the East saw homesteading as a threat
to their businesses and property values. Some business owners feared they
would lose their low-paid employees if
those employees were offered an opportunity to resettle elsewhere—with land
of their own. Some feared that if everyone owned land, the value of their own
property would decrease, and many
people who lived in the South saw the
Homestead Movement as an anti-slavery
proposition. It was not until 1862, one
year after the beginning of the U.S. Civil
War, that President Abraham Lincoln
signed the Homestead Act.
Each month, Little
House Legacy will
take a look at . . . a
different aspect of
Laura and Almanzo
This Act allowed anyone over age 21
who was the head of a family, as well as a
U.S. citizen (or a person who intended to
160 acres of land. The only conditions for
ownership were that he live on it for five
years and improve it.
A few months shy of the fifth anniversary of the signing of the Homestead Act,
Laura Ingalls was born, and a few years
later, Charles “Pa” Ingalls would set out
on the journey that Laura would record
many decades later in her classic children’s
books. What was it that made the Ingalls
family leave their snug, comfortable little
house in the big woods and set out for an
unknown land—and Indian country?
Why did they leave the comfortable and
move to the uncomfortable and unpredictable? I believe one of the reasons was
that they felt God was calling them to do
so. God Himself had planted in Charles
the desire to move, to face the unknown,
and to explore an unsettled land.
In many ways, isn’t that the same call
given to each of us? It’s the call that God
gave Abraham—to move to an unknown
land, the call he gave Moses—to lead
his people to the Promised Land, and
the call he gave to a group of frightened
apostles—whom He instructed to call the
world to Himself.
Life Before Laura
By Dean Butler
Being a part of the Little House on the Prairie family for more than thirty years
has afforded me an extraordinary opportunity to connect with
people and American history in
a way that would not have been
possible otherwise. When I took
the role of Almanzo Wilder back
stepping into not only an iconic
television drama but also playing a beloved character from
literature who would eventually
marry Laura Ingalls, as played
so memorably by my friend and
castmate, Melissa Gilbert.
I am grateful beyond words that
my association with Little House
has continued long after production of the series ended. I love the
intimate, accessible way the Little
House books and our series tell
the pioneering story of the Ingalls family. Laura’s stories gently echo the experiences of literally millions of settlers who embraced Fredrick Jackson Turner’s treatise that western expansion was fundamental to the American spirit. While Turner focused on the rugged spirit of American men, Laura Ingalls Wilder broadened
her readers’ perceptions to include the vital role played by women and children in
the settling of the frontier.
Eighty years after the publication of Little House in the Big Woods, Laura’s
books remind us of the sturdy stock from which we come and inspire our belief
that like Laura and her family, we can survive and flourish with grace and dignity no matter how insurmountable the challenges in our lives may appear—if
we are willing to try.
Because the Little House television series continues to be enjoyed all over the
world, I will likely always be thought of as Almanzo Wilder. This is truly one of
the great blessings of my life. If I’m lucky, readers might even see my face and
hear my voice as they read about Laura and Almanzo in the Little House books.
This very personal connection to Laura’s beautiful stories affords me a unique
platform from which to contribute positively to Laura’s ongoing legacy. The production of Almanzo Wilder: Life Before Laura is a meaningful step along that path.
I loved making the show at the Wilder Homestead in Malone, New York, and I
hope homeschooling families will embrace it as part of their home curriculum for
many years to come.
Dean Butler is an actor, writer, director, and producer, but he is best known to Laura
Ingalls Wilder fans all over the world for his portrayal of Almanzo Wilder on the
long-running family drama, Little House on the Prairie. The series, which ran for
ten seasons (1974–1983), is among the most beloved family dramas in the history