1861 letter from Caroline Ingalls to her sister Martha

Let’s  look at a letter in the Wisconsin Historical Society Collection from Caroline Ingalls to her sister Martha.  Caroline was newly married and living in Concord, Wisconsin. A few years after this letter Charles and Caroline would themselves move north to join Martha and her husband near Pepin where the setting for Little House in the Big Woods begins.  Caroline, or Ma, writes of health, money, travel and starting over. Themes that would not only echo in the Little House series but still into our own modern lives.

My heart grew three sizes when I found this letter scanned and uploaded to the Wisconsin Historical Society. Such a powerful reminder of the capabilities of the internet and the ability for small museums or historical societies to reach out to the world. Historians would previously have to painstakingly visit state by state pouring over original documents versus my ability from Calgary, Alberta to virtually visit historical societies with ties to Laura.  Eventually I would love to visit every museum, library and society but it’s wonderful to that I’m a Google search away for now. I’ve uploaded scans of the original letter and also included a typed version of the letter. Enjoy reading!

“Concord, Sunday Oct 6th [1861]

Dear brother and sister,

I was at home today and mother told me how long it had been since any of us had written to you and thinking that you must be very anxious to hear from home, I thought I would write immediately. I have not had time to write since we received your letter until now. Mother is quite well at present. Two of her fingers on her left hand she cannot use much. You asked me to describe the disease Ma had, but I don’t know as I can. They called it the Scarlet Dyptheria [scarlet fever]. She was of a scarlet red from head to foot and of a burning heat, and when she began to get better the skin came off all over her. She could peel it off in large pieces; all her finger nails came off and as I told you before she has not the full use of two of them yet. She suffered much. You cannot imagine nor I describe how much. But I feel truly thankful to kind providence for her restoration. Charlotte and Eliza had the same disease but very lightly, Louisa and Lafayette had it and were not expected to live but they too recovered and are well now. Louisa is a very pretty little girl. She talks considerable. Thomas is at home and just as good a boy as ever. He said last night he would give so much to see you. He would be so pleased to get a letter from you particularly for himself. Martha, you don’t know how proud I am of him. Charlotte came home with me today. She says, tell Martha she is going to write to her when Ma writes again. She is getting to be quite a help to Ma. And now about Charles and Caroline. We are well and enjoying ourselves. You will think I am healthy when I tell you how much I weigh. I weigh 138 pounds. Charles is well but he has worked very hard this summer and is about tired out now. We have got our hops picked and pressed. It took three weeks with 20 pickers to pick them. We have sold $250 worth and have about as many more to sell as we have sold; but we do not expect to get as much for the remainder, as the price is reduced. We wish you much joy with your baby. Oh how we wish we could see you all. You have chosen a very pretty name for your boy. Strive to bring him up to be an honor to his parents and his country, kiss him for me. I suppose you have heard before this that Nancy has another boy. They have named it John for the first name and I believe Carpenter for the second. She is bound to keep ahead of you I guess. Monday night. Father Ingalls folks have gone up to the head waters of the Baraboo River. They started last Tuesday. They felt very bad about leaving their place and it was too bad. They were too old to be moving; but Pa did his best to save it but he could not. Peter and Eliza have gone with them. I did not tell you of father’s health. He is not able to do much work and only that that is light. Dr. Chapman says he must not work. I must bring my letter to a close. Charles was too tired to write tonight so you must excuse him. He unites with me in sending our love to you all. Write soon. From your affectionate brother and sister,

C.C. Ingalls

Charles and Caroline, Martha, Charles”

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:  http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=1711; Visited on: 1/31/2016


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