‘Little House on the Prairie’: The Song Melissa Gilbert Thinks the Show Should Have Ended With Instead of ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’
The Little House on the Prairie cast learned that Season 9 of the series was their last after it had already been shot. But they went on to film three Little House movies before officially saying goodbye to Walnut Grove. The Last Farewell was the final movie they filmed (it was also the movie where all of the set pieces got blown up). The final shot involved all of the townspeople walking together as they sang “Onward Christian Soldiers.” If it were up to Melissa Gilbert, the actor behind Laura Ingalls Wilder, she and her castmates would have been singing a different tune.
Filming ‘Little House on the Prairie: The Last Farewell’
After learning Little House on the Prairie had been canceled, the cast and crew shot Look Back to Yesterday, Bless All the Dear Children, and The Last Farewell. The Last Farewell tells the story of a villainous developer who tells the good people of Walnut Grove that he actually owns all of their land. He says they can stay, but only on his terms. The community rejects his proposal and devises a plan to blow the town up with dynamite in an effort to leave him with nothing.
To say the day was an emotional one for the cast and crew would be an understatement.
“In between takes, we would tell stories, and every conversation triggered a flood of tears,” wrote Gilbert in her memoir, Prairie Tale.” One person would tell a story or bring up a memory, start to tear up, and within moments all two hundred of us were crying. Anytime one person cried, all of us cried. And I mean everyone—actors, makeup artists, wardrobe, grips, electricians, wranglers. It was like that all day.”
The ‘Little House on the Prairie’ cast walks off while singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers
After a long, lavish lunch of steak and lobster, Gilbert and the rest of the cast filmed the final shot: “all of us walking out of town from the church as we sang ‘Onward Christian Soldiers.’”
It goes: “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Amen.”
The song is a 19th-century English hymn written by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865. The music was composed by Arthur Sullivan in 1871.
While it certainly fit the moment in The Last Farewell, Gilbert would have ended the movie on a different note.
“I would have chosen ‘The Long and Winding Road,’ but John Lennon and Paul McCartney hadn’t written it in the 1800s,” wrote Gilbert.
But still they lead me back
To the long winding road
You left me standing here
A long, long time ago
Don’t keep me waiting here
Lead me to your doorThe Beatles