Many Laura fans enjoy the adventure of a literary road trip to visit the places where she lived and those she wrote about. Our friends at The Cottonwood Tree just posted the following guide to a road trip in Laura Land that features sites from The Bridges of Madison County. Literary overlap is such fun!
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…
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.”
“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:
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.
Ingalls Street, Nashua, New Hampshire. Directly across from the intersection is a little market and deli called “Nellie’s.” Little House fans get it, especially if they also like the LHOP TV show!
This aptly named deli is directly across the intersection from Ingalls Street in Nashua, New Hampshire. Little House fans are chuckling.
My sister Kate (left) and I met Alison Arngrim in June 2010 at R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Connecticut. Alison was touring in support of her book, CONFESSIONS OF A PRAIRIE B*TCH. She shared some great stories of her time on LHOP television show, and also elaborated on her work with PROTECT.org, which endeavors to rescue children from exploitation and abuse, prosecute the criminals, and change laws as needed to better keep these criminals from being allowed to re-offend. My sincerest respect to Alison for her tireless efforts in defending children, and just being an “awesome. massive. decent!” human being… http://www.protect.org
2 July 2013
In a few days, I’ll be embarking on yet another cross-country (well, most of the way…) trek from my home in New England to various points West, reaching, at minimum distance, Keystone and Custer State Park in South Dakota. With any luck, and some careful planning, I will be able to add at least a new state or two to the running tally of those I’ve visited in my lifetime. I’d like to get to Wyoming, Colorado, and a new-to-me section of Nebraska so I can finally see parts of the Oregon Trail. Originally, the plan also included some historic sites in the OKC area as well as return visits to 2 primary Laura sites: the Little House on the Prairie Museum (site of the Ingalls family’s “Indian Country” settlement near Independence, Kansas) and Bessie and Manly’s final home at Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield, Missouri with one of my Laura friends. But, as is de rigeur for my experience, Life is What Happens When You’re Making Other Plans.
A little hiccup (okay, a really big one, but I’m trying to be cheerful here) in the health of my baby kibbie, a.k.a. Quinn, has necessitated a delay in my departure. Quinn is a fighter, and still very kittenish for her 15 or so years, but, as a former stray, the unknowns of her early history make her a bit susceptible to various health problems, and she ended up in surgery on the day of my planned departure for the west.
Not being one to take pet care lightly, I elected to delay my trip by a week to give her time to get the healing process underway and make sure she’s improving before I hand her off to my very capable family for the next several weeks. Plus, I like to snuggle her, and since I have the time off from work anyway, why not get a few more hours of QT with kitty while I do some of the reading I would otherwise do in a lonely hotel somewhere in Huskerdoo?
Besides, I’ve seen many of the states I’ll be trekking through before, and my mission on each trip is to experience something new and visit places I’ve always wanted to go. I’ve seen a lot of states over the years, and have racked up a relatively impressive number (…of states visited…get your mind out of the gutter!) by some standards.
How many states have I been to? Well, I’m not at 50, nor 40, nor even 35. BUT, I’m working on it. I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and take every opportunity to visit somewhere new. Beginning in early childhood, when my parents took us to visit family in Upstate New York, or friends in Florida, travel has nearly always involved a roadtrip. By the time I had a driver’s license, I was planning when and where I’d go the minute I had my own car (which, in my family, meant when I had saved enough of my own earnings to buy and insure one!). Almost deliberately, I chose a Toyota with a standard transmission so I would have to learn to drive a stick, which meant that, between classes and shifts at the grocery store, I was taking little Joey out for a lot of practice trips on back country roads through various counties in northern New Hampshire. Almost immediately, I began to discover just how much I adored exploring rural countryside, and roadtrips of any distance were soon a way of life.
Over the years, I found ways to fit travel into my meager budget by combining missions. A friend wants to go to her nephew’s birthday party 3 states away? Road Trip! My new favorite band will put me on the guest list at shows around the northeast if I promote them everywhere I go? Road Trip! My boss needs to get something delivered 100 miles away by 5 pm? Road Trip!!!!! Any excuse I could find. Before I knew it, I’d racked up over half a million miles on various old beater cars: the Toyota, two VW Foxes, a Saab, and two Jettas.
These days my mileage total is upwards of 850k, over 6 cars, in some 20 years. The newest car was 4 years old (but I kept it until a cargo van ended its life at age 12); all of the cars were at least a dozen years old when they retired, and all but one of the retirees registered well over 200,000 miles on the odometer. The record holder for most miles in shortest time was Gretyl, acquired in May 2010 with 119k miles. Twenty-one months and NINETY THOUSAND MILES later, while attempting to return from a Laura gig a few hours from home during a nasty ice storm, Gretyl, with her superior handling, spared my life but sacrificed her own. The odometer read just over 209,000. Something tells me she had a lot more miles in her, but the frame, although intact, would never be quite right again, and I couldn’t risk it. But, I was so impressed with her fortitude in my near-death experience that I went out and bought another Jetta just like her…
My current Jetta, acquired last year, is a relative youngster, only 11 years old and just crested 150,000 last weekend.
Where have I been in all those miles? Hmmm…well, some states I have only driven through a corner of, not even stopping to buy gas or eat a meal. So, I will skip those. If we count only places where I have at least gotten out of the car, looked around, eaten, or stayed overnight, the tally as of now is 30/50 States. That may not sound like much, but I can tell you I have spent about a year’s worth of days and nights traveling in the U.S., even though I have lived in the same state my entire life.
So, where have I done all this roaming? All of New England, all of the Eastern seaboard, plus…Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri…30 states, plus Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario.
In recent years, I have been visiting LauraLand on an annual basis. In 2012, I was there twice! This year, I hope to finally ride the 1880 Train between Keystone and Hill City, South Dakota.
I hope to finally see the Badlands for longer than just the occasional glance out the window as I’m whizzing down the highway in a hurry to get back to Brookings for a gig the next day.
I hope to visit Prairie Homestead, and the land Carrie Ingalls homesteaded as a single “spinster” near Philip, South Dakota, prior to her marriage 101 years ago.
I hope to have a bison steak (finally!) instead of just bison burgers…although where else but the 1481 can you have a meal of Bison Burger, Buffalo Sweat, and Badger Buns?
But mostly, I hope my keet-ten is feeling better really, really soon (and wouldn’t it be great if there was a way for her to travel comfortably with me, in no fear of over heating or losing her to an amble on the high plains?). I don’t like to leave her behind, and if I wasn’t already committed to several gigs some 1,700 miles from home, I’d stay put for now.
“That’s right, you saw what you saw. That’s how we roll in the Shire!”
Schoolhouse near Spirit Lake, South Dakota. Laura and Almanzo enjoyed buggy rides throughout a wide radius around DeSmet. Spirit Lake was one of their frequent destinations.