Cap Garland, described in the "Little House" books as a blue-eyed
blonde-haired lad with a flashing grin, is a well-loved character
from The Long Winter, Little Town on the
Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years.
Oscar Edmund Garland, known as Cap, was born on December 27, 1864, in Avoca, Wisconsin, to Walter Bell Garland and Margaret Frances Pettit. He had two older sisters, Sarah Lovenia Garland, born in 1856, known as "Vena"; and Florence Adelia Garland, born May 14, 1862. In addition to these three children, the Garlands lost two children at a young age: a son, Walter, born May 29, 1855, who died July 23 of the same year, and a daughter Josephine, born August 18, 1859, who died April 12, 1863.
Cap Garland; thanks to Sophie for photo.
Cap's father was born in Ireland in 1832, and died when he was only 42 years old, on September 29, 1874. The family left their home in Avoca, Wisconsin, not long afterward, and the widow and her three children settled along Lake Henry in Dakota Territory during the winter of 1879-80.
During the late summer/early fall of 1880, the family moved to the town of De Smet. Mrs. Garland opened a boarding house on the corner of Joliet Avenue and Second Street, behind Charles Ingalls' store building where the Ingalls family stayed during the winter of 1880-81. Florence earned a position teaching the school in town.
It was November 1880 when Laura and Carrie walked to the school in De Smet for the first time, and Cap playfully threw Laura the ball, which she caught, to the surprise of all the boys in the schoolyard. Cap must have captured Laura's attention right from the start and he quickly became a young hero in her eyes, as he first set off on his own during the blizzard to fetch the men in town when he saw the other schoolchildren were heading toward the open prairie, and then set off with Almanzo Wilder on a daring trip to fetch wheat for the starving town. Cap must have lived by his words to Almanzo a couple of years later, when he was trying to decide whether or not to go after Laura at the Bouchie (Brewster) School in severe weather: "God hates a coward." Cap Garland was no coward.
When school started up again the fall of 1881, Laura was pleased to see Cap Garland again amongst the big boys present. Soon afterward, revival meetings were held at the church -- Laura wasn't much interested in the sermon, however; she wrote many years later in her unpublished autobiography, "To be perfectly truthful I was noticing Cap."
It wasn't Cap who tapped on her arm and asked to see her home, however; it was "the youngest Wilder boy", Almanzo. Even so, Laura's interest was still in Cap, and she wrote that after teaching at the Bouchie School, she had hoped to leave Almanzo and go with Cap. When Cap invited Laura to go sleigh-riding, however, she realized she really wanted to stay with Almanzo, after all. Cap Garland began courting Laura's friend Mary Power, and the two young couples, Laura and Almanzo, and Cap and Mary, often went sleigh-riding together.
In 1882, Mrs. Garland filed on land about 7 miles east of the Ingalls' claim. Perhaps Cap worked the land while his mother and sisters ran the boarding house in town. Cap did live in town later, for when Almanzo boarded at the Garlands' during the summer of 1884, he shared a room with Cap.
Cap and his team of horses worked out on other farms for several years. On November 2, 1891, while working with the threshing crew at August Larson's homestead, a boiler exploded, killing Cap at the young age of 26.
Florence Garland, also mentioned in the "Little House" books, married Charles Lansing Dawley in 1887, and named their first son Lansing Edmund, born March 11, 1893, in memory of her brother. Florence and Charles had one more son, Walter Averill, on January 9, 1900. Mrs. Garland died in De Smet in 1913. Charles and Florence remained in De Smet until their deaths in 1933 and 1935 respectively.