Dean Butler’s Memoir – Prairie Man: My Little House Life and Beyond

by Dean | Jun 4, 2024

As I sit down to write this article about my upcoming book, Prairie Man: My Little House Life & Beyond, for LittleHouseonthePrairie.com, I know I am writing for perhaps the most devoted group of Little House on the Prairie fans in the world—those who love the Little House books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder beginning over 90 years ago and the television series those books inspired, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2024.

Little House and the legacy of Laura Ingalls Wilder have been a part of my life for forty-five years. From where I stand now, I can’t imagine my life without the beloved character of Almanzo Wilder on my resume. Very simply, I am he, and he is me. That simple truth is at the heart of Prairie Man.

That being the case, it’s surprising that growing up, I never read any of Laura’s books, and at the time I was cast in the Little House series, I had never watched a single episode. Could it have been a matter of fate? Fate or otherwise, my introduction to Little House was made possible by three indelibly significant individuals — my first Los Angeles agent, Ina Bernstein; “Little House” casting director, Susan Sukman McCray; and ultimately “Little House” Executive Producer, Michael Landon.

When the “Little House” meetings began in the Spring of ’79, Ina told me that if I was fortunate enough to get an offer, “you will take it.” She made this pronouncement because, in the simplest terms, she was a devoted fan. In retrospect, her devotion to “Little House” and her belief in its creative excellence contrasted programming tastes that dominated the halls of Hollywood power in the late 1970s. At that time, Hollywood and the networks were obsessed with building on the success of primetime soap operas such as Dallas with their edgy, sexy storylines.

In the late 1970s, “Little House” was a top-10 hit on NBC. Still, nobody other than its creator, Ed Friendly, was trying to emulate its warm, homespun values and storytelling for primetime audiences (that’s another story for another time). “Little House” was branded as old-fashioned and from another time in television history. While that was a fair assessment, it disregarded a considerable portion of the audience living in America’s largest cities and smallest towns that loved traditional storytelling.

I’ll never forget how Ina Bernstein gushed over “Little House:” “Sweetheart, Jack died last night, and I cried my eyes out.” I had no idea Jack was a dog. “Nothing else on television makes me feel like that,” she said while getting teary as she recounted the details of Jack’s heartbreaking demise.

As head of television at International Creative Management (ICM), one of Hollywood’s most powerful talent agencies, Ina Bernstein was uniquely positioned to assess primetime programming and its capacity to touch the hearts of audiences. I was new in town, new to ICM, and just beginning to understand who my new agent was as a human being. “There is nothing else on television like Little House,” she insisted as she unabashedly pitched me this show. “Michael Landon is a wonderful actor, but he also writes ‘Little House,’ directs and produces it. ‘Little House’ is great television. If the opportunity comes, “you will do it because it matters and will matter for a long time.”

Susan Sukman McCray’s job was casting actors for this program that would matter for a long time. While Susan couldn’t have known my family history and background in specific terms when I walked into her office all those years ago, I like to believe that it was all over me in my attitude, appearance, and the way I spoke.

Michael Landon was a creative force, and his decision to invite me to join the “Little House” family has been the greatest gift of my life.

In 2022, as the world was emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, I began to consider “Little House’s” upcoming 50th anniversary and how I could contribute to this special celebration of family television success.

“My earliest childhood dreams were of being a policeman, a fireman, or a pilot. I could easily see myself in a navy-blue cop’s uniform or on a fire truck or in the cockpit of an airplane. My dreams grew as I got my first cowboy hat and boots and learned to ride horses in the hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. The dreams evolved as I played football and basketball with my brother and dad, watched Lost in Space and The Wild, Wild West on TV, and took my first art class. Then came my first play, my first kiss, my first on-stage solo, and that little movie the guys and I made in eleventh grade about the mob. I’m fortunate that I grew up in a family of dreamers, raised by a large and loving group of people with the capacity and commitment to nurture my hopes and possibilities.

Unless I was going to hurt myself or others, nobody ever said, “You can’t do that.” There are many gifts, material and intellectual, that can be given to a child during their formative years, but the freedom to dream and try without restriction may be among the most important blessings we can receive in our entire lives. Turning dreams into reality is rarely easy, and it’s not enough to encourage kids to follow their bliss. You need to remind them of the virtues of hard work, tenacity, and patience. You need to encourage self-confidence. And you need to give them the tools to cope with setbacks and failures. I am so fortunate to have grown up with people who gave me the tools to succeed – and to adapt and survive when success didn’t come easily.”

—Prairie Man

Female cast members have written books about their “Little House” experiences, beginning with Melissa Gilbert, who was as unforgettable as Laura Ingalls, and most recently, Jennifer Donati, who appeared late in the series, along with her sister Sarah, as “Baby Rose.” I began to reason that it was time for male cast members of “Little House” to share their memories of the experience, so in late 2022, I invited my friend Mary McDonough, famous as Erin Walton on The Waltons, to present my memoir proposal to John Scognamiglio, her editor at Kensington Books in New York.

He called me the next day and offered to publish my story, which became Prairie Man: My Little House Life & Beyond. After getting up off the floor, I said, “Let’s do it,” and on January 10 of last year, I sat down at my dining room table before the sun rose, opened my computer, and started to write:

“There are classes and courses to help you write a memoir. I’m sure those are great for the right sort of person, but that’s not how I work. I’m just jumping in, as I’ve done so often in my life. My spontaneous decisions haven’t always worked out (as I’ll explain), but I believe this one will. There are two reasons for my confidence. One, I have a contractual obligation to the publisher. Two, the deadline I’ve imposed on myself. I can’t overstate the importance of having deadlines – especially with real consequences in place for not meeting them. You must put yourself in the position of the legendary NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz. As Kranz says in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, “Failure is not an option.”

When “Little House” ended, I stepped away from it because I needed to find the next defining experience of my career. It was a challenging time for me, and I took a crash course in reality, where lightning rarely strikes twice. Opportunities came on television, the stage, the big screen, and behind the camera, but nothing surpassed “Little House,” with good reason. Very little on television, then or now, is as affirming of human goodness as “Little House.”

That “Little House on the Prairie” continues to touch American viewers while crossing cultural barriers worldwide is the most genuine indication that stories about family love, resilience, and acceptance are universal and something we should all aspire to in our ever more complex and intolerant world.

Prairie Man is about my gratitude for so many good things that have come my way during my 68 years in the world. Thank you for considering my journey in this book, which is only possible because of the deep reservoir of love and devotion that has perpetuated “Little House love” for past, present, and future generations. Thank you.

Dean Butler is an actor, producer, and director best known for his role as Almanzo Wilder in "Little House on the Prairie," based on the beloved Little House book series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder. He was a producer for NBC Golf’s Emmy-nominated series Feherty for over ten seasons. Dean lives in California with his family.

Visit him at https://deanbutler.com or @officialdeanbutler on Instagram.

78 Comments

  1. I am not sure whether I read the Laura Ingalls books first or started watching the show, but I loved everything about both. I had a huge crush on Dean Butler. I can’t wait to read his book.

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  2. I can’t wait to add this book to my collection. I would love to win it and all the other great items (who wouldn’t?!!!). If not, save me a copy to pick up in CT!

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  3. I was lucky enough to be an ARC reader of Dean’s wonderful book. Because of that, I have been spending time re-reading all of my Laura Ingalls Wilder books written by her and about her.

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  4. Dean, thank you, so much for your commitment to the Little House legacy, & contributing in so many ways, for the enjoyment of all the fans!! I’m excited to read your book, and hope to meet you in person one day.

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  5. Love my little house on the prairie characters! One of my top favorites series!

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  6. my favorite Almanzo episode is when he got married.

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    • Thank you Dean for sharing a part of your life with your fans. I feel like you not only played a humble, caring, loyal man on tv but you are exactly that. Looking forward to purchasing your book.

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  7. I meant every

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  8. Almanzo is an inspirational person! I love how he takes the time to talk to very fan that comes his away. Thank you Dean Butler for being you and keeping Little House on the Prairie alive. 😀

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  9. Oh I hope I win. I need to add this book to my LH book collection. Thanks!

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  10. I still can’t get enough of little house on the prairie. It makes me feel like I am in the show when I watch it. Thank y’all for making a great time piece.

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  11. My favorite Dean Butler episode is the “Cinnamon Chicken” Episode, “Back to School Part 2” Season 6, Episode 2.

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  12. My favorite Almanzo episode is when he and Pa are trying to race to see who can take the fastest route.

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  13. Also my favorite Almanzo episode would be The Wedding!

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  14. My all time favorite childhood show! Our children love reading the books as well as the show & now our granddaughters are enjoying both as well! Looking forward to this memoir.

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  15. I love the original books. Some day I want to follow their path.

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  16. I loved Little house on the prairie show but when Dean butler joined it as Almonzo it made the show more realistic. Dean is a great actor and I think him and Melissa had a chemistry that people enjoyed. Would love to win these items. It would be so precious for me to have them.

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  17. Little house has always been my favorite show. I still watch it often and still cry over episode I have seen many times. I love the episodes when Laura and Almonza are together and my absolute favorite episode is when Almonza proposes and their wedding.

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  18. Always loving the Little House vibe!

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  19. My favorite Almanzo episode was when Laura first met Almanzo when he moved to Walnut Grove with his sister, Eliza Jane.

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  20. I have to admit I have not yet had the chance to see every episode of the show, though now that I have all of them to work through, that will change as I am able to. I aim to introduce my kids to the world of Little House, and hope that they can get into it as much as I did when I was a kid. While I cannot name a specific Almanzo episode, I can say that I love every episode that he is in that I have seen, but perhaps the first one is the best because that is where they first meet and she shows her first real ‘guy crush’ moment and he looks to be a little bit blushing in response… That is where fate began to weave the, together to create their love story, even if Almanzo may not have known it then.. Dean and Melissa were a perfect couple brought together by the hands of fate and I am sure that their historical counterparts would have been proud to see Dean and Melissa’s representations of them.

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  21. I had the most wonderful time meeting you in Simi Valley. That weekend was a dream come true! You are a great actor & amazing person!

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  22. I love Little House .I grew up reading the books and watching The show on tv weekly . Then fell in love with it all over again when it started to be a regular daily rerun like it is now. I grew up on a small dairy farm on a hill in a small house in New England (one of three girls).So, I can relate in a way to the Ingalls family. …I loved the way they took care of each other in work and had fun too .I love watching Laura and Almanzo meet and their relationship grow slowly until they got married and faced their challenges together and laughed and loved each other through good and bad times. And how Pa and Ma Ingalls helped when needed but gave them their space to make their way in the world. I was sad when the series ended “with a bang” .But glad they’re in reruns so I can start watching all over again .Feeling the emotions along with them in each episode. ..Would lobe to see some of the Laura Ingalls Wilder places but until then I can enjoy the pics on Facebook and reread my books and watch the show .😊

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  23. My favorite Almanzo episode is Back to School. I loved when he called her Beth!

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  24. Love little house on the prairie

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  25. Looking forward very much to reading Dean’s book!

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  26. not sure what comment you would like – I grew up with little house on the prairie, so I am interested

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  27. I love Almanzo and the whole cast! Have the whole dvd set and have watched multimle times

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  28. I’m sorry that this is tied to FB. I would like another way to enter.

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  29. I love the Little House books dolls and stories. Loved the series when Almanzo and Laura got married

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  30. I loved when Almonzo realized Nellie was exactly like her mom and when he started calling Laura Beth.

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  31. My favorite Almanzo episode is the one where Harriet keeps calling him Zaldamo.

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  32. This would be so fun to win. Big fan.

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  33. I would love to win. I love Almanzo/Dean.

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  34. I always loved the wedding episodes. Almanzo and Eliza Jane hd a great sibling relationship. The episode that Pa and Almanzo take their own routes and race is also a great one. Always a good laugh!

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  35. I’m a long time fan of little house ever since it aired.

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  36. My top 2 Almanzo episodes are the cinnamon chicken episode and the sweet sixteen episode.

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  37. my favorite episode of his is when he wanted to marry Laura and she was student teaching a few towns away and he went to visit her

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  38. The lemon chicken episode is one of my favorite Almanzo episodes!

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  39. I didn’t think I’d be interested in mr Butler’s memoir because his upbringing seems to have appeared almost perfect. But as for Almanzo, it seems to me the character was flirting with Laura Ingall, knowing she had a crush on him. Almanzo also wanted Laura to disrespect her father and run off with him. So I am not, nor was, a big fan of Almanzo

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  40. Wilder and Wilder – favorite Almanzo episode.

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  41. I love the Cinnamon Chicken episode. I think it portrays Manly’s Gentlemanly behaviour toward Nellie even when she has seemingly cooked something so disgusting, and I love the superb acting of Nellie and Almanzo.

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  42. I enjoyed watching Laura and Nelly fighting over Almanzo in the mud, then Almanzo taking Laura to his house to clean up. Finally Pa rushing in and punching Almanzo over a misunderstanding. Lol

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  43. I absolutely love the internet for this reason .. without it we would never see what we ser now the actors who portrayed little house or get to know them in real life .. and to learn more about Laura ingalls wilders life .. so thank you internet 🙏

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  44. I still watch the reruns today. Show never gets old. One of my favorite episodes is where Almanzo and Charles let the boys be out on their own and try to follow them. Hilarious episode.

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  45. I love little house

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  46. I loved the episode where Almanzo and Laura split up briefly over her misunderstanding of his friendship with Brenda Sue. Poor Almanzo was always getting into trouble with Laura. LOL

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  47. I love and watch Little House to this day. Almanzo was such a great addition to the series. Dean I wish you much luck with the book and I can’t wait to read it!

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  48. I think my favorite episode is the wedding by all means.

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  49. I grew up watching Little House on the Prairie and 3 of my friends and I were able to go to Simi Valley for the 50th reunion. it is one of my favorite experiences.

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  50. I am a true fan of the show and of the book series. What a beautiful opportunity to lean about our country ‘s past. I’d love to visit Rocky Ridge someday.

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  51. I would love to win this… I’m just a typical 49 year old grown woman who loves to be reminded of My childhood. Those times watching Little House was so precious looking back now. I think every little girl had a crush on Almanzo.

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  52. “Wilder and Wilder” where Almonzo’s brother comes to town, injures the horses, and Almonzo shows what he’s made of when he nurses the horses back to health.

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  53. when the circus comes to town is my favorite episode with Manly

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  54. We LOVE Little House!!!

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  55. why not have a movie, you and melissa as you are much older
    in the missouri ozarks, looking back on your lifes. say you two
    in your 60’s. as laura is starting to write her books . and asking
    you questions about past! would be great movie . or even
    limited tv series. you two work great together!!

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  56. Thank you for being such a huge part of my childhood memories, but the special times my daughter and I spent together watching you and LH while I was going through my divorce AND re-watching again this year, are priceless. Hope to see you in Hartford 8/31.

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  57. I’m a huge fan of the LHOTP!!! I did have a crush on Almanzo (Dean Butler) also. lol. I hope i win, it would be wonderful, especially i missed the reunion due to family emergency.

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  58. This is my all time favorite series. I have almost all on tape. Missing a few. Loved yours and Laura’s journey. Would love to win. Your release date is my birthday. Best of luck and I’ll be praying for good luck. God bless.

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  59. This is amazing! I am so excited and have enjoyed seeing all of the bits and pieces of the Little House being celebrated all over the country and can’t wait to see Dean in MN this July at Walnut Grove!

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  60. Every time I see little house and Almonzo is on it always makes me smile. Probably one of my favorite characters on LH, along with Caroline, Nellie, and Mrs Olson. Heck, they all are my faves! I’m so happy to follow Dean and all the things he is doing for this shows legacy. He is awesome!!

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  61. I love little house. I still watch the reruns on Prime

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  62. I have loved Little House on the Prarie since I was a child, and I admire Dean Butler very much! He was perfect in the part of Almonzo!

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  63. What a great prize!

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  64. My daughters and I so enjoy watching Dean on LHOTP! Our favorite Almanzo moment is when he and Pa attempt to cook dinner for Ma and Laura….and they burn everything!🤣

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  65. I watch and record every episodes. I have been watching little house for over 25 years

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  66. It’s hard to pick a favorite episode — but I have to say the funniest one was the episode where Nellie cooked for him. 🙂 The rivalry between Laura and Nellie for his affections was not only believable but tangible!

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  67. Is this open to Canadian citizens too??

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  68. My favorite Almanzo episode is when he finally realizes he’s falling in love with Laura.

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  69. Huge Little House fan, here! I was thrilled to have visited many of the LIW sites, including the home of Almanzo! This is a great giveaway!

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  70. The casting directors did a great job picking Dean Butler for Almanzo

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  71. Such a great opportunity! An amazing character and man.

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  72. Love to win package, been a fan of Little House Growing up, still now watch all reruns on Pluto Tv over and over again, love to watch them.

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  73. Super excited about this book! It sounds amazing!

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  74. Thus is such a great giveaway, fingers crossed!

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  75. I would love to win your book!

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  76. Have always loved the show, and Almonso was one of my favourites!

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