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.

Books:

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.

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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.

Bessie Coleman- A Pioneer For Black Pilots

Bessie was born Bessie Coleman on January 26th, 1892 in Atlanta, Texas. She was the tenth of thirteen children born to George and Susan Coleman, who were sharecroppers. Although her childhood was undoubtedly a difficult one, Bessie was a happy child, and an extremely intelligent one. She had to walk four miles back and forth to school everyday to her one room, segregated schoolhouse, but she excelled in math and was an avid reader. When she was still a young child, her father, who was half-Native American as well as black, left the family to pursue better economic opportunities in Oklahoma. Susan Coleman and her children elected to stay in Texas, and Bessie often ended up pitching in to help with her younger siblings or to pick cotton. 

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Bessie completed her schooling up to the eighth grade, and then she began saving for college. In 1910, Bessie entered the Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University, but she was only able to attend for one term before her money ran out. Bessie, who always had her sights set forward, saved up again and moved to Chicago, where she lived with her brother and opened a manicurists shop. One day her brother, looking to tease her, told Bessie that women in France were doing something that Bessie could never do- fly a plane. In response, Bessie began learning French.

Just a few months later, Bessie crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a steamship. She was going to be trained as a pilot at the Ecole d’Aviation des Freres Cadron et Le Crotoy, the most prestigious flying school in France. Seven months later she passed the test for her international pilot’s license, making her the first licensed black female pilot in the world. Bessie returned to America intent on purchasing her own plane and starting a flying school for African Americans. However, she soon ran into money problems. She found that pilots could make more money performing stunt shows on rural tour circuits, Bessie_Coleman_and_her_plane_(1922).jpgknown as barnstorming. She returned to France in 1922 for advanced aviation training, and began touring as soon as she returned to the U.S. Bessie performed dangerous stunts like wing-walking and parachute jumping to amazed crowds all across the country.

Throughout her increased popularity- among both black and white Americans- Bessie remained true to her goal of increasing equality for African Americans in the world of flying. She refused to perform in a show that didn’t allow black and white people to enter through the same gates, and insisted on desegregation for her audiences. She encouraged fellow African-Americans to fly, believing that “the air is the only place free of prejudice.” Unfortunately, Bessie did not live to see her dream of opening a flight school for black pilots. By 1926, Bessie had finally made the last payment on her own plane, a used model with a lot of engine troubles. One night, she and her mechanic took the plane up in the air for a test run before a show in Jacksonville, Florida. Over three hundred feet in the air the plane malfunctioned, and both Bessie and the mechanic were killed in the crash.

Thousands of people showed up to Bessie’s funeral, held in Orlando, and an additional 15,000 showed up in Chicago to pay their respects. The poor, black daughter of Texas sharecroppers grew up to inspire an entire country in her short life. She proved that not only could black women fly planes, but that they could excel at it. Her legacy inspired black flying groups like the Five Blackbirds, the Flying Hobos, and the Tuskegee Airmen. Her fight for racial equality in the skies caused her to break boundaries, and makes her a true pioneer.

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.

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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.

 

 

Book Recommendation- Young Pioneers

Author: Rose Wilder Lane

Many readers may not know that Laura’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, was also an author of some renown. Although Rose mostly focused on newspaper articles and serial stories, she also wrote short novels based on her mother’s pioneer stories. One of these, Young Pioneers, is perfect for readers hoping for another inspiring story of settlers beating the odds to make a life for themselves on the prairie. Newlyweds Molly and David are still teenagers when they make the journey west to the open prairie in search of free land. Over the course of the year, Molly, David, and their newborn son endure harsh blizzards, mounting debt, and grasshopper plagues to make their dreams come true. Fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder will find that much of Rose’s message of resilience and self-reliance will resonate with them.

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Clara Barton- Pioneer for Women and Aid Agencies

The Battle of Antietam had been raging for what seemed like days. The battlefield was loud, chaotic, dirty, and filled with the sounds of suffering from wounded soldiers. Through the haze of musket fire and smoke, a young woman in a red bonnet called Clara made her way to every injured man she could find, providing care and supplies. While offering a dying man a drink of water, Clara felt a tug in the sleeve of her dark dress. When she looked down to see what it was, she found a perfectly formed hole in the fabric near her elbow. A musket ball had gone through her dress and hit the man lying beside her, killing him instantly. Clara could afford herself only a moment to grieve before moving on to the next person in need of her help.

Clara was born Clarissa Harlow Barton on Christmas Day, 1821, in the central Clara-Barton-181468210a-56aa233b3df78cf772ac870cMassachusetts town of North Oxford. The youngest of four siblings by at least ten years, Clara grew up as a tomboy, learning “unladylike” activities and games from her older brothers and preferring school to domestic chores. She also grew up painfully shy, sometimes getting so anxious and overwrought that she refused to eat. However, in a pattern that would continue for the rest of her life, Clara was able to overcome her shyness completely whenever someone was in need. When her brother became ill, she stayed by his side and learned to administer his medication, including what she thought of as “great, loathsome, crawling leeches.”

Despite this early inclination towards nursing, Clara’s inner drive to help first lead her towards being a schoolteacher. She taught for several years in her hometown before moving to New Jersey, where she taught at a so-called “subscription” school. Such schools operated on fees paid by student’s parents, and there were many children denied from receiving an education because their parents couldn’t pay the fees. Clara believed this was wrong, and offered to teach school for free if the town would provide her a building. During her first week of running the first free public school in New Jersey, six students showed up; by the end of the year, there were over a hundred. Despite capably founding and leading the school for over a year, Clara was let go in favor of a male candidate. Undeterred, she moved to Washington D.C, where she worked as a clerk in the U.S Patent Office, during a time when it was rare for women to have government jobs. Soon after, the civil war broke out, and Clara’s life changed forever.

As wounded soldiers began appearing in the capital in droves, Clara saw firsthand the desperate need for supplies. She petitioned the army for the right to bring her own supplies to the battlefield. As a woman, it would be easier for her to bring relief working from outside the system then from the inside. In 1862 her pleas found a sympathetic senator, and Clara received permission to bring wagons of supplies to doctors and generals in battle. Clara and her volunteer service were at the front lines of some of the worst battles seen during the Civil War, including Cedar Mountain, Second Manassas, and Antietam.

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Those who might’ve known Clara as an anxious and shy young girl likely wouldn’t have recognized the single minded, confident woman dodging gunfire as she brought relief to hundreds of soldiers. Her toughness, spirit, grace, and timeliness on the front lines earned her the nickname “angel of the battlefield.” After the war was over, Clara lent her extensive knowledge of the soldiers and regiments she treated to help identify some 30,000 soldiers graves.

Her time with the army had taught her the importance of neutrality when it came to field nursing. Clara took what she had learned and traveled to Europe, where she worked with the International Red Cross based in Switzerland. She spent time providing aid during the Franco-Prussian war, and the experience galvanized her to action again. Upon returning to America, Clara began advocating tirelessly for the creation of a Red Cross branch in the United States. It took three presidents, but Clara finally got her wish in 1881. She served as its first president until 1903. During the first twenty years of it’s existence, the American Red Cross was largely devoted to disaster relief. Clara and her volunteers assisted in crises like a forest fire in Michigan and hurricanes in South Carolina and Galveston, Texas.

Clara Barton’s incredible legacy extended even further than the barriers she broke as a female combat nurse. She opened up new paths in the emerging field of volunteer service, and created an agency for service that would outlast her. Despite her accomplishments, she remained humble and committed to the service of others above her own well being. Of her time as a Civil War nurse, Clara wrote “I always tried… to succor the wounded until the medical aid and supplies could come up. I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner.”