When Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing her Little House series in the early 1930s, she probably did not imagine there would be numerous museums established in many of the places and homes that she lived in. She also did not likely fathom that years later, we would consider her one of America’s famous children’s authors.
Today, there are a wide variety of Laura fans, the ones who love the books, the ones who love the TV show, and the ones who love Laura’s real life. Of course, there are also fans, like me, in the middle who like a mix of all three. There are a few Laura fans that are very critical of the TV show as a lot of the Ingalls’ life has been fabricated for Hollywood; however, not everything in the TV show is incorrect, there are many people, events, and items in the TV show that were accurate based on the books and even based on her real life.
When looking at the characters, of course Ma, Pa, Mary, Laura, Carrie, and Grace are all true to the books and real life. Earlier in the year some blog posts were written to debunk some of the myths about the TV show “Little House on the Prairie.” In those blog posts they discussed how Albert, Cassandra, and James were not adopted by the Ingalls family. Also, characters like Adam Kendall and Percival Dalton, Mary and Nellie’s husbands respectively, were not real characters. Even though these characters were not real, many of the characters in the TV show were in the books or from the Ingalls’ real life. To start this series off I am going to look at a favorite, Mr. Edwards.
Mr. Edwards is a character in the TV show who is also in the book; however, his specific character has not been found in the Ingalls’ actual history. The pilot movie of “Little House on the Prairie” stays very close to the description Laura Ingalls Wilder gives of Mr. Edwards in her book Little House on the Prairie. In both the family makes his acquaintance in Kansas where the Ingalls are building their new home, Laura really admired Mr. Edwards; one reason was because “he could spit tobacco juice farther than Laura had ever imagined that anyone could spit tobacco juice” (LHOP 63). Mr. Edwards also loved to dance and sing. In the book, Mr. Edwards asks Charles to play the fiddle for him as he leaves, so Pa plays the song “Old Dan Tucker” which the girls, Laura and Mary, and Mr. Edwards sing as he leaves to go home.
The TV show picks up on this, as it is in a way Mr. Edwards theme song. Edwards sings it while he works and when he is in a good mood, which would then add a little hop in his step. Another part about Mr. Edwards that the TV show accurately did, was the Ingalls’ Christmas in Kansas. Edwards crossed the freezing creek on Christmas Eve to bring presents, from Santa, to Mary and Laura. He also brought Ma sweet potatoes for her to cook for Christmas supper. Edward’s visit that Christmas Eve made a lasting impression on the Ingalls family.
The TV show does expand upon Mr. Edwards role as he becomes a lifelong family friend of the Ingalls; however, he was rooted in the Mr. Edwards that Laura wrote about. Now that we know that Mr. Edwards comes from Laura’s books, where did Laura create the character of Mr. Edwards, was he a real person? This is a hard question because there is no conclusive evidence as to who Laura based the character of Mr. Edwards on. In Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, Laura called the man who brought them Christmas presents in Kansas Mr. Brown (16). However, there is not a Mr. Brown or Mr. Edwards in the 1870 census of Rutland Township, near Independence, Kansas, but there is a Mr. Edmund Mason. Mason was a bachelor living close to the Ingalls cabin, which many people believe to be the Mr. Edwards/Mr. Brown.
There is also another thought that Mr. Edwards is not just one person and instead he was a combination of people who impacted the Ingalls life in a positive way. This thought came from The Long Winter, where Mr. Edwards slips Mary a 20-dollar bill that she used towards college (113-114). In Pioneer Girl, Laura mentioned that when the railroad camp, by Silver Lake, was getting cleaned up Uncle Hi, Hiram Forbes, gave “Mary and handful of bills” (174). Thus, it is possible that Mr. Edwards giving Mary the money in The Long Winter was based off Uncle Hi in real life.
Who is right, the TV show or books? The answer is neither, but the two did stick together and convey a very similar Mr. Edwards.