Masonic Monday – Charles Ingalls

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

Many people have heard of all the Presidents, Governors, and other influential people who were Freemasons. But the fraternity was not only for the rich & famous; the majority of Masons through history have been just your “everyday Joe,” average citizens. One of these was Charles Ingalls.

Does the name ring a bell? That was “Pa” of Little House on the Prairie, and yes, the real Charles Ingalls was also a Freemason.


Since most people are more familiar with the Pa of the TV show, let’s contrast that portrayal with the real-life Charles Ingalls.
1. Hair: Michael Landon’s styled locks were appropriate for an on-screen celebrity, but not for a nineteenth-century farmer. The real Charles often had hair problems. Between aggressive cowlicks, patches shorn off by mice in the night, and the never-ending wind of the prairie, his mane didn’t have a chance. As you can see above, he also sported quite a beard.

2. Children: Charles and Caroline had four daughters: Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace. They also had a son, Frederick, who died before his first birthday. The Ingalls family of the TV show adopted additional children, but that never happened in real life.

3. Financial success: Michael Landon’s Charles was never rich, and neither was the real one. In fact, the Ingalls family probably had less money than was even portrayed on the show. Charles’s search for the good life took his family to Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, and Iowa, before finally landing for good in De Smet, South Dakota. Unfortunately, they were plagued with bad luck everywhere they went, and Charles’s many occupations through the years—farmer, carpenter, butcher, small-time local politician, and storekeeper, among others—never led to financial success.

4. Social success: There are many ways to count success, however, and Charles achieved it in other areas of life. This is one area the television show got it right. Charles was well-respected in his community and had many friends.

5. Community: Charles and his family were very involved in their community. The television show often depicted Charles taking a lead in community affairs, and this, too, was true to life. Some of the ways Charles served his community: on the school board, as a deputy sheriff, as a street commissioner, as a deacon in his church (Congregational), and as a justice of the peace.

6. Freemasonry: The TV show never showed this, but Charles Ingalls joined the local Masonic Lodge in De Smet, South Dakota. He petitioned for membership in December of 1885 and was accepted, being Entered as an Apprentice on January 18, 1886. Charles was passed to the second degree of Fellowcraft on March 1, 1886, and raised to the third degree of Master Mason on February 7, 1887.

1886 pa lodge petitionRecords show that he was faithful in attendance and held an office every year. These offices included Tyler, Steward, Deacon, Warden, and Treasurer. De Smet Lodge still owns the sword that Charles used as Tyler.

1893 12 23 news pa treas

Aside from his duties as an officer, Charles actively participated in the Lodge in other ways. He was one of three members responsible for the repair of the Lodge furnishings in 1895-6. He often acted on investigating committees for new petitioners, and sometimes filled in as an officer Pro Tem when needed. His service came to an end with his death on June 8, 1902. He died of heart disease at the age of 66 years. The Lodge conducted a Masonic funeral service for Charles, and paid for his final expenses, including providing his headstone.


You can learn a lot more about Charles’s time in Freemasonry – and the rest of his family’s affiliation, as well – in my book Little Lodges on the Prairie: Freemasonry & Laura Ingalls Wilder, available wherever books are sold.

To follow this series or see what else I post, click the “follow” button on the right.

I welcome questions and comments!

24 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Laurel Wadley on May 25, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    Hi Teresa,
    I love the Masonic Monday posting. You may recall, I’m the Star member who’s Father was born and raised in DeSmet and I sent you some pictures I had taken while on a trip back there. I am going to be WM again in 2016 and plan to use this clip as one of my educational features. I got your posting from the OEStar List, but if I can get it directly to my personal email that would be great. Take care and looking forward to reading more of your information.


  2. Great post. I was talking about Dedication Day today and how Almanzo was a Mason. I saw your book while I was in Walnut Grove last summer. I hope it is doing well.


  3. Thought I read everything you post, but I missed Masonic Monday. What a Great idea. Can hardly wait for more information. How can I help spread the word you are doing this?


  4. Posted by Leah Pederson on May 26, 2015 at 6:31 pm

    I love this blog. I’m a huge “Little House” fan, and I was thrilled when I found out the Ignalls family was involved in the Masonic Family. I’ve been involved in the Masonic Family for over 25 years, first with Job’s Daughters and Rainbow, and now OES and Amaranth.

    Thank you.

    Leah J. Pederson, PHQ,MM #71 Lombard, IL PBG, #51 Rochester, MN JDI
    PWA Sunshine Assembly #113 Wheaton, IL
    Assoc. Conductress Rob Morris #63 Kuna,ID


  5. Posted by Gretchen on May 26, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    A very cool fact having grown up in a Masonic family. Also, I can’t wait to show my 4th grade students the photo of his headstone as we are presently reading Little House in the Big Woods. They will love it!


    • How neat! So many folks first learned to love the Little House stories from having it read in school. I’m happy to hear that is still being done! Check for more Ingalls-related photos on my “Wilder Wednesday” series.


  6. […] the Eastern Star in De Smet, South Dakota in 1893. She qualified for membership as the daughter of a Freemason. In De Smet, Laura was active in the Bethlehem Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star, even […]


  7. This is FABULOUS! I write a family history blog and am currently writing a piece about Caroline Ingalls. I read your book– LOVED it! I have many, many Masons in my family tree, and this book was a fantastic insight into the order and it was helpful in the writing of my latest blog piece. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m linking back to you! I’ve been offline for awhile, but hopefully my readers will be waiting and click over to you!


    • Thanks for your kind words, and for the link back. I’ve shared your blog with a LIW group I’m part of, so you may see a few new readers, too. I haven’t had a chance to read all parts of you Caroline series, but what I have is very interesting. Looking forward to reading the rest.


      • Thank you! My kids and their chaos of the end of the summer stalled the last few installments of my series, but they should be up soon! I do appreciate the share, and the link back to your site should be live either today or tomorrow. I actually DID notice a surge yesterday! Thank you SO very much.

        I thoroughly enjoyed your book. Masonry gets a strange rap from the History Channel, and it was refreshing to read the normalcy about it. I may ask to pick your brain down the road a bit because with so many Masons in my own history, maybe you could point me in the right direction!

        Thank you!


  8. […] of Charles Ingalls’ headstone in the Desmet Cemetery. Photo from Henscratches, Mason Monday by Theresa Lynn. Ms Lynn’s book, Little Lodges on the Prairie is fantastic. I highly recommend […]


    • Glad you enjoyed Little Lodges. You’re right about the History Channel. I guess that’s what brings the ratings, but it’s too bad. Feel free to contact me any time.


  9. Posted by Nate on January 22, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    I noticed the second paragraph had something extra written in, “but owing to sickness was unable to take the degrees”. I wonder what that means. Maybe he tried to join a lodge in other places he lived and his health prevented him from continuing. Thank you for an interesting article.


    • Nate, It was in De Smet that Charles had previously petitioned, about a year before this one. He had heart issues and other health problems, and wasn’t able to follow through the first time, but improved enough in the following year to petition again and take the degrees.
      Thanks for reading!


  10. Posted by Caroline on July 22, 2021 at 6:11 pm

    That is not Charles Ingalls.
    Compare with the photos of Charles and Caroline Ingalls and this man is clearly not the same person. Even if you were to take weight change or age differentials into consideration; no, not the same guy. Eyebrow shape and placement; bone structure, beardlines, eye color, nose shape; the list goes on.

    I am going to research it, but I do not think he was affiliated with FreeMasonry either.


  11. Posted by Caroline on July 22, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    Well. I guess I was wrong.

    I have loved Laura’s books my whole life, and read them more than I would care to acknowledge. From that, I gained a sense of what her father was like, through her eyes. And he was a good man. They struggled, I think, financially. I cannot fathom physically working the four seasons on the land, and having hail or fire or locusts destroy a year’s income in a matter of weeks, days, hours, or minutes.

    So I can understand how Mr. Ingalls would become involved with FreeMasonry. He seemed to be very proactive in bringing a town together and defining community; he was also practical and would want to create as much security for his family as possible.


  12. Thanks for coming back, Caroline. I admire and respect your willingness to learn more about the Ingalls. And I agree with you about Pa’s feelings about community and security for his family. That likely did have a large bearing on his joining the Lodge.


  13. I am in the process of reading your book (about to start the Keystone chapter) and am thoroughly enjoying it albeit it is a tale of hardship. I am a Scottish mason (since 1986) and was not aware that Charles was in the Craft – very interesting and I will be promoting the book in my newsletter if you are ok with that. I am delighted to read how his difficult life never made him waver form doing the right and that the lodge and Star were huge parts of their lives.

    I have affiliated to American lodges when visiting and the lessons are exactly the same although the ritual can vary. Everything you mention in the book, I can relate to here in Glasgow even in the 21st C. Looking forward to finishing the book!


    • Thank you for your kind words, Neil. I’m glad you are enjoying the book, and that it rings true across years and continents.
      Of course I’d be delighted for you to mention Little Lodges in your newsletter—thank you! Would you mind telling me how you came across the book?


      • Posted by Anonymous on September 5, 2021 at 11:24 am

        Through Amazon for my birthday! It came up when I searched for Freemasonry and for some reason it stuck out as being different from the run of the mill masonic books published just now.


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