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Ma Ingalls describes family life in 1861

Letters to Charles and Martha Carpenter, 1861-1919 and 1975-1977 (selection).

Caroline Quiner Ingalls (mother of Laura Ingalls Wilder) wrote this letter to her sister, Martha Quiner Carpenter, on Oct. 6, 1861. Both sisters were in their early twenties and recently married. Caroline was still living near their parents at Concord, in Jefferson Co., Wis., but Martha had moved with her new husband to Stockholm, in Pepin Co. A few years later, Caroline would join her sister up north when the Ingalls family moved to the "little house in the big woods" in nearby Pepin.

Caroline's letter was written before she had any children. It describes life on the farm of Laura's grandparents, including an epidemic of scarlet fever which sickened Laura's cousins and nearly killed her grandmother. It also describes Laura's parents' early married life, their health, and their farm work and crops.

1860 census records suggest that the people mentioned in the letter are:
  "mother": Charlotte Mary (Tucker) (Quiner) Holbrook, Laura's maternal grandmother.
  "Charlotte": Charlotte Holbrook, Caroline's half-sister and Laura's aunt, born 1854
  "Eliza": Eliza Quiner, Caroline 's sister, born 1842
  "Louisa": daughter of Caroline's brother Henry Quiner, born 1860
  "Lafayette": three-year-old son of Charles Ingall's sister Lydia
  "Thomas": Thomas Quiner, Caroline's brother, born 1844
  "Nancy": Nina Quiner, wife of Caroline's brother Joseph.
  "Father Ingalls": Lansford Ingalls, Charles' father and Laura's grandfather
  "Peter": Peter Ingalls, Charles' brother and Laura's uncle

To see the original handwritten letter, click "View the Document" below. Use the right-hand frame of the document viewer to navigate. To see a typed transcript, open the drop-down box above the navigation pane reading, "View Image & Text."
This letter is part of a small collection of letters to Charles and Martha Carpenter preserved by the family. Civil War letters by Laura's uncles and one aunt are included elsewhere in Turning Points in Wisconsin History.

A lesson plan based on this document is available.

View the Document

Related Topics: Immigration and Settlement
Wisconsin in the Civil War Era
19th-Century Immigration
The Civil War Home Front
Farming and Rural Life
Creator: Ingalls, Caroline Quiner
Pub Data: Letters to Charles and Martha Carpenter, 1861-1919 and 1975-1977 (selection), Wisconsin Historical Society manuscript collection Stout SC 142.
Citation: Ingalls, Caroline Quiner. Letter to Martha Quiner Carpenter, Oct. 6, 1861, in: Letters to Charles and Martha Carpenter, 1861-1919 and 1975-1977, Wisconsin Historical Society manuscript collection Stout SC 142. Online facsimile at:; Visited on: 4/24/2014
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