January 10 – Happy Birthday, Charles Ingalls!

Posted on January 10, 2017

How do you rate a Wikipedia page if you are just "an American farmer and carpenter"?

Born on this date in 1836, Charles Ingalls would not have been widely known, more than a century after his birth, let alone have his own Wikipedia article, if it weren't for his daughter.

Laura Ingalls Wilder
His daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder, wrote such compelling books (starting with Little House in the Big Woods) about such a compelling time (the time of the pioneers settling the frontier) that they have been continuously in print ever since they were first published. The Little House books are considered classics, and they spawned more books as well as TV shows, a stage adaptation, a documentary, and several tourist attractions.

Okay, great, Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House books are big -- but I bet that lots of popular authors have parents who don't get their own Wikipedia page...right?

You see, Charles Ingalls wasn't just Laura's dad, he was Pa. And both Pa and Ma feature heavily in the semi-biographical Little House books and TV shows. 

Charles Ingalls, in all his
bearded glory.
The real Charles Ingalls, like Pa, was a restless fellow, a man suffering from wanderlust: he loved to travel, and he hankered to live "out there," on the frontier -- away from crowds of people. He uprooted his family from the "Big Woods" of Wisconsin to "Indian territory" in Kansas, to Minnesota and Iowa, finally settling in Dakota Territory (his wife Caroline finally put her foot down on all the moving). 
Pa and his fiddle was a main character in all the books.

Richard Thomas as a
substantially less hairy
Charles Ingalls.
The real Ingalls was a hunter and trapper as well as a carpenter and farmer. When he and his family finally settled down to town life, he served as Justice of the Peace, Deputy Sheriff, and other elected positions, and he ran a retail store and even sold insurance!

Michael Landon's unbearded version
of Pa is the one most of us consider
THE Pa of the Little House books.
Like Pa, Ingalls was an affectionate man, a lover of music and reading.

The Little House books were fiction, were meant for kids and were therefore a bit tamed down from real life -- but they map onto the true lives of the Ingalls family pretty well, and because of them we know a restless pioneer who did carpentry and farming far better than most of the pioneers of his time.

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