EDITOR’S WARNING (HE BEGAN DEFENSIVELY . . .)
This recap features semi-fictional characters (at best) who use racist language in the context of a strongly anti-racist storyline and is rated 13+.
Grandpa Stokes is Not Alright; or
Life Ain’t Easy for a Boy Named Spotted Eagle
(a recap by Will Kaiser)
Title: I─── Kid
Airdate: January 31, 1977
Written by Arthur Heinemann
Directed by Victor French
SUMMARY IN A NUTSHELL: Everyone goes crazy when an Indigenous youth appears in Walnut Grove.
RECAP: I agonized over how to handle today’s story title, since it contains a slur. It stared me in the face the whole time I worked on this one, like the “vulture eye” in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” until finally I couldn’t stand it anymore.
So, after some consideration, I’ve opted to “self-censor” the word with a dash. (Call me woke all you like; it won’t hurt my feelings.)
(Besides, I’ve always liked how the dash stood in for the profane and controversial in pre-Twentieth-Century literature.)
(If you enjoy old books, you surely have seen it before in phrases like:)
(“D─── you, Holmes!” ejaculated Professor Moriarty.)
((Okay, I made that one up, but you can probably think of your own examples.))
(It’s sometimes called “the Dostoevsky Dash” due to that author’s fondness for it.)
(But enough about dashes.)
(Actually my first draft contained probably six more paragraphs on this topic, but I cut them.)
Anyways, most Walnut Groovy readers will know there’s a fairly hot movement these days to expose racism in the Little House books. As I’ve never read them, I can’t really comment on that (though I sort of tried to comment on it once – quite badly I’m sure!).
I have read enough about the controversy to know it’s not simple. Both racist and anti-racist attitudes are expressed by characters including the Ingallses themselves in the books, and Wilder rarely injects a firm point of view.
The books were written at a time (the 1930s and 1940s) when racism didn’t rank among the mostly white audience’s top concerns.
Any Walnut Groovy reader knows Little House the TV show is about as heart-on-its-sleeve anti-racist as a show can get. Yet, it also isn’t above having characters use race humor and stereotypes. On at least one terrible occasion, it makes a whole story out of them.
That said, mostly it explicitly criticizes racism, usually in very strong terms. We’ve seen this already a few times, and there will be many more examples, with a potent one coming onto our radar shortly.
That said, both the book and the TV series are artifacts of a mainstream America that had different sensibilities, so of course there are going to be blind spots here and there. (Oh, and I promise never to use the expression blind spot when talking about Little House again.)
All right, we’ve got to get to the story, but please know in talking about the subject matter this week, I have tried to be as sensitive as possible. (I mean, I know I just made a “Mary goes blind” joke, but cut me some slack, it’s a Little House blog.)
Indigenous Minnesotans have had an extraordinary influence on me in my life and work, and they have my deepest respect and gratitude for everything I have learned from them (or from you, if you’re one of ’em).
Okay, that sober intro out of the way, let’s begin. It’s just Roman and me today.
We start with a shot of an Indigenous (or maybe “Indigenous”) man in buckskins running towards the camera.
This character, whose identity we’ll learn in a moment, receives no recognition in the credits. (Not the best move five seconds into a story about the ill treatment of Native people, but stay with me.)
The music David Rose gives us is urgent and drum-laden, and it does feel awfully “Hollywood Indian” today.
The camera pulls back, revealing what appears to be Yosemite National Park behind the man, as well as three riders in pursuit.
Two wear Army uniforms, and the third, we are distressed to see, is Mustache Man!
Despite being on foot, the running man keeps well ahead of them for a while. There’s a wonderful shot of the horses crossing a river, with the spraying water beautifully captured.
But as the man climbs a slope, the horsemen raise their guns and fire.
The hunted man dies, rather theatrically.
WILL [as MUSTACHE MAN]: “Well, this was fun, see you guys next weekend.”
Then, in a VERY strange transition, we see Mustache Man again! This time he’s not killing anybody, just blandly piloting a stagecoach into Walnut Grove.
Whether this juxtaposition suggests it’s the same Mustache Man in both scenes is unclear. (Maybe he’s a freelance bounty hunter on the weekends?)
The coach bears the name Overland Stage Lines – a real company, but one which went out of service in 1869, a little earlier than these stories.
The stage, which is carrying four passengers, stops in front of the Post Office, where a small crowd has gathered.
Mary is there, as are Caroline, Herbert Diamond (!), Not Linda-Hunt, an Ambiguously Ethnic Kid, and a somewhat ratty-looking man we’ve never seen before.
Grace emerges from the Post Office (I guess she does still work there), and greets Mustache Man as “Ed.”
I got very excited for a moment. Because if you recall, in “A Harvest of Friends,” Mustache Man is addressed as “Sullivan.”
Do you see what this means? Mustache Man is ED SULLIVAN!
But it’s a little more complex than that. As you’ll no doubt recall, Mustache Man has been identified as “Jack,” either in the dialogue, the end credits, or both, three times – in “The Collection,” “The Race,” and “Little Girl Lost.”
It’s also the real name of the actor. He’s Jack Lilley, a horseman, stuntman, and stand-in who was a beloved figure among the cast and crew. (He’s still living, as of this writing.)
But back to the name issue. While he’s called “Jack” several times, in “The Monster of Walnut Grove,” Mustache Man appears in the credits as “Homer Bjorgsen.”
Neither of these facts explains why Grace calls him “Ed.”
Now, in “Little Girl Lost,” Nels addresses two townsmen as “Ed” and “Jack” . . . but I assumed “Ed” was Mr. Nelson the Gray-Haired Dude, since as I mentioned Mustache Man was called “Jack” in two earlier stories.
Then again, to complicate things further, in “Centennial,” Grace comes out of the Post Office and calls the Gray-Haired Dude “Joe”!
Well, maybe she just can never get people’s names right. God knows I can’t these days.
Anyways, Mustache Man greets her back (getting her name right), grunts “Here’s the mail!”, and hurls a big mailbag down at her. Pretty hard, too.
Amongst the disembarking passengers are a young-ish woman and a teenager. The woman has red hair and is well dressed enough, by my standards at any rate.
The teenager has long hair but is wearing boys’ clothes. He’s also dark-complected.
(As for the other passengers, we only get a fleeting look at them. But the man strikes me as sort of looking like a penguin.)
The woman looks hither and yon for a bit, then sees an older dude waiting in a buggy.
At a glance, he looks to be a gruff cranky old ass in the classic Little House gruff-cranky-old-ass mode.
This episode was written by Arthur Heinemann, who’s already contributed several Little House scripts, both good and bad. (“Doctor’s Lady,” for one.)
Our own Victor French directs.
Anyways, at first I thought I was wrong about the old man, because he looks at the woman with unmistakable parental love.
She comes over and embraces him, and they both cry.
But then, the old man becomes distracted by something over her shoulder, and the woman says, “That’s your grandson, Papa. Spotted Eagle, say hello to your grandfather.”
She’s smiling a hopeful smile, but the young man makes a sour pruney face (to be fair, the only expression he wears the entire episode) and says, “Hello, Grandfather.”
Grandpa stares at the kid, looking neutral-ish. But then he turns to his daughter and says, “He’ll not use that name here.”
David’s music, which had been trickling along lightly enough, turns cold.
ROMAN: David’s surprised he’s mean.
The grandpa, who’s apparently given this some forethought, then says the kid is to be known as “Joseph Stokes,” Stokes apparently being his own family name. (We know some crazy Stokeses ourselves!)
Cut to Pa et al. driving home in the Chonkywagon.
Mary, who eavesdropped on the whole Spotted Eagle conversation, starts gossiping, saying “everybody knows” how years before, the young Miss Stokes was kidnapped by Sioux Indians! – these days mostly known as Dakota people. (We’ll get to the dating of this story later.)
Mary’s rumor-mongering side is not often mentioned in analyses of this show. But this isn’t the first time we’ve seen it.
“Can you imagine?” Mary marvels. “A real live Indian here in Walnut Grove?”
This question is racist and tacky, not to mention odd, since Mary had first-hand contact with Indigenous people herself both in the Pilot and in “Survival.” And a lesson about racism was taught each time!
Recognizing the distastefulness of this topic, Ma tells Mary to put a sock in it. She’s come a long way since the Pilot on the race issue herself.
Meanwhile, the unhappy other family arrives at the old man’s house. It’s pretty handsomely laid out, by Hero Township standards anyways.
WILL: I don’t know about that rug. Kind of looks like it’s covered in chicken feathers.
ROMAN: Maybe it is.
The young woman looks around with a mix of emotions, or what seems to be a mix of emotions, to this viewer at least.
Grandpa Stokes, addressing Spotted Eagle as “Joseph,” sends him to his bedroom in the loft.
When he’s gone, the woman embraces her father and says how happy she is to be home. He hugs her back.
His voice breaks, and he says, “Did they treat you well, Amelia?”
(Our own daughter Amelia, an off-and-on Walnut Groovy panelist, is not here today, so please don’t get confused.)
Then he starts gnashing his teeth, and chokes out, “I mean . . . did they treat you decent?”
(Yuck. It’s pretty clear he means this as a sex question. For a story more or less aimed at children, this one has some dark themes.)
“Of course, of course, of course they did,” says Amelia, and gives her own brief personal history, saying she was a teacher at an Indian “mission school” (more on them in a moment) who fell in love with a Native man named White Buffalo and married him.
Amelia is stroking Grampa Stokes’s hair quite bizarrely during this exchange.
Suddenly Gramps pushes her away – weirded out, one would assume, by the stroking.
But in fact, he’s uncomfortable talking about what happened to her.
Amelia firmly says she wants to talk about it now. Good for her.
Grandpa starts puffing like he swallowed about a quart of blastin’ oil. (An attitude he too sustains throughout the episode.)
He finally snarls, “How you could fall in love with one of them!”
The unhappy Mr. Stokes is George Murdock, a hardworking actor with a long resume.
He had recurring roles on Barney Miller, Battlestar Galactica, Days of Our Lives and The X-Files, and also appeared on The Twilight Zone (where he played an incarnation of an evil puppet), The Untouchables, Ben Casey, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Knight Rider, Bosom Buddies (!), Small Wonder (!!!), Night Court, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lois & Clark, Seinfeld, Smallville, CSI and Torchwood. (Whew.)
Amelia starts talking about her relationship with her late husband, but Gramps cuts her off, snarling, “He was a savage!”
Amelia says in her view, the white soldiers who shot White Buffalo were the savages. (White Buffalo apparently being the guy killed by Mustache Man in the prologue. I’m sorry, I know everybody knew that’s who it was. It’s a recap, I have to say it!)
Then uh-oh, Grandpa Stokes tells Amelia he’s been lying to his neighbors and told them she was kidnapped by the Sioux.
He insults her, using a racist term for Native women. Then he says he also told the Grovesters she adopted Spotted Eagle, who was an orphan.
Amelia’s eyes widen. “You think people are going to believe that?” she says. “I lived with them for twelve years, Papa!”
WILL: Well, Mary believed it.
ROMAN: Yeah. And she’s the second smartest kid in Minnesota.
This is true.
Anyways, Amelia shouts at her father that he’s denying his own flesh and blood. The actor is named Ivy Jones; her other projects have included Gunsmoke, The Waltons, Moonlighting (yay), Highway to Heaven, The West Wing, and a Zach Galifianakis-Louie Anderson show called Baskets that I’m not familiar with. (“It was brilliant,” Dags assures me. “We should watch it, it’s kooky.”)
She was also in a strange psychological horror film called Audrey Rose, in which Anthony Hopkins plays a disturbed man who believes a little girl is his own dead daughter reincarnated.
Jones is very good as Amelia; it’s a strong and distinctive performance. Her speech does give her away as a non-Midwesterner, but I guess it’s possible the Stokeses came from elsewhere originally. (Gramps doesn’t talk like her, though. Maybe she picked up a New York accent from the Sioux?)
Anyways, if Jones’s real-life age is any indication, that means Amelia left home to teach at seventeen. Also more than possible, on this show.
Well, Grandpa Stokes does deny Spotted Eagle is his own F and B. Shaking with rage, he tells Amelia now that she’s back, she’ll obey his orders. He heaves and gasps and basically reiterates that she has no say in the matter again and again.
(I found a very interesting article by Margaret D. Jacobs that looks at the dynamics of interracial marriage between these two patriarchal cultures at this time and place.)
Amelia stares hard at her father and says, “Say what you want. It won’t change the fact that he’s my son, and he’s your grandson.”
Ignoring this, Stokes says, “I’ll see to the horses,” and exits purposefully. You might expect him to add a “Hyah!” – he’s the type – but he doesn’t.
Upstairs, Spotted Eagle is listening, making his prune face again.
Well, given the evidence of these first ten minutes, I think we can fit these characters into historical context quite easily.
According to our timeline, this story is probably set in 1876. The conflict overshadowing this story is most likely the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, which we also discussed in a previous recap.
The war was principally fought in Minnesota. It was short, brutal, and came about when the U.S. government failed to deliver payments they owed to Dakota people who had been moved to a reservation on the banks of the Minnesota River. (Mankato is the major settlement on the river.)
Facing starvation, and receiving a callous response from authorities and private traders, the Dakota attacked white settlers. They killed hundreds of civilians, including women and children, in the region of the state that includes Walnut Grove.
While wars between the U.S. government and the Sioux first exploded in the 1850s and would continue into the 1890s, we can assume the 1862 war is the relevant one, since it saw the most significant activity in Minnesota (including the mass execution of 38 Dakota at Mankato – still controversial today in our state).
As for the Indian “mission schools” – more often known as “boarding schools” these days – well, they were an awful creation of the U.S. government. Their purpose, according to Richard Henry Pratt, who created the program at the government’s request, was to “kill the Indian . . . and save the man.” (Interestingly, he’s also said to have coined the term “racism.”)
The schools were assimilation programs to force Indigenous people to accept white people’s ways. Native children were literally kidnapped from families to be taught about Christianity and other European cultural pillars.
Currently, all North America is facing a reckoning over the schools, which were the setting not just for the abduction and brainwashing of kids, but also for torture, rape, and murder.
(Heavy stuff for Walnut Groovy, I know, but blame Arthur Heinemann, not me.)
But now let’s consider where Amelia’s school was.
Digging a little deeper, for once, I found the first Indian boarding school in Minnesota opened in 1871. But it was also on the White Earth Reservation, over 200 miles to the north of Walnut Grove. And despite the U.S. government’s desires to lump Indian Nations together, most of the people who lived at White Earth were Anishinaabe, not Dakota/Sioux. I think we can rule out White Earth as the location of Spotted Eagle’s birth and raising.
There was also an Indian school at Pipestone, much closer to Walnut Grove (about 60 miles away). However, it wasn’t founded till 1892.
Just beyond Pipestone, in what was then the Dakota Territory, there was a mission school in Flandreau that began in 1871 or 1872. It’s only 65 miles from Walnut Grove. (Rather surprisingly, it still exists today.)
Flandreau the town was established in 1857, and was eventually named after Charles Eugene Flandrau, a reluctant military commander who fought against the Sioux at New Ulm, Minnesota, during the Dakota War.
I think it’s a logical assumption Angela and Spotted Eagle come from Flandreau. (For the sake of the drama, we’ll pretend the Flandreau mission school was the only nice one.)
And as for the mountains in the opening, clearly White Buffalo had fled west toward the Black Hills.
Anyways, after 1862, the battles between the Sioux and the U.S. Army did continue through the 1860s and early 1870s, which may explain why Amelia did not return to Minnesota even for a visit during this time (assuming she left Walnut Grove in 1864, as she suggested).
By 1876, hostilities between the Dakota and the U.S. Army boiled over yet again as the two parties fought for control of the Black Hills in what became known as the Great Sioux War of 1876. (Deadwood fans – and I know a few of you out there are also into that show – will recognize this as the conflict providing the backdrop to the first season.)
Whew. Well, again, I’m no expert on any of this, so please do fire away in the comments if you are.
With that, we return to our story, where, in the common room of the Little House, goodnights are being exchanged.
At first I thought David was giving us cello or bass music of intense moodiness, but in fact it was just an airplane going over my house, so never mind.
Laura says all the talk of Indians made her dig out the bear claw Soldat du Chene gave her as a souvenir in Kansas in the Pilot.
After the kids have gone to bed, Charles says he expects the newcomers will have a rough time of things with some locals. It’s clear he isn’t as gullible as Mary about Stokes’s phony kidnapping backstory.
“Tomorrow’s Baking Day,” says Caroline chirpily. “I thought I’d take over a fresh bread.”
WILL: “A fresh bread”?
Cut to school. There are a lot of kids in this episode. They include an Ambiguously Ethnic Kid, Not-Carl Sanderson, Not-Joni Mitchell, the Midsommar Kid, and Not-Linda Hunt.
The Mona Lisa Nondescript Helen, Hangover Helen, and the Pigtail Helen are present today, the last with her hair back in pigtails, THANK GOD.
There are also both Kids with Very Red Hair. (You’ll recall we discovered some time ago there are two of them. It’s always awkward when they both appear in a single episode. But I’ll see if I can sidestep the issue.)
And there’s an older boy with long YELLOW hair.
Miss Beadle, who’s in frisky spirits throughout this story, twiddles her pencil gaily whilst she takes the roll, or whatever.
Suddenly, a Muppety voice from the back of the room says, “Miss Beadle?”
It is Spotted Eagle. Speaking stiffly and formally, he says, “I was told I must come to school here.”
The children all start rudely muttering about his Indian-ness.
Spotted Eagle continues, still talking in an excruciatingly square voice. “My grandfather wishes me to be called Joseph Stokes,” he says, then adds, “My real name is Spotted Eagle.”
The actor is credited as Caesar Ramirez. (Not a particularly Indigenous-sounding name, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.)
I would tell you about him, only there doesn’t appear to be much to tell. He appeared on an episode of The Flying Nun and in something I never heard of called Starbird and Sweet William. That’s all I could find about him.
Well, the yellow-haired boy hoots with laughter at the name Spotted Eagle, and the Bead barks at him, addressing him as “Seth.” Seth is wearing a plaid shirt very much like one I used to have. I never liked it much; maybe I subconsciously associated it with racist bullies.
Anyways, I’ve seen this one several times, but until I started working on this recap, I didn’t recognize Seth as Willie Aames.
Many people remember Aames as one of the kids on Eight is Enough. I never watched that, though.
He also was the lead on some sort of Christian superhero show called Bibleman. I never even heard of that.
What I know him as, of course, is Scott Baio’s idiot sidekick Buddy on Charles in Charge. (He was actually about the best thing on the show, if you can believe that.)
Additionally, Aames was on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Gunsmoke, the ABC Afterschool Special, Family, and in a garbage sex comedy called Zapped!, also with Baio.
Finally, he was on The Love Boat! First Love Boat veteran we’ve had in a few episodes.
Anyways, after dealing with Seth, the Bead says, “Let’s see, Joseph.”
(So much for “My real name is Spotted Eagle,” I guess. It’s odd, since in the past the Bead’s made a huge deal out of students’ formal versus informal names.)
Predictably, Willie (Oleson, not Aames) makes a racist crack from the gallery and gets sent to the corner.
Laura scootches over in her pew in hopes Spotted Eagle will sit with her.
Her strategy works. Miss Beadle points out Laura and Mary, then says, “You can learn the names of the others at recess.”
WILL: The other kids’ NAMES! That’s rich.
Laura bares gopher fangs lovingly at Spotted Eagle.
Finally, to restore her mood, the Bead forces the class to speak in unison.
Meanwhile, out at the Stokes place, Amelia is hanging laundry when Caroline arrives bearing gifts.
WILL [as CAROLINE]: “It’s a fresh bread.”
ROMAN [as AMELIA]: “A what? Oh, we call that a loaf.”
Caroline introduces herself and says the Little House is “just down the road.” (This info doesn’t add much to our work-in-progress map of Walnut Grove and the surrounding area.)
Caroline hands over the bread and then tarries in the yard, waiting to be asked in. Which she is.
(Dags wasn’t with us for this session, but later I asked her if Amelia’s outfit was the Little House equivalent of sweats. She said the skirt was the Little House equivalent of yoga pants.
Caroline tells Amelia “folks around here think very highly of” her father.
WILL: No they don’t.
ROMAN: No one’s even mentioned him.
“You know,” Amelia says as she pours the coffee, “you’re the first woman who’s spoken to me since we came off the Reservation.”
WILL [as AMELIA]: “That bitch at the Mercantile I don’t even want to think about.”
(Flandreau, South Dakota, is now home to an Indian Reservation; mostly Dakota people live there. However, the Reservation did not formally exist until 1936; and in fact, the school was never on Reservation land.)
Anyways, Caroline sees an opportunity to start digging for Amelia’s secrets. I always do this when I meet people for the first time too. It works, sometimes.
Like this time! Amelia looks Caroline straight in the face and tells her the whole tragic story.
WILL: Didn’t take long for her to crack.
Caroline looks shocked, so Amelia says, “Does that shock you?”
WILL: No, she’s shitting her skirt wondering if you heard what she said about Indians in the Pilot.
Amelia explains that White Buffalo went hunting because there was so little food and was killed by the soldiers merely “for breaking their rules.”
(This is a reasonable echo of the buildup to the Dakota War. The Federal Government did push the Dakota to adopt farming practices and restricted their traditional hunting.)
Amelia says she understands if Caroline would rather not stay for coffee after all, but Ma immediately replies, “I take cream and sugar!”
That dialogue is a little cutesy-poo for my taste, but Amelia gives her a look of gratitude. It is a nice character moment for Grassle, and it again highlights Caroline’s evolution since the Pilot, in which her fear of Osage people nearly drove her mad.
Now we come to a truly magical Little House moment.
We cut to the school, where Miss Beadle is writing math problems on the board.
The Bead flicks her chalk down – rather cavalierly, it must be said.
Then she gives the class a VERY SAUCY smile or smirk!
And then she just puts her head down as if none of this has happened and resumes patrolling the outskirts of the classroom.
That’s it. I could watch that sequence all day. In fact, I sort of have.
Thanks to friend of Walnut Groovy Kris Haight for the gif. I showed it to Dags and she said, “She looks like she’s starting a burlesque routine.”
Miss Beadle then selects Seth, Nellie and Spotted Eagle to do the problems on the board.
Spotted Eagle completes his problem very quickly, causing Seth and Nellie to accuse him of cheating. (What do they care? Is the Bead timing them?)
Laura and Ol’ Four Eyes – I’m sorry, I mean Mary – grin like fools.
The Kid with Very Red Hair whispers some observation to Not-Joni Mitchell.
Seth says aside to Nellie that he’ll deal with Spotted Eagle after school. It’s rare that you hear a good Upper Midwestern accent on this show (or even a bad one). But I will say, Willie Aames’s is better than most.
Actually, he sounds just like northeastern Wisconsin, where I grew up. Despite trying to lose my accent when I was younger, I still talk like that today for the most part.
Well, the schoolhouse vomits everybody out. It’s one of those days where everyone starts running as if for their lives, for some reason.
Laura wants to show Spotted Eagle her bear claw, but he takes off running too.
ROMAN: Is Mustache Man chasing him down?
(I like that the Mona Lisa Helen’s arm is in that shot.)
Seth comes out and yells some abuse after Spotted Eagle. He’s attended by a fearsome gang that includes Willie Oleson, the Kid with Very Red Hair (the mean one), an AEK, Not-Carl Sanderson, and another kid who looks like an even smaller Not-Carl Sanderson.
Disgusted, Laura and Mary start walking home. Seth tags along and asks to carry Mary’s books. She declines.
Seth then turns his racist abuse against the Ing-Gals. This kid needs to watch his fucking step, am I right? Does the name Bubba Galender mean nothing to him?
(I’d also like to think if John Junior were there he’d kick Seth’s ass for him, but we all know he wouldn’t.)
Cut to Spotted Eagle running through a field to INSANELY intense music from the Rose.
He’s taken his shirt off. (Spotted Eagle has, not the Rose. I mean, maybe him too?)
WILL: Run, Atreyu!!!
That night, Grandpa Stokes and Amelia argue about why she didn’t convert White Buffalo and Spotted Eagle to Christianity.
Amelia says she and the WB left it up to Spotted Eagle to choose. (It’s a pretty modern attitude either for white or Dakota people of this time and place. The rural Midwest wasn’t exactly fin de siècle Paris in its sensibilities.)
Anyways, Amelia says Spotted Eagle decided to stick with his dad’s religion.
“My grandson is a heathen!” screams Mr. Stokes. He’s not deeply characterized, but I am experiencing shudders of recognition from when we opted not to raise our children in a religious tradition. That’s another story, though.
“They are as religious as we are!” Amelia says firmly. She should know this wouldn’t seem a sensible comparison to her father. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t to the Dakota, either.
Grandpa Stokes then insists Spotted Eagle attend church with them, or he’ll throw them both out.
Somewhat unbelievably, Amelia caves.
Then, after a commercial break, it’s time for “Bringing in the Sheaves”! This is the fourth time the hymn has been used on the show, putting it well ahead of its nearest rival, “Onward, Christian Soldiers” (with two appearances).
Expanding the competition to all genres, it’s not yet in the same ballpark as “Old Dan Tucker,” though. (Fifteen appearances!)
Boy, there are a lot of people at church. Going clockwise around the room, roughly, we see Reverend Alden, Carrie, Laura, Mary, Charles, Caroline, the two other stagecoach passengers (Mr. and Mrs. Penguin Man), Not-Joni, Pigtail Helen, two AEKs, Not-Carl Sanderson, Hangover Helen, an unknown bonnet-wearing woman, Not-Johnny Cash Fusspot, Herbert Diamond, a man who looks like a Richard Libertini character from 1980, some nobody, the Kid with Very Red Hair (the nice one), Mrs. Foster’s Paramour from “Child of Pain” (!), an unknown older fella in a yellow tie and his wife, an unknown Nondescript Helen, the Kid with Very Red Hair (mean one), a completely unknown brown-haired boy, the Bead, the Mona Lisa Helen, an older lady in a hat, another unknown lady in a really crazy big blue bonnet or hat, another unknown Nondescript Helen, Not-Linda Hunt, Spotted Eagle, Amelia, Grandpa Stokes, the Generic-Looking Bald Man, his wife (presumably), and the Midsommar Kid.
(No Mrs. Foster, no Mustache Man, no Gray-Haired Dude, no Hanson, no Doc, no Sanderson-Edwardses. No Olesons!)
After the hymn, everybody rises when Aldi leads the Lord’s Prayer. Everybody, that is, except Spotted Eagle.
Nobody seems to care or even notice, but after church Grandpa seizes the boy and chews him out for disrespect.
Spotted Eagle finally loses it and runs off.
Amelia stares, appalled. Then Gramps makes it worse by casually adding he’ll beat the kid when he gets home.
They’re really growling at each other, but Caroline, who’s stupidly unable to read a room at times, interrupts to invite them to a picnic.
Well, clearly neither father nor daughter wants to go.
WILL [as GRANDPA STOKES]: “You do NOT want to get involved with these people. The man is the worst meddler in town. . . .”
But they accept out of politeness.
Meanwhile, down by Plum Creek, Spotted Eagle is praying, presumably in Dakota. (We’ll also give the show the benefit of the doubt on this. I don’t know what language it really is.)
Spotted Eagle holds an unlit clay pipe over his head, which we will learn in a moment is supposedly a “peace pipe.” I know a little about Dakota traditions, but it’s not my place to judge the accuracy of the “Indian ways” depicted in this episode. I don’t know enough for that, sorry.
(I guess that’s true for most of the things I talk about. But there wouldn’t be much to read if I left out everything, now would there.)
Anyways, Laura comes creeping and peeping through the shrubbery.
Spotted Eagle snaps his head around, and we see he’s painted his face. (With what? Berries? His own blood?)
Laura is unintimidated, and soon they’re chatting quite nicely.
Spotted Eagle says he won’t go back to the picnic due to his grandfather’s disapproval.
Laura shakes her head and says, “If he was mad at you, he’d be over it by now.”
ROMAN: In the fifteen minutes since church ended?
I doubt they said “over it” in the Nineteenth Century, too.
The conversation winds round to what you’d think would be more neutral topics then, but when Laura asks what his face paint is for he sniffs, “To hide my face and my shame!”
WILL: Not exactly a bundle of laughs, is he?
Spotted Eagle also says he was praying. Laura gets off to a bad start assuming he was praying to the Christian god, but then she remembers and smoothes over the flub.
Spotted Eagle doesn’t hold it against her. Speaking sort of like Commander Data, he says he was praying for peace in his family.
An eagle flies over at this point, and in a corny segue, Laura invites Spotted Eagle back to have fried chicken with them.
ROMAN: They should be eating fried eagle.
Then we get one of my favorite Michael Landon scenes ever. In a season of great stories, he’s kept Charles on the sidelines a lot.
Okay, so Grandpa Stokes is sitting by the creek, with Charles standing next to him skipping stones. This is a very dorky and perfectly in-character thing for Charles to be doing, isn’t it?
The two men are making smalltalk about how the corn’s coming up – not inconsistent with our dating this story to late springtime.
Stokes isn’t really interested in talking, but that doesn’t stop Chuck’s stream of Pollyanna blather.
Charles then turns the conversation in a Spotted Eagle-ly direction, praising the kid’s grades.
ROMAN [as CHARLES]: “My daughter Mary’s the biggest gossip in town, that’s how I know.”
Stokes just grunts.
Charles continues skipping stones – visibly disappointed by Stokes’s lack of feeling for his own grandson.
He pretty much says so. Annoyed by this man’s pestering, Stokes says if he wasn’t around for the Dakota War he shouldn’t have opinions about things like Indian kids.
Charles essentially says war makes monsters out of everyone, and throws in a fuzzy seventies comment about standing up to hatred to boot.
No longer skipping, Charles stares Stokes down and says Spotted Eagle had nothing to do with the war.
“Because he was a boy,” Stokes says. “What’s going to happen when he becomes a man?”
Addressing Stokes as “Jeremy,” Charles says all the kid needs is to receive love, adding, “You reap what you sow.” (A reference to Galatians 6:7.)
Horribly, then, Stokes replies, “It wasn’t my idea to sow an Indian’s seed!” (This strikes me as very graphic talk for Little House. Not to go all Mrs. Oleson, but I mean, “seed.” Really!)
But just when you think Charles is about to push the racist old jackass into Plum Creek, he comes up with something even better.
“I guess not,” he says. “That was God’s.”
Loud applause from this audience, non-churchgoers though we be!
The sweat is rolling off Old Man Stokes’s head by this point, so Charles says this has been fun, let’s head back.
Immediately faking good cheer (my first wife was excellent at that after a quarrel), Charles takes Stokes back to the picnic.
ROMAN [as CAROLINE]: “Oh, good, I made a fresh bread!”
Charles starts pushing fried chicken at the old man. (I also tend to relax when handed a plate of fried chicken. Try me sometime. Seriously, I mean that.)
But before Stokes even picks up the plate, Laura and Spotted Eagle return. Stokes leaps up and starts shaking the boy, screaming, “You take that warpaint off your face, you lousy little heathen!”
Charles is on the old man in an instant.
“I’m all right!” Stokes screams. I’m not sure Charles was worried about him being all right.
And anyways, he doesn’t look all right – sweating and puffing, pointing and hollering.
WILL: His acting is pretty big. Like, George C. Scott big.
ROMAN: Yeah, like The Changeling big. The kid’s even named Joseph!
Laura correctly but obnoxiously lectures Stokes on aspects of Spotted Eagle’s culture he never bothered to learn.
All the while, Charles stares at the old man with scorn.
Stokes still hasn’t caught his breath. I’m not sure he’s gonna make it to the next scene, actually.
Next we see Spotted Eagle’s “peace pipe” lying broken on the ground next to his jacket. Not sure who did it or what this means.
Cut to Spotted Eagle lying awake in bed. He’s gotta be pretty miserable by now.
Grandpa climbs up into the loft. Spotted Eagle looks at him, not very confrontationally. Both of them look tired, in fact.
It’s unclear if Stokes was really going to beat his grandson, but if so he changes his mind and goes back down.
And now, it is my pleasure to introduce you to . . .
. . . BUNNY 3!
Bunny 3 is a horse, more or less identical to the late Bunny 1 and the late Bunny 2.
The horse stands in a corral or pen, which is ringed by all the schoolkids. It’s not clear where they are, exactly.
Seth steps into the pen, and Laura starts taunting him that he’ll never be able to ride the horse.
The Mean Kid with the Very Red Hair goads Seth on. What a horrible puke he’s turned out to be the past couple stories.
Seth slowly approaches the horse, saying “Woo.”
Seth climbs aboard Bunny 3, who immediately goes crazy.
Standing in for the audience at home, the kids all cheer for the horse to kill Seth, or hurt him horribly at least.
Even Mary laughs when he gets thrown off.
ROMAN: Jeez, Mary.
WILL: Where is this? Behind the livery? Is it recess? Why are they all there? Where is Hans Dorfler? Why is he allowing this?
Spotted Eagle blandly says to Laura that a wild horse should be taken into the water to be tamed.
Seth tries again. And gets thrown again, to Mary’s delight.
ROMAN: Oh my God, Mary!
Seth actually does seem hurt this time, and prairie insult is added to prairie injury when Willie Oleson calls out, “You want some glue for your saddle???”
Seth grabs a riding crop.
Anyways, Spotted Eagle hops the fence and disarms Seth. The two battle for supremacy.
“Get him, Joseph!” Mary screams.
[WILL and ROMAN look at each other, speechless.]
Joseph does get him, actually kneeing him in the face several times. It’s quite violent, definitely 13+ material.
“No, that’s enough!” cries Laura, so Spotted Eagle stops. Apparently she alone has power over him.
To epic music, Spotted Eagle takes Bunny 3 by the reins. (Strangely, Bunny grew a white “star” on his face at some point during this scene.)
Spotted Eagle leads Bunny to a sinkhole or fen, located conveniently nearby. Half-submerged, the horse remains calm.
WILL [screaming]: “ARTAX!!!”
Everyone stares stupidly as Spotted Eagle climbs onto the horse.
The Midsommar Kid looks particularly stupid.
And of course, Spotted Eagle’s way of doing things turns out to be perfect. I don’t know why they needed to make him a prodigy at math and horsemanship. Seems like the anti-racism point would work just as well without it; maybe better.
Spotted Eagle and Bunny emerge from the mud. On the hill behind them, you can see That Same Victorian House Again.
Spotted Eagle says, “Now this horse is mine.”
Seth gasps, a bit melodramatically in my view.
Spotted Eagle rides off, whilst Laura screams for him to stop. But as she already used her powers to keep him from killing Seth, they don’t work anymore.
When Spotted Eagle arrives home, he tells his mother he “won” the horse from Seth Johnson. (It’s the first mention of Seth’s family name. Unclear if he’s related to any other Johnsons we’ve met in our saga, like Johnny, Hector, Mrs., or “Tater.”)
“Now my grandfather can be proud that I’m his grandson!” Spotted Eagle says idiotically.
He explains that “by Indian law,” the horse belongs to him now.
“Get off!” Grandpa calls from the yard. He’s holding what looks to be about fifty pounds of firewood, which he tosses aside like nothing. If he’s used to that kind of lifting, why’s he so winded all the time?
Amelia and Grandpa start screaming at each other about the lowly status of the horse thief in Minnesota culture at this time.
They don’t mention it, but there’s a perception today of horse theft in the Old West as the classic “hanging offense” – but apparently that’s an exaggeration.
Grandpa says to Spotted Eagle with disgust that he (Grandpa) will return the horse, then deal with him (Spotted Eagle) later.
After Gramps has gone, Amelia says, “I’m sorry, Joseph.” So even she’s calling him that now?
Then we see Stokes returning Bunny 3 to Seth Johnson’s father, a man with a bushy mustache he addresses as “Omaha.” (I mean he addresses the man as Omaha, not that he addresses the man’s bushy mustache that way.)
It’s noteworthy Seth’s father’s name or nickname is that of an Indian tribe – clever touch, Heinemann. (Even Native people’s names have been stolen.)
As for Omaha Johnson himself, he kind of looks like the guy who turns out to be the murderer in the Poirot Christmas special. (I won’t show the murderer’s picture, in case you haven’t watched it. Though I suppose if you know he looks like Omaha Johnson, he won’t be hard to pick out.)
The actor who plays Johnson, Vincent Cobb, wasn’t in much else. But interestingly, he’s the real-life brother of Julie Cobb, who played Alan Fudge’s corn-loving wife in Season One’s “Money Crop.”
(Julie Cobb also was married to Victor French at this time in real life. Maybe she connected him with Vincent? She must have.)
Vincent and Julie were the kids of Lee J. Cobb, whom some of you will know as Detective Kinderman in The Exorcist.
And in an odd coincidence, Lee J. Cobb, who had died in real life, was replaced in the Exorcist series by none other than George C. Scott.
You thought the universe was without harmony.
Anyways, at one point Vincent Cobb was in a horror movie called Ants, or possibly Ants! (It starred Lynda Day George and Suzanne Somers, which should give you some idea of its caliber.)
Ants(!) is not to be confused with Empire of the Ants, another ant-themed horror film (and family favorite) featuring Minerva Farnsworth herself from “Remember Me” Part Two, Irene Tedrow.
Now why was I talking about this? Well, never mind. Anyways, Seth is hiding in the barn through this whole scene.
Seth’s father tells Stokes it’s no big deal the horse was stolen, then goes on to say some very racist things about Spotted Eagle.
I think Gramps doesn’t quite like that. It’s hard to say, though. He’s frowning and twitching, his eyes bug out slightly, and sweat is running down his face like he’s under a showerhead.
Stokes leaves, and in an interesting touch then, we see Omaha reveal he knew Seth was there all along.
Johnson then verbally (and, it’s implied, physically) abuses his son for letting an Indian get the better of him. Seth, who looks terrified, actually does not speak at all in this scene, which makes it even more frightening.
It’s a very dark moment, and feels genuinely surprising rather than melodramatic (unlike most of the memorable Little House moments we encounter, shh).
Back at the Stokes house, Amelia walks around the living room a bit.
WILL: She’s probably wishing she had a better part in the story.
Gramps arrives back, and this time he does start upstairs to beat Spotted Eagle.
Amelia jumps to stop him. Again, horribly, Gramps says if the kid can’t adapt to white-person life, he should go back to Indian Country.
Amelia firmly says she and Spotted Eagle will leave within the week. Upstairs, Spotted Eagle winces.
I really felt for Spotted Eagle here – Caesar Ramirez is not a great actor, but something about his face touches me. At its core, this story is about a young person who is hated simply for existing. There’s resonance with the horrors our culture is going through today. (People never learn, do they?)
Well, Little House at least gives bigotry the reaction it deserves: contempt.
Tumbling timpani drive us to the commercial break. (I actually meant to type Rumbling timpani, but I like “tumbling timpani” so I’m keepin’ it.)
When we return, we see Laura and Mary wandering the deep forest. (You remember, where the deer scared John.)
Spotted Eagle appears, and Laura finally shows him Soldat du Chene’s bear claw.
Spotted Eagle recognizes it as Osage make. Not sure he really would, but who knows.
Then Seth Johnson emerges from the woods, accompanied by several teenage goons, none of whom we’ve ever seen before. (Dropouts?)
The show then turns into sixties Doctor Who for a moment, with Spotted Eagle yelling “Run!” and he and Laura taking off to more drumming in the score.
The bully boys surround Spotted Eagle in a picturesque wetland setting.
Meanwhile, Laura scampers home on her little Peggy Fleming legs to get Pa.
ROMAN: Do we get to see Charles beat up some thirteen-year-olds?
We don’t, because they arrive too late. Spotted Eagle lives, but he’s badly beaten.
Charles carries Spotted Eagle home, asking Amelia if they have any medicine.
WILL [as LAURA]: “Have you got any Dr. Briskin’s Homeopathic Remedies???”
Horrified, Gramps pushes through to tend the boy, but Spotted Eagle dismisses him.
Spotted Eagle says he will return to school immediately, out of pride. Apparently the fight happened on the way to school in the morning, which wasn’t exactly clear.
Cut to the school. David gives us very tense music as Mary nervously waits for Laura or Spotted Eagle.
Miss Beadle, who’s been circling the room again, swoops down on Not-Linda Hunt, addressing her as “Marie.”
The Bead instructs Not-Linda to finish up her “sixes” and proceed to her “sevens.”
Spotted Eagle and Laura arrive. Miss Beadle demands to know what happened.
Laura coldly rats Seth out.
The entire room turns to stare damningly at Seth.
WILL: It’s too bad your mom isn’t here, I think they finally are going to stone somebody.
Shimmering with power, the Bead floats over to Seth, bangs on the desk, and screams in his face!
Seth responds with brief remarks about how Spotted Eagle isn’t welcome here. It’s odd he has no facial bruises from his own recent beating.
But suddenly, Grandpa Stokes comes in, saying that he LOVES his grandson WHOSE NAME IS SPOTTED EAGLE THANK YOU VERY MUCH, and if they don’t like it he will KICK THEIR ASS. (Paraphrase.)
David gives us some high, sentimental music as Spotted Eagle says, “See you at home, Grandpa.”
WILL [as MISS BEADLE]: “Hip hip . . . !”
But actually, the Bead doesn’t say anything, just returns to surprise-attacking the poor kids doing their math.
ROMAN [as MISS BEADLE]: “Your sevens are good.”
STYLE WATCH: The new brown-haired schoolboy wears a goofy hat and suspenders like Duckie in Pretty in Pink.
Charles appears to go commando again.
THE VERDICT: While dated in its sensibilities and somewhat corny (imagine that), this is still an entertaining and substantial story.
It’s a pity they didn’t cast an Indigenous actor as Spotted Eagle. But the main issue I have is the characterization of Grandpa Stokes, whose transformation from racist villain to proud grandpa doesn’t seem authentic, despite or maybe because of George Murdock’s performance, which reaches Hannibal Applewood heights of hamminess.
On the other hand, sometimes an insult to a family member is all it does take for people to forget their bigotry. It feels awfully abrupt, though.
But really, viewed as simply a 1970s-style TV story for children about racism, it succeeds very well. Everybody in the main cast gets to have a nice moment too. (Well, except Carrie, but what are ya gonna do.)
UP NEXT: To Live With Fear, Part One
2 thoughts on “I─── Kid”
Very good recap. When you talked about the sound that turned out to be an airplane, it made me laugh. I was listening to a bonnetheads’ episode in the car recently & I thought, there was something wrong with my car. Turned out it was the sound effect of the horse, drawn carriage! We definitely do look at things now with different eyes than we did back in the day. And hopefully things will only get better. We can only hope.
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Woot! What a hoot! Not so sure “Papa Stokes” would have enjoyed it! Ha!
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