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.


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.


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.


Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte- A Pioneer for Native Americans and Female Physicians

The Omaha Indian Reservation in 1865 was a place caught between two worlds: the modern, White world, and the traditional world its residents had lived in for hundreds of years. In a log cabin on the Northwest side of the reservation, a place more conservative Omahas called “Village of the Make-Believe White Men”, an 8-year-old girl named Susan was tasked with watching over a sickly elderly neighbor while messengers went to find the white agency doctor. The woman was in agonizing pain, but the doctor ignored all four messages pleading for his help, and young Susan watched the woman eventually succumb to her illness. It was then that Susan realized that for her people, something was going to have to change.

Susan La Flesche Picotte was born on June 17th, 1865, on the Omaha Indian Reservation. She was the youngest of four daughters born to Chief Joseph La Flesche (Iron Eyes) and Mary Gale (One Woman). Both of her parents were mixed Omaha and white, and so Suan grew up caught between two worlds. As a young child she was educated in a mission school on the reservation. She later received education at the Hampton Institute, one of the first universities for people of color. During her time at the Hampton Institute, Susan was advised by a mentor to attend medical school. With this mentor’s help, Susan secured a scholarship from the U.S Office of Indian Affairs, making her the first person to attend college on a federal grant. Susan graduated from the Pennsylvania Woman’s Medical College at the top of her class, becoming the first Native American Female physician in the country.

Susan returned to the reservation she was born on, medical degree in hand. On the reservation, she was responsible for some 1,200 people and was on call 24 hours a day. As one of the few female doctors and the only Native American one in the country, Susan faced discrimination and hostility from some of her patients. Nevertheless, she threw everything she had into their care. Susan was paid ten times less than an Army or Navy doctor with the same amount of patients, yet she was still forced to pay for her own supplies when the Indian Affairs Office ran out, which was often. She was sole doctor within a 1,350 mile radius, and was often forced to walk several miles to reach her patients. Beyond her capacity as a physician, Susan often found herself acting as a parent, lawyer, advocate, and teacher. SusanLaFlesche

Through all of this, Susan’s dream remained opening a hospital on the Omaha reservation. While she worked on that, she also advocated tirelessly for hygiene and disease prevention standards to be raised on the reservation, and for the rights of Native Americans to be recognized as legal citizens. In 1894, she married a Sioux man named Henry Picotte, and the two moved to Bancroft, Nebraska. Susan opened a private practice there, treating both white and native patients, while also raising two children. Her husband Henry suffered from severe alcoholism, and Susan was often forced to care for him alongside her patients until his death in 1905 from tuberculosis. This experience sparked a lifelong passion in Susan for the American Temperance Movement. She was considered controversial for her condemnation of the scourge of alcohol available on reservations across the country.

As a Native American woman, Susan knew well what it was like to have her knowledge and experience discounted right off the bat. Even as a child, her goal was to help her people. “It has always been a desire of mine to study medicine ever since I was a small girl,” she wrote years later, “for even then I saw the need of my people for a good physician.” In 1913, Susan finally achieved her lifelong dream of opening a modern hospital on the Omaha Reservation. She would end up passing away just two years later from what was believed to be bone cancer. Her tireless work on behalf of the Omaha people led to a legacy of activism. She was at the forefront of many causes of Native Americans and is considered a trailblazer of the women’s movement in the United States. The hospital she worked to open remained open until the late 1940’s, at which point it became a museum dedicated to Susan La Flesche Picotte and to the history of the Omaha people.

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.

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Victor French as Mr. Edwards – Picture Credit


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.

Book Recommendation- Hattie Big Sky

Author: Kirby Larson

For readers like me who are interested in reading more about the life of Homesteaders in the American West, there is a Newbery Medal-winning book that is perfect for us. The hero of Hattie Big Sky, Hattie Brooks, is a 16-year-old girl living with an aunt and uncle in Iowa during WWI. She has been moved from relative to relative since she was orphaned at the age of five, and she’s tired of never having anywhere to put down roots. When a distant uncle dies and leaves her his unproven homestead in Montana, Hattie jumps at the chance to make her own home. As a sixteen-year-old solo homesteader, Hattie faces more than her share of struggles. With the help of her kind neighbors and her own inner strength, Hattie proves to herself and everyone else that she is capable of anything. Hattie Big Sky and its sequel, Hattie Ever After, are stories about one courageous, resilient girl, and the opportunities she took advantage of in the West.

Rose Wilder Lane’s San Francisco Home

For years as a tour guide in Burr Oak, IA, Laura Ingalls Wilder fans had shared stories with me about their own “Little House” site adventures. As a child, it was a goal of mine to visit each of the well-known sites which I accomplished back in 2012. After years of hearing visitors’ stories about their experiences at some of the lesser known sites the family lived at, such as Westville, Florida; Cuba, New York; Danbury, Connecticut, etc., I decided to start a new goal. This fall I finally had the opportunity to visit San Francisco and see Rose Wilder Lane’s home.

Rose Wilder moved to San Francisco in 1908 and married Claire Gillette Lane on March 24, 1909. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1918; they had no surviving children.

In 1915, Laura Ingalls Wilder, visited San Francisco, California, to spend time with her daughter who was a reporter for The Bulletin, a local newspaper. Wilder wrote letters home to her husband, Almanzo, describing her time in California and her experiences at the Panama Pacific International Exposition, aka The World’s Fair. These letters were later complied into the book, West from Home.

During this time, Rose and her husband lived in a neighborhood called Russian Hill, which was a part of its original “Seven Hills of San Francisco.” Russian Hill is located just north of Nob Hill and south of Fisherman’s Wharf. Many people know Russian Hill from one of its famous streets, Lombard Street, which is considered the most crooked street in the world.

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The home of Rose Wilder Lane around 1915.
1019 Vallejo Street, San Francisco, CA.

In 1906, an earthquake and fire destroyed some of the neighborhood. Over time, the goat path was replaced with a terraced stairway and today, as you descend the stairs to Taylor Street you will find a small park sits at the top of the hill on Vallejo Street.  The Russian Government dedicated a plaque in the park, in honor of the men who were buried on Russian Hill.

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Russian Government’s plaque in honor of the men buried here.


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A close up of the English side of the plaque.

During my visit to San Francisco, I was able to see Rose’s home and enjoy the park. Visitors may enjoy views from several directions including, the east bay area with the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge and Alcatraz. Other notable residents of the neighborhood include several writers: Stewart Alsop II, Gelett Burgess, Neil Cassady, Jack Kerouac and Mayor Gavin Newsom.

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The view from Rose’s home looking at the East Bay Area.

Read more about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s experience in San Francisco: 

For more information about Rose’s home visit:

For more information about Laura at the Panama Pacific International Exposition visit:


Ida B. Wells- Pioneer for Black Female Activists

In May of 1884, a young woman named Ida was traveling home to Memphis from Nashville on a first-class train ticket. She was on break from Fisk University, where she was continuing her studies after taking a break to be a teacher. About halfway through her trip, Ida was approached by a porter who asked her to move to the back of the train, where African American passengers were required to ride. Ida, who had paid for her ticket to sit in first class, refused. When the porter returned with another man to threaten her into action, she still refused. When the two men attempted to physically remove her from the train, she fought back and bit one of them on the hand. Ida was eventually forced off the train. Rather than simply accepting what had happened to her, Ida let the incident fuel a fight in her that would someday take her to the White House and beyond.

Ida Bell Wells was born the oldest child of slaves on July 16, 1882 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Six months after her birth the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, but life for African Americans in the South was still rife with racism and discrimination. Ida’s parents were active in the Republican Party during the years of Reconstruction, and her father James helped found Shaw College, a school for freed slaves. Ida would eventually receive her early schooling there, but she was forced to abandon her studies in 1879, when both of her parents died in a yellow fever epidemic. Sixteen-year-old Ida suddenly found herself the sole caregiver of her five siblings. To keep her family together, Ida convinced a country school administrator that she was 18 in order to start teaching school. Her resourcefulness got her family through until they were able to stay with an aunt in Memphis, where Ida was able to continue going to school at Fisk University, a historically black college. At Fisk, Ida quickly gained a reputation as an outspoken supporter for women’s rights.

It was on one of her trips back and forth to school that Ida found herself forced off the train. Outraged, she hired a black lawyer in Memphis and sued the railroad company for $500. She won her case, but it was later overturned by the Tennessee Supreme Court. In response, Ida began writing. She published several articles in black-owned newspapers detailing the racial discrimination she and other African Americans faced in the South. She was a pioneer for black female journalists during a time when outspoken women, particularly outspoken black women, were not encouraged.

In 1889, Ida was devastated by the death of her friend, Thomas Moss, in Memphis. Moss owned a successful grocery store, and after an altercation with a mob Moss and two other black men were lynched. In response, Ida began an anti-lynching campaign. She conducted research into the causes of lynching cases and the ways they were justified. Ida published her findings in a pamphlet entitled “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All its Phases.” Her writing incensed many members of the white community in Memphis; soon after her articles began appearing in the anti-segregation publication Free Speech and Headlight, she received death threats and the newspaper office was trashed. None of this deterred her. Ida traveled the country and eventually to Europe, giving speeches and talks exposing the horror of lynching practices in the American South. She helped organized protests in Washington D.C, urging President Woodrow Wilson to pass stronger laws to protect for black people in the U.S. She spoke out out against the mistreatment of black people in the justice system, the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South, and discrimination faced by women.

During her long, distinguished career in journalism, Ida wrote about the world as she ida-b-wells---civil-rights-pioneersaw it, without shying away from harsher details. Her legacy inspired generations of activism and investigations into the practice of lynching in the South. As she wrote herself, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them”, and she embodied that practice her entire life.

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.