The Man Behind the Television Almanzo, Part 2

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Dean Butler was not content to be only the actor who once played Almanzo on “Little House on the Prairie.” He has continued learning about the people behind the books that inspired the series, and he has shared that learning with others. One bit of information he told us last Friday sent me on a search for more.

I told Mr. Butler that one of the biography lessons I wrote for America the Beautiful was the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I also told him that one of the books we recommend for Uncle Sam and You is The Long Winter. There are many civics and economics lessons in The Long Winter. For example:

  • The town is dependent on incoming trains supplying them with food for the winter. When blizzards keep those trains from being able to come, its citizens are in trouble.
  • A store owner decides to raise prices because the demand is so much greater than the supply.
  • When this happens, the men of the town intervene and keep him from gouging the hungry people.
  • Cap Garland and Almanzo Wilder sacrifice their own safety for the good of the community when they take off in the snow to find food for everyone.

Ray and I had already learned that Laura Ingalls Wilder and her stories are popular in Japan. We learned about that on our first trip to DeSmet, South Dakota, in 1999 (DeSmet is the actual Little Town on the Prairie; Walnut Grove, Minnesota, is the actual town that is near the Ingalls’ home On the Banks of Plum Creek).

Ingalls Avenue
Ingalls Avenue in DeSmet, South Dakota

Our family stayed in a Bed and Breakfast that was once the home of the banker who lived in DeSmet when Laura did. Our hosts told us about Japanese fans who flew to Minneapolis, rented a car, visited DeSmet, went back to Minneapolis, and then flew back home! They told us that at that time a Japanese airport displayed photos of Laura and that you could see reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” continuously on Japanese television.

Ingalls Home
Our children John, Bethany, and Mary Evelyn stand on the front porch of the home in town that Pa built for Ma after Laura and Almanzo got married.

With that information in our minds, we were fascinated when Mr. Butler told us that after World War II the U.S. government printed copies of The Long Winter in Japanese and sent them to Japan. He said that our government hoped that Laura’s story of survival during The Long Winter would encourage the Japanese that they could overcome the hardships they had suffered during the war and afterwards.

In my research, I found out that while the United States occupied Japan after World War II, our General Headquarters (under Supreme Commander General Douglas MacArthur) distributed The Long Winter in the Japanese language to public and school libraries throughout Japan. Our government also established new libraries in Japan and sent The Long Winter to those as well.

I appreciate Dean Butler for introducing me to new information that increases my respect for the way Americans have often treated our enemies. We fed our former enemies in the Berlin Airlift of 1948-1949, and we gave Japanese children the opportunity to read Laura’s stories. I’m proud of that. We Americans haven’t always loved our enemies, but I am thankful for the many times we have.

You have heard that it was said,
“You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven;
for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good,
and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Matthew 5:43-45

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