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.

 

 

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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.

Half-pint:

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:

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.

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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.

Beth:

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.

corn

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.

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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.

Family:

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.

TV Show Truths: Eliza Jane Wilder

As I mentioned in the last post, many characters in the TV show “Little House on the Prairie” are based on the characters from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book series, Little House. An interesting character to look at is Miss Eliza Jane Wilder, Almanzo Wilder’s older sister. In the TV series, Eliza Jane comes to town with her brother Almanzo at the beginning of Season Six. This is similar to when Eliza Jane moved to De Smet, Dakota Territory, with her younger brother Almanzo and her older brother Royal.

Homesteading:

Eliza Jane Wilder filed the claim on her land in 1879, but did not move to it permanently until around 1882; meanwhile, brothers Almanzo and Royal were working and living on their own claims, nearby. It was the fall of 1882 when Eliza Jane started teaching in De Smet (Pioneer Girl 241-42). In the book, Little Town on the Prairie, Laura also mentions Miss Wilder having a claim and a shanty just beyond the schoolhouse (149). The TV show condensed the different stages of the Wilders moving to De Smet in order to move the plot along; however, in Season Six Almanzo lives with his sister, Eliza Jane, instead of them living separately like they did in real life and the books.

Teaching:

In the TV series Miss Wilder first appears as Walnut Grove’s new teacher and Laura quickly takes a liking to her brother Almanzo. Then in the episode “Back to School,” where Eliza Jane and Almanzo first appear, Laura pretends to forget something in order to talk to Miss Wilder with the hopes of meeting her brother. A similar situation occurs in the book, Little Town on the Prairie, “Almanzo often brought [Eliza Jane] to the schoolhouse in the morning, or stopped after school to take her home. And always Laura hoped that Miss Wilder might, perhaps, sometime, ask her for a ride” (LTOP 149). At this point in the book series Laura had already met Almanzo when he took her to and from the Brewster school, but it provided the basis for Almanzo picking up and dropping off Miss Wilder at school. In real life, there is no account as to if this happened or not; however, the TV show did follow the book.

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Eliza Jane, pictured above, in her 60s.

Regarding Eliza Jane there is a discrepancy between her character in the TV show versus the book. Laura portrayed Eliza Jane as a mean school teacher who lacked control of the classroom in her book series. In Pioneer Girl, Laura also discussed how Miss Wilder lacked control of the classroom and that she did not believe in punishment, except for when it came to Laura and Carrie (246-47). The book, Farmer Boy, also gives some insights into Eliza Jane as a child. Laura described Eliza Jane as a strict, bossy older sister, which is explicitly shown in the chapter “Keeping House” (203-227). Even though that chapter shows Eliza Jane at her worst, it also shows her at her best, when she covers up the black polish mark in the parlor for Almanzo.

In the TV show, the producers cut Eliza Jane some slack and made her a more likeable person. She was still strict in the TV show, mentioning that she would give the students a zero on their homework if it was not turned in on time; and Willie, in away took Laura and Carrie’s place and always was punished. However, overall, she was a more amiable person than she is in the books.

TV Show Truths: Mr. Edwards

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.

Victor French

Victor French as Mr. Edwards – Picture Credit imdb.com

 

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.

Illustrating the “Little House” Books

As I mentioned in the last blog post when Garth Williams was first approached to re-illustrate the Little House books, he was not too sure about the idea. If you are just now tuning in for the first time look back to the last blog post to learn about Garth Williams, the man behind the famous Little House drawings, and his life prior to illustrating a children’s classic. The reason Williams was not sure about illustrating the Little House books is because he was accustomed to drawing animals, which he was very talented at drawing. He was not certain about taking on the task of depicting Laura Ingalls Wilder’s real life.

Little House Books:

At first Williams did not want to accept the offer, but after the editorial persistence he decided to go for it (William Anderson LORE 16,1). In order to properly illustrate Laura’s books, he set out on a tour across Laura’s territory. His first stop was Laura’s house in Mansfield Missouri. The journey started in 1947 when both Laura and Almanzo were still alive. At the Wilder’s farm, Rocky Ridge, he had a chance to sit down with both of them and hear some of the stories firsthand. Williams described her as “’very cheerful, sprightly, very much alive at eighty’” (qtd in Anderson 19,2). He also said that Laura was very helpful but not concerned about how he illustrated the books. From there Williams set out on a track to follow the Ingalls footsteps in order to personally see the places Laura wrote about in her books. On his trip Williams stated that “’illustrating books is not just making pictures of the houses, the people and the articles mentioned by the artist… the artist has to see everything with the same eyes’” (qtd. in Garth Williams, American Illustrator: A Life 69-70). After visiting all of the places in Laura’s books he then went to Italy to finish his big project. The project took him about six years to complete and then the re-illustrated series was then released in 1953, just four years before Laura’s death in February of 1957. The re-illustrated Little House books pushed the series into vast popularity and helped turn the books into the children’s classic that they are today.

Later Life:

In the 1960s Williams decided to move to Guanajuato, Mexico, where he purchased a 400-year castle. The castle was a good find and needed so work which Williams put in. He ended up transforming the place into a “huge, fortresslike residence and studio” (Anderson LORE 19,2). His property also included some unique features including fountains, a waterfall, and living and dining room that seated up to 150, along with cathedral arches. In 1974, he married Leticia, and she became his business manager. Williams spoke very highly of Leticia as his manager and enjoyed being able to spend more time on his artwork. The family, however, did not spend all their time in Mexico. They ended up splitting their time between Guanajuato, Mexico and San Antonio, Texas. Unfortunately, on May 8, 1996 Garth Williams passed away in Guanajuato, Mexico.

In his lifetime, Williams illustrated just under one hundred books and is remembered most for his illustrations in Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and the Little House book series.

If you are interested in learning more about Garth Williams’ life check out Garth Williams American Illustrator: A Life. We also have a series of Christmas ornaments with Garth Williams’ illustrations on them. We currently have ones for By the Shores of Silver Lake, The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, These Happy Golden Years, The First Four Years, and our latest release, Little House in the Big Woods.