|Edwin Hyde Alden|
January 14, 1836|
Windsor, Vermont, U.S.
|Died||May 6, 1911
Chester, Vermont, U.S.
Reverend Edwin Hyde Alden, known as Robert Alden (January 14, 1836 - May 6, 1911) was one of the many real people upon whom Laura Ingalls Wilder based a character in the "Little House on the Prairie" series of books and the television series based on it.
Life and work
Reverend Alden was born in Windsor, Vermont. He was the founding pastor of First Congregational Church (Waseca, Minnesota) in 1868. This was the first organized church in Waseca, Minnesota. He was the minister of the Congregational Church in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, described in the book "On the Banks of Plum Creek". He was a home missionary, having a church in the East, involved in planting new churches, such as the one in Walnut Grove, on the western frontier, which he founded in 1875, with Charles and Caroline Ingalls being among the first baptized members.
When the Ingalls family left Walnut Grove, they were convinced they would never see him again, but he unexpectedly appeared in Dakota Territory, which Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned in "By the Shores of Silver Lake". Reverend Alden held the first church service in De Smet in February, 1880, in the surveyors' house in which the Ingalls were temporarily living. He also informed the family about the Iowa College for the Blind in Vinton, Iowa at this time, which Mary Ingalls eventually attended.
In the time between these two meetings with the Ingalls family, Reverend Alden went north and became a Native American agent in what would later become North Dakota. He committed several acts of petty fraud in this position, and the Native Americans he dealt with came to consider him a repetitive liar, and eventually threatened to kill him, as reported in the New York Times on August 15, 1878. Apparently, he returned to the ministry after this point. He was married twice and had two children. He died in Chester, Vermont, at the age of 75.
Reverend Alden was portrayed in the television series "Little House on the Prairie" and its movie sequels, (1974–1984) by actor Dabbs Greer.
Reverend Alden is depicted as a loving, caring man who faithfully ministers the Word of God to the citizens of Walnut Grove and Hero Township. As in real life, he has a particularly close relationship with the Ingalls family; in addition, the television series showed him to be close friends with Doctor Baker and Nels Oleson. He was frequently at odds, however, with Nels's snobbish wife, Harriet, although Rev. Alden was generally patient with Mrs. Oleson, Nels and/or other members of the community frequently defended him.
Unlike most Christian teachings of the late 1800s, which emphasized fire and brimstone, Alden's teachings more closely reflected the religious teachings contemporary to the time period in which the television series was broadcast. However, he does deliver fiery sermons on occasion, as he did once (off-screen) in the episode "Fred" after he is butted by a goat while working at the church; he also gets angry and physical with a trouble-making family in "The Bully Boys." However, Rev. Alden tends to be stubborn and has an ample sense of pride. The latter instance is shown in the episode "The Faith Healer," where a charismatic man claiming to have healing powers woos most of his congregation, deeply upsetting him and (temporarily) alienating Charles Ingalls when he tried to console him; when the faith healer is exposed as a fraud and the congregation returns, instead of a stern reprimand, Alden apologizes for his own stubbornness and pride.
Rev. Alden's tense relationship with Mrs. Oleson is most evident in the episode "The Preacher Takes a Wife," when Mrs. Oleson spreads scandalous gossip around town about his relationship with church parishioner Anna Craig, and later tries to contact the church synod, but when they are accepting, she is forced to relent. Anna's fate is left unclear, although she is referred to in a later episode.
In storyline terms, little is known about Rev. Alden's background. His past is finally revealed in "A Promise to Keep," where he consoles Isaiah Edwards, a former Walnut Grove resident who had returned after he had relapsed into alcoholism after the death of his wife, son and daughter. While Edwards is praying in the church, Reverend Alden enters and tells Mr. Edwards about his own struggles with alcohol after the loss of his family.
Rev. Alden continued his ministries until the series' finale, "Little House: The Last Farewell," where the townspeople make a final stand against land baron Nathan Lassiter, after he was proven to hold deed to the land where Walnut Grove was located. When the townspeople blow up the town's buildings, leaving only the church and school building remaining, Lassiter realizes he'll have to rebuild everything. Leaders of other settlements say that they, too, will blow up their buildings to discourage his plans, When Lassiter walks off in defeat, Alden loudly proclaims, "Did you hear? Walnut Grove did not die in vain!"