Today we are intrigued to hear from Nancy McCabe about her experience exploring Cuba, New York, the birthplace of Charles Ingalls. Hear her interesting stories and tid bits of information about Pa’s first home below.
In Cuba, New York, the birthplace of Charles Ingalls, my daughter and I read excerpts from Little House in the Big Woods over shrimp tacos at Moonwinks Restaurant. The site where this restaurant stands was once rumored to be Pa’s birthplace, but John Bass, president of the Ingalls-Wilder-Lane Historic Alliance, has since pinpointed that location a short distance away.
A native Kansan, I’ve traveled to most of the Laura Ingalls Wilder sites in the Midwest. But for fifteen years, I’ve lived down the road from Cuba yet never visited this town, likely the setting for a couple of Pa’s stories in Big Woods.
Now, my daughter and I read about young Charles neglecting his chores, stopping to play in the woods rather than drive home the cows as he’s supposed to do. We read about him climbing hills and descending into ravines as dusk falls in search of those cows, to no avail. Then, frightened by an owl, he runs home to find them waiting to be let into the barn.
We read about Pa’s Pa who, with his brothers, sneaks out under the nose of their snoring father on a Sunday when they’re supposed to be studying catechism. The boys just want to take one ride down a snowy hill on their new sled. We laugh out loud when the sled scoops up a pig in its path that rides down the hill with them, squealing.
I remember, as a child, my fascination with this stern culture that gave boys little room to daydream or play when there were chores to be done and puritanical Sunday rituals to be observed. Certainly those restrictions shaped Laura’s ancestors, perhaps culminating in Pa’s incurable desire to break free of civilization and wander from one minimally settled territory to the next.
Unlike at other historical sites related to Wilder, finding Charles Ingalls in Cuba, New York, known for its cheese and annual garlic festival, isn’t easy. He was a boy in the 1840s when his family left the area to move to Illinois. It was seven years later that he relocated to the big woods of Wisconsin, where Wilder’s stories begin.
I start my quest at the Cuba Library, where I wait as patrons flood the front desk to gossip and check out books. Eventually a librarian locates a vertical file for me. It’s stuffed with articles, like ones from 1976 and 1987 in local newspapers about Charles Ingalls’ connection to the region, as well as a flyer for a Pa Ingalls Days festival from 1997.
“We used to make a big deal about Charles Ingalls’ connection, but now we realize it’s kind of a stretch,” says a library volunteer.
Later, Barbara Hawkins of Little House Site Tours, tells me that there just isn’t much in Cuba, so she rarely takes groups there anymore. Cuba resident Carol Donovan, who organized the Pa Ingalls Days festivals, tells me that they were discontinued due to lack of interest from locals.
But, determined to find some trace of Charles Ingalls, I drive around, stopping to let my daughter photograph cows that might be descendants of the ones that got young Charles in trouble.
We take a picture of the general area where Pa was born. Later, the Cuba Historical Society’s Mary Nease tells me that they are hoping to erect a marker there.
The Historical Society boasts a small display, including a marker created by John Bass, a black Victorian dress, a quilt, some William Anderson booklets, buttons for pioneer days festivals, and pictures of the Grant Ingalls Motor Bus Line that ran from Cuba to Olean around 1929. A letter from Victor French, who played Mr. Edwards on the TV show, mentions that his father’s family lived here in Cuba in the late 1800s.
Nease gives us directions to North Cuba Cemetery, where Ingalls relatives are buried, but my terrible sense of direction leads me to an old burying ground outside of town, not the cemetery we’re looking for, weedy and topsy-turvy with unevenly spaced, broken old grave markers, some of which do date back to when Charles Ingalls lived in Cuba.
Ultimately, the Charles Ingalls who lived in Cuba almost 200 years ago might be elusive, but here in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, the slopes, ravines, and forests that shaped his imagination and in turn, Laura’s, are now more real to me. As it once transformed my vision to see the dugout site in Walnut Grove, the surveyor’s house in De Smet, and the bookshelves in Mansfield, now I have a clearer picture of the hill that Grandpa sledded down and the place where Pa listened for the sound of cowbells but heard only the rustling of leaves.
Have you visited any of the Little House on the Prairie Historic Sites and Locations? We would love to hear about your experience if you want to share your story with us!
Nancy McCabe is Professor of Writing and Director of the Writing Program at University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. Her most recent book is From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood. You can see the trailer for this book here . She is also the author of three previous books and her essays have received a Pushcart and been recognized six times on Houghton-Mifflin Best American notable lists. She regularly blogs about reading, art, and travel for Ploughshares.
I never knew Charles Ingslls was from Cuba, NY. My husband’s family lived in Angelica. NY and we would always stop in Cuba on our way there. The cheese is the best of any made, especially their Extra Sharp Cheddar. When I travel there again, I must check out Charles Ingalls home farm.
I have Ingalls ancestry that descends from immigrant Edmond Ingalls . Edmond and his brother Francis Ingalls came from England are are credited with being the first European settlers in what is Lynn Massachusetts. All early male Ingalls lines come from Edmond. His brother Francis is believed to have had only a daughter. Edmond was drowned 20 years after coming to America. His family filed one of the first wrongful death suites in our country’s history. He was traveling to or from Boston when his horse broke thru some rotten boards on a bridge. The suite was presented in the English court system in place at the time. The local community where the bridge was were charged with paying Edmond’s family for his loss of life. He was about 50 years old at his death. Charles Ingalls is descended from Edmond Ingalls too. Also mentioned on some Little house Sites is president James Garfield who is descended from Edmond Ingalls. His line and mine are the same down to his grandmother Mehitable Ingalls Ballou. She is the brother of my Rufus Ingalls an early settler in Concord , N.Y.. His daughter Besey Ingalls Dye is the first cousin of James Garfield’s mother Eliza. Betsey was living in Concord or Boston, N.Y. in Erie county when her cousin Eliza moved into the White house to live with her son’s family in 1880. My mother and her sisters were all born in Cuba, N.Y. about 100 years after Charles and his siblings. My grandfather worked at Cuba Cheese. My father’s family sold milk to cheese companies in the area for generations. I was also told by a local historian volunteer that Charles’ parents were married in Holland, Erie County, N.Y. He also mentioned that work was ongoing trying to locate the Ingalls’ homestead site. I have many ancestor connections and relatives in Western, N.Y. and Western, PA. My earliest ancestors [Ingalls/Dye] came to Concord , Erie County, N.Y. in 1819 before it became Erie County in 1823. They are buried in the Sibley Cemetery that was founded in 1811 we believe. There are no visible markers for Rufus Ingalls or his wife Lydia Cole. There are markers for Betsey Ingalls Dye and husband William with their daughter and son-in-law on a Drake obelisk. This is all part of our history. Laura Ingalls’ stories tell how so many of our ancestors lived and struggled. Most all of their stories are lost. It has been 31 years and counting to learn what I have about my ancestors. So I appreciate her stories that have let their lives be shared generations later by so many!
Hello Ken, like you, my family goes way back in Cuba. My great grandfather owned Ackerly Cheese that became Cuba Cheese. I married Barbara Ingalls and trying to get her family history in Cuba.
My Great Grandpa built the building that is now the Cuba Cheese store. It was for cold storage with ice from Cuba Lake.
Love your adventure. I am engaged to a actual decendant of the Ingalls and about to take his last name. The more i learned about his family the more interested I’ve become.
This is so interesting. But as someone who used grew up and to live in upstate NY, it doesn’t surprise me that no one cares about this bit of history. From Buffalo, to Rochester the Finger Lakes and all points east in upstate, having no interest in local history sadly, except for a few pocket areas, seems to be a trend.
Where in Kansas are you from. I’ve been to all the LIW sites except NY, but am planning a trip for this summer and would love some tips.
The picture that you took in front of the Cuba Historical Society…notice on the right side of the window below…notice that Little House on the Prairie house model. I was the one that made this model in 2014! I’ve been trying to find Charles Ingalls’ birthplace and cemetery. Could anyone give me direction?
Hi Deborah – I don’t think they know for sure where he was born – I think, if I remember correctly – the census gives us an idea, but not a specific address. I hope to get up there and to Malone sometime, too.
Lived on the Haskell for a great percentage of my life and never knew of this connection! Now in Texas but will let those know of the Ingalls link!
Hi Larry: my name is Mark Miller and I grew up on the Haskell rd. I am writing a book that should be published in early 2021 about my family farm. I have a Charles Ingall’s connection to that farm. What is your last name if I may ask.
We are campers and have a place off of tibbits hill.. we frequent Cuba all summer. Until today, I had no idea about the Ingalls association to Cuba NY. Did they live on Haskell Rd? I would love to see where their story began.
Oh my goodness! I live about a half hour from Cuba, have practically my whole life, and I have just recently learned this. Can’t wait for nice weather. We are going to have to take a field trip to the cemetery and see what we can find. 🙂
Thank you so much for this wonderful information. Nothing but LOVE!
Nancy, I, too, explored Cuba in search of Pa Ingalls’ past, going to the Library and Hustirical Society for references. I found the graveyard near North Cuba and the lake and took photos of the marked Ingalls graves. I especially enjoyed the Cuba cheese factory, though, and the huge horse barn south of town. There are other Ingalls and Colby family locales north of there. It’s certainly a lovely area of western NY.
Connie, I agree–it is lovely. We hope to go back and find the cemetery now that the weather is warmer, and will have to check out some of these other locations.
I am curious about the Colby connections in the area. Pa’s mother is a distant Colby cousin. I live iin the area and was in Cuba. It is disappointing that there is nothing here to see. I didn’t know about the graves. Will have to look next time I am in town.
Thank you for the info! It was fun to see what you discovered !
When is the marker going in…?
What a great adventure ! Loved Sophie’s pictures. Thanks for sharing.