Sentimental Sunday- Little Houses on the Prairie

Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls, 1975
Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls, 1975. Wikimedia Commons.

September 11, 2014, among other things, was the 40th anniversary of the television premiere of, “Little House on the Prairie” which was based on the beloved books of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The books were favorites of mine as a child- I would check out one after the other at the school library and the public library, devouring them even under the covers with a flashlight, over and over. I would dream of what it must have been like to be a pioneer in the olden days- that was probably the beginning of my (virtually) time-traveling, family history-loving self. Even though I was an adult when the series premiered, I just had to watch the programs, and they never disappointed- not a case here of ‘the-books-were-so-much-better.’ I loved seeing the settings and costumes, and sometimes-ornery, sometimes-sweet Laura, portrayed by Melissa Gilbert. (She made me think of how my grandmother would have been at that age. Grandma thought that too.) The series added characters and changed story lines from the books, but they did them well. They had the bonus of the very handsome Michael Landon, my favorite from his previous series, “Bonanza,” as Charles Ingalls, Laura’s father.  The programs from 1974-1983, plus movies from the series, still air around the world in reruns and are now being released as DVDs in their uncut and remastered versions, indicating their popularity through time.

Melissa Gilbert is releasing a cookbook full of “Little House” series recipes and memories on 16 Sep 2014, entitled My Prairie Cookbook: Memories and Frontier Food from My Little House to Yours. She also published, in 2010, an autobiography that includes stories from her “Little House” days.

The “Little House” books have an even more special meaning for me- I knew my boyfriend was THE one when he gave me the whole set of “Little House” books as a Christmas gift when we were starving college students. OK, they were just paperbacks, but it was a nice boxed set and invaluable because I loved the books so much. The fact that he thought of them for a gift- well, that was stupendous. We are still together 35 years later, and thinking of the stories, the books, and the gift (plus the extra hours he worked to earn the money for them on top of a full load of classes plus work), make this a very ‘Sentimental Sunday.’

Schoolhouse attended by the children of George and Ella Daniel Roberts. Image taken c1970 and building is now gone. The children attended c1900-1915.
Schoolhouse attended by the children of George and Ella Daniel Roberts. Image taken c1970 and building is now gone. The children attended c1900-1915.

It is also a ‘Sentimental Sunday’ because we had the same kind of pioneers in our family! Edith Roberts McMurray Luck told stories of how her family migrated to Illinois and then to Jasper County, Iowa in the late 1800s, just after folks like the Ingalls family pioneered farming and towns on the midwest prairies. The Roberts, Daniel, and Murrell families were originally from Virginia, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana, and migrated to Roseville in Warren County, Illinois from their respective homes in the 1850s. They then traveled to Jasper County, Iowa, in 1858 with a large grouping of families and covered wagons full of household goods, elderly parents, and children.

Our McMurray and Benjamin ancestors were people of the frontiers, migrating west as the lines blurred between native and white settlements, sometimes being part of the casualties or captured during those hostilities, and eventually migrating to Iowa from Pennsylvania. Heinrich Horn immigrated from Germany (probably as a conscripted mercenary “Hessian” in the Revolutionary War and captured by George Washington’s forces at Trenton, then paroled when he became an American citizen); he settled in Virgina, then Pennsylvania with some of his descendants moving later to Iowa. The New England-born Paynes and Burnells became farmers and ministers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Kansas, and even took the train to settle out in California in the 1870s, when it still was a sort of ‘Wild West.’

The Lee family sailed from England to the Illinois prairies, going up the Mississippi from New Orleans, and although the Bunker Hill, Illinois area had been settled a while, the prairie was still a harsh environment to farm and have a business in 1875. Lee married-ins like the Lutz, Russell, and Aiken families had moved west through frontier Ohio and even into ‘Indian Territory,’ which has since become the state of Oklahoma.

The Helblings migrated to Pennsylvania from Germany, and lived on the unsettled outskirts of what is now the large Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania metropolitan area. The Springsteens were from New Jersey and watched the growth of the early Indiana prairie town that became Indianapolis, Indiana.

Edith Roberts said often to her family, “You come from strong pioneer stock. You can do anything you set your mind to.” That legacy has helped many of her descendants get through tough times, and appreciate the strong, determined pioneers that fill our family tree.

Stories to come about these families and their migrations!


Notes, Sources, and References:

1) “Little House on the Prairie” tv series information:

2) Wikipedia article about the TV series:

3) Wikipedia article about the books:

4) “Little House” books- 

5) Melissa Gilbert’s autobiography- Prairie Tale: A Memoir, Gallery Books, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-141659917.




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