LITTLE HOUSE IN FLORIDA?

10 Comments

Almanzo and an Unhappy Laura in Florida

When I first started studying the life of Laura, the discovery that she, Almanzo and Rose lived in the panhandle of Florida in took me by surprise.  Somehow, it just didn’t seem to fit my image of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pioneer Girl.  But it’s true.  The Wilder’s moved to Westville, Florida, where Laura’s cousin Peter had settled.  Cousin Peter, as you remember, was the son of Uncle Peter and Aunt Eliza and had lived with Laura and Almanzo in the The First Four Years.   Peter went to Florida in 1890 with Almanzo’s brother Perley and Laura’s cousin, Joe Carpenter.  Perley and Joe returned to Minnesota after a year, but Peter stayed on.

Laura and Almanzo joined Peter in Florida mainly for health reasons.  Almanzo still suffered from the effects of the stroke/diphtheria and the cold Dakota winters were brutally hard on him, so a warmer climate was recommended.

I don’t know if the Wilders read any promotional booklets advertizing Holmes County, Florida, but if they did, they read the Westville area had many springs (would have sounded good after the dry Dakota summers),  “one of the best agricultural counties in the state” with farmland that produces “nearly all varieties of vegetables year round,” (appealing to the farmer in Almanzo),  and ranges that support sheep (remember how Laura and Peter raised sheep in DeSmet?).   The county also boasted of both Methodist and Congregationalist churches, as well as a Masonic Lodge, all would have appealed at that time to the Wilders.

Sounded too good to be true!  It was.

Laura had a very hard time adjusting to the heat and the humidity.  According to Peter’s daughter’s Emma, one day Laura tried helping Peter plant corn and used a big black umbrella to shield herself from the sun.  Of course, Laura had difficulty holding the umbrella as she planted corn and, in exasperation, Peter ordered her to the house.  (Anecdote taken from Laura Ingalls Wilder–The Westville Florida Years by Alene M. Warnock).

Laura also did not feels safe and reportedly took to carrying a revolver.  In A Little House Sampler, William Anderson writes, “Laura and the local residents did not mix.  While Manly worked with Peter, Laura kept Rose protectively by her side, and the neighborhood women dismissed her as a haughty “up-north” gal.”  Years later Laura wrote, “We went to live in the piney woods of Florida, where the trees always murmur, where the butterflies are enormous, where plants that eat insects grow in moist places, and alligators inhabit the slowly moving waters of the rivers.  But at that time and in that place, a Yankee woman was more of a curiosity than any of these.”

Emma, recalled hearing how Laura wanted to move back home.  Since the climate hadn’t improved Almanzo’s health much, the little family returned to De Smet in August 1892.

Not a lot is really known about the Laura and Almanzo’s time in Florida, but Rose did write a fictional award-winning short story loosely based on their time there called “Innocence”, published by Harper’s magazine in April 1922.  “Innocence is regarded as Lane’s best short fiction.

Do you have anything to add about the Florida years or the story “Innocence”?  I’d love to hear.

Until next time,

Marie

About these ads

10 thoughts on “LITTLE HOUSE IN FLORIDA?

  1. I find “Innocence” interesting in that it’s the closest thing we have. I read frequently how Almanzo felt about Laura’s portrayal of EJ or how Rose kept it in when she was close to her aunt. However, Eliza Jane was never treated the way Peter’s wife was treated in “Innocence”! That character tried to kill Rose! Think about it there’s a leap from “a Yankee woman was more of a curiosity” to trying to run them out of town by poisoning their daughter!

    • Lauri, I also wondered what Peter’s in-laws thought of Rose’s (albeit fictional) portrayal of his wife and her family. Very interesting isn’t it!

  2. Innocence is completely fictionalized by Rose, but based on their time spent in Florida. Please do not believe for a second that any of this really happened while living in Westville. Rose had a wild, wild imagination. — You can visit where they lived too and even attend the Ingalls Family and Friends Reunion picnic, the last Saturday of the month of September each year! -John Bass (IWL)

    • What fun it would be to attend an Ingalls family reunion, John. How I envy you!

      Rose was a indeed a character with quite an imagination! Still, if I were Peter’s and Mary’s children, I would absolutely hate the story “Innocence” due to the way the family was portrayed, even though it is complete fiction. Having spoken and attended the reunions yourself, do you know how they reacted to it? Inquiring minds want to know. :)

  3. I, too, was surprised when I learned that the Wilders lived in Florida for awhile. (And that Rose lived in Texas before her death.) Laura was quite well traveled – she visited states from coast to coast and top to bottom. Many folks even in today’s mobile society haven’t been to as many states as Laura.
    Innocence is very dark, and although fiction, I can’t help but believe that the impressions of her time in Florida, if not her actual memories (she was only about 6, right?), are what made that story – it was such a hard and depressing time for her mother.

    • Hi, Teresa! So nice to hear from you again. Rose was indeed only around 6–a very impressional time for children. I did not realize Rose lived in Texas–I must have missed that. This is why I love doing this blog–I learn so much from my readers. What do you know about Rose’s Texas years? As a fellow Texan, would you consider doing a blog post on it? BTW, my offer for Burr Oak still stands. :)

      Take care!

      • I would love to write a post about Rose in Texas. Let me do some research and get back to you in a few weeks.
        And you never know when I might get up to Burr Oak – I would love to visit the site, and you!

  4. Just a very minor note. Joe Carpenter would have been Laura’s cousin, not Almanzo’s. He was the son to Martha Quiner Carpenter, Caroline Ingalls’ older sister. Thank you for an interesting blog. It is always nice to find other people interested in Laura!!

Comments are closed.