he’d also have to swim across the Verdigris River to get there. The family enumerated just before the Scotts, btw, was Mrs. Scott’s brother and his family: #153 George Gary. That’s not to say that these Scotts and/or the Ingallses didn’t move around in the county and only lived this far apart at census time, but there is no primary source documentation that places them any closer than 10 miles apart.
Because there is a William Scott on the 1870 census as well as a William Scott who filed a claim near the Ingallses, it’s easy to assume they were the same man. They were not. There were two different men named William Harrison Scott known to have lived in Montgomery County in the late 1860s to early 1870s, one of them born in England around 1833 and married to Roxania E. Gary in 1859, and the other one born in Illinois around 1850 and married to Ruvina L. Nash in 1871. Roxania Gary was born January 25, 1843 in Chautauqua County, New York. Ruvina Nash was born January 16, 1854 in Hancock County, Illinois.
WILLIAM HARRISON SCOTT [the man on the census] was born in England around 1833, based on his age recorded on censuses. I first found him in Illinois marriage records: William Harrison Scott married Roxania E. Gary on February 1, 1859, in Kendall County; this is assumed to be the correct spelling of her name as it’s how she signed her name on legal documents. Roxania Gary was the daughter of Roswell Gary, a blacksmith; Roxania and her mother shared the same first name. The Garys and at least some of their children came to Montgomery County in 1869; Mrs. Gary died in Liberty in 1875. William Scott, age 27, farmer, born in England, is on the 1860 census with his wife Roxana (age 17) born in New York, and Jane Scott (age 63) born in England. They were enumerated in Shabbona Township, Dekalb County, Illinois, and William owned real estate valued at $1860. Deeds show that the Scotts purchased several parcels of land in Dekalb County between 1858 and 1866. Jane is probably William’s mother, but I have no other information about his family.
William Scott (age 37) born in England, is on the 1870 census in Verdigris Township, Montgomery County, Kansas, with his wife Roxanna (age 26) born in New York, and three children: Zora (age 8, born in Illinois), Fred (age 3, born in Iowa), and Lena (age 8 months, born in Iowa). I do not know where in Iowa the children were born. Living with the family is George Norris (age 21) farm worker born in Maine. After the 1870 census, there’s no trace of William Scott or the children Fred and Lena that I’ve been able to find. Zora Scott is a bit of a mystery as well.
Scott family lore suggests that William, Lena, and Fred Scott died in the early 1870s, but I have found no death or burial information for any of them. Although there are Kansas newspaper accounts of a William Harrison Scott who committed murder in Montgomery County in 1870 as well as a William Harrison Scott wanted in Wichita for questioning about a child born in Indiana in 1867, neither is currently believed to be about either Mr. Scott detailed here. Because the two William Scotts – the man on the census and the man who filed a claim near the Ingallses – lived hundreds of miles apart in Illinois and they each appear consistently described as to age and nativity in county records and as two different men on two federal censuses, this isn’t a case of one man leading a double life for over twenty years, although that certainly would make for an interesting story.
In January 1873, Roxania Scott of Liberty, Kansas, purchased three lots in the village of Liberty, one of which she sold to her mother. On May 22, 1873, Roxania Scott (age 28) married James Laughlin (age 33) in Liberty. From Delaware County, Iowa, Laughlin was living just north of Verdigris City at the time of the 1870 census. (Since the Scotts had children born in Iowa, perhaps the Scotts knew James Laughlin there, but I’ve researched with this in mind, without success so far.) Laughlin was longtime postmaster of Liberty, a merchant and grain-buyer, and he also held public office in Liberty Township and was a charter member of the Liberty G.A.R. Post. Roxania and James Laughlin had three children born in Liberty: Anna, Emma, and Thomas. There are many mentions of the Laughlin family in local newspapers. Anna was a school teacher; Emma was a bookkeeper; Thomas worked with his father. James Laughlin died in 1907 and Roxania Laughlin died in 1923, and they are both buried in Liberty Cemetery. Mrs. Laughlin’s obituary states that she came to Montgomery County in 1869 with her parents, settling first near Old Parker (which was more than 8 miles from the Ingallses). The obituary makes no mention of either her first marriage or daughter Zora, who was still living at the time of her mother’s death.
On the 1875 and 1880 censuses, Zora Scott is enumerated with her mother and step-father; there are also newspaper reports of her school progress in the Liberty school in the late 1870s. According to Montgomery County marriage records, Zora M. Scott (19) married James F. Reynolds (30) of Cherryvale, in Liberty Township on May 13, 1881. I can find no information on James F. Reynolds in deeds or claim records (he’s not the James T. Reynolds who shows up everywhere in county records).
Zora probably relocated to Oregon around 1885. She had four children, all born in Oregon, and all who had the Scott surname: James (born 1888), Edward (born 1891), Desdemona (born 1895), and Harvey (born 1897). Zora appears on one Malheur County, Oregon census (1910) living with husband James Scott (age 47) born Tennessee; James filed on land in the Willamette Valley. Sometimes, Zora and James are found on censuses in the same town but not in the same household, and Zora is said to be either married or a widow, depending on the year. I have found no marriage, divorce, or death record for James Scott. Zora moved to Colville, Washington, then followed daughter Desda to California. Zora Scott died May 31, 1940, in Alameda.
The only primary source document that places this William Harrison Scott in Montgomery County at the same time as the Ingallses is the 1870 census, yet the two families were living 10 miles apart. Based on census information and known locations for the family, it’s impossible to believe that these Scotts were the Ingallses’ “near neighbors” who visited frequently at the Ingallses’ cabin, or that Roxania Scott was the Mrs. Scott who was present when Carrie was born.
WILLIAM HARRISON SCOTT [the man who filed a claim in 34S-15E]. Although this Mr. Scott did have a claim about a mile southeast of where the Ingallses had lived, William Scott testified in his claim file that he first settled on the land in December 1871, or about 6 months after the Ingallses had left Montgomery County for good. Scott was enumerated on the 1870 census (taken August 4, 1870) in Appanoose Township (Hancock County) Illinois. William Scott and Ruvina Nash were married in Hancock County on October 24, 1871. They were not in Kansas at the time of Carrie’s birth, and they both married and left Illinois for Kansas after the Ingallses had returned to Wisconsin. Charles and Caroline Ingalls would not have known this family.
William Harrison Scott was born in Nauvoo, Hancock County, Illinois in August 1850, to David Scott (1819-1854) and Nancy Burns (1824-1911). David Scott was engaged in the manufacture of liquor, mainly brandy. After the death of William Scott’s father in 1854, his mother Nancy married John Croff the following year. Coming from Hancock County, the Croffs settled on the NE 20-34S-15E in May 1871, so about the same time that the Ingallses were leaving Montgomery County. William Scott appears on the 1860 census (age 10) and 1870 census (age 20) with his mother and step-father in Hancock County, Illinois. One of William’s sisters, Margaret, had a claim near her brother, but she settled it in 1872, marrying James Flener in 1877. Flener’s claim was in Section 35, west of the Ingallses.
Ruvina Lenora Nash was born in January 1854, the daughter of John Nash of Chautauqua County, New York, and Mordecia Allen from Kentucky. Of interest is her enumeration on the 1860 census, not because of where she was living (Hancock County, Illinois) but that Ruvina (age 16) is listed as a domestic servant in the household of her sister, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth’s husband, Jonathan Robertson. (There’s that name again…) Although the Robertsons did move to Kansas, they settled in Osborne County, about 200 miles from Montgomery County.
According to William Harrison Scott’s claim file, he testified that he settled on his land around December 1, 1871, building a clapboard house 14×16 feet. He and his wife lived here until April 1872, when the house burned to the ground. He then build a stone house, one story tall. Scott paid for his claim in April 1873; his patent is dated December 15, 1873. They returned to Illinois after purchasing their land, staying there over a year before returning to Montgomery County. The Scotts are enumerated on the 1875 Kansas state census living in Independence, not on the claim: William (age 26) teamster, wife R.L. Scott (age 22), and sons William (2, born in Kansas) and Frances (8 months, born in Illinois).
In 1875, the Scotts were sued for non-payment of goods bought on account by Wilson Kincaid and Oliver Root, proprietors of a store in Independence. In district court, the Scotts were ordered to pay Wilson & Root the sum of $760.65 plus $10 in court costs. The judge ordered their claim to be sold at auction in November with money from the sale applied to the debt owed. At the auction, Wilson & Root were the highest bidders and they took over ownership of the Scotts’ claim.
For a while, William and Ruvina Scott lived in Independence on Main Street and William worked as a teamster. The parents of six children, the Scotts then moved to Iola, Kansas, where William ran a barber shop and operated a tea and spice business. In his later years, William was a patient at the Missouri State Hospital for the Insane at St. Joseph; Ruvina lived in Kansas City. William Scott died at St. Joseph in June 1921; his body was brought to Mount Hope Cemetery in Independence for burial. Ruvina Scott died in Kansas City in October 1923; she was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City.
Although the Scotts had a claim near where the Ingallses had lived in Montgomery County, William and Ruvina Scott didn’t settle there until after the Ingallses returned to Wisconsin, and even their marriage in Illinois occurred after the Ingallses had left Montgomery County. These Scotts weren’t the inspiration for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Mr. and Mrs. Scott” characters in Little House on the Prairie.
Who might have been the inspiration for the Robertsons / Scotts? The Ingallses may have known and were helped by unnamed neighbors who don’t appear on the 1870 Montgomery County census and who didn’t remain in the area to file a claim or purchase school land; Wilder introduces a number of characters in her Indian Territory manuscripts for which historical counterparts are unknown. According to family histories and settlement dates recorded in claim files I ordered from the National Archives, known neighbors of the Ingallses in 1869 include the families of Bennett Tann, John Rowles, Andrew Smith, Edmund Mason, Sam Riddle, and Oliver Carrow. At the time of the 1870 census, there were also the families of Joseph James, Alexander Johnson, Robert Gilmour, George Longcor, Charles Skaggs, and John Shook. After the census, land occupation exploded. By the time the land was surveyed in February 1871 – months prior to legal settlement – there were at least 35 families known to have been living within 2 miles of the Ingallses.
There is no way to know for sure who inspired Wilder’s characters, but based on research available to date, it wasn’t William and Roxanna Scott from the 1870 census or William and Ruvina Scott who filed a claim on the S-SW 6 & N-NW 7 34S-15E.
Mr. (LHP 7, 12, 16-17, 20, 22-23, 25)
Mrs. (LHP 12, 15, 17, 20)
Mrs. Scott and the panther scream (LHP 20)
Mr. Scott given cow and calf (LHP 25)
Mr. and Mrs. Robertson(PG)
story of Mrs. Robinson and the panther scream (PG)