Saturday, December 20, 2008

Poet Sharon McCartney Wins 2008 Acorn-Plantos Award for People's Poetry

The Daily Gleaner has announced that Canadian poet, Sharon McCartney is the winner of the 2008 Acorn-Plantos Award for People's Poetry. The Acorn-Plantos Award is awarded annually to a Canadian poet for work published the previous year.

In 2007, McCartney authored The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Nightwood Editions) collection.

A review from the Winnepeg Free Press says "In Sharon McCartney's The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder, poems take on not only the voices of characters from the Little House books, but also the voices of animals and inanimate objects (wolves, rifles, a desk, body parts). This is a highly accomplished and tightly focused collection."

You can read the entire article here.

This book is available through limited sellers at

Laura Ingalls Wilder and Garth Williams mention in

The work of Garth Williams and Laura Ingalls Wilder received a mention in a list of time honored classics in an article titled Bedtime tales--of past, present - and future.

Also mentioned were Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little--two other books illustrated by Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, and many other well known books.

You can read the article here.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Little House Christmas at HMT at the Spa LittleTheater

See James DeVita's A LITTLE HOUSE CHRISTMAS based on the Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder at the HMT at the Spa Little Theater in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Dates and times are as follows:

Dec. 12 & 19 - 7:30pm
Dec. 13, 14, 21 - 1:00pm
Dec. 20 - 1:00pm & 4:30pm

Price is:

$18 Adults
$12 Children (age 12 & under)

For more information visit the HMT website at or call them at (518) 587-4427

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December Featured Books of the Month

We're getting ready for Christmas here. The trees are all up and only one is waiting for decorations. The porch and the front of the house are strung with lights and the stockings are hung by the fireplace, so St. Nick can come anytime.

We're going to feature two books in December because I can't think of one without the other.

A Little House Christmas complies some of the Christmas stories from Laura's Little House books into a lovely, large hardcover that collectors will certainly enjoy.

From Christmas in the Big Woods of Wisconsin to the day Mr. Edwards delivered presents so that Santa didn't have to cross the creek, to the chapters of Christmas on Plum Creek where Laura received red mittens, the white china box, and the fur cape and muff off the tree at church, each story is just as special as when you first read it in the Little House books.

The illustrations by Garth Williams have been colorized to make this book an extra special treat for Little House fans, and also includes the words and music to Merry, Merry Christmas! by Mrs. T.J. Cook.

The jpeg of the cover art can't possibly do it justice, as Williams's illustration of Laura receiving her rag doll, Charlotte is encircled by a wreath of holly.

While A Little House Christmas shares the Christmas stories of Laura's early days, A Little House Christmas, Volume II travels east to Malone, New York to share the story of Christmas at the Wilder farm when Almanzo was a boy and the aunts and uncles and cousins were coming to dinner.

Then the book travels to the shores of Silver Lake, where Laura and her family are living in the surveryors' house, and on to Christmas in De Smet, SD, where the blizzards seem like they will never end and the trains won't run again until spring. And finally, we get to read the story of Almanzo's surprise return visit on Christmas Eve in These Happy Golden Years.

Again, collectors will find this large hardcover a welcome addition to their Little House library. The green cover is even more striking than the red from the first one and the holly wreath encircles a picture of Ma fastening the little blue coat with the swan's-down collar on Grace and tying the swan's-down hood over her golden hair.

Little House fans will enjoy these books year after year, and remember why Laura Ingalls Wilder's books continue to gain new fans so many years after they were first published.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

"Thanksgiving dinner was good. Pa shot a wild goose for it. Ma had to stew the goose because there was no fireplace, and no oven in the little stove. But she made dumplings in the gravy. There were corn dodgers and mashed potatoes. There were butter, and milk, and stewed dried plums. And three grains of parched corn lay beside each tin plate.

At the first Thanksgiving dinner the poor Pilgrims had had nothing to eat but three parched grains of corn. Then the Indians came and brought them turkeys, so the Pilgrims were thankful.

Now, after they had eaten their good, big Thanksgiving dinner, Laura and Mary could eat their grains of corn and remember the Pilgrims."--On the Banks of Plum Creek

Wishing you and your family and happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Main Street Theater to Present A Little House Christmas

Main Street Theater in Houston, Texas will be presenting A Little House Christmas from November 11th through December 19th. Based upon Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic children's book Little House on the Prairie, the audience is encouraged to join "Mary and Laura Ingalls in this Holiday classic as they learn the true meaning of friendship and the Christmas spirit!"

Visit their website at or call the Main Street Theater's ticket office at 713-524-6706 for more information.

New Website for Little House on the Prairie, a New Musical

Due to the overwhelming popularity of the Little House on the Prairie Musical, plans are in the works for a North American Tour in 2009. If you go to, you'll find a temporary website that allows you to input your email address so that you can receive updated news.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Little House DVDs Ban in Finland

Just when you thought you heard the craziest thing ever, comes the news that children of Finland are banned from watching Little House on the Prairie . According to this article from USA Today--and several other online articles--because NBC's Universal Pictures refused to pay astronomical amounts of money to have the series reviewed, the Little House on the Prairie DVDs will have a sticker that reads "Banned for under-18s".


Eau Claire Children's Theatre Presents "A Little House Christmas"

The Eau Claire Children's Theatre (ECCT) in Wisconsin will be presenting "A Little House Christmas" on Friday, December 5th beginning at 7:30 PM at North High School, 1801 Piedmont Road, Eau Claire, WI.

Event Description:

Join the Ingalls family, Pa, Ma, Laura and Mary, their neighbor, Mr. Edwards, and even Mrs. Oleson and prissy Nellie for this holiday treat presented by Eau Claire Children's Theatre. Based on the beloved books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, this stage adaptation combines the best holiday stories from the "Little House" books and brings them together just in time for the start of the holiday season.

For more information you may visit this site.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Almanzo and Fried Apples n' Onions

I found this neat food blog called the Gourmanderie, which spoke of Farmer Boy and the tremendous amount of food that the Wilder children ate...especially young Almanzo. It also provided a link to a recipe for Almanzo's favorite food: fried apples n' onions.

What I thought was so interesting is that this blogger mentions that Laura Ingalls Wilder describes food the most in Farmer Boy and contributes that to Laura living through periods of near starvation growing up. Barbara Walker, the author of The Little House Cookbook, made a similar comment on Dean Butler's new documentary, Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura.

Here's a link to the entire article if you're interested.

Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life (South Dakota Biography)

I heard about this book through Google Alerts and I was wondering if anyone owns it and can tell me more about it. The title is Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life by Pamela Smith Hill.

It has three 5-star reviews on Amazon, but some of the comments have left me on the fence about whether I should buy it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Featured Book of the Month

This is where it all began. Had it not been for Rose Wilder Lane asking Mama Bess to put her childhood memories down on paper, the field of children's literature may never have known much about Laura Ingalls Wilder.

After losing their investments in the Stock Market Crash of 1929, and considering that so many of her family members including Ma, Mary, and her beloved Pa had passed on, Laura sat down to write the first manuscript of her childhood memories of living in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. According to Donald Zochert's Laura, in 1931 when editor Virginia Kirkus from Harper's read the manuscript on a train ride home to Connecticut, she was so engrossed in the material she missed her station. She knew she held in her hands "the book that no depression could stop."

Harper published Little House in the Big Woods the following year and Laura Ingalls Wilder became an overnight success. The collaboration between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane churned out seven additional titles: Farmer Boy (1932), Little House on the Prairie (1935), On The Banks of Plum Creek (1937), By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939), The Long Winter (1940), Little Town on the Prairie (1941), and These Happy Golden Years (1943). Roger Lea MacBride discovered Laura's final manuscript with Rose's belongings after her death in 1968. This manuscript became known as The First Four Years when it was published by HarperCollins in 1971.

But without the success of Little House in the Big Woods during the height of the Great Depression, Laura's other childhood memories and the young life of Almanzo Wilder may never have been shared with millions of children the world over. As we prepare to celebrate the feast of Thanksgiving with our families, may we also give thanks for the little girl who grew up on the prairie and later captured her cherished memories in a series of books that continues to gain fans every day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Survey

Our latest survey asks, "What is your favorite Little House on the Prairie Christmas Episode?"

Is it:

* When Mr. Edwards crosses the creek to bring the Ingalls girls their Christmas presents their first year in Kansas during The Pilot?

* Is it that first Christmas on Plum Creek when Baby Carrie says, "Happy Birthday Jesus!"

* Did you enjoy the drama of the episode Blizzard, when some of the children get lost in a sudden storm that catches them unaware on their way home from school?

* How about when the Ingallses, Wilders, Kendalls, and Hester Sue share stories of Christmases long ago as they wait for a storm to pass?

* Or was it the final Christmas episode where Almanzo, Laura, and Isaiah frantically search for Rose, who has been kidnapped, while Jenny and the Carters are treated to a bit of Christmas cheer thanks to Mr. Montague?

Please vote in our new survey and feel free to elaborate upon your selection here. If you recognize the photo I used, then you'll already know my favorite.

Updated information on Little House on the Prairie Themed Sets

Updated information is posted at TV Shows on about the upcoming release of two themed Little House on the Prairie DVD sets due out in January from Lionsgate/Imavision.

You can find information about The Girls of Little House on the Prairie: Country School and The Girls of Little House on the Prairie: Prairie Friends here.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Old Gem Theater to Present A Laura Ingalls Wilder Pioneer Christmas

The Old Gem Theater in New Richmond, WI will present A Laura Ingalls Wilder Pioneer Christmas in December.

Dates and times are as follows:

Saturday, December 6, 2008 at 10:30 am

Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Saturday, December 13, 2008 at 10:30 am

Sunday, December 14, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Call 715-246-3285 or 800-886-8035 for ticket reservations or more information. You can visit the Old Gem Theater on the web at

The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award

Administered by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award was first given to its namesake in 1954. This bronze medal honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children.

Winners of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award include E.B. White, Theodor S. Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Marcia Brown, and Eric Carle.

For a complete list you may go to the ALA website.

Photo credit goes to ALA.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura--DVD Review

Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her books, and the shows based upon them, will find another way to appreciate Laura's legacy in Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, a direct to DVD documentary produced by Legacy Documentaries.

Narrated by Dean Butler, who played Almanzo Wilder on the the classic TV show Little House on the Prairie, this DVD was produced in partnership with the Almanzo and Laura Ingalls Wilder Association (ALIWA).

Using old photographs, excerpts from Wilder's Farmer Boy, and the beautiful landscape in Burke, NY, Butler has brought Almanzo Wilder to life in a unique and touching way. His passion for this material is obvious from the outset. He brings viewers through the year in Almanzo's life that Laura Ingalls Wilder so lovingly wrote about in Farmer Boy, and he does it in a way that makes viewers want to immediately pack their bags and head off to Burke, NY to discover the timeless beauty of the Wilder Homestead.

Garth Williams's Farmer Boy illustrations have been colorized and animated so that the viewer can almost imagine herself sitting in the Wilder's house eating popcorn and walking to school with the children. Life Before Laura also briefly discusses the Wilder family's journey to America, the times in which Almanzo grew up, and encourages the viewer to recognize how the Wilder family flourished in a time that didn't include many of our modern day conveniences.

Special mention must be made of the beautiful music provided by Jay Asher and the warm, endearing reading of the excerpts from Farmer Boy provided by Katherine Cannon (Father Murphy, Beverly Hills 90210). In addition, on camera experts provided helpful insights into various aspects of Almanzo's life.

Butler and his crew did a superb job of working around the challenges of having so few photographs of the Wilder family available and having limited seasonal time to shoot on location in New York. I would have liked to have seen more reenactments where members of Almanzo's family actually spoke to one another. The actors did a wonderful job of making Almanzo and his family real for the viewer.

Also included with this documentary is Wilder Homestead Today. This bonus feature talks about the restoration of the Wilder Homestead, the many activities and events taking place there, and surrounding points of interest.

I eagerly anticipated the release of this DVD and I was not disappointed. This collector's DVD will make the perfect holiday gift for your favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder fan.

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is available exclusively through the Wilder Homestead and proceeds will go to support the Wilder Homestead, its mission and its programs.

Title: Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura
Produced by: Legacy Documentaries, Santa Monica, CA
Total Run Time: 53 minutes
U.S. Price: $21.95 plus shipping

For more about Dean Butler, Legacy Documentaries, and Life Before Laura, read my interview with Dean that starts here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Homesteader gives Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura Five Stars!

Reviews for Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura are beginning to come in. The Homesteader gave this production by Legacy Documentaries five stars.

You can read their review here.

New Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School in Iowa

The DesMoines Register posted an article about the new Laura Ingalls Wilder Elementary School in Indianola, Iowa.

The public is invited to an open house on Sunday, October 26th from 2 to 4 PM.

You can read the entire article here.

Delayed Release for the Little House on the Prairie Mega-Pack

TV Shows on confirmed through industry sources that the release date for the Little House on the Prairie Mega-Pack will be delayed until November 11th, only a week later than expected.

Their article--which appears here--also states that Lionsgate and Imavision will be releasing themed "best of" DVDs in mid-January.

Please check their site for more details.

And the survey says...

I was thrilled to see that 60% of our readers plan on purchasing Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura by Legacy Documentaries. I've just received notification from the Wilder Homestead that they are ready to fill pre-orders, so I am excited that I will have a copy of this DVD in my hot little hands soon.

I will be reviewing this DVD at Laura's Little Houses, so make sure you check back for that soon.

Also, for the few readers who voted that they never heard of this new production from Dean Butler and Legacy Documentaries, go to this link to read my interview with Dean. He shares a great deal of information about this new documentary that would make a wonderful addition to any Laura Ingalls Wilder fan's collection.

See LHOP's Nellie Oleson (Alison Arngrim) at Prairie Day in the United Kingdom

Hove Library Presents:

For the first time in any library in the United Kingdom


with special guest appearance by actress ALISON ARNGRIM - TV'S NELLIE OLESON of Little House on the Prairie

When: Saturday, December 6, 2008

List of events:

STORYTIME FROM 10:30 - 12:30

Alison will read a selection from Laura Ingalls Wilder's classic book On the Banks of Plum Creek followed by children's craft activities and autograph signing session.

And from 2:30 - 5:00 a special FREE screening of the Little House on the Prairie episode BUNNY! Alison will be present to chat and answer questions.

To reserve a FREE ticket for the screening and Q&A with Alison please telephone 01273 296937 or collect them from the Hove Library Enquiry Desk.

To find out more about the Hove Library please visit them online at

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Suit Filed Over Kansas Museum

Friendly Family Productions has filed suit against a museum in Independence, Kansas where Laura Ingalls Wilder once lived, saying it owns the rights to the name "Little House on the Prairie".

For more information visit

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cast from Little House the Musical Visit Walnut Grove

Melissa Gilbert and the cast of the Gutherie Little House on the Prairie production visited Walnut Grove on October 6th. Check out for more infomation.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

First Lady Laura Bush visits the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum

A friend turned me onto this article from out of Springfield, Missouri that talks about First Lady Laura Bush's visit to Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum. The article states that the museum's curator Jean Coday was presented with a letter and certificate designating the site as an official project of Save America's Treasures at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Save America's Treasures is a program dedicated to the preservation and celebration of historic and cultural treasures and according to Bush they will give advice to Coday and the board so they can apply for an SAT grant.

Sounds like good news for the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum and all of Laura's fans.

You can read the entire article here.

Photo provided by Lorrie Rumpf. Do not use without permission.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Featured Book of the Month

Anyone who knows me can tell you just how much I love Christmas. We sing Christmas carols all year long and almost every single room in our house is decorated in some way for the holidays. So, now that it's October, I feel safe in making this next book the Featured Book of the Month.

Some of the most wonderful moments in the Little House books tell us about the Christmas holidays spent with family and friends. From the Christmas in the Big Woods when Pa made the decorative shelf for the China Shepherdess to Mr. Edwards bringing presents to the Ingalls girls so Santa wouldn't have to cross the creek, from the horses that Santa brought to the Ingalls Family on Plum Creek to the boughten cap and jack-knife Almanzo received as presents in Farmer Boy, from the Christmas barrel that arrived once the trains were finally able to get through in The Long Winter to Almanzo's surprise return in These Happy Golden Years, each of these stories will tug at your heart, fill you with the joys of the season, and remind you why Laura's books attract new fans year after year.

The cover on this book is simply gorgeous. The stunning gold that contrasts so nicely again the red background, is repeated on the bound edge and Garth Williams's illustrations have been brought to life in color to add a special touch to A Little House Christmas Treasury. My husband bought this for me last year as a surprise Christmas gift and it remains one of my favorite books of the season.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

A Conversation with Dean Butler--Part 3

Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is a documentary about Almanzo’s childhood before he met and married Laura Ingalls. What made you decide to focus on this period of Almanzo’s life?

Well, I had been invited in September 2006 by the Wilder Homestead to be their special guest for Almanzo’s 150th birthday celebration the following year. During that year I had been making all this bonus content for the series and I started wondering what I could do for the Wilder Homestead that would really be meaningful and helpful to them in their mission to share Almanzo’s life experience with visitors. I decided to create a documentary for them about Almanzo and his life on the farm.

You and your crew traveled to New York several times for filming. Can you give us a preview of what viewers will get when they purchase this story of Almanzo’s early life?

The challenge is we had very few days to shoot. You can never shoot enough in four days to really tell the full story, especially when we didn’t have four uninterrupted days. We had four days with crowds there and autograph sessions and then there were breakfasts and dinners; all the things you do when you make an appearance. So, we shot two days last September and another two days this last June. In an effort to try and get as much of the farm experience as we possibly could out of those four days, we’ve come up with two separate pieces.

The core of Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is Almanzo’s connection to the farm where he as raised as presented in Farmer Boy. That’s what our story is about. The fact of the matter is there isn’t a great deal written about Almanzo as a child beyond Farmer Boy so the book was obvious source material.

Again, shooting in four days you couldn’t do the book. You can’t get the seasons; you could never shoot enough to do that. Focusing on the book and through the life at the homestead—the house, the barn, the land—we selectively chose a number of events from the book and recreated those events using excerpts of text from the book and the Garth Williams illustrations to support the material we shot. In addition, we did a little bit about Almanzo’s family and where they came from; we talk contextually about what was going on in the world that Almanzo grew up in; the things he had, and maybe what’s more to the point for the audience who is going to see this, what didn’t he have that we have. In terms of technology and equipment Almanzo’s family had very little compared to what we all have, and yet, they survived, they flourished. As Laura wrote it, Almanzo had a fantastic, rich, abundant life as a child in Burke, NY; nothing compared to the struggles that she had to endure growing up. She wrote her life in this semi-optimistic way, but reading between the lines, this was not an easy time. Almanzo didn’t have an easy time either, but he lived in one place. He wasn’t moving around in Farmer Boy. This was a boy’s life on his farm as he’s growing up trying to convince his father that he is mature enough to raise and train his father’s beautiful Morgan horses. That’s really the central thrust of what carries us through this book. It’s about Almanzo wanting to be a man. I’ve thought about it, Farmer Boy is not a coming-of-age story; it’s a getting ready to come of age story. At the end of Farmer Boy when his father gives him Starlight, he is beginning to come of age. That’s the jumping off point. His life adventure really begins. Farmer Boy is all about what he had to go through to get to the point where his life is ready to begin as an adult. It established who he was as a person and it established the values he was raised with. We tried to capture that.

We’ve animated pictures from the book, we’ve re-imagined historic photos and we’ve composed a very lovely musical score for the program. One of the challenges that you have with something like this is that so few pictures of the Wilder and Ingalls families exist. There are literally two pictures I’ve seen of Almanzo as a boy. One of him standing with his sister Alice in a formal portrait and a separate one when he’s a little older—well past the age we’re talking about in this program—when he’s with his entire family. So, we had to find ways to use these pictures to help us tell the story, by essentially recreating the picture contextually in different environments. We’ve done the same thing with Laura, where we’ve taken her out of the picture of her as a little girl—the one where she’s with Mary and Carrie—and put her alone on the prairie. It’s a wonderful way to make a point about her life.

In addition to talking about Almanzo, I thought it was also important to set up how they (Laura and Almanzo) met. We hear about Laura and Almanzo’s meeting, we learn about them coming to De Smet, we go through their romance, get them married, and 47 years later she writes Farmer Boy.

We’re covering a large range of material: from Farmer Boy to These Happy Golden Years and Little Town on the Prairie. I handled their first meeting differently than Laura wrote it, so it will be interesting to see how fans react to that. It needed to be something I could shoot very simply and quickly. I alluded to it in the trailer when we say that Laura first saw Almanzo behind a team of Morgan horses. I think it’s nice and it’s a good way to step in since we had these beautiful Morgan horses.

We invited three people to participate in the documentary as experts. William Anderson is our on-camera expert. There is no doubt about it, when Bill speaks about Almanzo Wilder and Laura Ingalls, homesteading and life in that time, Bill tells a great story. So I think people are really going to enjoy his insights. We also had Barbara Walker, who wrote the Little House Cookbook. We have her on-camera talking about food and the role that food played in the writing of Farmer Boy. Then we have a woman named Karen Lassell, who is the equine manager at the Miner Institute in Chazy, NY. She’s there to talk about the Morgan horse, the training of the Morgans, and the Morgan breed. With Bill, Barbara, and Karen we have three people who can communicate about some of the important parts of Almanzo’s life.

I’m putting together a trailer now that I’m going to be putting up on YouTube and I’m going to make a trailer for the Wilder Homestead to run in their store. People are going to see that we got some really good stuff. [Author’s note: You can view this trailer at]

Can you tell us a bit about the talented actors who helped with the reenactments?

A very lovely young woman named Kylee Disotelle played Laura Ingalls for us. She could’ve come right off our set – very sweet and eager to play. We had three boys who played Almanzo doing different things on the farm. I took the position that Almanzo is a state of mind. Almanzo is not just one boy, but that he is a representation of boyhood. There’s a little Almanzo in every boy. All three of our boys were terrific.

Jarod Ball, who is on-camera most of the time, particularly with the horses, is going to remind people of a young Brad Pitt. I was sort of amazed as I watched Jarod on screen He has a very nice, honest quality—which is what you want.

A great horseman named Don Sayward played James, Almanzo’s father. He had a beautiful team of Morgans that he drove for us and he worked very well with Jarod. The setting was just gorgeous and we got beautiful pictures of the horses.

Are these local actors?

Yes, absolutely, they are all from right there. The key to casting Jarod was that he was comfortable with horses. He was referred to me by Karen Lassell at the Miner Institute. It was very important to the handlers of the Morgans that our Almanzo be at ease around large animals because they can sense nervousness and discomfort. I feel so lucky that Jarod was one of our boys. In a few shots he actually looks like Almanzo as we see him in the picture with Alice. A great deal of our show features Jarod and Don Sayward as Almanzo and James, but everyone who worked on-camera with us was great.

Can you tell us a bit more about the musical score for the documentary?

I hired a composer friend of mine, Jay Asher, who has a wonderful feel for this material. He’s a romantic spirit. The cues are touching and very much in keeping with the feeling that Little House evokes. His music adds greatly to the impact of the program. I’m happy with what Jay did and I hope audiences enjoy it too.

Will this documentary be eligible for any awards?

Our show is a direct to DVD documentary. There are award programs to which it could be submitted. I have not made any decisions about whether I will enter the program in any awards competitions yet. I’m more concerned about getting it out there.

What is the release date for the DVD and where can interested viewers purchase a copy of Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura?

The program will available for sale at the Wilder Homestead in Burke, NY for $21.95 on September 25, 2008. This DVD can only be purchased at the Wilder Homestead. [Author’s note: The Wilder Homestead has received these DVDs and is working on filling the pre-orders. Be on the lookout for more information coming soon.]

Do you ever see your website being set up to handle Internet sales?

We’re looking at an online component and they’re (Wilder Homestead) doing an online component too. People will be able to buy it online there, if they choose to do that. The Wilder Homestead and I are talking about other online sales opportunities too. I’ll keep you posted.

Does your wife (Katherine Cannon) do a lot of the narration on this documentary?

Katherine did all the reading of the Farmer Boy excerpts and she was great. She’s a wonderful actress and she really brought great warmth to these excerpts and they worked beautifully. She’s been very supportive of this process.

The continued popularity of the show and Laura’s books generates new interest in the historical sites where Laura and her family lived. Should fans expect to see more from Peak Moore Enterprises and Legacy Documentaries about Laura and the members of her family?

I think that the next one will be about Laura. That’s all I want to say about that right now.

What about Laura’s daughter Rose?

I think Rose is the great wild card element in all of this. Rose’s skill and capabilities as a writer made it possible to craft these stories that allowed them to be taken seriously when they hit a publisher’s desk. It’s one thing to have the story; it’s another to be able to tell it in a way that is going to be compelling, touching, personal and engaging to an audience. Bill Anderson talks a little bit about what an important role Rose played working with her mother. I think Laura was lucky to have her daughter Rose on hand to offer moral support while she was writing.

We’ve talked about a lot this evening. Is there anything you would like to add?

I’m just gratified by the ongoing love affair people have with Little House: the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, our series, the historical sites, and the new musical. I’m very grateful and so honored to be a part of it because it speaks to so much that is good about people. To be connected to that in a real way is very rewarding. I thank everybody who loves this material and I am so honored to have the opportunity to share my passion for the Laura Ingalls Wilder experience with people all over the world.

Thank you for spending time with us today, Dean. Little House and Laura fans applaud your commitment to keeping Laura’s legacy alive.

We would also like to remind our readers that Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura would make an excellent holiday gift for the Laura Ingalls Wilder fan in your life. Go to to place your order today!

Go Back to Part 2

A Conversation with Dean Butler--Part 2

You formed Peak Moore Enterprises while you were still acting on Little House. Had you always been interested in production?

Peak Moore was not originally designed to be a production company. It was designed to be a holding company. I moved from job to job and the employers always changed, but with Peak Moore I was always employed by the same company. I was employed by Peak Moore and Peak Moore was hired by NBC Productions in the case of Little House and guaranteed to provide my acting services. So, Peak Moore was under contract to NBC, not me.

What I liked about it is when I wasn’t working for NBC and I did something for FOX or CBS or something at Universal, I still only had one employer. When asked who do you work for, I work for Peak Moore Enterprises. For an actor that is very comforting because for most of the time as an actor you are employed. If I form this company I’m always employed. I always worked for Peak Moore Enterprises and I still do.

In the mid 90’s, it became the structure from which I started working as a producer. And in more recent years we developed the brand name, Legacy Documentaries. It’s a division of Peak Moore. When you hear Peak Moore Enterprises it has meaning to me because it’s all related to family things, but it doesn’t mean anything to anybody else and it doesn’t describe what I do. Legacy Documentaries says something about what I do. We say, “Legacy Documentaries captures life’s defining moments”. The message is that he creates stories about people.”

Were you interested in production at all when you were on the show?

During the years that I was on the show I was always as interested in what was going on in the editing room or on the scoring stage or in the writers’ offices as what was going on on stage. I loved the process of it and I still love the process of it. All these people did such interesting things. All those other people were the ones who really made the show happen. The writers, the editors, the producers, directors, the composer, costumers…all these people had a huge impact on what the audience saw each week. The actors play the smallest part in the process of making the show in terms of time. Actors generally get too much credit when a show succeeds and too much blame when it doesn’t. When your face is on the screen that’s the way it goes.

I always felt like all the toughest creative work had been done before I even got a script. The writing is done, and by the time I get the script it’s set in stone. There’s nothing I’m going to do to influence that, nor am I being invited to influence it. You don’t really have a lot to say there, so your job is to execute the script as it’s been given to you and do your best to deliver what the writer and director are trying to accomplish. Then it goes to the editor once the film is developed and they see how they want to cut it. The editor is shaping the performance. The performance doesn’t happen on the stage. It doesn’t appear in a continual flow the way it appears when you watch it. The performance is literally cut together by the editor who must use the footage he’s been given and find the best way to tell the story. In the case of Michael Landon as a director, Michael didn’t give editors a lot of choices on how to cut it. He shot things in a way that really dictated to the editor how he had to cut it. Editors didn’t have a lot of options. Today—certainly on television and always in movies—directors will shoot three or four versions of scenes with elaborate coverage that encourages far more complex editorial construction of movies and television .

Michael’s show was cut on a moviola so you were literally dealing with holding the film in your hand and taping it together. That was a very deliberate process and I loved watching that happen. The sound effects people would get a hold of it and they would build all the sound effects reels. Then the show would go to David Rose and he would go away for five days and write a beautiful score and he would come back with a sixty-piece orchestra and play this gorgeous music, and oh my god, we have a show here. You didn’t really feel like you had a show when you came off the stage. You knew you had the pieces, but you didn’t have a show yet. It didn’t become a show until all these other people got their hands on it. And that process is really exciting to me.

While I didn’t get the chance on Little House to have any responsibilities beyond acting, I appreciated and respected what was being done there because the outcomes were always wonderful. We had a very skilled group of people working on the show who understood Michael’s vision and they delivered that vision for ten seasons, and Michael got all of us to deliver it too.

My work now puts me in every phase of the process and I love it.

Is too much involvement a good thing?

You need to have other people to see things you can’t. If you work totally alone inevitably there are things that are going to get missed. It’s tough when you don’t see mistakes until it’s too late to fix them. In the very end, it’s all done, it’s in the can and you send it out. You relax a little bit and after some time has passed you watch it again, and you see that you missed something. It’s heartbreaking, but at the same time it’s part of the process. In today’s world it’s not all bad because it gives people who are watching what you’re doing an opportunity to see it, find it, comment on it, talk about it on blogs. It becomes more of a participatory thing for people.

The most recent thing that I finished yesterday, I watched it today I saw a mistake and it’s too late. I can’t fix it now. I can fix it in the next run of the show, but I can’t fix it now. It’s just part of it and I have to live with that.

Many years after Little House on the Prairie ended, the show became available on DVD. You had a hand in producing some of the bonus content for those DVDs. Can you tell us how you became involved in this project?

I was contacted by Imavision to come and do an interview for Seasons 6, 7, 8 and 9. Patrick Loubatière—who you know from France—is Imavision’s expert on Little House. I’ve never met anybody who knows more about Little House the television series than Patrick does. So I sat down with Patrick for an interview. He asked great questions and these interviews have showed up on Seasons 6, 7, 8 and 9.

I realized after sitting for that interview that I had a perspective as a participant that Patrick could never have. I would also have access to people that Patrick would never have. As much as Patrick has gotten to everybody, I knew I could touch it in a way, because I was there, that he never could. He could ask questions but I could tell people what happened and frame things from that perspective as an insider. I contacted Imavision up in Montreal and pitched them a few ideas hoping they would be intrigued. To date, we’ve probably made about 5 hours of content; virtually all the bonus content that is in this Mega-Pack that’s coming out we’ve made and most of it’s brand new. Some of it’s been released in France (about 3 hours that we released 2 years ago) because Imavision controls French territory. This is the first American or domestic release of this material as part of the 60-DVD set that is coming out in November. The majority of the bonus content is ours and I’m very proud of that.

Do you know if all the other bonus content from the single season DVDs will also be part of this Mega-Pack?

There’s a bunch of commentaries from earlier seasons. I think they’re giving people everything that they’ve got.

I hope people want to see this content. We had fun making it. Particularly the interviews with actors that no one had done before: Katherine MacGregor, Richard Bull, the Labyorteaux boys, Merlin Oleson and Karen Grassle. We were able to talk to them and they would talk to me. That was the advantage I had that other people covering this might not have had. They knew that we would not do anything that wasn’t positive or respectful of the work that was done years ago. I can’t speak for how true it is of other shows, but people love the programs that they’ve been on. For an actor the shows become part of who you are. As a cast we are all extremely protective and supportive of Little House and I believe we will always be that way.

Continue to Part 3
Go Back to Part 1

A Conversation with Dean Butler--Part 1

Joining us today is Executive Producer, Dean Butler. Dean founded Peak Moore Enterprises in 1981 and years later created Legacy Documentaries, which produces customized content and image programming focused on “capturing life’s defining moments”. We’re going to be talking to him about one of his latest projects, the documentary Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura.

Welcome to Laura’s Little Houses, Dean. It’s a great pleasure to speak with you.

Thank you, Cheryl. I appreciate everything you have done in regards to Little House; the fan network is just terrific and the blog is very attractively done, very comprehensive, and thoughtful. You’re all just very strong supporters of what we’ve been doing and I appreciate it very much.

When did your connection with Laura and Almanzo Wilder begin?

It began with my first audition for the show. I had no prior knowledge of Little House. I had never seen it prior to auditioning for it. I certainly had been aware that the show was on the air, but being a guy in college when it was on Monday nights at eight I was watching Monday Night Football. It was one of those things in the early years when it was on that it wasn’t a connection for me. If I had watched it during those early years I have no doubt that it would have touched me but I probably wouldn’t have been willing to say it. I wouldn’t have been comfortable sobbing over a show about little girl and her family in the 1800’s. After I was hired to do the show and I started watching during the summer prior to shooting it, I felt incredibly grateful to have been asked to be a part of this and I have always remained so.

Little House is one of those things that was old when it was new, so it’s never been a fad; it’s always been a little old fashioned, will always be old fashioned and that’s the wonderful charm of it. I like things that are timeless and Little House will always be timeless.

New shows seems to come and go, but here we are many years after Little House has gone off the air and you can watch it 3 or 4 times a day in some places and new fans are drawn to it all the time. It’s simply amazing.

On my first trip to Walnut Grove I was amazed at how many books I signed for little girls that were in fact the books that the mother’s mother had given them. So here I am signing a book that was a grandmother’s book for her granddaughter passed down generation to generation. That speaks volumes about the way this material communicates with people. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote nine of the most successful pieces of children’s literature in publishing history until Harry Potter.

The wonderful thing about the show, because it’s timeless, it has the ability to draw new fans to it year after year after year. There’s a new fan born every minute. If parents are willing to expose their children to it, they will become fans. I hope they expose their children to the television show; I hope they expose their children to the books—which are absolutely charming—and I hope that they take their children to experience the historic sites because I think that brings the Little House experience together. They can see what the whole legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder represents. The people who travel to these places have to really want to because none of these sites are easy to get to. And the people who preserve these places are there because they love what they’re doing. At any of the sites you go to it’s a lovefest between the people who run the sites and those who visit. It’s always a terrific experience.

Had you read Laura’s books before taking on the role of Almanzo on Little House on the Prairie?

I had not read the books before I was on the show. I was not encouraged to read the books. I could not tell you which book I picked up because I bought the whole set when I got hired for the show, but I read probably a little bit of the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, and what I read was just enough of the book to get the tone. And the tone of the book was everything. It’s not as much what it said, as how it said it. And that was important to me in terms of what would translate to our show—which was not strictly following the books, by necessity or choice; and I think it’s a little bit of both. I think most fans of the books and the show would agree that we captured the tone and feeling of the books. Even if the story wasn’t exactly what they read in the books they were in familiar territory when they watched the show because the emotional life was very similar.

What type of additional research did you perform to incorporate the real life of Almanzo into your TV character?

What I did was read some books about homesteading. Of course, we weren’t really dealing with homesteading the way homesteading occurred. Laura gave a very romanticized view of homesteading in her books because she was telling it from a little girl’s perspective and little girls have a sunny, open view of the world; at least Laura had a sunny, open view of the world. The book that I read really focused on how incredibly difficult life was for people…how hard it was to survive and how every day was a struggle. As I read and processed that material and then looked at what we were doing on a weekly basis, it wasn’t really the vibe that Michael was trying to create. Michael went for a little girl’s story; that’s what he was focused on. He was looking at the romance of what was in the books and allowing that romance to set the tone for what he was doing…everything from the set, the costumes, the music, and the locations. While not accurate (the locations) to Walnut Grove—they rarely resembled anything that Walnut Grove looks like—he captured the ideal romance of those places and what the imagination might tell you it could be like. That’s what he was able to capture.

I was trying to factor in how brutal and rugged and how desperate these people were to survive. Michael didn’t want people with dirty faces and dirty feet. He wanted food on the table. He wanted people to see a happy, positive life experience in this very rustic, simple environment. And that’s what he focused on. I think that’s what made the show so charming to people. That combined with the emotional life that he brought to it—Michael was a very emotional guy and he had a lot of emotional stories in him. This was the conduit for that place in his life where he could go to that and write about that and then he could fashion those stories to make them appropriate for our show. The emotional stories he wrote were far from the life that he lived as a child. He had a deep well of stories to tell. Between Michael’s stories and David Rose’s music it was sure to be a tear-jerker every week. I think it was David Rose who made audiences cry most of the time. David Rose wrote these beautiful melodies—these gorgeous, romantic, lyrical melodies that absolutely carried people away week after week after week. It was this wonderful cathartic experience. We had sadness but it was not desperate sadness, it was heartfelt sadness. I have a feeling that most of the actual homesteading experience was closer to what Laura experienced at the Brewster School in These Happy Golden Years. I think there were people who were just desperately unhappy being out there. They were just so desperate to get their piece of the American Dream that they were willing to endure everything.

That just wasn’t the show Michael wanted to make every week. We were doing something else. We touched on those themes but that was not the regular diet that we were going to be on. Michael wanted romance, he wanted touching, he wanted heartfelt, he wanted tears, he wanted laughter, and he placed these characters in that kind of an emotional world. The audience loved it then and they still love it today. That’s what I am always incredibly proud to have been a part of.

There are very few episodes of Little House that I can get through without crying. You wanted to be the Ingalls family despite their hardships, despite their struggles. You wanted Pa as your father and you wanted Ma as your mother. You wanted that experience.

You know, it’s interesting because Laura wrote so lovingly and adoringly about her father, but I don’t think that the real Charles Ingalls was the man that Michael Landon portrayed. At least that’s the sort of a sense that you get. Charles Ingalls was forever itchy to move to the next place always thinking there was something better around the corner and never quite content or able to make a go of it where he was. It made it very tough on his family. Yet, you don’t get that from the way Laura wrote it. She wrote it in this adoring way where you never get the feeling that she was anything but utterly, totally, completely supportive of everything her parents did and that she was loved and nurtured. Now, I have no doubt that she was loved and nurtured, but she was loved and nurtured in a very, very tough environment; much tougher than the way she wrote it and certainly much tougher than the way we portrayed it.

When you look at the sunup and sundown and beyond effort that was made by everybody in these families to get the things done; they just used every available minute of time. Yet, I think there is great comfort in that and I think what people respond to so beautifully in the books and from the series is that there is this sense that the families were bonded together. There is a romantic view of the family, that if we’re together, and if we stick together and work hard, we will survive and we will do well. We love each other so we are going to stand up for each other and help each other. That’s an inspiring and wonderful view to have.

We don’t have the life and death daily struggles today, but we are dealing with things that are every bit as challenging. Our comforts have created enormous challenges for us as a society and its led to alienation and isolation in our lives because we can do so much alone that it’s not about the family anymore. Because we are so focused on ourselves, and we can be so focused on ourselves because we can have time for it, it can lead to unhappiness and dissatisfaction because we don’t really have to focus on something that’s bigger than ourselves. It’s a tough circumstance for families and a tough thing for kids to grow up with. Those who are exposed to the Little House series and the books find themselves longing for that kind of life—where you need each other and care about each other and you depend upon each other to survive and to flourish. We’re very lucky if we have that emotional connection to each other today.

If you could go back in time and live when Almanzo did, would you do it?

I don’t know that I would. It’s kind of like asking someone to take someone else’s life, but I think most people would say, “No, I just want to live my life.” My life is now. One of the things I can do with my life is celebrate something that is very meaningful to people and is personally rewarding to people. This is one way I can use the gifts that I have today to help support and nurture something that is very pleasurable, meaningful, positive, hopeful, and optimistic. That’s a great deal of what my life is about as a creative person now.

Continue to Part 2

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Relative of Laura Ingalls Wilder Keeps Legacy Alive

Follow this link to read an article and view photos from Beth Ingalls-Leisses's trip to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Branson, Missouri. Beth toured some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead sites this summer with a group of Laura Ingalls Wilder enthusiasts.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura--New Video Trailer on YouTube

Dean Butler and Legacy Documentaries are getting ready to release Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura at the end of the month. Dean recently uploaded a new video trailer on YouTube to promote the upcoming release of this highly anticipated documentary.

While I have been waiting for months for the release of this DVD, I don't think I realized just how wonderfully done it would be. Garth Williams's illustrations from Farmer Boy have been animated, passages from the book are narrated by Katherine Cannon (Father Murphy and Beverly Hills 90210), and there are interviews with Little House historians William Anderson and Barbara Walker.

You can view this trailer here. Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura will be available exclusively at The Wilder Homestead in Burke, NY.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Following the Railroad: How the Iron Horse Changed the American Landscape (Part 1) Indian Country

Engraving by Vaningen Snyder and borrowed from

Here is another article that I had written for Prairie Fans a couple of years ago. With any luck, I will continue along with this series next month.

Following the Railroad: How the Iron Horse Changed the American Landscape (Part 1)
Indian Country

By Cheryl C. Malandrinos

In Donald Zochert’s biography titled Laura, he tells of a visit Charles Ingalls received from his sister Docia. Her husband, Hiriam was working for the railroad and Docia asked if Charles would be interested in moving to Dakota Territory to work with him. Even though his wife, Caroline was reluctant to leave Walnut Grove, she agreed to go.

The family settled into the Silver Lake Camp in 1879. According to William Anderson’s book The Story of the Ingalls, Charles performed clerical work for the railroad. During the winter, his family stayed in the Surveyor’s House and Charles traveled to Brookings in early 1880 to take a homestead, which would become the Ingalls farm. Charles had also been purchasing town lots in De Smet and in the fall of 1887 Charles, Caroline, Carrie and Grace settled permanently in De Smet, making it — as promised to his wife — their last move. Mary was away from home during this time, studying at the Iowa College for the Blind.

The railroad played a substantial role in the events that unfolded for the Ingalls family in the late 1800’s. Towns like Brookings and De Smet popped up across the country as the railroad worked feverishly to connect the East and West Coasts. Let’s take a look at how the railroad changed the American landscape.

There were many obstacles to building a transcontinental railroad — financing, selecting the most practical and economical routes, and the Civil War to name a few. But perhaps the greatest challenge to connecting the East and the West was Indian Country. This part of the United States was the only portion left unorganized after the Compromise of 1850. Indian Country ran from Texas to Canada and from the Missouri border to the Rockies. And it was obvious the U.S. Government intended to remove this obstacle to make way for the railroad.

In March of 1853, Congress authorized surveys to find which was the “most practical and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean.” And in August of the same year, President Franklin Pierce sent the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, George Maypenny to Indian Country to see if the tribes would agree to a territorial government which would relinquish their title to some or all of the land. Interestingly enough, Maypenny did not visit with the tribes located in the areas that were favored for the transcontinental railroad routes. Instead he spoke to the Omaha who resided between the Missouri and the Platte; and then moved south to speak with the Oto and Missouri, the Sauk and Fox, the Kickapoo, and the Delawares who were north of the Kansas River. Most of these tribes had been pushed across the Mississippi a few years earlier and were promised by the White Father that these new lands would be theirs “as long as the grass shall grow or the waters run.”

Most of the tribes signed the treaties Maypenny offered them, but about half of the nations refused to acquiesce to the pressure from the U.S. Government and instead accepted reduced reserves. Maypenny sometimes accepted partial cessions when tribes were especially stubborn. He also agreed that the ceded lands would be “administered by the United States in trust for the ceding nations; that the acres should be sold at public sale to the highest bidder and that they should not be offered at the usual minimum price of $1.25 until after the lapse of three years.”

Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois had a strong interest in the transcontinental railroad and he wanted the route to run through Chicago, which he saw as a great economic advantage for his State and home town. But this meant the railroad would have to run through Indian Country. To solve the problem, Douglas introduced a bill in January of 1854, calling for the organization of a huge new territory, known as Nebraska — west of Iowa and Missouri — which would open this portion of the country up to white settlement.

As Douglas suspected, the South opposed the bill because it made way for another free state. This new territory would be north of the Missouri Compromise line and therefore, closed to slavery. But Douglas added a provision to the bill stating that whether Nebraska was free or slave would be decided by the territorial legislature – a policy known as popular sovereignty. But Southern Democrats wanted more, so Douglas wrote an additional clause which withdrew the antislavery provision of the Missouri Compromise and also created two territories out of the area — Kansas and Nebraska. Few believed Nebraska would be open to slavery, but by having two territories instead of one, there was still hope that Kansas would become a slave state. The final draft of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed into law in May 1854 with the full support of the South and partial support from the Northern Democrats. The only portion of Indian Country left untouched was the section between Texas and the thirty-seventh parallel.

White settlement into the territories of Kansas and Nebraska was slow, and when the decade ended, only 107,206 people resided in Kansas and in Nebraska there were a scant 28,841. The Kansas-Nebraska Act did not put an end to the slavery question, nor did it promote emigration. But it was successful in removing the obstacle created by Indian Country. It seemed a railroad to the Pacific was inevitable.

This article copyright © 2006 Cheryl C. Malandrinos and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.

Resources used for this article:

* Donald Zochert, Laura (New York: Avon Books, Inc., 1976), pp. 130 – 131.

* William Anderson, The Story of the Ingalls (The Laura Ingalls Wilder Family Series) (Anderson Publications, 1971), pp. 10 – 11, 14 – 15.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 433.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 432.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 432.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Marieke van Ophem, “The Iron Horse: the impact of the railroads on 19th century American society” March 2003. 17 April 2006.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 435.

* Frederic L. Paxson, History of the American Frontier (Georgia: Norman S. Berg, Publisher, 1924), p. 436.

How to Get from Here to There in the 1800's

This article originally appeared on the Prairie Fans website. That site has been redesigned and the article is no longer available there, so I am posting it here. the tie-in into Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie is intentional.


How to Get from Here to There in the 1800’s
by Cheryl C. Malandrinos

When I think of transportation I imagine planes, trains, buses and cars. But travel options were limited for the pioneer. And while modern day plane crashes, train wrecks and automobile accidents do occur, the lack of technology left the pioneers more prone to regular injuries than his modern day counterparts. Let’s explore the three basic methods of transportation that were available during the 1800’s and the difficulties each one posed to pioneer families like the Ingalls.

Wagons and Stage Coaches

Ever wonder just how long it took Charles Ingalls to get from Walnut Grove to Mankato? According to Mapquest the towns are just over eighty-two miles apart. Under good road conditions a wagon could travel a whopping nine miles an hour, so the trip to Mankato would take more than nine hours out of his day. And while the television roads leading in and out of Walnut Grove may have been in perfect condition, it was closer to reality for the roads to be covered in mud or horse excrement. Heavy rains caused wagons to get stuck in quagmires, which cost drivers a great deal of time as they struggled to free their wheels.

The stage coach rides portrayed on television were also very different from the way things were in real life. On television we see the happy passengers chatting and enjoying their trip to wherever they had to go. But bad roads and drunk or impatient drivers caused frequent turnovers, and the passengers were often bounced out of their seats. For the unfortunate person who got stuck riding on top, this could mean a nose dive from the roof onto the ground.

Another challenge that drivers had to deal with was traffic jams. While most people think of these as modern day occurrences, the busy city roads were often crammed with wagons, carts, and carriages for nearly an hour. Policemen would come out with their whistles and direct traffic until the roads were cleared.


In a few episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Charles Ingalls or other members of Walnut Grove took the train to travel great distances, like the infamous trip to Chicago that signified the end of Mary’s engagement to John Jr.

Seeing a train rumbling down the tracks was exciting for nineteenth-century Americans, but people riding on trains in the 1800’s did not always experience the carefree rides that the Ingalls family did on TV. In addition to the fear of derailments and boiler explosions, passengers complained about the ashes and cinders spewed from the smokestacks, which often singed their clothes. People complained about the large number of livestock being run down and the possibility of accidents involving pedestrians at railroad crossings.

No one could deny the impact the railroad had on the American landscape and economic structure, but whether or not the impact was a good one is a discussion for another essay. Suffice to say, the Ingalls family was given the opportunity to travel farther, in a shorter amount of time after the first transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869.

Ships, Boats and Canals

While none of the Ingalls family could utilize the waterways from Walnut Grove, MN, steamboat travel was very popular after 1810. But even though passengers loved the conveniences offered while onboard, steamboats were not the safest means of transportation. Between 1811 and 1850 some 166 boats burned, 206 blew up, and 576 struck obstacles and sunk.

Stuck wanting to avoid steamboat disasters and uncomfortable rides on stage coaches; people began flocking to canal travel, which flourished in the 1830’s. Canal boats were small and could not offer the amenities of steamboats, but passengers didn’t have a fear of drowning in the shallow canalways. Due to the fast growth of the railroad however, canal travel became antiquated quickly and construction of new canalways stopped in 1840.

When thinking about methods of transportation in the 1800’s, a modern person like me is thankful for technology. After all, I did change jobs once because driving an hour round trip was too much. Laura Ingalls Wilder had the opportunity to experience some of that technology in her lifetime. I often wonder what she would have thought of modern day transportation, and if the elderly Mrs. A. J. Wilder would have been willing to ride in a jet plane to go visit her relatives.

This article copyright © 2005 Cheryl C. Malandrinos and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.

Some of the information contained in this article can be found in the following resource: The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800’s by Marc McCutcheon

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Survey!!!

Dean Butler and Peak Moore Enterprises is releasing a Legacy Documentaries production titled Almanzo Wilder: Life before Laura. This DVD that will be sold exclusively through the Wilder Homestead in Malone, NY covers the life of a young Almanzo before he met and married Laura Ingalls. Dean visited the Wilder Homestead several times with his crew to shoot scenes depicting Almanzo's early life and this DVD promises to be a great collector's item. Laura Ingalls Wilder biographer William Anderson also contributed to this documentary and some of Garth Williams's illustrations from Farmer Boy have been animated to provide a real look into Almanzo's childhood. Dean spoke highly of the talented actors who portrayed Almanzo and his family in the reenactments for this documentary and original music was composed that perfectly matches the time that Almanzo spent growing up on his father's farm.

Stay tuned to Laura's Little Houses to read my upcoming interview with Dean where he'll talk about Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, his passion for keeping Laura's legacy alive, and new projects that are sure to be a big hit with Laura Ingalls Wilder and Little House on the Prairie fans!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Featured Book of the Month

There are new titles coming out about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family all the time. It makes it hard for a writer with an interest in sharing Laura's story to come up with a unique idea that will be attractive to publishers. But that's exactly what Laura Ingalls Wilder biographer, John E. Miller did with Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little Town: Where History & Literature Meet.

As a review by Library Journal says, "Taking concepts such as place and community, freedom and control, and love and affection, Miller considers how they operate in Wilder's novels of prairie life..."

The amount of research Miller put into this book is evident and there are almost twenty pictures, maps, and diagrams--some of which I had never seen before.

Focusing on Wilder's By the Shores of Silver Lake and Little Town on the Prairie, Miller proves how Laura's novels are just as historically valid as nonfiction accounts of the time period because these are Wilder's experiences as a young pioneer girl growing up on the prairie--living history.

Other interesting portions of this book include:

* Miller's discussion on the controversy over Rose Wilder Lane's involvement in writing the first eight novels of the series

* The similiar historical contributions of Harvey Dunn and Laura Ingalls Wilder, though Dunn was a painter and Wilder a novelist

* And fact and interpretation in Wilder's novels

All this and more makes this one of the most interesting Laura Ingalls Wilder biographies I have ever read.

And the Survey Says...

The results are in for our favorite couples survey. Hands down, Caroline and Charles are your favorite couple from Little House on the Prairie. They received 44% of the vote. Laura and Almanzo (34%) and Nels and Harriet (12%) came in next. Also receiving votes were Mary and Adam, Grace and Isaiah, and Nellie and Percival.

Thanks for voting. Don't forget to vote in our current survey about whether you will purchase the new LHOP Complete Series on DVD Mega-Pack.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Working with Michael Landon by Kent McCray

Here is the last part of my interview with Kent McCray. I hope you've enjoyed our conversations about the classic TV show Little House on the Prairie, some of what it took to create the show that is more popular today than when it originally aired, and Kent's memories of Michael Landon--a man who is still loved and missed by millions who enjoyed the characters he brought to life in their homes each week.

He (Michael) was the greatest that anyone could ever work with and I respected his ability and how he worked. He and I were very close, as you probably know. I was best man at his wedding and he was the best man at my wedding. He always said that I was the brother he never had. We always had that very close relationship that grew out of Bonanza and Little House.

Michael had the final say in everything. He would tell me to hire the crew, to handle the production and he told me, and I can quote him: “you tell me what to do and where we work and that’s the day’s work we’re going to do” He and I had the same attitude - you hire the best people you can find for the job and then get out of their way. If you hire good people, they don’t need to be told what to do, they know what to do. I’m not going to tell a prop man how to be a prop man. I’m not going to tell a wardrobe person how to do wardrobe, and that goes for every department.

Many shows, even today, are run by a committee. We had no committee. Michael and I ran the show. If anybody in the crew had a problem they would come to me first. If I couldn’t answer the problem, we would both go to Michael and get a definite answer. A lot of shows used to have production meetings for every show, which means you would sit down with all the department heads, and go through the schedule for the show. If anybody had a question, it was answered. It took all these different department heads three hours to go do this, which was a waste of time. On the pilot of Little House, the pilot of Father Murphy, and the pilot of Highway we had a production meeting. After that, no production meeting. Everybody did their job. That’s the way Michael liked to work and he was respected by everybody.

When we worked on location many times in Sonora, we would have bad weather; I would get up around two-thirty, three in the morning and go out to the office and try to lay out a day’s work. The problem with working in Sonora is that if it rains and the roads are dirt, you can’t get your trucks in because of the mud. So there are certain places we could work off the main road and get into a barn or something. I would call Michael around three, three-thirty to come down to the office and I would say, “Okay, it’s raining…we can do this, this and this here.” I would always give him options of different things we could do in different places. And he would say, okay, we’ll go to Plan A or Plan B, and I would get the trucks and everything to shoot there and then we would go down to another location.

He was always accepting of change. As a matter of fact, he always said it was very exciting, because he liked to do something off the cuff. At the end of the day it wasn’t the day’s work we had planned, but it was a day’s work that we got done. Many times we did more work on a day like that than we did on a day that we had planned, because he grasped the opportunity and with the skill that he had he transformed and did things differently. We always got a day’s work done. I always respected Mike and I loved him dearly. Mike was quoted in many articles as saying: “Kent is the brother I never had and I love him” I can honestly say, I felt that way about him.

While Kent considers himself retired, his wife, Susan is very busy these days. Susan's popular show Getting to Know You airs Tuesdays on at 6:30 PM Pacific with a repeat performance on Thursdays. You will find a schedule of upcoming interviews at In addition, Susan wrote a book about the young life of her father, Academy-Award-winning composer, Harry Sukman and recently compiled a CD of her father's work with the Vincent Falcone Trio. A new tribute CD titled Warm Heart, Cool Hands - Sukman Gold is also in the works. You'll find additional details and ordering information at