Thomas P. Power family
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 and to the south a bit 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 didn’t 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 baking soda 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”).
Biography of Thomas P. Power by Gina Terrana.
Location of Mr. Power’s Tailor Shops in De Smet. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memory was faulty when it came to remembering the correct location of De Smet businesses up and down Main Street (Calumet Avenue). For example, in her sketches of the town layout in manuscripts for The Long Winter and Little Town on the Prairie (only the east side of Block 3 is shown here), Wilder incorrectly places the tailor shop north of the Loftus Store. Wilder also didn’t identify who or what was located on all fourteen lots, including only 8 businesses and 3 vacant lots.
Unfortunately, a sign made by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in De Smet has for years been placed not on the site of the tailor shop, but on a building one lot to the north. When the series of signs was first placed to identify the location of houses and stores mentioned in the Little House books, there was a vacant lot where the tailor shop once stood, so the sign may have been placed on the nearest building to the north: De Smet Flowers & Gifts. Soon, however, a fence was placed across the street side of these vacant lots, and the sign should have been moved to the fence in front of Lot 17, but it stayed in the wrong location. Even though the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society and business owners have been shown deeds and tax records confirming the original location of the tailor shop, the error is told to tourists as fact and the sign doesn’t get moved. There are many newspaper articles about early De Smet businesses, including a map showing their locations published in the De Smet Leader in September 1883, one of the years covered in Wilder’s Little Town on the Prairie. CLICK HERE to view the map.
The tailor shop was not on the site of De Smet Flowers & Gifts (Block 3, Lot 18, original town of De Smet); it occupied Lot 17. Valley FiberCom now occupies all of Lot 17 and part of Lot 16, so the sign should be moved to the north 25 feet of the Valley FiberCom building, which is where Thomas P. Power’s tailor shop stood from 1880-1886. During the Hard Winter, Lot 18 was vacant between the Loftus Store on Lot 19 and T.P. Power, Merchant Tailor on Lot 17. After the Hard Winter, Dr. E. Gomer Davies built a store building on his lot, but Laura Ingalls Wilder never mentions it (or Dr. Davies) in the Little House books or her manuscripts. Yes, the tailor shop was the next business south of the Loftus Store during the Hard Winter, but a vacant lot separated them. There was never a time that the tailor shop and the Loftus Store stood shoulder-to-shoulder on consecutive lots. Either a vacant lot 25 feet wide or Dr. Davies’ store building was between the two. As Wilder describes it, the birds-eye drawing shows that the tailor shop was two stories tall; the Power family lived above the shop. There is no evidence that this building may have been moved onto Dr. Davies’ lot at some point. See the De Smet birds-eye to see De Smet town buildings identified. The image below is taken from the De Smet birds-eye and shows Block 3 Lots 8-21.
July 13, 1880, Thomas Power had contracted with the railroad to purchase Lot 17. In 1883, Elizabeth Power paid for this lot; that deed is below. Deed book and page numbers not disclosed; you can look it up for yourself at the courthouse in De Smet if you need that info. Dr. Davies was still living in Wisconsin during the Hard Winter; he contracted to purchase Lot 18 on July 8, 1881. Daniel Loftus contracted to purchase Lot 19 from Albert Keep on August 27, 1881.
The image below is taken from the 1884 tax records for Block 3. Note that there are buildings on all three lots, and that Dr. Davies’ building separates the Loftus Store from the tailor shop.
Elizabeth Power and Thomas P. Power sold Lot 17, Block 3 to George W. Elliot in August 1886, for $500. Mr. Power sold his stock of goods at that time and went to Ireland shortly after, while Mrs. Power had a house built on Second Street and she and the Power children moved into it. When Mr. Power returned from his trip, he set up shop in Joseph Leland’s building, located on Block 2, Lot 11. A shoemaker from Darlington, Wisconsin, Mr. Leland also wasn’t mentioned in the Little House books, even though he had been in De Smet since the original town lots were sold in 1880. His building was north of John Carroll’s first bank building (where Heritage House B&B is now located) prior to his purchase of the lot owned by the Ingallses in 1885, when he had the large brick building built on the corner (still standing, and most recently occupying Gass Law Offices). North of the original wooden bank building on Block 2, Lot 8, heading towards the railroad tracks, was James McKee’s building. The next four buildings going north belonged to Charles Spofford, Joseph Leland, Elisha Bennett, and Chauncey Clayson. Today, on the site of those four early businesses on Lots 10-13, is the main entrance to De Smet Farm Mutual Insurance Co. (their address is 120 Calumet Ave. SE). Although De Smet Farm Mutual owns more of Block 2, the five cement arches and main building are on the west half of four town lots. A sign to the south of the entrance identifies the site as where Chauncey Clayson had his dry-goods store (where Laura Ingalls sewed for Mrs. White; see Little Town on the Prairie, Chapters 5-6, 9). His building was on Lot 13 (so the north 1/4 of the De Smet Farm Mutual lots), then Elisha Bennett’s (Wilder mentions Mr. Bennett’s son, Will Bennett, in Pioneer Girl), the Leland building, and that of Mr. Spofford.
In the fall of 1892, the Elliott building (former tailor shop) was moved to a lot near the courthouse and fitted up for a residence. George Elliot built a brick building on Lot 17. In September 1893, Charles Ingalls moved his notions store into the building, renting it – at most – for a year. Newspapers report different businesses occupying the space in 1894 and 1895. George Elliot still owned the building when McKibben’s famous 1912 De Smet panoramic was taken; CLICK HERE to view. At the time, the Golden Rule occupied the building. John Hasche purchased the building and lot in 1913.
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)
Tay Pay Pryor (LTP 6) In order to disassociate the positive “Mary Power” and “Mrs. Power” characters – whose names weren’t fictionalized for the De Smet Little House books – from the negative failings of her father while keeping the Power family as productive town members and business owners, Wilder fictionalized the name of the drunken man who kicked in the screen doors of De Smet businesses while on a drunken bender as Laura watched from her job with Mrs. White.
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.