In 1932, Laura Ingalls Wilder published Little House in the Big Woods. This was the first of several books that would become the popular Little House on the Prairie series. While these stories mainly chronicled the lives of Laura’s immediate family, she had a large extended family as well. And it is through this extended family that Laura has a sad connection to Menomonie.
Laura's Uncle George Whiting Ingalls had a tragic family life
Laura’s beloved “Pa” was Charles Philip Ingalls. According to both Find a Grave and FamilySearch, Charles had at least 10 siblings. One of those siblings was a younger brother, George Whiting Ingalls.
George was born in 1851. In 1876, he married Julia Bard in Alden, Polk County, WI. Unfortunately, their marriage would be plagued by grief. The couple had several children who all died shortly after birth. One child lived for about a year, but reportedly died of suffocation, after being bundled too tightly during a winter wagon ride.
By all accounts, Julia never recovered from her children's deaths. A newspaper clipping posted on Find a Grave revealed that in 1888, Julia was brought to the Wisconsin State Hospital for the Insane at Mendota, in Madison. Five years later, she would be transferred to the Dunn County Asylum for the Chronic Insane. All told, Julia spent 22 years in commitment. She was just 50 years old when she died in 1910.
Julia Bard Ingalls is buried at Potter’s Field
When Julia passed away in 1910, George was already deceased. Her parents lived far away, in Michigan. They were unable to have her body transported, so Julia was laid to rest in an unmarked grave at Potter’s Field, just east of Menomonie. This cemetery is the final resting place for residents who lived at Dunn County Asylum for the Chronic Insane or the Dunn County Poor Farm, or who didn’t have the financial means to be buried elsewhere.
What happened to George?
As for Julia’s husband George, he passed away in 1901. There is no public record of him remarrying or having any more children.
According to Find a Grave, he is buried at Orange Cemetery in Webster, WI. George’s parents, who were Laura Ingalls Wilder's paternal grandparents, are also buried in Orange Cemetery: Lansford Whiting Ingalls and Laura Louise (Colby) Ingalls.
Visiting Potter's Field cemetery
Menomonie’s landscape has changed over the years. Today, Potter's Field is now located on fenced-in property owned by the Dunn County Highway Shop. Anyone who wishes to visit the cemetery may do so when the Shop is open. Visitors are asked to check in with the receptionist at the Highway Department Building (3303 US-12, Menomonie; 715-232-2181).