home updates information productions interviews
forum pictures various links guestbook

The real Carrie Ingalls

This information is from William Anderson's book "The Story of the Ingalls". To learn more about Carrie, and the rest of the Ingalls family be sure to read this book. The pictures are postcards (from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society De Smet, South Dakota).

Big thanks to Karen for getting me this book, and the postcards!!



Like many of the people in the TV-series Little House on the Prarie, the character Carrie is based on a real person.
On August 3rd 1870, Caroline Celestia Ingalls, called Carrie, was born. a small house on the prairie. She was the third daughter of Charles and Caroline Ingalls, and the younger sister of Mary and Laura. The family lived in a small house on the prairie.

In 1871 the Ingalls family moved back to Wisconsin (where they had lived a few years before Carrie was born). In 1873 they moved again, this time to Plum Creek, near Walnut Grove. On November 1st 1875 Charles Fredrick Ingalls was born. In 1876 the family moved to Burr Oak in Iowa, where they helped run the hotel. It was on the way to Iowa that Charles Fredrick died, only nine months old. On the 23rd of May, 1877, when Carrie was almost seven years old, Grace Pearl Ingalls was born. At the end of 1877 the family decided to move back to Walnut Grove.

Two years later the Ingalls family moved again. This time to DeSmet in South Dakota. The Ingalls family were the first citizens of De Smet. Charles took a homestead outside town, where the family lived from 1880-1887. During the winter 1880, and also the following years, the family lived in De Smet. In 1885 Charles sold his store building in De Smet, and the family moved out to the homestead permanently. But in 1887 they moved into a house (that Charles had built) in De Smet, and Charles became the town carpenter. Charles and Caroline stayed in this house for the rest of their lives.

Carrie went to school in De Smet, and after she had finished High School, she was a teacher for a short time. She then learned the printing trade at "The De Smet News and Leader". She alternated between printing, clerking in stores, helping in the Post Office, as well as other occupations. Carrie was also involved in Sunday School activities. After Charles death, in 1902, Caroline, Mary and Carrie continued to live in the house (both Laura and Grace had got married and left the Ingalls house).

While Caroline and Mary never travelled far from home, Carrie enjoyed travelling. She visited Ingalls relatives in both Wisconsin and Minnesota. In 1903 she went to Mansfield to visit Laura and her husband Almanzo Wilder. From 1905-1907 she was travelling in search of a healthy climate, due to respiratory problems. She lived in Boulder (Colorado) for a year, and then moved to Wyoming. When she came back to De Smet, she was rejuvenated enough to take a homestead claim. She had a shack moved to the claim, and stayed there the required six months.

After this time Carrie took printing jobs. She was a talented printer, with knowledge in melting led into type, editing, writing, publishing, ad work and binding. Her skills soon got her a job with E. L. Senn, who owned many papers in South Dakota. Due to her work Carrie had to travel a lot, and she was away from home a lot during the years 1909-1912. Both Caroline and Mary missed Carrie a lot when she was away. Carrie was the most talkative and the liveliest of the family, and the house was a lot quieter than usual when Carrie was away.

In 1911, when Carrie was 41 years old, she met David N. Swanzey, when she was on a visit in Keystone. David was a Black-Hills pioneer, who later became a prospector and owner of gold mines and other property in Keystone. He was about 50 years old, a widower with two young children named Mary and Harold. Carrie and David got married on August 1, 1912 in Rapid City, and settled in Keystone. Mary was then eight years old and Harold six. Since Harold was poor in health, Carrie devoted much of her time and energy to his recovery.

In 1924 Caroline died. Mary never recovered from loosing her mother, even though Grace, who lived nearby, did her best to help her. Carrie also visited many times, and in 1926 Mary visited Carrie in Keystone. During the visit Carrie did all she could to make Mary feel welcome and happy. In the fall of 1927 Carrie was helping Mary prepare for her return home to De Smet when Mary had a paralyzing stroke. Carrie nursed Mary for a year. They spent time in a sanatorium and the hospital in Rapid City, and finally returned to Carrie’s house in Keystone. In October 1928 Mary had a final stroke, an died on October 17. Mary left the house in De Smet to Carrie in her will, and during the 1930s it was rented to several different families.

Carrie had always been interested in the Ingalls family’s history, and when Laura was writing her "Little House" books, she often turned to Carrie for help and advice. Carrie’s favourite was "These Happy Golden Years".

When the mining in the mountain near Keystone stopped, the carvings of the so called "Mount Rushmore", with heads of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, kept the town of Keystone alive. Carrie’s husband David was actually the person who named the mountain “Mount Rushmore”. The road to the mountain led past the Swanzey house, and Carrie was very interested in the carvings. Her step-son Harold, who was know a healthy and strong man, was one of the workers who helped carve the mountain. Harold died in an auto accident in 1936. His sister Mary had then been married for 15 years to Monrow Harris, and had 11 surviving children. David died in 1938. Carrie was left with the incomes from David’s property, but also with the responsibilities of the mining claims.

In the fall of 1941 Carrie travelled to Manchester in order to take care of Grace, who was ill. Grace died in November 1941. In 1944 Carrie sold the family home in De Smet. In October the same year Carrie and Laura met for the last time, when Carrie visited the Wilder’s Rocky Ridge Farm in Mansfield.

In spring 1946, Carrie was presented with a 50 year membership medal and certificate from the Eastern Star Chapter, to which Carrie had always devoted much time. A week later Carrie suddenly got sick. Her friends took her to the hospital in Rapid City, where she died on June 2, 1946. She was buried in De Smet.



Here are some pictures of Carrie, and the rest of the Ingalls family: