Discovering Almanzo Wilder: Rachel McMillan Guest Blogs

Melanie:

Newly-minted Laura fan Rachel McMillan guest posts on blog of longtime Laurati, Melanie J Fishbane. Obsession with the Manly One ensues:

Originally posted on Melanie J. Fishbane:

Rachel McMillan and I met through social media. We’ve travelled in the same circles for a number of years, but didn’t physically meet until this past summer when I finally was like, “Dude, you write, I write. We like the same things. We should have food and drink together”–although I probably didn’t use “dude” but I’m sure she would approve.

Since then we’ve explored Niagara on the Lake, Leaskdale, and Norval, and talked about Maud, Dean Priest, and–yes–Almanzo Wilder. Watching Rachel discuss re-reading the Little House series on Facebook and then falling in love with Almanzo Wilder was not only delightful, it also reminded me of my past posts on the subject and what I hope to discuss this summer in Laurapalooza (if they love my proposal enough and if the money all comes together.)

daisy and rachelRachel  works in Educational publishing in Toronto. She is an aspiring author and spends a lot of…

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A Puritan Hero

Melanie:

Just discovered this blog, courtesy of a share by my friend and Alcott scholar, Kristi Martin, who brought Amy Belding Brown to my attention with this link. Kristi and I both work in Concord and greatly admire what is known as Orchard House, the home built by the subject of this piece, John Hoar, and which would later be home to Louisa May Alcott as she penned Little Women.

I love antique houses, women’s history, and stories of rebellious colonists of New England in the days before notions of antidisestablishmentarianism took hold. This one combines them all!

Originally posted on Collisions:

Orchard House snowAbout a decade ago, I worked for a few years at the Orchard House Museum in Concord, Massachusetts.  Best known as the home of Louisa May Alcott and the place where she wrote the classic novel, Little Women, the house has an impressive history of its own.  When I was there the 300-year-old building, renovated by Bronson Alcott in the 1850’s, was in the midst of a massive preservation project, so I had the opportunity to see, up-close, some of the details of the colonial construction.  Ever since, I’ve been fascinated not just by how historical houses are decorated, but how they’re constructed.

At that time, I was finishing work on my novel, Mr. Emerson’s Wife, about the Transcendental circle in19th century Concord.  Little did I know that a few years later, I’d encounter the house again, as I researched a 17th-century Concord lawyer for my new novel,

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The Myth of a Myth: Brushing Your Hair 100 Times

Melanie:

This is my favorite entry of The Pragmatic Costumer. The writer, Liz, makes excellent points about how the modern brushes and shampoos/conditioners/styling products simply do not reflect historic methods, and marketing has actually changed how we style our hair over the decades.

I’ve had my own odyssey with hair care as I’ve aged, and always hated styling products. Transforming myself into a reasonable facsimile of a woman in the 1890s goes far beyond getting a great dressmaker. Grooming takes center stage, and is very different than most 21st century women would find comfortable. I make some small compromises, but endeavor to be as authentic as possible.

When I was in the early stages of planning my first-person presentations, Meet Laura Ingalls Wilder, I began growing my hair. I was putting together many necessary elements for a portrayal that was as close to accurate as possible, considering that Laura herself left behind great descriptions of her clothing when she was a teenager, but little of her appearance as a married woman with a half-grown child, a farm full of hard work and a flock of chickens to tend. I wanted my wardrobe and grooming to be as close to what she and other women of her taste and means and practical needs might have done as possible, but also to maintain a level of practicality that would translate for travel and everyday life. I knew I had a challenge. I have always had very oily, straight but unevenly-textured, mostly fine (but tons of it) hair. So, with the help of a great hairdresser and some experimentation, I expanded upon my earlier commitment to reduce damaging habits and products.

I had first eliminated any products with alcohols or silicones and other plastics about 15 years ago, and rarely touch even gels or other styling products. But to get my hair to maintain a healthy apppearance and grow well without split ends, I had to commit to regularly scheduled trims. That is simply a fact for certain hair types like mine. I also had to put the hairdryer down. More often than I wanted to. And, I had to buy better tools. But, by also by following a few more of the “always” and “nevers” of hair care, I found I could grow it to be the healthiest it has ever been since I was about seven years old. Here are some basics:

-ALWAYS brush hair before going to sleep. NEVER sleep with clips, barrettes, braids, or hair ties in your hair (it tugs and tears at the hair as your head moves on the pillow).

-NEVER use shampoos or conditioners which contain sulfates. You don’t need a lather to get it clean! Sulfates dry your hair and encourage breakage.

-NEVER use a brush in wet hair. A wide-toothed comb is gentler.

-ALWAYS avoid a hair dryer when possible/practical. If you must use one, get one with a “cold shot” setting and only use that setting. It will lessen damage.

-NEVER let your hair loose if the weather is very windy. The tangled mess will be difficult to untangle without damage; not worth it!

It took me 5 years to get to a length that works for all aspects of my life and isn’t too impractical for everyday. I compromised by keeping the length at the lower middle of my back, and use a carefully-matched switch to add realistic (and historically-accurate!) volume to my 1890s hairstyle.

Photos to follow!

Originally posted on The Pragmatic Costumer:

A Tiny Bit of Historical Hair Care for the Modern Woman

Young Teenage Girl with Sausage Curls, circa 1860

I have very greasy hair and always have. It’s also fine, but dry at the ends, so I have to cleanse it every day yet hydrate it with heavy creams. Recently, I’ve delved into the world of alternative haircare. In my case, I’ve taken up co-washing, which uses conditioner as a “shampoo” that doesn’t strip hair as badly as regular shampoo. It’s basically alternative hair care for casuals, but so far, it’s been working pretty well! A lot of alternative haircare methods remind me a lot of pre-20th century haircare methods. Before the great hygiene shift created by 20th century marketing, women didn’t just style their hair differently than we do; they cared for their hair differently, too.

Lotta Crabtree, an American Actress
One of her defining physical features was…

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130 Years Ago Today: Almanzo Wilder’s Homestead Proof, 12 September 1884.

Here’s a little something pleasant for your perusal this fine, but chilly, September morning:

Almanzo James Wilder’s Homestead Proof, testimony dated exactly 130 years ago, 12 September 1884.

A.J. Sheldon, a nearby neighbor, sets his hand to testify on “our” A.J. Wilder’s behalf that, indeed, he is qualified, being a citizen of the U.S., over the age of 21, who has never made a previous homestead entry (at least, not to conclusion) and kept continuous residence on this section of land (NE 21-111-56), with a dwelling:

“about 12 ft. square, 2 doors, 3 windows. Stable. frame. Well of water. cellar. acres broken & cultivated. some trees. Value at least $300.00.”

You see, early this morning, I received a Google alert from New Zealand, which looked like this: http://foreignaffairs.co.nz/2014/09/12/homestead-testimony-of-almanzo-wilder/

Unfortunately, the link didn’t want to load all the images, so while the description was intact, the actual document was not in view.

But, with a little hunting and pecking, the National Archives record (National Archives Identifier: 595419) came up rather quickly, because I know you want to SEE it…with the original handwriting, syntax, capitalization, punctuation, and signatures intact…

http://research.archives.gov/description/595419

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Let’s note a few details, shall we?

Since the Homestead Act of 1862 required that the claimant remain in continuous residence for six months out of each year for five years, Sheldon’s purpose as witness to Wilder’s claim was to testify that Wilder had indeed fulfilled the various stipulations of the Act, prior to receiving his patent (deed) to the land. It was also required that the land be “improved,” i.e. cultivated, and that no evidence of precious minerals, oil, or the like, was present. The witness had to be someone living nearby to the claimant, so as to be a reliable authority on the claimant’s, er, claims. That witness also needed to swear his own statements were true, and that he did not hold a personal stake in the claimant’s success. Like Wilder, Sheldon also was a farmer, and one whose statements appear to be articulate as well as thoughtful. A reliable fellow for the task at hand, Sheldon supported all of the necessary requirements for Wilder. To wit:

Sheldon lists his own address as SW 10-111-56 (that is, SW quarter of Section 10, Township 111, Range 56), putting him within an easy distance of Wilder’s homestead. He states he is “well acquainted with Almanzo J Wilder, the claimant…“for about 5 yrs. he had taken his land at Yankton about 3 weeks before I met him.” 

He further attests Wilder “was temporarily absent at times working on the R.R. and visiting in Minn. not more than about 2 months at a time.”  

and:

“crops on (in?) past 4 years. breaking 5 yrs. acre(s) cultivated. about 20 acres of wheat this year. 1884.”

The best part?  Sheldon’s answer to the following:

“Question 10. Are you interested in this claim, and do you think the settler has acted in entire good faith in perfecting this entry?”  

“no. nor am I in any way related to claimant. think he has acted in good faith. AJ Sheldon”

A good neighbor. I’m sure Almanzo was relieved to get that little detail squared away. Because our man had some serious courting to get to! And, while we know that Miss Laura E. Ingalls would soon become Mrs. A.J. Wilder (“Bessie” as our man of the hour called her), I bet fellow researcher Nancy Cleaveland* could tell us all about helpful Mr. A. J. Sheldon’s own property, his place and family of origin, his own homestead, and what he did with the rest of his life. Probably, she has a photo of him somewhere, I reckon. Except, “I wouldn’t bet on a woman.” Wouldn’t be proper.

Finally, while that little house and its builder are both long gone, Kingsbury County still holds a great deal of charm for the visitor who revels in a hot Dakota summer. Here’s what the property looked like just a couple of years ago on a stunning Sunday afternoon:

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Nice warm thought on a not-so-warm morning. You’re welcome.

_____

*She’s reliably the most likely person to have researched him, simply because no one, and I mean no one, has spent more time squirreling out the nitty-gritty details of every soul who once settled in Kingsbury County. I say that with the utmost respect. NC is my research hero. And a generous friend, to boot.

The National Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association Conference, aka “LauraPalooza 2015,” Call for Proposals is Here!

Have you heard?

Planning for the National Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association Conference, affectionately known as “LauraPalooza,” is well underway, and the Call for Proposals has been issued as of 25 August 2014.

The theme of LauraPalooza 2015 is “Through Laura’s Eyes: Imagery, Illustrations, and Impressions from the Little House.”

This is the third national conference of the LIWLRA, to be held 16-17 July 2015 at South Dakota State University in Brookings, South Dakota, followed by and optional field trip to Laura’s “Little Town on the Prairie,” DeSmet, South Dakota, on Saturday, 18 July 2015. Academic submissions from all disciplines are encouraged. Submissions will be accepted for consideration and possible acceptance for presentation through 5 December 2014 (Rose Wilder Lane’s birthday) and acceptance notices will be issued 7 February 2015 (Laura’s birthday–see what they did there?).

Proposal submission details and guidelines can be found here:

http://beyondlittlehouse.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Call-for-Proposals-LP15.pdf

Oh, and, if you know the significance of the date chosen to issue the Call for Proposals (25 August 2014) you really, really should consider attending the conference, whether you’re submitting a proposal or not!

“No Blondes Need Apply?” Some things never change.

The blog pastispresent.org, written by the curatorial staff at one of my favorite New England Institutions, The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts, is always a good read. The other day, the staff published a particularly comical piece, which featured a Chicago publication for the lonely-hearted and marriage-minded from 1876. While many of the ads would sound odd to us today (“musically accomplished” is a frequently-cited qualification), others are concerned with the more aesthetic features or fiscal concerns of the advertisers and potential respondents: “No Blondes Need Apply?” Some things never change.

http://pastispresent.org/2014/fun-in-the-archive/no-blondes-need-apply/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-blondes-need-apply

Ingalls family furniture item “comes home” to De Smet, SD

Melanie:

I just arrived home from nearly a month in the Midwest. All of my trips to LauraLand have multiple purposes: research, presentations, networking, research, dining on Midwestern specialties (oh, there is no bacon like an upper Midwest bacon!), research, photography, research, museum visits, research, scouting for the next conference, and more research. But another activity I seek out is ANYTHING going on in the local area which simply can’t be done at home. (Again, with the bacon!) This year, as in 2011, I happened to be in the right place at the right time and heard about an upcoming auction which *supposedly* featured a “secretary” desk/cabinet which had once belonged to Laura’s youngest sister Grace and her husband, Nate Dow. The auction was happening a few towns away from where I was staying (Brookings, SD) and a few towns from where Grace and Nate used to live (Manchester, SD).

I debated attending, and kept changing my mind. The pragmatic part of me said, “how can you be sure of the provenance?” And, it was true, the article I read did not clarify how anyone could assure a prospective buyer that this was an authentic piece (It was. And it is.). The starving historian in me said, “maybe you could just go and look at it. But you can’t afford to bid on it!” (True, and true.) The super-geeky Laura fan in me said, “Oh! You simply MUST go see it. This kind of thing is so rare at an auction, and surely they wouldn’t try to present it as authentic this close to DeSmet if they didn’t have actual PROOF of the provenance. It MUST be the real thing. You should go!”

Finally, the pragmatist in me told the more sentimental and romantic parts of me to shove off and let it go. After all, even if it was real, and even if no one else was bidding high, and somehow I could afford it, well, there was just no way I could get it to fit in the car and drive it all the way home to New Hampshire and, besides, shipping it safely would be a logistical and financial nightmare. So, no, I didn’t go.

And, it is just as well that I didn’t!

As it turns out, a few people in-the-know, and with a big enough wallet to do so, were bidding it up…against the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society in DeSmet! After a lot of heartaching, and many bid increases, the secretary went home with a lucky buyer…and I’m happy to report that the winning bid came from the Memorial Society! The scramble to own a previously-unknown Ingalls artifact ended in the best way possible (well, except for those of us who dreamt of owning it ourselves). Nate and Grace Ingalls Dow’s 1908 secretary, complete with original shipping tag on the back, is safely in its new home at the Memorial Society, just a scant 7 or 8 miles from the original destination on that shipping tag. As it should be!

Originally posted on Discover Laura:

We are very excited to announce the “coming home” of a unique and valuable Ingalls Family possession. This month, one of our board members attended the estate auction of Patricia Schneider of Howard, South Dakota. Mrs. Schneider had in her possession a “secretary with glass door and shelves” that originally belonged to Nathan and Grace Ingalls Dow of Manchester.

Secretary owned by Laura Ingalls Wilder Family in De Smet South Dakota

After a stressful and heated bidding session with a phone-in customer from Omaha, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society won the highest bid. Then, the secretary came home to Ma and Pa’s home on Third Street in De Smet, South Dakota.

Mrs. Schneider included a handwritten letter explaining in great detail the story of how she came to own the secretary. The secretary came to her through her relatives that were good friends of Harvey Dunn and his sister, Carrie Dunn Reiland. Harvey and Carrie were niece and nephew to Nathan…

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