Little House on the Prairie's baby Carrie a Haakon County homesteader
Steve Clements told the Philip first, second and third graders that, while he was visiting the town of De Smet, he toured the Laura Ingalls Wilder attractions there. He discovered that one of the real-life characters in the book series "Little House on the Prairie" was a homesteader in Haakon County.
Carrie Ingalls, referred in the books as Baby Carrie, was still single when she applied for one of he remaining pieces of land still available in western South Dakota to be homesteaded. With more applicants than remaining 160-acre parcels, a lottery was held. Ingalls won.
In 1907, while still single, she moved to a plot of land to make improvements on it and eventually claim it as her own. That land, originally near a town called Topbar, is approximately 15 miles north of present day Philip and approximately six miles from Clements' land. It is currently owned by Don Burns.
The third grade had been studying the Ingalls family. Instructor Jessica Wheeler said, "People would ride the railroad as far as it went, walk to see the available land, then walk back to file a claim."
Clements said, "A lot of people, once they homesteaded and proved it up, could do with it what they wanted and they sold it. I'm not sure how long she lived there."
Neighbors had to sign a homestead proof - testimony of witnesses, stating that the person did indeed improve the land. The main improvements would be their house, often around the size of 10 foot square. Wheeler said that such tiny buildings, often call tarpaper shanties, were easer to heat in during the South Dakota winters. Two witnesses on Ingall's paperwork were Albert Wheelan and Edward A. Morrison. Some of Morrison's descendents still live in Haakon County.
Wheeler said, "It was hard to have pictures taken back then." Thus the only remaining photos of the Ingall's family and later of Carrie Swansey are of them not smiling and holding very still for the camera, which sometimes required two minutes of exposure time."
Later, Carrie Ingalls married a man, a Mr. Swansey, who already had two children. She became a stepmother and they moved to Keystone. There she lived the rest of her life, working for different newspapers.
A sign is being finished to mark the land where Carrie Ingalls once homesteaded. The students will put their thumbprints on it, and flowers will be painted on the border. It will be put up later this summer.