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.

PA ML

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.

stone

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.

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I welcome questions and comments!

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16 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.

    Reply

  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.

    Reply

  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?

    Reply

  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

    Reply

  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!

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

  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 […]

    Reply

  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!
    Julie
    http://www.itsabeautifultree.com

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

      • 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!
        Julie

  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 […]

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

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