Sunday, November 29, 2020

Little House on the Florida frontier, revisited

partial cover of booklet about Laura Ingalls Wilder's brief stay in Florida
This 30-page booklet sheds light on the
Wilder family's brief stay in frontier Florida
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how Laura Ingalls Wilder lived on the Florida frontier for about a year in the early 1890s. 

I'd been surprised to learn that she, Almanzo, and their daughter, Rose, had settled briefly in the backwoods of rural Florida. And unsurprised to learn they'd left rather quickly.

Yankees and Old South residents didn't mix well in that time and place. The Wilders' short residency in Westville, FL, wasn't a happy one.

I wanted to learn more than I could glean from the Internet. Thanks to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association, I have. 

The association has long overseen production and distribution of a 30-page booklet about the Westville years. First published in 1979, Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Westville Florida Years is in its 7th printing. I purchased it via the association's online store (along with a couple of quilt patterns Laura was known to have followed).

An even bigger thanks goes to author Alene M. Warnock and her husband, James M. Warnock. Her curiosity and perserverence uncovered gems of information about descendents and the Ingalls-Wilder legacy in Florida. His photographs provide additional context and his essay about Westville "today"  - meaning the late 1970s - depicts a time as distant to us in 2020 as the 1890s are. 

Westville in the 1970s was smaller than it had been in the 1890s. I've never been to the community, but I expect it's smaller now than even in the 1970s. It hugs the Florida-Alabama border in the middle of nowhere. I did visit the region, though, a number of years ago. The countryside is beautiful.

I don't know if either of the Warnocks is still alive. If they are, I hope they know of my and many Wilder fans' appreciation of their efforts. But I suspect they have passed. I found a obituary for an Alene M. Warnock who died in 2011 and whose husband, James, had predeceased her. 

I won't provide a lot of details about what's in their booklet. It only costs $3.50 and your purchase would help support a nonprofit. In fact, the little book would make a great stocking stuffer for your favorite Wilder fan or for yourself! 

Why should you read it? Because you'll find - among other treats -  that the Warnocks met and interviewed Laura's - niece? cousin once-removed? The woman, named Emma, was elderly in the 1970s and an important link to the past and to Laura's life story.

I'm not exactly sure how to term the relationship between Laura and "Miss Emma." The woman was the daughter of Laura's cousin Peter Ingalls, the person on whose homestead the Wilders probably settled for their year in Florida. The Warnocks found no evidence that Laura and Almanzo filed a homestead claim of their own. That the Warnocks found such a close relative of Laura's in the 1970s is a wonderful thing. 

The Warnocks did a lot of diligent searching and interviewing and traveling on their own time and dime. They shed needed light on the Wilder family's Westville detour. For that, this Wilder fan salutes them. As I hope many other Wilder fans have done and will do.

Here's a link to the 2017 post I wrote about the family's sojourn in Florida. 

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