The community of Walnut Grove began in 1870. A nation, fresh from civil war, had literally been torn apart. Its citizens sought new beginnings, far from the settled eastern states. The Homestead Act of 1862 urged pioneers, sodbusters, and immigrants to head west and make their mark on the great expanse of the Plains. It was a time of change and progress in communications and travel. A telegraph system joined the country from coast to coast in 1861. East and West were joined by rail in 1869.
During the 1870’s the village of Walnut Grove grew. Pioneers settled along the banks of Plum Creek. The land was rich, and game was plentiful. Hardships were common on the prairie. A grasshopper plague almost destroyed the settlement in 1870. Perseverance, hard work, and a strong Christian faith carried the community through the many hard times.
Lafayette Bedal, the village’s first postmaster, opened his home to the children in 1873, conducting school classes in his living room. The Congregational Church was built in the village in 1874. Other buildings included: three general stores, hardware, drug, grocery, flour, and feed stores, a hotel, confectionery, lumber yard, fuel dealer, harness shop, shoe shop, blacksmith shop, meat market, elevator, a doctor’s office, a law office, and one saloon.
Walnut Grove was incorporated on March 18, 1879. Its name came from the beautiful grove of walnut trees along the banks of Plum Creek. The first village officials were: Elias Bedal, president; T . Quarntan, J. Leo, and C Clementson trustees; F.H. Hill, recorder; W.H. Owens (William Oleson), treasurer; J. Russel, constable; and Charles Ingalls, justice of the peace.
The Ingalls in Walnut Grove
The story of the Charles Ingalls family began long before their arrival in Walnut Grove in 1874. Charles (born in 1836 in New York) and Caroling Quiner (born in 1839 in Wisconsin) were married on February 1, 1860. Two daughters were born to them in Pepin, Wisconsin: Mary Amelia on January 10, 1865, and Laura Elizabeth on February 7, 1867. The family moved in the fall of 1868 to Independence, Kansas, where their daughter Caroline “Carrie” was born August 3, 1870. Because they were living inside Indian territory, the family was forced to move, and so they returned to Pepin.
Charles sold the family’s Wisconsin land for $1,000 in October of 1873 and the family began their travels westward into MInnesota. A stop in New Ulm convinced Charles that the community was already too crowded, so they continued west along the Cottonwood River. While resting at the Eleck Nelson home near the tiny settlement of Walnut Grove, Charles heard about a parcel of land in North Hero township that was for sale, owned by a Norwegian man, Mr. Hanson. He purchased the fertile property and the sod dugout that served as its home.
For a few years the Ingalls worked the land and watched their family grow. Charles Frederick was born in Walnut Grove on November 1, 1875. Charles sold their land in August of 1876, and the family moved to Burr Oak, Iowa. While traveling to Burr Oak, the Ingalls were devastated by the death of Charles Frederick. Life in Burr Oak didn’t satisfy the family either. Shortly after Grace’s birth on May 23, 1877, the family returned to Walnut Grove to try again. The town had grown. The Winona and St. Peter railroad ran west through the town toward the Dakotas. The Congregational Church had been organized with the help of Rev. Edwin Alden of the American Home Society. Charles became a trustee in the congregation. Children received their education in a school house that was built in 1875. The community on the prairie was growing and becoming part of the civilized West.
The people of Walnut Grove were a hardy lot. They had broken new sod and toiled and struggled against overwhelming odds. They had realized their dreams – dreams for a new beginning and a better life for their loved ones. However, the dreams of Charles Ingalls were to carry his family even farther west to DeSmet in Dakota territory.