Almanzo Wilder: A “Very Special” Perfect Young Man

by | Feb 7, 2019

Alamanzo Wilder - exploring Almanzo of the book with Almanzo of the series.

I met my first book crush when I was seven. He was handsome and courageous, driving Laura home every week from the depressing (and dangerous) Brewster’s house. He was quiet, but when he did speak, he always said the perfect thing. Almanzo Wilder was the multi-talented farmer boy who could brave a raging blizzard to save a starving town AND make legendary pancakes.

Laura drives Barnum with Almanzo in These Happy Golden Years illustration by Helen Sewell

Laura drives Barnum with Almanzo in These Happy Golden Years illustration by Helen Sewell

The real Almanzo Wilder is frequently included on book boyfriend lists, and blogs featuring Historically Hot Men. Sometimes he is compared or linked with the character from the TV series, played by Dean Butler, and fans of the Laura/Almanzo TV courtship create their own version of the love story on YouTube.

Almanzo James Wilder - a photo of the real man

Almanzo James Wilder - a photo of the real man

I watched the “Little House on the Prairie” television show with my mother when it originally aired and later on syndication. It introduced me to Wilder’s novels, and while I was always aware of the big differences between the books and the show, I identified with both versions of Laura, particularly the teen girl who wanted to be taken seriously—and her choice of a partner, Almanzo Wilder.

LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE -- "The Nephews" Episode 14 -- Aired 1/19/81 -- Pictured: (l-r) Ham Larson as Myron Wilder, Dean Butler as Almanzo James Wilder, Rossie Harris as Rupert Wilder -- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank

Dean Butler as Almanzo Wilder in “Little House on the Prairie” Season 7

In my research on the development and subversion of the “Perfect Man Archetype” in young adult literature, I use feminist literary theory and romantic conventions to examine how women writers, such as Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, and Laura Ingalls Wilder, used their fiction to examine social and political issues that concerned them. The “Perfect Man Archetype” develops from their exploration of heterosexual relationships, a man who becomes a model partner, worthy of their female protagonists. This perfect man is handsome, has an appreciation for his love interest’s intellectual or artistic pursuits, and sees her as his equal with her own goals and ambitions. Willing to make great sacrifices, he must become comfortable enough with his own emotions to show some vulnerability.

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In the Little House book series, Wilder’s characterization of her husband, Almanzo, is an important part of the history of this archetype because she crafted a version of him that was an alternative to the men during the period she was writing about. Almanzo proves his worth by being:

 

  1. A hotly sought-after bachelor, with girls like Nellie Oleson vying for his attention. Looking at him one can see why.
  2. Driving Laura home (every week, even in a blizzard) from the Brewster’s where she was teaching.
  3. Building Laura a house with an extravagant pantry: “‘Like your pantry?’ he asked her, and she thought how many hours he must have worked, to put all those shelves and to make and fit those many drawers.” To me, it feels like the late 19th-century version of a playlist.
  4. Being completely comfortable when Laura asks him if they can strike the word “obey” from the wedding vows: “I know it is in the wedding ceremony, but it is only something that women say. I never knew one that did it, nor any decent man that wanted her to.

In the “Little House on the Prairie” TV series, however, the storyline changed and Almanzo does not pursue Laura, she pursues him. There are a number of possible reasons for this:

 

  1. Given the age differences between the real Almanzo and Laura (ten years), viewers would be uncomfortable with a young man in his twenties going after a teen girl. Perhaps this is why Pa is so adamant at first that Laura must be 18 before she gets married (“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Part One”).
  2. In the wake of second-wave feminism, depicting a woman pursuing the man she wants to be with wasn’t as controversial as it might have been in the 1930s and 1940s when the books were written—or when the real Laura and Almanzo were courting in the 1880s.
  3. Finally, the viewer had to get used to the idea that half-pint was now a teenager.
Little House on the Prairie episode He Loves Me He Loves Me Not Part 1 featuring Dean Butler as Almanzo Wilder and Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls.

Dean Butler and Melissa Gilbert as Almanzo Wilder and Laura Ingalls in “Little House on the Prairie” Season 6

While this certainly explains the TV dynamic between Laura and Almanzo, the result is that Almanzo does not get the same opportunities to prove himself as he did in the books. Walnut Grove is not starving, and the most worrisome thing about the teacher Laura is staying with, Miss Trimble, is that she talks to herself (“Sweet Sixteen”). Almanzo Wilder might be the most hardworking young man in Walnut Grove (next to Pa), but he still needs to prove that he’s worthy of Laura’s love.

Episode 1 of Season 6 focuses on Laura loving the unattainable man. Almanzo only sees her as a kid and is dating various young women around town. Laura often makes the first move, such as when she asks Almanzo to the Circus and then dresses up as a clown and kisses him (“Anabelle”).

Still, many of the guest stars and subplots provide a foil for Almanzo’s character to emerge. When the bully, Bartholomew, punches Albert and Laura steps in, Almanzo leaves his post at the Feed and Seed, pulls them apart, and defends them (“The Werewolf of Walnut Grove”). In “Wilder and Wilder”, Almanzo’s younger brother Perly Day Wilder comes to town. While at first, he may look like the better match for Laura, he proves to be reckless and puts money above caring for Almanzo’s injured horse Barnum. When Almanzo leaves the arm wrestling match to rescue the horse, we see a young man with a strong moral character.

Little House on the Prairie TV Series - Exploring the differences between Almanzo of the book and Almanzo of the TV series.

Dean Butler and Melissa Gilbert as Almanzo Wilder and Laura Ingalls in “Little House on the Prairie” Season 7

But it is in “Sweet Sixteen” when Laura finally has a teaching job that Almanzo sees her for the woman she is. While Almanzo experiences some minor stresses here, such as when Laura makes him wait for a response about the church social, he has yet to really risk anything emotionally. Given Laura’s open nature, Almanzo probably has a good idea how Laura feels about him, so when they finally do get together, he subconsciously might take this for granted. He clearly does not understand Laura’s connection to her family, because he gives her an ultimatum—him or her family—and then takes off to Sleepy Eye, breaking off contact, and making Laura miserable (“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Part One”).

An opportunity to help with the new blind school brings Laura to Sleepy Eye where the greedy landlord, Mr. Pims, refuses to budge on the rent. Almanzo overhears this and arranges to pay the difference without telling Laura of his good deed. He takes on an additional job, carrying ice at the general store, but it becomes too much and one rainy morning Almanzo gets so sick that he collapses and catches pneumonia.

When Pa finds out the truth, he declares that they’ve all been wrong about Almanzo: “He’s a very, very special young man who must have a great deal of love for you” (“He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, Part Two”). Laura goes to Sleepy Eye, “talks to his heart,” and Almanzo declares, trembling under all that ice, “I thought I could forget you. But I can’t. If I have to wait two years or twenty years. I’ll wait. ‘Cause there’s nobody else in the whole world for me but you, Beth. I love you.” Through this grand selfless gesture, as well as no longer taking Laura or her love for granted, Almanzo Wilder of the TV show becomes the man worthy of her.

Almanzo of the book vs Almanzo of the TV series - LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE -- "Laura Ingalls Wilder: Part 1" Episode 1 -- Airdate 9/22/80 -- Pictured: (l-r) Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, Dean Butler as Almanzo James Wilder -- Photo by: NBCU Photo Bank

Almanzo of the book vs. Almanzo of the TV series. “Little House on the Prairie” Season 7, Episode 1 “Laura Ingalls Wilder Part 1.” Airdate 9/22/80. Pictured: Melissa Gilbert as Laura Elizabeth Ingalls Wilder, Dean Butler as Almanzo James Wilder. Photo by NBCU Photo Bank.

References:
1. Frantz, Sarah, F. G., and Katharina Rennhak. Women Constructing Men: Female Novelists and Their Male Characters, 1750-2000. United Kingdom: Rowan & Littlefield Publishers, 2010. Print.
Miller, Ron. “Dean Butler Newest Member of ‘Prairie.’” Boca Raton News 14 September 1979: 13. Web.
2. “Season 6.” Little House on the Prairie: The Complete 9 Season Set. NBC Universal, 2011. DVD.
3. Wilder, Laura, Ingalls. The Long Winter. New York: Harper Collins, 1940.
4. Wilder, Laura, Ingalls. These Happy Golden Years. New York: Harper Collins, 1943. Print.

You can read about the courtship of Laura and Almanzo in These Happy Golden Years and see Melissa Gilbert and Dean Butler portray these characters in Season 6 of the “Little House on the Prairie” television series.

If you love talking Little House on the Prairie, be sure to subscribe to the free newsletter for more discussions about the Ingalls family and other characters.

Melanie holds an M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an M.A. in History from Concordia University. With over 17 years experience in children’s publishing, she lectures internationally on Laura Ingalls Wilder. A freelance writer and social media consultant, Melanie teaches English at Humber College in Toronto. Her first novel based on the teen life of L.M. Montgomery will be published in 2017 under the Razorbill imprint, a division of Penguin Random House of Canada.

40 Comments

  1. Patricia K. Haynes

    I continue to watch Little House every day because I “love the family”, all that they represent and the don’t care if I have seen the episode 20 previous times. Having seen each episode so many times, I can almost say the dialogue in unison with the actor or actress. I am 79 years old, so you know how many times I have watched each episode 😉 And Dean Butler and Michael Landon are my favorites, but I treasure the entire cast. Thanks for making this old lady’s remaining years so joyful.

    Reply
  2. Charlotte Matthews

    As a child, the Little House on the Prairie series of books were never introduced to me. Though as an adult, I did find the entire series & have purchased them along with any other book I can find. I did watch the TV series & have bought it on DVD plus any other movies on the Ingalls & Wilder families. My hope is to visit all the places they’ve lived & museums dedicated to them. So far, I’ve only been to Mansfield, Missouri.

    Reply
  3. Laura Ricker

    I remember watching the Little House series as a young girl and anxiously watching the love story between Laura and Almanzo. Since my name is also Laura and I grew up an awkward farm girl in Wisconsin, I guess I imagined my own love story. I identified with Laura Ingalls Wilder in so many ways, being an avid writer, as well. Thank you so much for this article as I still research the real story and love to watch reruns all these years later.

    Reply
  4. Jennifer

    What an amazing article which I thought I knew everything about… I was amazed at your writing you took me be back to what has always been my favorite but you write in a way that captured me right to the end so I thank you for that!
    Jen

    Reply
  5. Hope

    I am happy they didn’t get hurt in the blizzard, (thanks to Almanzo)

    Reply
  6. Bess

    It wasn’t a blizzard though. It was temperatures and wind chill so low that they were in real danger of freezing to death.

    Reply
    • Molly

      True. But they had to get there and back between blizzards, a very risky venture without modern meteorology to tell them when the next storm would arrive–it hit just as they were coming back into town.

      Reply
  7. Adriana

    I fell in love with Dean Butler as a little girl. I cried so much when I found out he wasn’t the real ‘Manly. I had a picture in my mind that I was his “Beth”. Mr. Butler is the reason I had the Little House book collection. Until my house was vandalized and all the books were burnt. I’m in my 40s and I still ready them. Mr. Butler thank you so much for my childhood. You made a sad little girl so happy. You are by far my favorite actor.

    Reply
  8. Shannon Budell

    I’ve been watching Little House since the 70s and it has been like therapy for me. Always grounds me and I have season 6 and 8 that I watch constantly. I will eventually collect all of the seasons I hope. Thank you to Dean Butler and the rest of the cast for breathing life into the show and therefore, breathing life into me when I had none.

    Reply
    • Debra Barnes

      I’m confused Purly was older then almanzo during an episode when they were reflecting back on Christmas past….when he came to walnut grove the was almanzo’s little brother, they contradict them selves quite often for it to be based on her life

      Reply
      • Cheri

        No, it was not Perley who was older on that Christmas episode. It was Almanzo’s brother Royal.

        Reply
  9. Aronna

    So loved the love between.Almanzo and. Laura..

    Reply
  10. Matthew Ward

    Too bad they had to give him that 1970’s haircut!

    Reply
  11. Jennifer

    We was doing our family tree, and found out Harvey wilder’s daughter, Laura’s niece is my grate uncle mother, Edna wilder married Samuel hepworth , thier son david hepworth married my aunt Marge. I thought that was very cool.

    Reply
  12. Dean Butler

    I enjoyed Melanie’s essay and always appreciate that I was given the opportunity to play Almanzo on the Little House on the Prairie series back in my early twenties. It has impacted my life in so many positive ways I simply can’t count them all.

    Like so many of you I love the way Laura wrote Almanzo Wilder in her books. I often like way the character was written on the series and I occasionally like the way I played him. My job was to be the man who loved Laura and I did that to the best of my ability. Not surprisingly my best work happened when I simply allowed the words to flow through who I am and I was least effective when I couldn’t find the truth of Almanzo’s circumstances in my own life (that’s actor stuff).

    I humbly acknowledge that I am far from “the perfect man” but I’m grateful to have had the chance to play one on TV.

    Reply
    • Gretchen

      You were and i suspect are still an amazing actor. Very genuine — very real. Well done!! Gretchen.

      Reply
    • Laurie

      How neat to see your comment here, Dean Butler, and know that you read and responded to this article about Almanzo. I wonder if you had read the books Laura had written before you played her husband on the show or not. Having read the books over and over again as a child and then having watched the show as a teenager, I was always very satisfied that the show never veered too far from what Laura Ingalls Wilder would have given her approval as an accurate portrayal of the people and times that she wrote about. So if you ever see my comment here, could you comment about whether or not you had read the book series before or after you played Almanzo…and anything else that you might like to share about your part in the series!

      Reply
    • Terri Thomas

      Thank you Dean for showing us the real Almanzo, I had the biggest crush on him, lol

      Reply
    • Jamie

      Dean Butler, I love that you responded to this! I’m watching a LHOTP Marathon on Hallmark right now and found this site while doing a search on Laura’s and Almanzo’s relationship. I don’t remember watching the series much, except for the last episode since I was born in 1977. ???? However, I do remember watching many reruns of LHOTP when I was a little older and missing my family dinners to eat with the Ingalls! I’m thankful that my parents allowed me to do so! ???? I’m also so grateful that my parents stopped in Mansfield, MO to see Laura’s and Almanzo’s home once on a trip back from Silver Dollar City/Branson, MO. I thought it was truly awesome to see how modern their home was compared to how life started out in “The Big Woods”. During Laura’s lifetime so many new inventions made life easier and not complicated like they sometimes do today. Thank you for everything you brought to LHOTP!! -Jamie Bozif (St. Louis, MO)

      Reply
  13. Marvin, Quinteros

    These are the kind of books that schools should use to teach good US history to the children of this era.

    Reply
  14. Severine

    HI thanks for this kind article about Almanzo wilder who was undoubtly a very handsome and worthy man who worked hard and a sought after bachelor too but i wasn’t surprised when i knew about the Real almanzo..I watched the whole series but I came to hate Almanzo’s character who was childish sometimes and resigned especially in the episodes where he becomes crippled after a paralysis and stays for a while in a wheel chair and when he shouts after Laura for insignificant things like the dinner which is not good and so on..I think he was stupid and i ‘m glad to read that real Almanzo wilder was quite the opposite,a mature man ready to brave the worst conditions,the worst blizzards and feed the town.. a very courageous man! I read the books of Laura and read that he first saw her and pursued her .He really was in love with Laura when she was 14 but she wasn’ t exactly in love’ with him,it came later when she started to teach at Brewer’s village and he drove her house every friday evening.She had the opportunity to talk with him and learn to appreciate him more,spending many hours on his boghei. And i must admit that i prefer the book when Laura talks about Almanzo than the Tv series which is romanticized a lot ,even too much sometimes in “He loves me ,he loves me not”..well thank you anyway.Greetings from France.

    Reply
  15. Sadie

    Manly will always be one of my heart thobs ,great write up on him..Thanks

    Reply
    • Sylvia "Sunshine Robinson

      I gave my late husband the nickname”Manly”. He defintely was :- ). I’m sure Laura would agree.

      Reply
  16. Shirley Schepers

    Thank you so much for sharing this about my favorite author. My whole family would gather around the tv every week when the Little House series originally aired. Such good memories.

    Reply
  17. Olivia Lujan

    I grew up always watching Little House On The Praire and still watch it.

    Reply
  18. Dana

    Thank you so much! I’d love to see more posts like this. We’re using the Little House books as a jumping off point for this year’s curriculum, and I’d like to be able to go more in depth with archetypes, writing tropes, etc. Very helpful. I love that it is in an historical context as well as the more modern day and why the audiences’ needs changed the way it could be presented.

    Reply
  19. Debta McKimmy

    I love to watch little house !!!!! I loved it when first came out, and love it even more know !!!!!!!!.

    Reply
  20. roger hollinser

    loved the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE SHOW. have never read the books though.

    Reply
  21. Holly

    Happy Birthday to Almanzo. A couple of years ago I was finally able to make it to Malone NY to his childhood homestead after several visits to the Adirondacks. The museum of his home was beautiful and the staff did an awesome job with the tours. This was one of my most favorite family trips.

    Reply
  22. Luisa Edinger

    I am so thankful about this Blog. Agree completely with Cheryl Malandrinos.
    She wrote those Fanfiction between Laura and Almanzo. I enjoyed very much.
    Though I discovered late the Little House, now Im all in, looking forwaed to Xmas
    Holdays , will read the books.
    Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year

    Reply
  23. Cheryl Malandrinos

    Thanks for sharing this profile of Almanzo. He remains one of my favorite characters from the books and the show. I always wished they turned Almanzo’s role in helping the town of De Smet survive in The Long Winter into a TV episode.

    I’ve also written up a character analysis of Almanzo Wilder on my blog, but stuck to the show. It’s neat to read your impressions alongside my own.

    Reply
  24. Bertha Garcia

    There was a quote or poem that Laura said. I don’t remember all of it, but it was something like this: remember me with fun and laughter for i remember you if you don’t remember me then don’t remember then don’t remember me at all

    Reply
    • Trip Friendly

      Many thanks for your comment. Here is Laura’s quotation: “Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I will remember you all. If you can only remember me with tears, then don’t remember me at all.”

      Reply
      • Pauline

        Sorry both of you. That quote came from a neighbor who had three children (John Jr., Carl, and a little girl. Sorry can’t remember her name.) Anyway the mother of the children was dying and need a home for them. At the funeral the minster read the note from the mother at her request. At first the children were going to be taken by different people but at the last minute Mr. Edwards ask the Grace (she ran the mail and help out as a midwife) to marry him and they take all the children. The show ends with the little girl in Mr. Edward arms smiling and remembering her mother. This was all in season 2.

        Reply
        • Kim Jorgensen

          The character’s name was Julia Sanderson, and she was played by the wonderful Patricia Neal. The little girl’s name was Alicia.

          Reply
          • Teresa

            The truth is that Michael Landon himself made up that quote and added it to the show.

            When Landon died and at his funeral, it was Melissa Gilbert who said that same quote in rememberance of Michael.

        • Holly

          Thank you I was going to clarify that but you did.

          Reply
    • R.Davis

      I believe Michael Landon wrote that poem for an episode in season 1 or 2 for a funeral of a family friend played by Patricia O’Neal.

      Reply
    • Dean Butler

      Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t say that…it was Michael Landon.

      This isn’t the first time Laura fans have mistaken Michael Landon’s words for Laura’s.

      Perhaps the biggest misquote is from the first episode of Little House called “Harvest of Friends” when Michael wrote the line, “Home is the nicest word there is,” for Melissa Gilbert’s Laura. Fans loved it so much they credited it to the real Laura.

      Although they lived in different times and came from vastly different circumstances I’ve come to believe that Laura Ingalls Wilder and Michael Landon creatively had a lot in common and would’ve really liked each other.

      Reply
  25. Sara Jankowski

    Great Post!

    Reply

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