Cap's Life From Age 15-19
Cap's sister, Florence - aged 18, had studied
to be a teacher, and she became the first schoolteacher of De Smet, teaching
in the tiny school on Second Street, which Cap went to (this school is
now owned by the Laura Ingalls
Wilder Memorial Society and can be visited by all)
Cap's good-natured personality, and his quick smile, soon earned him plenty of friends, who he often played ball with during break-times.
Among these friends was dark-haired Ben Woodworth and Arthur Johnson, whose teenage sister was calle Minnie.
But, Cap had his eye on beautiful dark-haired, Mary Power, Minnie's best friend.
School had only been going a week or so, when
a new girl and her younger sister came to school; this was 13 year-old
Laura Elizabeth Ingalls, who would later become the world-renowned author,
Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her small sister, Caroline Celestia, known to
all as "Carrie".
They lived in a claim shanty, a mile or so from De Smet, but had moved into their store building, in town for the winter, with their father, Charles Ingalls; mother, Caroline; and Laura and Carrie's blind 15 year-old sister, Mary.
Laura was determined to make a better impression on the people of De Smet than she had at her school in Walnut Grove, MN where she had cried out "You all sound like a bunch of prairie chickens!!", but when a ball came flying through the air towards her, she instinctively reached up and grabbed it. The boy who threw it was Cap Garland, and Laura seemed to take an immediate liking to this fair-haired boy with the blue eyes and effervescent personality, who's sister taught her and her class. "He was tall and quick and he moved as beautifully as a cat. His yellow hair was sun-bleached almost white and his eyes were blue. They saw Laura and opened wide. Then a flashing grin lighted up his whole face and he threw the ball to her" Although Laura only occasionly played ball, she often watched Cap & his friends play at recess, Cap was always quickest. "Inside the window, Laura, Mary and Minnie all watched him throwing the ball and leaping to catch it. He was not as handsome as black-haired Ben, but there was something about him. He was always good-natured and his grin was like a flash of light. It was like the sun coming up at dawn; it changed everything."
Little did she know that they would all need that flash of sunlight that coming winter.
Because, on October 15th 1880 the first blizzard came to De Smet, it struck while Laura and her class were in the schoolhouse and they had to fight their way through the swirling snow. Trying to follow Mr. Holmes, a man who had come to the schoolhouse to help them all get home safely. Laura wrote in her un-published manuscript "Pioneer Girl" ‘He had gone only a little way, when Cap Garland let go and left us. We shouted, and Mr. Holmes ordered him to come back, but the wind tore the sound from our mouths and Cap disappeared in the storm, running’. It turned out that Cap was going in the right direction, however, and the class were just about to walk out onto the open prairie, where they would freeze to death, when Mr. Holmes bumped into the corner of a building. "This was the last building in town, on the north. Mr. Holmes could not see it until he ran into it, and if he had gone only two or three feet farther to the north we would have missed it. In the direction we were going, there was nothing before us but the open prairie. Cap Garland had taken the right direction and told the men downtown what was happening. Several of them were making ready to start out after us, when we came walking up the street beside the buildings’
Soon the harsh winter settled in and with blizzards almost every
day, school was cancelled until more coal could be brought in by train.
Laura and the rest of her 6 person family, as well as other neighboring
households were slowly starving to death, making out only by grinding the
last few grams of wheat into flour with a coffee mill and twisting hay
into sticks to keep the fire burning. All the stores had sold out of almost
everything edible and the few remaining items, priced incredibly high,
were soon bought by the desperate people of De Smet. The blizzards often
lasted for 3 or 4 days and when they did get a clear day, a new blizzard
would come in the evening, cutting De Smet off from the rest of the world.
Laura wrote a poem, during one of these blizzards, showing humor in spite of the swirling snow outside:
We Remember not the summer
For it was long ago
We Remember not the summer
In this whirling blinding snow
I will leave this frozen region
I will travel farther south
If you say one word against it
I will hit you in the mouth.
But, there was a rumor that a settler, who was wintering on his claim,
southeast of De Smet, had raised wheat the previous summer, but because
there was only ever a day at the most between blizzards, no one would risk
the journey, just on a rumor. That was until Almanzo James Wilder and Cap
Garland decided to risk their lives to save the people of De Smet. "No
one wanted to take such a risk. But finally Cap Garland and the younger
Wilder boy volunteered to do it. They both had good teams and were good
horsemen, and they were young and daring. Besides, somebody had to go and
no one else would"
Cap, aged only 15, did it for no other evident reason than altruism; Almanzo did it, so that he could save his own seed wheat for spring planting.
So, on the first clear day, Cap and Almanzo set out to find the wheat, that might not even exist.
The journey of around 15 Miles and return, took them farther and
farther away from the town and the hope of finding wheat before the next
blizzard, grew less and less likely, as the temperature fell to around
35 degrees below zero. The horses kept falling down, into the soft snow
and often either Almanzo or Cap had to un-harness their horse and pull
them out of the ditch. But, they knew they couldn't give up hope, the people
of De Smet were expecting wheat and wheat they would get.
Then they saw a faint light in the distance and headed towards it as fast as possible. There, they found the settler and although he wouldn't sell them the wheat at first, claiming "Nobody's responsible for folks that haven't enough forethought to take care of themselves" after Cap and Almanzo explained their need and after a bit of bargaining, they started to load the wheat onto their sled.
Immediately, they set off home, against the frequent protests of the settler, who was begging them to stay the night, and they hurried back towards the little town on the wide, open prairie.
Soft snow was once again a problem as the horses fell down,
and the wheat made it even harder to un-harness and make it stable for
As they spied the little town, a dark cloud settled in the northwest and they knew they had only minutes to get home, and just as they were nearly in reach of the town, the blizzard hit, and as the snow around them began to swirl, making it impossible to see anything, Then suddenly they walked into Almanzo's stable door, saving them both from certain death, out alone on the prairie. And While Almanzo rubbed down the horses, they knew that they had brought home the wheat.
Indeed, Cap and Almanzo saved the town from starvation and without them Laura would have never have lived to see the "Little House" books written.
Cap spent the next two years, 1881 and 1882 in a "Whirl of Gaiety"
as Laura Ingalls Wilder later described it, going to revival meeting, socials
and going sleigh and buggy riding with his girlfriend, Mary Power.
In 1882, Cap's mother, Margaret, filed on some land around 6 or 7 miles from the town.
Perhaps Cap worked the land, while his mother and sisters ran the boarding house in town, we cannot know if that is true or not.
Either consciously or unconsciously Laura seems to have regarded
Cap as the analogue of her own dreams of freedom and independence, She
saw in him a free spirit, willing to buck convention and besides, "That
golden hair and those blue eyes!!". Was Cap Laura's romantic ideal?
Did she perhaps see more of her own personality traits mirrored in him? It is interesting that Almanzo shared some of Cap's finer qualities, most notably his bravery and that he and Cap became best friends later, even though Almanzo was about a decade older.
Cap, if we rely on the books seems not to have had any particular
romantic interest in Laura. Indeed it was he who challenged Almanzo to
pick Laura up from the Bouchie school on a particularly cold Friday in
February 1883, and take her home to her parents for the weekend, saying
"God hates a Coward". But apparently the reciprocal was not true, for Laura
did, at least for a fleeting moment have romantic designs on Cap.
In fact at the revival meeting where Almanzo had first asked to walk her home, it was Cap that Laura had had her eye on, not Almanzo.
This preference came through more clearly in Wilder's (Laura later married Almanzo and became Laura Ingalls Wilder) original description of the episode in her "Pioneer Girl" Manuscript than it did in Little Town on The Prairie, Laura wrote in the original version "To be perfectly truthful, I was noticing Cap", In the novel, Cap plays only a peripheral role.
When Laura went to teach the Bouchie School away from home and Almanzo picked her up she told him that she did not expect to see him after her teaching was over. Laura wrote in 'Pioneer Girl' "The truth is that when I came back from Bouchies, I had rather hoped to leave Manly (Almanzo) and go with Cap".
But Cap wasn't available; him and Mary Power were still together.
They went sleigh-riding, went to socials, and did all the other things most young couples did in the 1880's.
Often Cap, Mary, Laura and Almanzo went sleigh-riding or buggy-riding together, in a foursome, as Laura had soon realized that she did, in fact, prefer the young man who had brought her home all those weeks from teaching school, than her friend's smiling boyfriend.
Cap often brought candy to school to give to Mary Power, and the two seemed to have been a great couple.
But, for some unknown reason, Mary and Cap split up during the early
1880's, which was pretty unusual for a couple back then, who usually married
after courting with only one person. Laura Ingalls Wilder lated stated
in her book These Happy Golden Years that Cap was with a new girl
who had come to town, while Mary Power courted Ed Stanford, who she later
In 1884, Cap's mind was taken away from this new girl for a short period of time, because his sister, Vena, aged 28, left home to marry Bert Cornwell, and went to live in Watertown, South Dakota.
Sarah Lovenia Garland (left) and Florence Adelia Garland
Taken around 1883.
In 1884, the Garland's had a friend boarding at their house; for Almanzo Wilder had come to stay - sharing a room with Cap, while he built a house on a claim north of town, where he was to live with his fiance, Laura Ingalls, after they were married.
Laura and Almanzo married in August 1885, and went to live in that
small house which Almanzo had built.
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