The Camp-Out

Eff You and the Bush You Rode In On, Nellie Oleson

(a recap by Will Kaiser)

Title: The Camp-Out

Airdate: November 19, 1975 (?)

Written by Gerry Day

Story by Joseph Bonaduce

Directed by William F. Claxton

SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Mrs. Oleson thinks the Ingallses’ vacation is a scam to win a leaf-gathering contest and is like “Hell no you don’t!” Yes, that’s the real plot.

RECAP: I was sort of cavalier about this in the “Remember Me” recap, but I should note there’s a discrepancy about the order in which Season Two’s episodes aired. (Skip ahead a few paragraphs if you don’t care.)

The IMDb, ordinarily a reliable source, says the stories we’ve done so far aired thusly:

9/10/75: The Richest Man in Walnut Grove

9/17/75: Four Eyes

9/24/75: Haunted House

10/1/75: In the Big Inning

10/8/75: The Camp-Out

[World Series hiatus]

10/29/75: The Spring Dance

11/5/75: Remember Me: Part One

11/12/75: Remember Me: Part Two

11/19/75: Ebenezer Sprague

All other sources I checked (Wikipedia, the Little House on the Prairie Wiki, and IMDb TV, the streaming service on which we’re watching the show) show this as the order:

9/10/75: The Richest Man in Walnut Grove

9/17/75: Four Eyes

9/24/75: Ebenezer Sprague

10/1/75: In the Big Inning

10/8/75: Haunted House

[World Series hiatus]

10/29/75: The Spring Dance

11/5/75: Remember Me: Part One

11/12/75: Remember Me: Part Two

11/19/75: The Camp-Out

(As I mentioned previously, IMDb TV actually places “The Camp-Out” between “The Spring Dance” and “Remember Me,” but looking closely, the original airdates it gives for each episode match the other two sources.)

I’m gonna trust the fans and follow the Wiki order, but anybody who knows better is encouraged to send in corrections.

Now here we go. During the theme, we see Katherine MacGregor and Richard Bull are given “guest star” status.

Star status!

We open once again on the school, but instead of having the kids rush out the door as usual, we just see Carl the Flunky lounging outside with his hat off. 

(I wonder who he’s picking up? We’ve never seen him with any kids to speak of, plus frankly he’s a little old to have school-aged children. Of course, maybe HE’s taken a new young wife.)

Then the title comes up.

DAGNY: Oh, this is the one where they get poison ivy.

WILL: God, spoiler alert for the readers.

DAGNY: I bet some of them have seen it too.

Gerry Day, who you’ll recall surprised us with a script that was actually good a few weeks back, wrote this one based on a story by Joseph Bonaduce (Danny’s dad, last seen here as writer of “The Racoon [sic]”). 

Previously on Little House (one of my personal favorites)

Inside the school, we see Miss Beadle has written Happy Holiday on the chalkboard and is fastening some pictures of leaves to it.

Claxton is back as director

David Rose gives us some extremely doofy music, so this one’s sure to be lighthearted.

The Bead spins around suddenly and says, “Now, class, I know you’re all looking forward to your holiday,” adding there will be no new homework to spoil the fun. The kids applaud.

Now, if you’re thinking, “Well, last week was Thanksgiving, so it must be the Christmas break now,” you’re making the mistake of trusting logic inside the Little House universe. This is an insane thing to do.

And in fact, if the title didn’t already tip us off, Miss Beadle says a previously assigned leaf-collection assignment will be due when they return. Winter break is an unlikely time for gathering leaves in Minnesota, unless one takes along an icepick.

And sure enough, Laura also says her family’s going camping over the break, which isn’t a usual winter activity here either, except for those who own dogsleds. (And some people do.)

Minnesotans heading out to collect leaves over winter break

It occurs to me they do a lot of camping on this show, don’t they? Much of it is out of necessity, of course, but this is the first of several stories where they do it recreationally.

I’ll say I’m not fond of camping myself; a lot of people are, and that’s fine. But honest to God, why would any rural person in the Nineteenth Century find it fun? All its core elements – cold dwellings, uncomfortable beds, dangerous weather and animals, malignant insects and having to cook your own food – were part of people’s daily lives already.

Anyways, Laura says she’ll have great access to leaves in the woods. Then a stupid debate breaks out about whether it’s fair for she and Mary to gather leaves elsewhere because they’ll have such a rich selection of different plants to collect from. 

Unless they’re going camping in Costa Rica, I don’t they’re going to find much they wouldn’t also have in Walnut Grove.

The Bead waves away this complaint like it’s nothing . . . but then she raises the stakes by saying the best collection will be placed in a special shrine and the collector declared queen or king of Walnut Grove for all eternity, etc., etc.

Hail Nellie Oleson, Queen of the Leaves!

With that, class is dismissed. Laura gives Nellie, who first raised the rich-selection-of-plants objection, an evil smirk, so she’s kind of asking for what she gets.

There are a number of kids attending today we haven’t seen before, as well as at least three Nondescript Helens, Cloud City Princess Leia and Luke, and an Ambiguously Ethnic Kid. 

Notably absent are John, Carl and Alicia. Also, whatever happened to Laura’s beau, Gerry Day creation Henry Henderson

Previously on Little House

And we haven’t seen the Dirty Skinny Muppety-Looking Kid or Shirna the Alien in a good long while. 

Dirty Skinny Muppety
Shirna (with Vorg)

The former’s probably expelled or expired, and the latter might have gone back to her (?) home planet in disgust after her counterpart Vorg started having too much fun as a human. You know, like Riff Raff in Rocky Horror.

It’s all over, Vorg

Anyways, we cut to Mrs. Oleson at dinner, talking with a mouth full of ham and saying, “If that isn’t just like the Ingalls!” 

Harriet goes on to argue the whole “camping trip” is just a scam to ensure Laura and Mary win the Leaf Day Championship. (This notion makes me laugh my head off.)

“Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do about it!” poor Nels exclaims, so there must be an ask behind this chitchat.

Harriet says, “I expect you to find out where they’re going! Then you take your son and your daughter to the exact same spot!” 

Nels points out inviting themselves along on Charles’s vacation is insane.

Hilariously, Harriet says, “The forests and rivers belong to you as much as they do to him!” Maybe she’s been reading Emerson too.

Katherine MacG talks with her mouth full through this entire scene

Willie mildly says Walnut Grove’s leaves are “not the same” as wherever the Ingallses are going, and Harriet says, “Nels Oleson! You are breaking that poor child’s heart!”

Picking up on her mother’s cue, Nellie says, “Laura and Mary are always talking about how their pa does things for them.”

(“Nellie’s better at motivating Nels than Harriet is,” said Dags.)

Attacked from all quarters, Nels begins to waffle. “Now you have no more excuses!” Harriet screams. “Finish your supper and ride out there and talk to him!”

Meanwhile, out at Casa dell’Ingalls, Charles is trying to invent the exercise bike.

Move over, Peloton

 Nels arrives carrying fishing gear. (Remember, he supposedly loves fishing, though we’ve never seen him doing any.)

Nels is crafty in his own way. The fishing poles he’s brought are the latest model, and Charles says he’d love to try one out. Before you know it, he’s invited Nels to come along on their trip. 

Crafty Nels

Charles invites Nellie and Willie too, suffering his usual amnesia when it comes to this malevolent duo and the havoc they continuously wreak upon his own children.

Amnesiac Charles

Immediately feeling guilty, Nels begins to skulk off, then turns and confesses all to his buddy Chuck. 

Confessin’ Nels

Charles already had things figured out for the most part, but when Nels gets to the leaf-collecting angle Charles convulses in laughter.

Convulsin’ Charles

Charles eventually says that doesn’t change things a bit, he’d love to spend the long weekend fishing with Nels.

That night, and somewhat unusually, Ma and Pa both go up to the loft to tuck the kids in. “Sweet dreams,” says Ma – an okay expression for the period.

Laura’s pissed Nellie and Willie are horning in on their trip, but Ma and Pa say suck it up.

Nothing else of interest happens except Laura says Willie would “argue with a tree stump,” and the four of them laugh like it’s the funniest thing they’ve ever heard. I don’t think it’s such hot stuff myself, but what do I know.

Then we cut to Nels giving Carrie a jelly bean in the Mercantile. From the beginning, there’s been this very very minor thread that Nels really likes Carrie.

For cute

Of course, it could also be he’s trying to impress Carrie’s mother, for whom he carries a white-hot and/or rock-hard passion.

Speaking of Caroline, she of course is attending Carrie, and wearing Boo Berry Bonnet.

Ma makes 45 cents worth of purchases (about $12.50 today), but Nels says because they’re supplies for the trip he’ll split the cost. Good ol’ Nels.

Mrs. Oleson appears, and there’s something in Katherine MacG’s delivery here that makes her sound tipsy.

When she finds out Caroline is going on the trip too, she starts making small talk about the joys of the outdoors, recalling how as a child her “Mama and Papa” would entrust her to carry “the samovar” when they took the surrey to watch “the boating on the river” from a high “vantagepoint.”

WILL: Oh, she must be from Stillwater.

A samovar

Boating on the St. Croix River, near Stillwater, Minnesota

Anyways, this scene is pretty tedious. Carrie slurps “Good morning” at the end of it, though.

Behind Carrie we see posters for the brands Dodson and Hinkle, but I can’t make out what they’re advertising. (Perhaps Hinkle is Hinkle Chairs – a very old company that still exists today.)

That night finds Nels in his nightcap winding his watch before bed. David Rose gives us a sentimental tune on the solo violin.

Nels climbs into bed with Harriet (we wondered if they shared a bedroom last season, remember?). 

His encounter with Caroline’s obviously got him feeling frisky

To sinister sounds from the lower brasses, Harriet quickly declares she’s decided to come along on the trip, saying they’ll just close the store for the weekend. Her motivation is never really clear. Does she genuinely think it would be fun, or is she just going along to make sure her kids win the Leaf Day award? Or is she jealous, or . . . what?

Anyways, Nels is horrified.

DAGNY: And Caroline’s going to shit her skirt.

The next morning the Olesons arrive at the Little House. Charles said to meet at 6 a.m., and the sun is up, so that means we must be in the spring of 1881 now.

In fact, I think we can pinpoint the date of this one further. When he invites Nels to join the trip, Charles mentions it’s a new moon. In April of 1881, the new moon fell on April 28th, so if we suppose this caravan is departing the morning of April 30, 1881 (a Saturday, with sunrise at 6:14 in Walnut Grove – close enough), we can deduce the “happy holiday” in question is in fact Arbor Day, which, while not a national holiday at this point, began being observed in Minnesota in 1876.

An early Arbor Day gathering

Now, I know the holiday is normally about planting trees, not mutilating them. But then as now, everyone celebrates Arbor Day in their own way.

Well, Pa comes out of the barn leading the (female) Chonky. So I guess she gets to come along.

(We know it’s the female because we can see the male Chonky behind her.)

I wonder, who’s going to milk the cow while they’re gone? (And does it have a name?)

I’ve been through the farmyard on a cow with no name

Mrs. Oleson quickly announces “I’ll carry the pack with the tea service in it myself,” leading Charles to figure out what’s up.

And it soon becomes clear it’s him who’s shitting his skirt, not Ma. He rushes into the barn, followed by Caroline, and tells her to go out and make some excuse, but he’s not going. In fact, he says, the whole trip’s off.

DAGNY: Dispatching Caroline to do his dirty work. Pretty low.

WILL: I’m sorry to say, I’ve thrown temper tantrums like that.

DAGNY: You? Never.

And yet in the next shot, there they all are, tromping through the woods to some slappin’ “pastoral” music from the Rose. It reminds me of those old Disney nature films we had to watch in school, which I understand now were all faked using tortured animals, or something horrible like that.

They troop along the edge of a biggish river (the Arden?), with Nels and Harriet lagging behind. 

Then there’s an amazing stunt where Mrs. Oleson tries to leap across a stream, but falls backwards into it instead. I’m actually not sure how she did it without injuring herself. It looks like it’s really Katherine MacGregor and not a stunt double, but I doubt it. They have done a great job with doubles in the past.

The Olesons’ tea service doesn’t survive the wreck, and MacG couldn’t be funnier getting out of the water. 

The Ingallses mercifully decided to take a break so the Olesons will survive. MacG continues to amuse.

WILL: This is what I was like hiking with Amelia in Yosemite National Park.

The kids go off collecting leaves. Mary notices a patch of poison ivy, but Willie plunges his hand in before she can stop him.

As others have noted, it isn’t really poison ivy.

Little House poison ivy
Real poison ivy (“Leaves of three/Let it be”)

Then we get a shot of the largest mountains we have seen so far on the show.

DAGNY: The magnificent snow-capped peaks of southwest Minnesota!

(Here’s the actual landscape of southwest Minnesota:) 

And those are clouds in the background, not mountains

When they reach camp, the ladies say they’ll set up the tents whilst the men fish and the kids work on their leaves.

Charles and Nels have a nice little moment as they walk up the river.

Meanwhile, Caroline and Harriet set up camp, accompanied by David Rose’s “Island of Misfit Grovesters” tune, last heard in “Doctor’s Lady.”

Meanwhile, Carrie stacks pineapples.

Setting up her tent, Harriet says she once taught her brother the ways of the outdoors, and says she and her kids have always been athletic.

DAGNY: She’s always saying that, isn’t she?

Of course, her tent collapses and they have to work together to put it back up.

Soon the men return, having caught an enormous quantity of fish.

DAGNY: Are they going to eat three large fish per person?

Caroline nicely lets Harriet take solo credit for erecting the tent.

Then Harriet insists on cooking some of the fish herself – and ruins them. As others have noticed, they’re not consistent about whether Mrs. O can cook or not. She was a finalist in the Founder’s Day bake-off, and they’re constantly having lavish ham dinners at home that presumably don’t prepare themselves; yet here and later it’s suggested she’s completely hopeless in the kitchen.

That night, Willie shows his mother his poison ivy leaves, which of course they rub all over their faces because they’re “just like velvet.”

Commercial break, and then things start to move quickly. First, we get some comical “itching” music from David as Caroline slops what looks like an oatmeal/baking soda combo on Mrs. Oleson’s face. (It’s still a recommended treatment to soothe poison ivy – but would Ma really have brought baking soda along?)

Harriet very stupidly says she can’t understand why she and Willie alone got poison ivy, though she must remember the velvety-leaf face-rubbing, which happened two short paragraphs ago.

Surprisingly, though, she’s not in bad spirits, and tells the men to go ahead and enjoy their fishing. Nels and Charles scamper away like little boys.


Meanwhile, Laura and Nellie follow the path of the river, collecting leaves. Mary’s with them for a time, but splits off.

DAGNY: Did Willie stay behind?

WILL: Yeah, it’s like when Alexander ate gluten in the Black Hills.

Nellie leans out over the river to pick some leaves from a bush.

DAGNY: Does she get carried away like Roman?

WILL: Roman didn’t get carried away.

DAGNY: Well, practically. If it wasn’t for Amelia, we wouldn’t have children anymore.

That isn’t quite how it happened. Years ago we visited Yellowstone National Park, and the kids went wading out into the Gardner River, which at points is heated by hot springs. The current was a little stronger than they thought, and Amelia, our eldest, hauled the littler ones out one by one. At no time was anyone in mortal danger!

Nellie is not so lucky. The riverbank suddenly collapses under her, and Laura rushes to help.

Soon they both fall into the fast-moving river, bush and all.

Eff you and the bush you rode in on, Nellie Oleson

Rather than going for help, Jack barks uselessly.

DAGNY: I hate Jack.

Back at camp, people start looking for them.

The doubles they use for Laura and Nellie in the river are . . . not the most convincing.

DAGNY: I think at least one of them is a man.

The river sweeps them through some canyons.

DAGNY: Where the fuck are they?

They go down some rapids, but it’s not really the most amazing stunt we’ve seen on this show. I bet they weren’t happy how the footage turned out, actually.


Charles and Nels find a clue: Laura’s leaf bag, abandoned. But they fail to examine any other evidence at the scene. Their contemporary Sherlock Holmes would not be impressed.

As they walk along the roaring river, Nels worries the girls fell in.

CHARLES: Come on, Nels, don’t start chasing shadows.


Meanwhile, Laura and Nellie are still afloat.

WILL: Where are they going to wind up? They must be miles downstream by now.

DAGNY: Nah, they’ll just loop back to the campsite. It’s like the Lazy River at a waterpark.

They hit some rapids and head towards some steepish falls.

But they drift to shore before coming anywhere near them.

Amusingly, we hear Nellie’s voice saying, “No, wait for me!” whilst Alison Arngrim’s mouth is wide open panting for breath.

Nellie Oleson, ventriloquist

Laura hauls Nellie onto the bank. But rather than be grateful, Nellie yells at Laura that the whole business is her fault. Her eye teeth are really coming in. This heightens the impression she sometimes gives of being related to a rattlesnake.


Laura tells her off, quite satisfyingly.

But then, both girls apologize to each other.


Back at camp, Caroline and Harriet are fretting. Harriet confesses the whole trip was a plot to help her kids win the Arbor Day contest. Caroline says she knew that, but doesn’t care.

Harriet promises if the girls survive, she’ll become a better person, Ebenezer Sprague-style.

Then, because they’ve had no idea what to do with Mary in this one, we see her playing nurse to Willie.

Despite these two having no relationship whatsoever before this or after, they make nicey as well.

Charles and Nels find the girls and bring them back to camp. Laura, Nellie and Mrs. Oleson all start screaming at one another, so the viewers are reassured nothing about the show’s core relationships has changed.

Then, in a joke epilogue, we’re back in school. Nellie and Willie win the leaf prize, but we see both their faces are still plastered from handling the poison ivy. The Bead starts scratching, so she’s got it too. Seriously, how do she and the Olesons not make the connection at this point? Do they not know poison ivy is a plant? Did they think people got it from a witch’s curse, or something?

Oh well. We see Lice-Infested Arnold and Not-Linda Hunt are in the mix as well at school. Bum-Bum-Ba-Dum!

STYLE WATCH: Charles’s hair is quite long in this one.

Carrie wears a bonnet like an upside-down rowboat.

Charles and Harriet dress identically again.

Dagny liked Willie’s outfit.

And Charles appears to go commando once more.

THE VERDICT: This one’s pure silliness, but it’s hard not to like it. It’s a pity Nellie doesn’t get more to say and do, though.

UP NEXT: At the End of the Rainbow

Published by willkaiser

I live in the Upper Midwest. My name's not really Will Kaiser, but he and I have essentially the same personality.

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