What Became of Ma and Pa Ingalls?

Can you imagine what Laura Ingalls Wilder would write on her blog if she were alive today? What additional memories might she share with us? What advice would she have for today’s young people? I’m captivated by anything that Laura wrote, probably because my ancestors traveled by covered wagon from New York to Illinois at the same time the Ingalls family lived in Wisconsin.

Much has been written about Laura’s life after the Little House books, but I’ve often wondered what became of Ma and Pa Ingalls. With a little bit of research, I found their obituaries and some interesting facts and photos to share with you.

Pa was born Charles Philip Ingalls, in 1836, in Cuba, New York, the second of nine children. When he was twelve, his family moved to Illinois and then to Southern Wisconsin where, in 1860, he married Caroline Lake Quiner. Pa’s dislike of big towns was one reason the family moved around a lot – from Wisconsin to Kansas, back to Wisconsin, then to Minnesota and Iowa, back to Minnesota again, and finally to De Smet in Dakota Territory. Pa died there on June 8, 1902 at the age of 66. His obituary provides more information, although some of it is conflicting.

A Pioneer Gone The People of De Smet were pained Sunday afternoon to learn of the death of Mr. C.P. Ingalls, who died at 3 p.m. of that day after a lingering illness of several weeks. Heart trouble was the cause of his death.

Funeral services were held at the Congregational Church Tuesday forenoon, largely attended by the many friends of the deceased and of the family. After the church services were concluded the Masonic fraternity who were in attendance in body took charge of the funeral and the remains were placed in their last resting place with solemn funeral rite of that organization.

Chas. P. Ingalls was born in that state 60 years ago. His life was that of a pioneer from boyhood. At the age of 12 years he moved with his parents to Illinois, thence a few years later to Wisconsin and thence to Minnesota. It was while living in Wisconsin that he married the esteemable lady who is now his widow.

In 1879 he brought his family to De Smet. He was the first to build a dwelling in this locality; the house which now stands on the rear of the Bank of De Smet lot is the building. In his home were held the first religious services. He was prominent in the work of organizing the Congregational Church of this city which he was faithful and consistent member to his death.

As a citizen he held high esteem, being honest and upright in his dealings and associations with his fellows. As a friend and neighbor he was always kind and courteous, and a faithful and loving husband and father. [De Smet News, June 12, 1902]


Ma (Caroline Ingalls) was born in Brookfield, Wisconsin on December 12, 1839, the fifth of seven children. She worked for a short while as a teacher before she married Charles. After he died, Ma continued to live with Mary in De Smet. She was a widow for almost 24 years before she died, at the age of 84, following a short illness. Ma’s obituary describes her as “always interested, bright and happy.”


Mrs. C.P. Ingalls, Pioneer of County, Dies at 84 Kingsbury County lost one of its pioneer women in the death of Mrs. C.P. Ingalls at her home here Sunday. She and her husband came to this locality in 1879 and lived in a claim shanty on the north shore of Silver Lake before there was a De Smet.

The death was unexpected and followed an illness of but a short time, altho [sic] Mrs. Ingalls has been feeble all winter.


Caroline Quiner was born December 12, 1839, at Milwaukee, Wis., and died at five o’clock p.m. Easter Sunday, April 20, 1924, at the age of 84.

She was married to Charles Ingalls of Milwaukee Feb. 1, 1860, whose death occurred June 8, 1902.

Five children were born to this union. Mary Ingalls of De Smet; Laura Wilder of Mansfield, Mo; Caroline Swanzey of Keystone, S.D.; Frederick Ingalls, who died in infancy, and Grace Dow of De Smet.

The family moved to De Smet in 1879 where they have since resided. In 1880 Mr. and Mrs. Ingalls helped organize the Congregational Church at De Smet and were faithful members of the organization to the end of their lives. Mrs. Ingalls was also an early member of the Eastern Star chapter of De Smet.

Besides the four daughters the deceased is survived by three sisters, and one granddaughter, Rose Wilder Lane.

Mrs. Ingalls was a good mother, a good neighbor, and a good friend. The last few years she has been unable to get around to see people very much or to attend church. but her interest has been with her neighbors, friends, and church. It was a pleasure to go and visit her as she was always interested, bright and happy. [From the De Smet News]


As I searched for information about Ma and Pa Ingalls, I remembered these books and added them to my summer reading list.

Stories about Laura’s mother, written by Maria D.Wilkes (1-4) and Celia Wilkins (5-7):

Little House in Brookfield (1996)
Little Town at the Crossroads (1997)
Little Clearing in the Woods (1998)
On Top of Concord Hill (2000)
Across the Rolling River (2001)
Little City by the Lake (2003)
Little House of Their Own (2005)

Stories about Laura’s grandmother, written by Melissa Wiley

Little House by Boston Bay (1999)
On Tide Mill Lane (2001)
The Road from Roxbury (2002)
Across the Puddingstone Dam (2004)

Stories about Laura’s great-grandmother, written by Melissa Wiley


Little House in the Highlands (1999)
The Far Side of the Loch (2000)
Down to the Bonny Glen (2001)
Beyond the Heather Hills (2003)

I can’t wait to read more about Ma as well as Laura’s grandmother, Charlotte, and her great-grandmother, Martha. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a connection to my own family tree.

Do you have ties to the Ingalls family? Have you visited any of their home sites? Feel free to share your photos and memories here.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “What Became of Ma and Pa Ingalls?

  1. Anonymous

    I LOVE THE INGALLS AS MUCH AS YOU I WISH I LIVED WITH THEM SO MUCH I ACTUALLY CRY.BUT THE COOL THING IS I ONLY KNOWN ABOUT THEM FOR NEARY A YEAR BUT SOON IT WOULD BE TWO YEARS. AND I AM IN ONLY FIFTH GRADE. YOU KNOW WHATS SAD AND COOL AT THE SAME TIME IS WHEN MY TEACHER TOOK AWAY MY BOOK ON THE BANKS OF PLM CREEK I CRIED REALLY BAD BECAUSE I DIDN'T WHAT TO PUT THE BOOK DOWN SO BADLY I GOT INTO SO MUCH TROUBLE AND I MEAN ALOT OF TROUBLE AT SCHOOL AND HOME.

    FROM ALLIE IN ILLINOIS.

  2. Allie.

    I'm happy to read that you love Laura Ingalls' books. I would love to go back in time and live with the Ingalls, too. Keep reading Laura's books, but only when it won't get you into trouble 🙂

    Thanks very much for writing to me.

    Jean Fischer

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