TV Show Truths: Competition Over Almanzo

One of the most memorable scenes in the “Little House on the Prairie” television series is  Laura and Nellie’s mud fight. Many Laura fans have raised the question: Did this really happen? The answer is no; however, Laura and Nellie did have some competition over Almanzo Wilder.

TV Show:

In season six of the TV series Almanzo Wilder comes to Walnut Grove along with his older sister, Eliza Jane. One day when Almanzo dropsEliza Jane off at school, Mrs. Harriet Olsen, Nellie’s mother, takes notice of Almanzo and thought that he would make a perfect match for her daughter who just graduated from the school in town.  Nellie seems to be a bit embarrassed by her mother’s actions, but goes along with it. On the other hand, Laura Ingalls falls for Almanzo right away, so there ends up being this competition between Laura and Nellie. Laura volunteers to cook Almanzo’s favorite dish, cinnamon chicken for Nellie and Almanzo’s first “date.” Due to the competition, Laura  uses cayenne pepper instead of cinnamon. Ultimately it ruins their date as Nellie and Almanzo’s mouths are burning after just one bite.

For Nellie to get back at Laura she lends Laura her books to study for the school certificate test. Nellie does not give Laura the history book because even though Miss Wilder said there would be a lot of history, Nellie said it was just to throw her off. Laura ends up failing the test because it is almost all history. After the test Laura runs into Nellie and amidst her furry, they get into a mud fight. Laura ends up winning because Almanzo comes by and picks Laura up to help her clean up and leaves Nellie in the mud.


In the books Laura and Nellie’s competition did not happen the same way it did in the TV show, it was a lot more civil. None the less, there was still some competition between the two. In Laura’s book, These Happy Golden Years, Nellie comes into the picture after Laura and Almanzo had already been on some sleigh and buggy rides together. One main difference between the books and TV show is that in the show Laura and Nellie’s competition starts early on, before Almanzo picks up Laura from her first teaching job. In the books, the competition between the two starts much later and it is after Almanzo picked her up from her first teaching job.

In These Happy Golden Years, Laura started going on buggy rides with Almanzo once he has a new buggy. Almanzo and Laura go on a few buggy rides themselves and then one Sunday Nellie Olsen shows up in the buggy. Nellie talks constantly about how much she loves buggy rides and how great his horses were. Laura could not stand Nellie but does not say anything about it. The next Sunday Nellie is in the buggy again when Almanzo comes to pick Laura up and Laura is not happy. During the buggy ride Laura is determined to have Nellies true colors show. First Laura lets the end of the dust robe flutter carelessly behind the horses, which scares the horses momentarily and scares Nellie as she exclaims that they were wild.

Second, Laura suggests to go by the Boasts and then asks to take new road north. The road ends up being “wet and boggy” and Nellie declares that “this isn’t any fun” (THGY 176). Laura executes what she had planned, she exposed Nellie Olsen’s true self. Once Almanzo drops Nellie off she suggests that they would go another way next week, but Almanzo just says goodbye.

When Almanzo drops off Laura she makes it clear to him that she will not go on anymore buggy rides with him if Nellie is going to come; he has to pick either her or Nellie. And when Sunday comes again there is Almanzo ready to take Laura for another buggy ride.

Real Life:

In Laura’s real life there was no Nellie Olsen. She was actually modeled off of three people, Nellie Owens, Genevieve Masters, and Stella Gilbert. In this instance, the real Nellie Olsen was Stella Gilbert. Almanzo started giving Stella rides because she worked hard and it would be nice for her to have a break. Laura was fine with it at first, but then “Stella’s smugness gave her scheme away to me. She was trying her best to edge me out of drives” (Pioneer Girl 301). Laura then started to maneuver the drives so they would end closer to Stella’s house and Almanzo would have to drop her off first. One day when Almanzo was dropping Laura off she gave him the same ultimatum that she gives him in the books. The main difference is that in Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography Laura is more confident that Almanzo will come back for her and in the book, These Happy Golden Years, she is not confident that Almanzo will come for her.

Unfortunately, the mud fight scene from the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series did not happen in real life. That being said, Almanzo still had multiple admirers who wanted to get behind his beautiful team and tried to edge Laura out. Even though each aspect is a little different, with the TV show being the most dramatic, all three convey the “competition” Laura had when courting Almanzo.


TV Show Truths: Courting

Wagon and Sleigh Rides:

In the “Little House” television series, Almanzo offers to drive Laura to and from the school she is teaching at in order to see her family on the weekends. This is true to Laura’s accounts in her book, These Happy Golden Years, along with her real life. In Season Six of the hit TV show, viewers saw that Laura had been head over heels for Almanzo while he had seen her as a nice, young friend. Toward the end of the season, Laura gets the teaching job and Almanzo offers to pick her up every weekend and take  her back Sunday afternoon. At first Almanzo was doing this as a way to give his horses a workout, but as they spend more time together he begins to see Laura as more than just nice friend who is ten years younger than him.

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A cutter similar to the one Almanzo would have built on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society.

The idea of Almanzo driving Laura to and from school for the weekends came from Laura’s book, These Happy Golden Years. In that book and also in her real life Almanzo came to pick her up every weekend from school in the freezing cold of winter. The main difference between the TV show and Laura’s books and real life was that in the books and real life Laura was not interested in Almanzo. She made it clear to Almanzo in one of their sleigh rides that, “I am only going with you because I want to get home. When I am home to stay, I will not go with you any more” (These Happy Golden Years 62). Eventually after her school term was over, Almanzo was persistent and came back for Laura, a few weeks after, despite her request towards the end of their sleigh rides to and from the Brewster/Bouchie school. It was not until their sleigh rides to and from school ended that Laura slowly started to fall for him.

Age is Just a Number:

One factor that played a big role in Laura and Almanzo’s courtship in the TV show was Almanzo’s age. In the TV show and in real life Almanzo was ten years older than Laura. However, in the book series Laura made Almanzo only six years older than her. In The Long Winter, Laura notes that Almanzo was nineteen years old in October of 1880, when she was thirteen. This becomes an important fact because according to the Homestead Act the homesteaders were supposed to be twenty-one to file for a homestead. In the books Almanzo had to lie about his age to get his homestead (Long Winter 98-99). Laura may have made this change for two reasons, one being dramatic effect, Almanzo being man enough at nineteen to start his own homestead. The second reason was most likely just to shorten the age gap for her readers.

The TV show followed her real life regarding her age, which caused lots of issues for her father. He liked Almanzo as a man, but had a hard time getting used to Laura falling in love with him, due to the age difference. In the episode, “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not,” Almanzo asks Laura to marry him at age sixteen, which “Pa” has a fit over because he does not want his daughter to get married until eighteen. Now “Pa” did not necessarily have a rule like this in real life; however, Laura did not get married until she was eighteen and when Almanzo proposed her parents were very happy for her and had seen it coming (Pioneer Girl 307).

Role Reversal:

The biggest change in Laura and Almanzo’s relationship between the TV show and the Little House books and Laura’s real life is who pursued who. In the TV show it is Laura who first sets her eyes on Almanzo during the first episode of Season Six. Almanzo does not start noticing Laura as more than a friend until the end of the season. In real life and the books Almanzo pursued Laura starting when she was fifteen and teaching at the Brewster/Bouchie school. Then it was not until later, after she finished teaching her first term, that she started to fall for Almanzo. One thought as to why the TV show had Laura pursue Almanzo is because in the 1970s it would have come across as inappropriate if a twenty-six year old man was pursuing a sixteen year old young woman, even though this was completely acceptable in the 1880s.

Pioneer Cooking: Fried Apples’N’Onions


ingredientsThis is the recipe that Molly and I were anxiously awaiting. It sounds like an odd combination, as most of these pioneer recipes do, but Almanzo spoke so highly of it that we wanted to try it for ourselves. Fried Apples’N’Onions is mentioned in Farmer Boy as Almanzo’s favorite food:

… Almanzo said that what he liked most in the world was fried apples’n’onions.

When, at last, they went in to dinner, there on the table was a big dish of them! Mother knew what he liked best and she cooked it for him.

Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples’n’onions fried together. (73)

This recipe is on page 127 and 128 in the Little House Cookbook. Since the recipe is for six servings, we decided to cut it in half, as we were not serving that many people and we were not sure if we were going to love it as much as Almanzo. The recipe calls for bacon or salt pork and we used bacon as it was readily available to us. Then we used three tart apples and three yellow onions since we cut the recipe in half.

bread tipOnce you have all your ingredients ready, the recipe says to start frying the bacon. If multitasking is not your thing, you can start with the apples and onions like we did. When cutting the onions, the cookbook suggests holding a slice of bread in your mouth between your teeth to prevent you from crying. Molly tried it and did not find it helpful. I also would not recommend cutting the apples next to the onions like we did because by the end of it Molly and I were both crying.

chopping apples and onionsFor cutting that apples the recipe calls for a corer to core the apple and then cut it crosswise in circles. We had an apple corer that cut the apple into wedges, so we used that and then cut the apples into thinner slices. Once all the apples and onions were cut we fried the bacon, but again the cookbook says to fry the bacon and while doing that to start cutting the apples and onions. Either way will work, just do whatever you feel comfortable with.

After the meat is fried, keep a tablespoon of grease and pour out the rest. Then fry the onions in it for about three minutes. Once that is done add the apples and sprinkle some brown sugar over top. Cover the pan with a lid and cook the apples until they are tender, stirring periodically to prevent scorching.


Once the apples and onions are ready spread the mixture over the bacon or pork slices, which we broke into smaller pieces, and serve warm.

Molly and I were once again surprised, not necessarily that it was good, but that it lived up to all of Almanzo’s praises. If you are not an onion fan I would still recommend trying it as I do not like onions but did like this recipe and would eat it again!finished product

TV Show Truths: Laura Teaching

A favorite part of the books and TV show for many fans is the start of Laura and Almanzo’s relationship. The start of their relationship relates back to Laura’s teaching job in the books, TV show, and in her real life.

In the books and TV show Laura gets her teaching certificate at age fifteen, even though she is supposed to be sixteen before she can take the teacher examination.

LIW at 17

Laura at age 17, shortly after she started teaching. (Picture Credit: Laura Ingalls Wilder Home Association)

In both situations, the school district is desperate for a teacher that they do not mind that Laura is fifteen. There is a slight variation between the two though in the fact that in the book, Little Town on the Prairie, Laura does not tell the superintendent that she is fifteen because he does not ask her age (306). However, in the episode “Sweet Sixteen” it is made known to the superintendent that Laura is not yet sixteen, but she will be in two weeks. The superintendent then said that they could make the exception for her since she did pass her examination. Also, the timing between the book and TV show are slightly off as in Little Town on the Prairie Laura receives her teacher’s certificate on December 24, 1882 (306). The TV show is slightly off from this as Laura receives her teacher’s certificate roughly two weeks before her 16th birthday, which would have been around January 24, 1883. Despite the few discrepancies on the dates the TV show and book stay close to each other.

The problem arises when looking at Laura’s real life; there are actually a lot of conflicting information between Laura’s accounts in her books of her first teaching experience and what happened in her real life. Laura was still underage at the time she got her teaching certificate; however, it was a different situation. According to Laura’s teaching certificate she received it on December 10, 1883, therefore at this point Laura was already sixteen (Pioneer Girl 261). One might think that she was then of age to be a teacher, but that was not the case. Prior to 1883 the Dakota Territory had no age restrictions on school teachers. That changed in 1883 when the Dakota Territory made it mandatory for the superintendents to hold public teacher examinations for anyone over the age of eighteen. This meant that the legal teaching age was eighteen and not sixteen, as Laura writes about in her books (Pioneer Girl 260-61). There is some uncertainty as to if Laura deliberately made this change or if she had just forgotten and had the dates confused in her head.

There is one aspect that the TV show and books were correct on in relation to Laura’s real life. That aspect is the name of the superintendent who gave Laura her teacher’s certificate. All three say his name was Mr. Williams.

Even though the TV show and books did not follow Laura’s real life, they still kept the aspect of Laura being an underage teacher when she had her first teaching job. Stay tuned to the next post to hear about Laura and Almanzo’s courtship.



TV Show Truths: Nicknames

In the TV show, “Little House on the Prairie,” there are three big nicknames that are used throughout the series, half-pint and Beth for Laura and then Manly for Almanzo. These nicknames were not just made for Hollywood, they were real nicknames, or terms of endearment, that Laura and Almanzo had in real life.


Arguably the most famous nickname in the Little House series is Pa’s nickname for Laura, half-pint. This nickname is true in all three aspects: Laura’s books, her real life, and the TV Show. In Laura’s book, Little House in the Big Woods, this nickname makes its’ first appearance after Pa comes back from trapping. He exclaims, “Where’s my little half-pint of sweet cider half drunk up?” (LHBW 34). Laura then adds that Pa called her that because she was small. Throughout the rest of the series Pa normally just shortens it to half-pint. The name stuck with her even into These Happy Golden Years. In the TV show that nickname half-pint first appears in the pilot movie and is Pa’s nickname for Laura throughout the series. Starting in Season Six Laura wants to be treated as an adult. Pa says that when she is an adult he will stop calling her half-pint. In real life Laura’s nickname from Pa was also half-pint. In Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, Laura mentions how Pa called her his “little half-pint of cider half drank up” (29). This reference Laura recalls is very similar to her account in Little House in the Big Woods. The only big difference between the three is that according to Laura’s books Pa stops calling her half-pint once she is married and in the TV show Laura and Pa come to an understanding that he can still call her half-pint once she is an adult and he continues to call her that throughout the series.


Manly is Laura’s nickname from Almanzo, which has an interesting story behind it. In real life Laura and Almanzo exchange nicknames for each other when Almanzo first takes Laura for a sleigh ride, after her teaching term at the Brewster school.


Laura and Almanzos Wedding Picture

This exchange is almost identical to exchange of nicknames in the TV show. Pioneer Girl discusses how Laura needed a name to call Almanzo. Almanzo told her that his folks call him “Manzo” but his brother, Royal, calls him “Mannie.” Laura misheard him and said that she would call him “Manly,” like Royal. Almanzo then told her of the mistake but she decided to stick with “Manly” because she liked it the best (Pioneer Girl 277). The TV show has the same encounter in the episode “Back to School,” Laura mishears Almanzo and calls him “Manly,” the only difference is that it occurs when he is picking up Eliza Jane, his sister, from teaching school and not on a sleigh ride. Another intriguing part about this name is that in the book series Laura and Almanzo never exchange nicknames. Laura writes about her and Almanzo’s first sleigh ride in These Happy Golden Years; however, for some reason she decided to omit the part where they exchanged names. The nickname Manly does appear in Laura’s book, The First Four Years and receives no introduction, the reader is just supposed to know that Manly is Almanzo. I think that the reason for this sudden change may be attributed to its’ publication after Laura’s death and that she did not edit the book the same way she did the others. Overall what I found most interesting about the relationship between the books, TV show, and real life in regard to this nickname, is that the TV show is closest to Laura’s real life and not the books.


The nickname Beth is Almanzo’s nickname for Laura in the TV show. In real life Almanzo actually called Laura “Bessie.” Both of these nicknames originate from Laura’s middle name, Elizabeth. In real life Almanzo did not want to call Laura by her name because he had an older sister named Laura and did not really like the name (Pioneer Girl 277). This nickname exchange happened during the same sleigh ride where Laura decided to call Almanzo “Manly.” The TV show has the exchange happen slightly different and it does not occur at the same time Laura gives Almanzo the nickname “Manly.” This does occur in the same episode, “Back to School” however, it happens the next morning when Laura is walking back home because she “forgot” something. During Laura and Almanzo’s second meeting is when Almanzo mentions that Laura has a nickname for him, so he needs a nickname for her. He asks if she has any nicknames, which she responds saying that her Pa calls her half-pint. Almanzo says that will not work and asks her full given name, in which he chooses Beth from Elizabeth. In Laura’s book series, she never mentions Almanzo having a nickname for her and always refers to herself as Laura, even in The First Four Years. As for the change from “Bessie” to “Beth” there is no documented reason for the change; however, it is most likely that the change was made to better fit the time period in which the show was airing.

Pioneer Cooking: Parched Corn

The next step up from Lettuce Leaves with Vinegar and Sugar, Molly and I decided, was Parched Corn. The recipe sounded fairly simple and only used three ingredients: corn, butter, and salt.


Parched corn is on page 212 of The Little House Cookbook by Barbara M. Walker and shows up in Laura’s book, On the Banks of Plum Creek, when talking about her Thanksgiving.

“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 that had eaten their good, big Thanksgiving dinner, Laura and Mary could eat their grains of corn and remember the Pilgrims. Parched corn was good. It crackled and crunched, and its taste was sweet and brown.” (81)

Laura writes fondly of parched corn, so Molly and I thought we would try it, as it seemed simple enough to match our cooking abilities.


Molly and I (with a cameo by Molly’s grandmother) attempt to figure out the true meaning of “dried corn.”

The recipe calls for one ear of dried field corn or one cup of dried sweet corn. I would recommend getting an ear of corn and having it dry out before attempting this recipe. This is where Molly and I ran into a few problems. First of all, the local grocery store did not have ears of corn at the time, as the crop in South Dakota was not in at that time.. Instead we used a can of sweet corn and left it out to dry. By the time we were ready to make the parched corn, our canned corn was nowhere near dry enough.. We ended up having to bake it in the oven at 200 degrees for about 30 minutes. At that point, we thought it was dry enough and decided to parch it.oven

In hindsight, I would say if you are going the canned corn route to either give your corn about a week to dry out on a cookie sheet or just start by drying it in the oven, which is probably the fastest way.

Once you have your dry corn, the process is fairly simple from there. The recipe says to use two tablespoons of butter to cover the pan. Once the butter is melted, cover the skillet with the corn kernels. Then stovestir the corn constantly, as it begins to puff up and jump on the skillet (and, in some cases, right onto your face) You will do this for about 3-5 minutes or until it looks done. At that point, you can add some salt for flavor and then it is ready to eat! The taste is similar to popcorn, but with more of the corn flavor retained. I would definitely recommend eating it fresh though. We brought some in for our coworkers the next day to try and they were not quite as impressed as we were!final-product.jpg

TV Show Truths: Reverend Alden

Another classic favorite on the hit TV show is Reverend Alden. His character in the TV show “Little House on the Prairie” was based off the Reverend Alden in the book series Little House on the Prairie and from Laura’s real life.

Walnut Grove:

Reverend Alden, whose full name is Edwin Hyde Alden, first came to Walnut Grove as a pastor. He was traveling around to help establish churches in the Minnesota area

Dabbs Greer

Picture Credits: IMDb

including: New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Springfield, Walnut Grove, and Marshall. Due to his traveling, Reverend Alden only preached in Walnut Grove every few weeks (Pioneer Girl 72-73). Laura wrote about this in her book On the Banks of Plum Creek, “Three or four Sundays they went to Sunday school, and then again Reverend Alden was there, and that was a church Sunday” (188). The TV show also followed closely to the books and Laura’s real life, as Reverend Alden was not at church in Walnut Grove all the time, but he would come every few weeks. In the episode “Voice of Tinker Jones,” references were made to Reverend Alden’s monthly visits and how on the weeks that he was not there the elders would take turns preaching and the kids would have Sunday school.

De Smet:

In the TV show, Reverend Alden is present throughout all nine seasons and he continued to be present in the Ingalls real lives in De Smet as well. Reverend Alden was sent west to start new churches as he had done in Minnesota. It was with Reverend Alden that the Ingalls had the first church service in De Smet, which was held in the Surveyors house February of 1880 (Pioneer Girl 187-88). Laura also talks about the excitement of seeing Reverend Alden again in her book By the Shores of Silver Lake, “Laura could not say a word. Her throat was choked with the joy of seeing Reverend Alden again” (SL 215). The Ingalls and Reverend Alden were both equally surprised by their encounter by Silver Lake. Reverend Alden did not know that the Ingalls had left Walnut Grove and the Ingalls did not know that Reverend Alden was heading west starting more churches.


At the time the Ingalls met Reverend Alden in Walnut Grove in real life, he was married to Anna and had a young son named George (Pioneer Girl 73).  In Laura’s books, she never mentions Reverend Alden having a wife or family. The TV show did loosely follow Reverend Alden’s real life. In the episode “Preacher Takes a Wife,” Reverend Alden marries a woman named Anna. In the TV show, Reverend Alden was older than he was in real life and in Laura’s books. Due to him getting married later in life he did not have any children and he did not have a second marriage like he had in real life. Despite some of the changes, in the books, TV show, and real life, one thing that was not changed was Reverend Alden’s close relationship to the Ingalls family.