Little House on the Prairie is one of the most beloved family shows of all time. It debuted in 1974 when a lot of popular TV shows mirrored the social climate of the times and explored things like race, politics, and war. Little House, however, was known for its wholesome, quaint depiction of small-town life in the late 1800s.
While the majority of the episodes were filled with affection and hard-learned life lessons, creator and star Michael Landon occasionally explored darker subjects like murder, drug addiction, and assault. Here are the 10 darkest episodes which are ranked by their IMDb audience score.
Charles rushes off to Chicago to visit with his old friend Mr. Edwards following the mysterious death of his eldest son, John Jr. At first, the death is attributed to a terrible accident caused when John was hit by a wagon on a rainy night. But further investigation reveals that may not be the case.
The entire episode plays out like a noir crime drama with Charles and Edwards playing the role of detectives. As they explore the dark and rainy city and interview various shady characters the duo soon learns John Jr. may have been murdered with the accident being staged to cover up the crime.
A FARAWAY CRY (7.4)
Just like the previously mentioned “Chicago”, this episode takes the action out of Walnut Grove. After receiving a letter from an old friend who finds herself sick and pregnant, Caroline travels to an influenza-ridden mining camp with Dr. Baker.
Caroline’s friend dies shortly after giving birth but makes Caroline promise to find the baby a good home since the woman’s husband wants nothing to do with the child. After seeing the woman’s husband barely sheds a tear upon learning of his wife’s death, Caroline decides to uphold her friend’s wishes and gives the child to a loving couple.
A struggling farmer (Robert Loggia) slowly loses his grip on reality. After being denied a loan he completely snaps and kills his wife and daughter. All of this takes place within the first act of the episode and more violence is on the way.
The man flees and ends up in the Wilder house. In his unstable state, he mistakenly thinks Laura and Jenny are his dead wife and daughter. He holds them at gunpoint and threatens to kill them leaving the audience to wonder if help will arrive in time.
RETURN OF MR EDWARDS (8.0)
This is the first time we see Mr. Edwards since Victor French left to star in his own sitcom three years earlier. The episode begins in the big woods where Mr. Edwards is now the foreman of a logging company. Not five minutes go by before a falling tree falls atop the returning character and nearly kills him.
Charles and Laura travel to the Edwards’ home to visit their wounded friend. The accident has left him unable to walk and he spends all his time alone in his room. It’s a sad sight for the audience to see the once lovable Mr. Edwards reduced to an angry man who has given up on life and is contemplating suicide.
GOLD COUNTRY (8.1)
Tough times have fallen upon the residents of Walnut Grove. Money is tight and people are leaving town to find work. The Ingalls and the Edwards family travel to California in an attempt to strike gold. The families set up shop in a type of tent city next to a river where the men spend the day panning for gold.
Violence surrounds the camp at every turn. The father of a neighboring family is shot dead while a desperate man digs up the grave of an elderly woman after learning she was buried with gold. The most tragic thing about the episode is seeing Charles and Mr. Edwards motivated by greed and the urge to strike it rich.
MY ELLEN (8.1)
A friend of Laura’s drowns while swimming in a lake. The girl’s mother blames Laura for her daughter’s death since she was the one who invited her to go swimming. Feeling guilty, Laura decides to visit the woman and bring her flowers.
Depressed and unstable, the woman momentarily mistakes Laura for her dead daughter, Ellen. She lures the trusting girl into her basement and locks her inside. Charles frantically searches for his child while the grief-stricken woman prepares a birthday cake she intends to give to Laura who she now thinks of as her dead daughter Ellen.
A MATTER OF FAITH (8.3)
Caroline stays home alone to bake pies for a church function while Charles and the girls go away for the weekend. While baking Caroline begins to feel unwell. She suffers from dizzy spells and begins to hallucinate. Eventually, Caroline discovers the cause of her illness is a cut on her leg that has become infected.
She reads the Bible for comfort and finally realizes she will have to open the wound herself or risk death. She heats a knife on the stove and (thankfully) the scene cuts away as Caroline is about to drain the infection. When Charles finds her she is near death but it appears her amateur surgery skills have saved her life.
MAY WE MAKE THEM PROUD (8.3)
Perhaps the most shocking episode of the series, “May We Make Them Proud” featured the deaths of long time cast member Alice Garvey and Mary’s baby boy, who both perished in a fire at the blind school.
Shortly after the fire, the Ingalls’ adopted son Albert runs away after it is revealed the cause of the blaze was a pipe that he and a friend were smoking in the basement. Charles, along with Alice’s widowed husband Jonathan, goes searching for the guilt-ridden boy with hopes of convincing him to return home.
HOME AGAIN (8.4)
While living in the big city Albert falls in with the wrong crowd and has multiple run-ins with the police. At his wit’s end, Charles brings his once straight-laced son back to Walnut Grove in hopes a return to the country will do the boy some good.
Eventually, Charles discovers Albert is addicted to morphine and the potent drug is the cause of all the trouble. With the help of his patient father, Albert is able to kick his habit but not before going through a violent detox, complete with hallucinations, seizures, and vomit.
A man wearing a mime’s mask brutally attacks and rapes a 16-year-old girl named Sylvia. After discovering the teen is pregnant her ashamed father plans for them to leave Walnut Grove to avoid the looks and whispers from the townsfolk.
To complicate matters Albert and Sylvia have fallen in love, much to the dismay of their parents. The teens decide to elope but little do they know Sylvia’s attacker is hot on their trail and won’t let them go so easily.