Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas to all my prairie loving pals. Wishing you a happy and healthy New Year!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Trundlebedtales Walnut Grove Hosting 40th Anniversary Event

Join host Sarah Uthoff and Walnut Grove museum director Amy Ankrum as they talk about the major event the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum and the Walnut Grove Pageant are planning for next July in honor of the 40th Anniversary of the "Little House on the Prairie" TV show. We'll talk about what's happening, who's coming, and what to expect. Ankrum will be coming off the five site meeting and will give us all the latest Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum news. Tune in with your questions.

Call in Tuesday, October 29 starting at 10 PM to (714) 242-5253 or toll free 1-877-633-9389 or chat while you stream live episodes

Iowa-based Sarah S. Uthoff is a widely respected authority on Laura Ingalls Wilder. She has been visiting Laura’s homesites in the Midwest on a regular basis since 1983. Much in demand as a speaker on Laura and other topics, Uthoff has presented at several of the homesites and is on the Humanities Iowa Speakers Bureau. She’s been involved in several historical preservation endeavors, most recently running a national campaign to identify letters penned by Laura. A reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Uthoff is an editor of and frequent contributor to the Homesteader. She maintains her own web site at Trundle Bed Tales.

Friday, September 20, 2013

2014 LHOP 40th Anniversary Cast Reunion in Walnut Grove

Next year is the 40th Anniversary of Little House on the Prairie. Talk around the Internet says several reunions are planned. The only one I have any real knowledge of is the one taking place in July in Walnut Grove. It coincides with their annual Wilder Pageant. A Facebook group has been set up for anyone who is interested in learning more: 

Here is the current list of stars scheduled to appear:

Hersha Parady - Alice Garvey
Charlotte Stewart - Mrs.Eva (Beadle) Simms
Alison Arngrim - Nellie Oleson
Dean Butler - Almanzo Wilder
Lucy Lee Flippin - Eliza Jane Wilder
The Greenbush Twins - Carrie Ingalls
The Turnbaugh Twins - Grace Ingalls

Sunday, August 18, 2013

One-Room Schoolhouse Dedication Event with LHOP Cast Members

Join Ingalls and Wilder biographer, Bill Anderson, along with Little House on the Prairie cast members, Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder) and Lucy Lee Flippin (Eliza Jane Wilder) at the One-Room Schoolhouse Dedication Event this coming Saturday, August 24th,  at the Wilder Farm in Burke, New York.

Take a self-guided tour of the new schoolhouse. There will be period activities and demonstrations, food, music, games, and book and DVD signings. Admission fee is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 6 - 16, and free for children 5 and under.

This event runs from 10AM - 4PM, and the dedication ceremony is planned for 1PM. Visit the Wilder Homestead website for more information at

Monday, August 12, 2013

Chicago Tribune Articles States 'Little House' Series Still Resonates

Not that this will be a surprise to fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder, but the Chicago Tribune ran an article on Friday stating the classic 'Little House' books still hold the interest of youngsters today. You can read the article in its entirety at,0,4287331.story?page=1&goback=%2Egde_4482088_member_265017347

Friday, August 9, 2013

New Release: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Walnut Grove by William Anderson

Just released - Laura Ingalls Wilder's Walnut Grove by William Anderson. 

"This book traces the history of Walnut Grove as it was known by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the establishment of the town's Museum and annual Wilder Pageant, and the steady stream of visitors who stop by to revel in reminders of the heartland's past. Walnut Grove is a town with a story to tell. Full color."

Available at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, MN.

Director David Gordon Green Working on Big Screen Wilder Project

The books of Laura Ingalls Wilder are coming to the big screen. There have been rumblings about this for a while, but news that director
David Gordon Green is working on the film adaptation is probably the most concrete evidence of an ongoing project.

You can read a news article about the project here. Not a great deal of information, but we'll see what else develops.

Friday, August 2, 2013

A Wilder Rose by Susan Wittig Albert

In 1928, Rose Wilder Lane—world traveler, journalist, much-published magazine writer—returned from an Albanian sojourn to her parents’ Ozark farm. Almanzo Wilder was 71, Laura 61, and Rose felt obligated to stay and help. To make life easier, she built them a new home, while she and Helen Boylston transformed the farmhouse into a rural writing retreat and filled it with visiting New Yorkers. Rose sold magazine stories to pay the bills for both households, and despite the subterranean tension between mother and daughter, life seemed good.

Then came the Crash. Rose’s money vanished, the magazine market dried up, and the Depression darkened the nation. That’s when Laura wrote her autobiography, “Pioneer Girl,” the story of growing up in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, on the Kansas prairie, and by the shores of Silver Lake. The rest—the eight remarkable books that followed—is literary history.

But it isn’t the history we thought we knew. For the surprising truth is that Laura’s stories were publishable only with Rose’s expert rewriting. Based on Rose’s unpublished diaries and Laura’s letters, A Wilder Rose tells the true story of the decade-long, intensive, and often troubled collaboration that produced the Little House books—the collaboration that Rose and Laura deliberately hid from their agent, editors, reviewers, and readers.

Why did the two women conceal their writing partnership? What made them commit what amounts to one of the longest-running deceptions in American literature? And what happened in those years to change Rose from a left-leaning liberal to a passionate Libertarian?

In this impeccably researched novel and with a deep insight into the book-writing business gained from her own experience as an author and coauthor, Susan Wittig Albert follows the clues that take us straight to the heart of this fascinating literary mystery.

Coming soon!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell

This was a book we recently picked up from the library. We haven't read it yet, but I wonder if the author was a Laura fan and used this to create a modern story for today's girls.

Camp Frontier promises families the "thrill" of living like 1890s pioneers. Gen will be thrilled if she survives the summer stuck in a cabin with her family and no modern amenities. But ever the savvy teen, Gen sneaks in a phone and starts texting about camp life. Turns out, there are some good points-like the cute boy who lives in the next clearing. But when her texts go viral as a blog and a TV crew arrives, Gen realizes she may have just ruined the best vacation she's ever had.

Age Range: 12 and up
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens; Reprint edition (May 24, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599906775
ISBN-13: 978-1599906775

Available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Guest Post: Farming on the Great Frontier by Lisa Wilson

The books of Laura Ingalls have been entertaining and enchanting young readers for generations, due in part to the adventurous life portrayed on the great frontier. The life they led was not an easy one. It was full of the everyday challenges farmers face today such as generating good crop growth, but on the wild frontier the challenges seemed far greater. Laura documented her early life as part of a pioneer family and her books still educate readers today about the hardships often endured during the 1800s in the Midwest.

On the Ingalls Farm

Laura was one of five children born to Charles and Caroline Ingalls. The children’s parents worked hard to ensure the family’s survival on the plains. The couple shared chores such as managing and milking the cows and making butter and cheese from the dairy produced. They also planted gardens on the farm, killed hogs and smoked the meat. They made sugar from maple sap and soft leather from the hides of deer. Charles farmed his land, working hard all day he set animal traps and shot wild game. Caroline managed the garden and was in charge of the house and the family’s clothes.

The family endured severe blizzards that ravaged the town and they ran out of food and also wood to heat the house. To make flour they would grind their wheat in a coffee grinder and used hay for heat.

One of the worst challenges was the loss of their crops due to locust plagues that ravaged the plants two years in a row. 1874 was named the Year of the Locust in the West. The insects swarmed over several states including Minnesota, Dakota and Wyoming, and they decimated the Great Plains. The Rocky Mountain locusts ate the crops, the leaves from trees, all the grass, even the wool from the sheep. The locusts thrived on the drought that had already made pioneering farming a nightmare for families. After a hard winter during 1873 to 1874, and the dry summer that followed, farmers were looking to the skies for rain, but the plague of locusts came instead, leaving nothing in their wake.

When Laura grew up and married Almanzo Wilder, they began farming as a young couple and struggled against harsh weather conditions to harvest their crops. Hailstorms destroyed the Wilder’s wheat crop and soon afterwards their barn burnt down with all the grain and hay inside it. The couple then lost their crops to drought, two years in a row, followed by the tragic death of their baby son.

Life on the Prairie for Pioneers

An American Professor of History at Yale University wrote his award winning book, Small Places, Wider WorldsSugar Creek and Settler Colonialism in North America, about life for pioneer farmers in the Midwest during the 1800s. He researched the topic by talking to descendants of the farmers and exploring the history of the area of Sangamon County. The Great Plains were thought of as an ideal place for men but not for women and oxen. The women had to help farm, planting and harvesting the vegetables, picking and spinning cotton to darn the clothes with, cook and keep house, tend to the children and animals and make soap, butter and candles. While the men went on long hunts with friends, the women had little time for companionship with their own friends because they were so busy on the farm.

The diet of pioneer farmers was fairly simple and consisted of wheat, beans, coffee, sugar and game that was hunted and captured. Food was seasonal, as there were no fridges or freezers. Breakfast was likely to have included corn bread, boiled eggs, fried potatoes or hot cakes. Occasionally it might include pork chops or sausages. Potatoes lasted through the year and were served at most mealtimes. Pigs were farmed to raise money and farms often had a smokehouse to preserve the pork.

Back to Basics: Farming Today       
Pioneer farming may seem like a world away from the industrial age we live in today, but with processed, pesticide ridden food stocked on supermarket shelves comes an awareness that a healthy, simple diet is better for us. The pioneer farmers ate bread, potatoes and vegetables that were free from chemicals and their meat did not contain the antibiotics commonly found in beef today. The media celebrates new terms for foodies such as 'clean cooking,' which means going back to basics with recipes and using only natural, locally sourced food. It makes sense. The pioneers enjoyed a basic diet with all their food grown on the farm. They did struggle with plagues of locusts and droughts during the summers, but their diet was simple and healthy.

Today, bills are passed in Congress to support America’s small farms as the demand for organic, locally sourced food rises. Organic dairy farming is growing day by day, and for farmers it is proving to be a sensible investment, while consumers are appreciating knowing what exactly goes into their milk and other dairy products. Natural whey has far greater health benefits than processed alternatives, as it does not contain pesticides found in dairy products from cows that do not feed on natural, chemical free land. Organic farmers achieve sustainable farming with good quality soil and natural techniques. The back to basics farming ideals are a return, in many ways, to the techniques used in pioneering farming. We now have the technology to manage farms more efficiently than our ancestors, but with our understanding about how a healthy diet helps our lifestyles we are craving more naturally sourced, preservative-free food, bringing us closer to the pioneer days of farming on the Great Plains.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guest post: Beyond The Silver Lake: Pioneer Girl Reveals Truth about Mary’s Blindness by Lisa Wilson

There is a line that epitomizes the moment that Mary Ingalls lost her sight in 1879, at the age of 14. It comes from the novel ‘By the Shores ofSilver Lake’. Laura writes:

Mary and Carrie and baby Grace and Ma all had scarlet fever. Far worst of all, the fever had settled in Mary’s eyes and Mary was blind.

Scarlet fever was a serious disease back in the 1800s and as many as 30 percent of children suffering from it died. It was used as a literary device in many novels of the era, with readers able to relate to the fever and how fatal it could be. In Little Women, Beth succumbs to scarlet fever and dies tragically, and the child in the Velveteen Rabbit also contracts it. Mary Ingalls' blindness being caused by the fever seems highly plausible.

Recently, however, newevidence has come to light that scarlet fever may not have been the cause of Mary’s blindness at all. In all likelihood it was viral meningoencephalitis, or ‘brain disease’ as it was known then.

Laura’s Memoir helped Researchers

The popularity of the Little House books remains strong today, with 3 being cited in the School Library Journal’s 2012 list of favorite children’s books, and this is the reason so much interest has been sparked about the revelation behind Mary’s illness.

Scarlet fever, even today, is received with dread, as parents overreact to news that their child has the infection, reports NBCNews. Many parents connect scarlet fever to literary classics such as Little Women or Little House on the Prairie, when in fact today it is likened to strep throat with a rash. In the 1800s, however it was a different matter. Scarlet fever ravaged towns, preying on young children' with a particularly bad epidemic hitting Fredericksburg in 1861, claiming at least a hundred lives, according to a resident. The disease hit a poignant chord with the nation and this is why it has been used as a popular literary device ever since.

Dr Tarini, writing in the journal Pediatrics, has been studying newspapers of the era as well as epidemiological data about blindness to come to her findings with her co-authors. They also found Laura Ingalls’ memoir Pioneer Girl to be incredibly useful when collating their research. Laura wrote a letter to her daughter in 1937 about Mary’s illness, and how a doctor had called it ‘spinal meningitis (sic) some sort of spinal sickness’. In all likelihood, Tarini reflects, the disease was changed before the novel went to print to make it easier for children to understand, as scarlet fever was already known to so many. Tarini believes that the meningoencephalitis affected the optic nerves in Mary’s eyes, causing her vision loss.

The Reality of Pioneer Life

The Little House books have a wholesome appeal for so many and are a beloved part of our culture and history, but pioneer life was far from easy, and this is reflected in Laura Ingalls’ memoir. Themes of alcoholism and violence pervade the Little House books, bringing a real sense of dark reality to the stories.

Alison Gazarek writes about Laura in Bloom magazine. As a young adult, Laura carried a revolver around with her when she spent time in Florida because of the tension there, and she worked in a hotel in Iowa where she witnessed alcoholism and occasional violence. These events had an impact on her writing. Along with scenes of Indians visiting Walnut Grove, crop failures and plagues of grasshoppers, there are tensions between characters, with occasional alcohol abuse being prevalent in certain chapters that is also portrayed in the television series.

Chronic consumption of alcohol was common in the 1800s, with many believing that it was good for the health. Americans would consume alcohol at different points of the day (called ‘eleveners’) instead of coffee or tea, and laborers would stop in the fields for a jug. Whiskey was considered ‘absolutely indispensable to man and boy’ in the 1800s and was seen as being as important as bread. In the 21st Century, addiction is seen as a very serious and destructive illness and sufferers receive the best help available, from withdrawal centers such as those in Idaho, with full support from their families. This is a far cry from the pioneer attitudes of the 1800s, when whiskey was truly believed to be vital to a man’s constitution.

Laura Ingalls’ account of pioneer life is a fascinating reminder of the past, and we can see how the serious themes of a harsh frontier experience seeped into the memorable Little House books.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Books by Daniel D. Peterson for Laura Lovers

Thirty-four poems and photographs describing historical aspects of the small town of Walnut Grove, MN.

ISBN 9781300876359
Published March 29, 2013
Language English
Pages 69
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white 

SRP: $10.00

Booklet one in a series of booklets on important events and people that shaped both the small community of Walnut Grove, Minnesota and southwestern Minnesota. This booklet deals with the great fire of 1903 that destroyed the entire south side of Main Street.

ISBN 9781304006110
Published May 10, 2013
Language English
Pages 35
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white

SRP: $10.00

This is booklet number two in a series of booklets about events and people that shaped Walnut Grove and all of Southwest Minnesota. It is "The Diphtheria Epidemic of 1880."

ISBN 9781304043559
Published May 15, 2013
Language English
Pages 47
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white

SRP: $10.00

This booklet is the history of the issue over the use of alcohol from the early days up until Prohibition in the small town of Walnut Grove. It looks at the temperance organizations, saloons, and those that made and enforced the laws.

ISBN 9781304056665
Published May 20, 2013
Language English
Pages 43
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white 

SRP: $10.00

This is booklet number four in a series of booklets: "The Masters' Hotel: Walnut Grove, Minnesota." This booklet examines the Masters' Hotel and Masters family and its role they played in shaping the small pioneer village of Walnut Grove.

ISBN 9781304058188
Published May 20, 2013
Language English
Pages 60
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white 

SRP: $10.00

"Civil War Veterans: The Early Foundation of Walnut Grove, Minnesota," examines the lives of Civil War and Dakota Conflict veterans Elias Bedal,Charle Loring Webber,Byron Mordant Knight, Frederick Fayette Goff, Jacob Thode Tillisch, Leonard Hathaway Moses, and John Bernard Leo, before, during, and after their service in the military. This is done through letters written during the time and other sources. It also lists all other known veterans to play a part in the growing of Walnut Grove with photos and service information. The booklet also include general information on both the Civil War and the Dakota Conflict of 1862.

ISBN 9781304094391
Published June 1, 2013
Language English
Pages 74
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white

SRP: $10.00

"What Happened to Those People Laura Ingalls Wilder Wrote About About?" is booklet number five in series of booklets on important people and events that shaped Walnut Grove, MN history. It focuses on the people mentioned in her manuscript "Pioneer Girl." 

ISBN 9781304123381
Published June 9, 2013
Language English
Pages 133
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white

SRP: $13.00

A short booklet that examines all aspects of the invasion of the Rocky Mountain Locust in the region and state from the years 1873-1877.

ISBN 9781304134929
Published June 12, 2013
Language English
Pages 32
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white

SRP: $7.00

Previously by this author:

A history of the area that would become Walnut Station, then Walnut Grove from the earliest days to the present. It covers almost every aspect of community life in this small town in Minnesota.

ISBN 9781257948321
Published August 8, 2011
Language English
Pages 603
Binding Perfect-bound Paperback
Interior Ink Black and white 

SRP: $35.00

All these books are available on Lulu®.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder DVD Now Available at Legacy Documentaries Site

photo credit:

Now available for purchase from Legacy Documentaries is the "untold story of Laura’s life from both a fictional and historical perspective." Little House on the Prairie: The Legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder is the story of one of the world's most beloved children's authors. With her Little House series, Laura Ingalls Wilder captured the pioneering spirit for generations of young people.

Dean Butler portrayed Almanzo Wilder on the classic family drama, Little House on the Prairie. As president and executive producer at Peak Moore Enterprises, Butler's Legacy Documentaries brand and his continued interest in Wilder's legacy led to the documentary DVD release of Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura, in addition to bonus content for the Little House on the Prairie TV show DVD set. Now, Wilder fans can add to this collection with a new DVD about Wilder's life that includes "literary and history experts, excepts from the Little House books, Helen Sewell illustrations, dramatic reenactments, digital animations, archival photographs and a beautiful original score."

Visit to purchase this DVD. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday, March 8, 2013

This Day in History During Laura's LifeTime

In the ninety years that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived, she witnessed or read about many events. I thought it might be interesting to mention some historical events that took place in America and abroad during Wilder's life. Here is what happened on March 8th.*

1884 - 1st performance of Edward MacDowell's 2nd Piano suite
1884 - Susan B. Anthony addresses the U.S. House Judiciary Committee arguing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote. Anthony's argument came 16 years after legislators had first introduced a federal women's suffrage amendment
1887 - Everett Horton, CT, patents fishing rod of telescoping steel tubes
1894 - The state of New York enacts the nation's first dog-licensing law
1896 - Volunteers of America forms (NYC)
1898 - Richard Straus' "Don Quixote," premieres in Keulen
1900 - NL decides to go with 8 teams. They exclude Baltimore, Cleveland, Louisville & Washington (in 1953 Boston Braves move to Milwaukee)
1902 - 1st performance of Jean Sibelius' 2nd Symphony
1904 - Hugh Trumble takes a hat-trick in his final Test Cricket match
1906 - Stanley Cup: Ottawa Silver 7 sweep Smiths Falls (Ont) in 2 games
1908 - Dutch utopist Frederick of Eden speaks in Carnegie Hall, NY
1910 - Baroness Raymonde de Laroche of Paris is 1st licensed female pilot
1911 - 1st International Woman's Day. International Women's Day is launched in Copenhagen, Denmark, by Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women's Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany.
1913 - Federal League organizes with 6 teams
1913 - Internal Revenue Service begins to levy & collect income taxes
1915 - 1st US navy minelayer, Baltimore, commissioned
1916 - US invades Cuba for 3rd time, this to end corrupt Menocal regime
1917 - Russian revolution breaks out [OS=Feb 24] (in Petrograd)
1918 - The first case of Spanish flu occurs, the start of a devastating worldwide pandemic.
1920 - Denmark & Cuba join the League of Nations
1921 - Spanish Premier Eduardo Dato Iradier is assassinated while exiting the parliament building in Madrid
1924 - Coal mine explosion kills 171 at Castle Gate Utah
1927 - Pan American Airlines incorporates
1929 - US worker union commission reports of slavery in Liberia
1930 - Mahatma Gandhi starts civil disobedience in India
1930 - Babe Ruth signs 2-year contract for $160,000 with NY Yankee GM Ed Barrow, wrongly predicts "No one will ever be paid more than Ruth."
1934 - Edwin Hubble photo shows as many galaxies as Milky Way has stars
1936 - The first stock car race is held in Daytona Beach, Florida
1939 - Lenore Coffee & William Joyce Cowan's "Family Portrait," premieres
1941 - 1st baseball player drafted into WW II (Hugh Mulcahy, Phillies)
1942 - Japanese forces captures Rangoon Burma
1942 - KNIL, Dutch colonial army on Java, surrenders to Japanese armies
1943 - 335 allied bombers attack Neurenberg
1943 - Limited gambling legalized in Mexico
1943 - US Ladies Figure Skating championship won by Gretchen Merrill
1943 - US Mens Figure Skating championship won by Arthur Vaughn
1944 - US resumes bombing Berlin
1945 - "Kiss Me Kate" opens in Britain
1945 - 53 Amsterdammers executed by nazi occupiers
1945 - International Women's Day is 1st observed
1945 - Phyllis M Daley is 1st black nurse sworn-in as US Navy ensign
1946 - 1st helicopter licensed for commercial use (NYC)
1948 - Supreme Court rules religious instructions in pub schools unconstitutional
1949 - WAGA TV channel 5 in Atlanta, GA (CBS) begins broadcasting
1949 - WBAP-FM, Fort Worth Texas, begins broadcasting
1950 - 1st woman medical officer assigned to naval vessel (BR Walters)
1950 - Marshall Voroshilov of USSR announces they developed atomic bomb
1951 - Intl Table Tennis Federation bans Egypt (for refusing to play Israel)
1952 - Antoine Pinay forms French government
1953 - "Two's Company" closes at Alvin Theater NYC after 90 performances
1953 - Census indicates 239,000 farmers gave up farming in last 2 years
1953 - KSWO TV channel 7 in Lawton, OK (ABC) begins broadcasting
1953 - Patty Berg wins LPGA Jacksonville Golf Open
1953 - WFMJ TV channel 21 in Youngstown, OH (NBC) begins broadcasting
1954 - Herb McKinley sets quarter mile record of 0:46.8 in Melbourne, Australia

* Source for this information is

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Funny Valentine

I couldn't help but think of The Long Winter when I saw this.  Happy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Happy Birthday Almanzo!

Oh, how my life would be different if Laura Elizabeth Ingalls had never met Almanzo James Wilder. I would never have met many of my online chums. Historic sites would never have existed. And television shows and movies about life on the prairie as seen through the eyes of a young girl might never have been inspired by a set of books that might never have been written.

Thankfully, a young Laura Ingalls did meet the dashing hero we read about in The Long Winter. Almanzo Wilder would court her. He would go and fetch her from her teaching job with his beautiful Morgan horses. And a couple of years later, the two would marry.

Now, we have books, televisions shows, movies, and annual events to remember the legacy created by the Wilders. We are grateful for all this pioneer family has meant to us. We are thankful for the small screen portrayals of Almanzo that actors Dean Butler and Walter Goggins brought us.

On Almanzo's 156th birthday, we fondly remember everyone's favorite farmer boy. Happy birthday, Almanzo!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Happy Birthday, Laura!

Happy 146th birthday to Laura Ingalls Wilder! Her work has brought many wonderful people and experiences into my life.

I joined Prairie Talk many years ago, where I met other Laura fans. That led to me creating a Yahoo Group for Dean Butler with the goal of bringing him to the World Wide Web. Once Dean created his Legacy Documentaries website, he also shared with us how he was creating a documentary about Almanzo Wilder, which can me ordered through the Wilder Homestead. Butler's Little House on the Prairie work did not stop there, however. He created a documentary about Laura that has been viewed at Laura Ingalls Wilder events around the country, and worked on the Pa's Fiddle project, which was showcased on PBS during last year's pledge drive, and is now available for purchase.

I'm also part of another LHOP forum, where I talk with fans from all around. The funny thing is that I know them from other forums, too: Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman and Downton Abbey.

While I came to the books later in life, Michael Landon's Little House on the Prairie was an always watched show in our house while I was growing up. Between reruns, fan fiction stories, and forums, my love for Laura Ingalls Wilder's work continues to grow.

Hope you'll join Sarah Uthoff tonight to celebrate Laura's birthday at She'll be talking with fans on her show tonight about Laura Ingalls Wilder effected our lives and our favorite Laura related memories and experiences. Show starts at 9PM Eastern/8 PM Central. You can all in at (877) 633-9389.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Little House on the Prairie - Historical or Fictional Characters

Every once in a while, a question will come up about characters on television's Little House on the Prairie. Since the show was based upon Laura Ingalls Wilder's books, some not familiar with Wilder's real life aren't sure which characters are historical figures and which were created solely for the show. Here's a good place to start.

The Ingalls family included: Caroline and Charles and their children Mary, Laura, Caroline Celestia (Carrie), Charles Frederick (Baby Freddie), and Grace. Popular characters though they were, the Ingallses never adopted an orphan boy named Albert or the Cooper children.

Mary Ingalls went blind as a teenager. Her hopes of being a teacher were quickly dashed. While she was sent away to a college for the blind and learned many things, she never married. She remained single, living with her parents until their deaths (Charles in 1902 and Caroline in 1924), and then with Grace and her husband in the Ingallses home in De Smet. She died in 1928 while visiting her sister Carrie. So, Adam Kendall was a made for TV husband.

Reverend Edwin Hyde Alden was minister of the Congregational Church in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Known as Robert, the real life minister who started the church in Walnut Grove, was a home missionary with a wife and daughter back east. He rode the train west and preached in New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Barnston, Walnut Grove, Saratoga and Marshall. He would preach in schoolhouses, private homes, and railroad depots. He was known to have built small chapels and churches in pioneer communities.

When the Ingalls family was staying in the Surveyor's House in De Smet, Reverend Alden visited them. He had left Minnesota and entered the missionary field in Dakota. The community wasn't yet know as De Smet, but Reverend Alden held the first church service ever held there right in the Surveyor's House. He would stop by De Smet during his journeys, holding services in an unfinished depot until a new minister was appointed, Reverend Edward Brown.

Dabbs Greer played Reverend Alden on Little House on the Prairie. He traveled to other communities, just like his real life counterpart. He was single in the show, however, until Season 6, when he married widow Anna Craig.

Kevin Hagen played kindly Doctor Baker on the show. He is not based on any real life character that I know of. When the Ingalls family lived in Kansas, a black homeopathic doctor named George Tann treated them for malaria.

In the television show, Doc Baker took care of everyone's aches and pains. He delivered babies and acted as the town's veterinarian. In Season 8, Doc Baker decides he needs some help, so he hires African-American doctor Caleb Ledoux, who moves to town with his wife, Maddie. Racist sentiments in town almost drive them away, but they agree to stay in Walnut Grove, though we never see them again.

After the pilot episode, the Ingalls family leaves Kansas and journeys to Walnut Grove, Minnesota. Though the real life Ingalls family only stayed in Walnut Grove a couple of years (1874 - 1876) before crop failures forced them to leave, and then returned again for another two years (1877 - 1879), living in town before moving to their final home in De Smet, South Dakota, the majority of the show took place in Walnut Grove.

When the TV Ingalls and the real life Ingalls stop at Plum Creek, they purchase a dugout house on the banks of the creek from Mr. Hanson. Mr. Hanson was a Norwegian settler who itched to go west, but on television, he was one of the founders of Walnut Grove, and remained there until his death.

Mr. Edwards was a neighbor of the Ingalls family when they lived in Kansas. A bachelor, originally from Tennessee, he lived across the creek. Identifying who he was and what his occupation was is difficult. In Donald Zochert's book Laura, he says he might have been J.H. Edwards, who ran Ed's Saloon and dealt in "liquor and cigars" in Fort Scott, but Zochert says that would make him too far away to be the man Wilder mentions in her books.

In the show, the character of Mr. Edwards is first introduced in the pilot, helping the Ingalls family and befriending Laura. They have a teary-eyed parting when the Ingalls family is forced to leave Kansas, but Mr. Edwards shows up in Walnut Grove. This time, he has a backstory: his wife and daughter died and it was his fault for moving them so far away from medical help, which accounts for his excessive drinking. 

Nellie Oleson, while featured in the books and on the television series, was a totally fictional character made up by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She is a composite of three of Wilder's classmates: Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. Nellie Owens had a brother named Willie and her parents (William and Margaret) ran a mercantile in Walnut Grove. Sound familiar TV lovers?

I hope you have enjoyed this discussion. Comments are always welcome.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Is Lady Edith the Mary Ingalls of Britain?

Like millions of others, I am caught up in watching Downton Abbey. Some time in Season 2, I heard about this fabulous period show on PBS and had to check it out. I loved it so much, I watched the episodes I missed on the PBS website, continued through to the end of the second season, and eagerly anticipated the start of Season 3 on January 6th.

With Lady Mary and Lady Sybil both married, the attention suddenly falls to Edith in the second episode. The middle, and often forgotten, child of Lord and Lady Grantham, is excited to finally be in the limelight. As she prepares for her wedding to Sir Anthony Strallan, it seems like the sun has finally shone on her.

But just like Mary Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie seemed to be a magnet for tragedy, Lady Edith never seems to get what she wants. The creator of Downton Abbey is also the series creator, Julian Fellowes. I'm truly beginning to think he dislikes Edith, because how much bad stuff can happen to one character? With Mary Ingalls it was numerous health conditions, going blind (historically accurate), and losing two babies. With Lady Edith, not only does love seem to elude her, she's always looking for it in the wrong places. Not to mention that she's overly snarky. She despises Lady Mary enough to try and ruin her reputation, and can't even manage to be kind to Mary on her wedding day, rambling something about her older sister getting a man with good looks and position before slipping out of the room. Some might wonder if she deserves what she gets. After all, she did once try to get between a man and his wife.

One also has to wonder if Lady Edith will ever be happy for long, or if like Mary Ingalls, her happy times will be clouded over by horrible tragedies that her mother tells her will make her stronger.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Depressing LHOP Christmas Episodes?

At one of the Little House on the Prairie forums I belong to, we got into the discussion about the lack of Christmas episodes. The show aired back when annual Christmas episodes were not the norm, so that's not surprising. Considering the locations where the show was filmed, it's also understandable that more episodes didn't have snow. One forum member made a comment that most of the Christmas episodes, ones where you would expect to see snow, are depressing. My immediate thought was to refute what she said. But in thinking more about it, she's not really wrong. Let's take a look at the Christmas episodes or scenes.

The first time we see the Ingalls celebrate Christmas is in their log cabin in Kansas. Mr. Edwards crosses the river to deliver presents for Santa Claus. The entire episode is a dramatic one, and at the end, the Ingalls will be forced to pack up their belongings and move because the government has redrawn boundaries and the farm is now in Indian territory.

The Christmas scenes in the Pilot are probably some of the sweetest Christmas scenes we see. Mary is the good girl, patiently waiting to take down her stocking, while Laura can barely control the urge to peek inside.  When a snow-covered Mr. Edwards arrives, little Carrie calls him Santa. Ma, who didn't like Mr. Edwards, finally sees there are some redeeming qualities to the gruff man who frequents saloons.

By the time we see an Ingalls Christmas again, the family has moved to Walnut Grove and is living on the banks of Plum Creek. This is an exciting time, as family members secretly work on presents for each other. Laura is perplexed on what to give Ma, but when she learns what she truly wants--a stove--she makes a deal with Mr. Oleson to buy it for her. Unaware of Laura's plan, Pa is making a saddle for Laura's pony, Bunny. He's also working hard to refurbish a set of wheels for a customer of Mr. Oleson's so that he can buy the stove for Caroline.

It doesn't take long for this happy, exciting time to become sad. The deal Laura makes with Mr. Oleson involves selling Bunny to him so he can give his daughter, Nellie, the pony that she has always admired. It breaks Laura's heart, and when Caroline discovers what Laura has done, she is saddened to know what her daughter gave up.

With Laura giving a stove to Ma, Charles now has no gift for his wife. Oh, and in case I didn't mention it, Charles didn't get a gift from his wife either. Seems Mary and Caroline liked the same bolt of fabric so much that they both made Pa a shirt from it. Rather than disappoint Mary, she tucks hers away.

Overall, the episode reminds us to focus on family, not gifts, so it's classic Little House on the Prairie. Definitely a great episode, but the loss of Bunny makes it a bummer, even if it is temporary, as Laura gets Bunny back in a future episode.

Much of season three is filled with dramatic episodes. So it should come as no surprise that this Christmas episode is filled with angst and tragedy. The school is turned into a hospital on Christmas Eve, when a quick-moving blizzard catches the school children unaware on their way home. Miss Beadle is filled with guilt, having allowed the children to head home early because of the flurries.

The men in town set off in groups to round up the children. Mr. McGinnis foolhardily ventures out in only a light coat and dies while searching for his son, a tragedy that could have been avoided if he had only taken one of the warmer coats Mr. Oleson offered him. To this day, I still feel like kicking him in the shins for refusing the coat.

Most of the children have been accounted for except the Ingalls girls and Carl and Alicia Edwards. When Charles and Isaiah Edwards find the girls in an abandoned shed, they go their separate ways--Charles back to the school and Isaiah continuing to search for his children.

By morning, the storm is over and Charles rallies the men to prepare to go out and find Isaiah and his family.  The door bursts open and Isaiah and his children enter to the hugs and rejoicing of all, especially his wife, Grace, who has been at the school helping Doc Baker care for the others. When Charles turns around, he spies Mrs. McGinnis and her son glumly looking on. He walks to the pulpit, where he reads the Christmas story from the Bible. Even the music for this episode drips depressing, though the Bible story is the perfect reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made for us.

It will be season eight before another Christmas episode occurs. All the stops were pulled out for this one. Special music fills this happy episode where family members share stories of Christmases past while snowbound at the Ingalls homestead. Mary and Adam Kendall, who had moved to New York so Adam could find work at his father's old law firm, return to spend Christmas with the family and Hester Sue. Caroline tells of a special Christmas where she came to accept Papa Holbrook. Almanzo shares the Christmas that he almost stopped believing in Santa Claus. Laura shares the story of Christmas in Kansas, and Hester Sue tells a story of life as a black child during the early years of the Civil War, when her Papa made a surprise delivery as Santa Claus.

I'm fairly certain the real pioneers wouldn't be too happy about having that much snow, but it made for a fun episode. This one remains my favorite.

When the series was cancelled, they ran three post-series movies, which included a Christmas one titled, "Bless All the Dear Children." Almanzo, Laura, Rose, and Isaiah Edwards travel to Mankato to shop for Christmas. John Carter gives Almanzo money so he can shop for his family too. While there, Rose is kidnapped by a distraught woman who has recently lost a baby. They also run into a orphan boy named Samuel, who hides away in their wagon and ends up helping search for Rose.

In Walnut Grove, Jenny spends time with Mr. Montague and the Carters, hoping and praying for Rose's return. Jason Carter is concerned about making enough money to buy his mother a special gift, and John Carter isn't sure what kind of Christmas it will be if the Wilders don't find Rose and return in time, while Mr. Montague is determined not to give in to the commercialization of Christmas by putting up a tree and buying gifts.

I'm not fond of episodes that take place outside of Walnut Grove anyway, but this one especially bugs me because of the modern theme of the commercialization of Christmas running through it, which required other residents of the town to be more focused on gifts, and the absence of Harriet Oleson, who was in the hospital and unable to be home, but still managed to send Nancy a mountain of presents.

This has always been my least favorite Christmas episode. The ending is too sappy, even by LHOP standards, and the attention to detail was lacking. It's wintertime in Minnesota, but everyone is walking around without coats on and some have their sleeves rolled up. What does make this episode special, and what makes it classic Little House, is how everything turns out okay--Rose is found, Samuel gets a home with the couple who lost their child, and Mr. Montague plays Santa and delivers presents to Jenny and the Carters--and the theme that family and friends are the most important gifts of all.

Now that we've run down all the Christmas episodes, what's your verdict? Too much angst? Just the right mix? Do the messages of the happier episodes outweigh the drama and tragedy in the others?