In Burr Oak, Iowa, Charles is forced to address Albert’s recent criminal behavior. The two of them take a trip back to Walnut Grove, and as Charles reconnects with Laura and his friends, he is hopeful that the experience will straighten out his troubled son, but Albert’s issues run deeper than anyone ever imagined. A shipment of morphine powders goes missing from Doc Baker’s office, and all evidence points to Albert, forcing Charles to accept the real truth about him. As Charles puts up the fight of his life to save his son, Jason Carter has an unusual reason for wanting a pair of eyeglasses.
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Tired of being low on money all the time, the Ingalls are forced to pursue a more promising life in Iowa. Their beloved house on Plum Creek is sold to a blacksmith, his wife, and their two young sons. Elsewhere, Laura decides to quit her teaching job and focus on being a housewife, while a new female member of the community launches a newspaper. Lastly, the Wilders get a surprise visit from Almanzo's widowed brother and niece, and the man's delicate health presents a whole new responsibility for Laura and Almanzo.
As Royal attempts to cling to the final days of his life, he asks Almanzo and Laura to keep his illness a secret from Jenny. The 10-year-old is distraught when the inevitable occurs, and she resents her aunt and uncle for hiding the truth from her. Jenny slips into a silent depression, and while Laura and Almanzo decide that it's best to give her space, that proves to be a grave mistake. Meanwhile, young Jeb Carter harbors a secret that is increasingly difficult to hide from his family and friends.
While cleaning out a home in Walnut Grove that she recently purchased, Harriet comes across a bearer's bond that apparently requires everyone in town to pay her $10,000 each. She makes it clear that she isn't going to take their money from them, but she has always dreamed of turning Walnut Grove into "Olesonville," and just in case anyone objects, she has the perfect threat to wave in their faces.
A man named Mr. Stark learns that because of his family's debt, they will be evicted from their home. Personal issues with his wife and daughter push him over the edge, so he shoots them both and takes off. The men of Walnut Grove frantically try to track him down, but they don't realize that he hasn't even left town, and his emotionally unstable condition puts Laura's family in great danger.
A kindly dwarf named Lou becomes the single father of a baby girl when his wife dies in childbirth. To honor her dying wish, he abandons his job as a circus performer and looks for something that would allow his daughter to live normally. Lou ends up in Walnut Grove and forms a friendship with John Carter, who nearly lands him a position at the bank...until someone interferes and creates even bigger problems for Lou.
A traveling side show, run by Dr. Joshua McQueen, features the "Wild Boy of the North" as its main attraction. No older than about nine years old, the child escapes and ultimately seeks shelter with the Wilders. With the help of Doc Baker, they find some unsettling truths about this "wild boy."
Matthew's life has taken a complete turn, thanks to the love and support of so many people in Walnut Grove, and he is now living happily with Mr. Edwards. The trouble is, a certain someone has called McQueen back to town, and the man will do anything to get the child back, even if it means a long and tedious court case.
The Olesons are absolutely thrilled to learn that Nellie is returning home for a visit, but Nancy is not too pleased about sharing the spotlight. Tension flies as Nellie receives all kinds of attention from everyone in town, and despite Nellie's efforts, Nancy refuses to build any relationship with her older sister. Nancy's resentment and loneliness prompt her to run away to the woods, where she gets lost and faces serious danger.
Having a railroad built to pass directly through Walnut Grove sounds like a wonderful idea for many town residents, particularly since it would increase the size and popularity of the area. Others are concerned that it would destroy their quiet, simplistic lifestyle, and when they decide to fight it, lives are threatened.
Laura's childhood friend, Jane Canfield, comes back to Walnut Grove. Despite her blindness, she develops a fondness for Isaiah Edwards (who is twice her age), and the two gradually fall in love. Jane's vision is restored when she receives the rare opportunity to have eye surgery, and Isaiah is hopeful about building a future with her, but negative input from his friends may turn this into one of the most difficult decisions of his life.
When a minister named Reverend Hale passes through Walnut Grove, he earns Reverend Alden's respect by making a generous donation to the Church, and he is quickly accepted by the congregation as a strong and efficient speaker. As Reverend Hale's popularity increases, Reverend Alden fears that he is being pushed away by his own community, and Mr. Edwards suspects trouble after catching Reverend Hale spending some private time with Laura and Sarah. Meanwhile, John and Almanzo head off to San Francisco on a business trip, and the danger and bustle of the big city present an exasperating string of events that these two country men are not prepared for.
Dr. Marvin Haynes has been practicing in Walnut Grove, but his failing eyesight prevents him from renewing his license, leaving him angry and depressed over the loss of his career. Meanwhile, Jenny Wilder suffers physical and speech impairments after a swimming accident, and Marvin reclaims his sense of self-worth by helping her recover.
Sarah Carter's estranged father Elliot shows up unexpectedly with painful news. As the man plans an extended visit and causes trouble throughout town, it becomes evident why he was separated from his daughter's family for so many years. Over time, Sarah must come to terms with the fact that she never really had a healthy relationship with her father, and time is running out to fix it.
The Older Brothers is a gang that used to have a notorious reputation. First they hold up Mr. Edwards but end up losing the money. Then they try to get ransom money for Mr. Edwards, but that doesn't go very well, because when Almanzo and John Carter try to pay the ransom, the sheriff mistakes or rather accuses them of being the Older Brothers, so he puts them in jail. When they realize that there is a reward being offered for their capture, they turn themselves in for the money, but they are in for a surprise.
After substituting for Etta Plum at Walnut Grove's school, Laura realizes that being a housewife is not enough for her restless spirit. She begins writing a book of anecdotes about her life on the prairie, and after she wins a contest, she has a real chance at getting it published - but of course, there's a catch.
With the birth of a beautiful baby boy in the spring, it appears that Laura and Almanzo's family is now complete. However, when the infant dies for no apparent reason, a distraught Laura blames Doc Baker, who spent days insisting that their son was perfectly healthy. Quickly alienated by the entire Walnut Grove community, his tainted reputation forces him to consider moving his practice elsewhere.
When young Jason Carter accepts his first job as an assistant to an aging woman in Walnut Grove, he just wants to earn some money and buy his mother a birthday gift. However, as Jason spends more time with Ruthy Leland, he learns the incredible power of friendship, as well as the painful lessons that sometimes come with it
On his way back from Sleepy Eye, Isaiah Edwards meets up with a dying old man, whose last request is for Isaiah to take care of his 3-year-old Blanche. It isn't until later that Isaiah realizes that this "little girl" is actually an orangutan! Most of Walnut Grove is happy to welcome Blanche into their community, but the trouble starts when Harriet Oleson gets involved.
Laura receives an unexpected inheritance from an ailing friend, which promises huge changes for the Wilder family. Meanwhile, young Willie is finally ready to graduate and propose to his girlfriend, if only he can find the courage to tell his parents that he doesn't wish to attend college.
Mr. Montague, a renowned author who is undergoing research for his next book, moves in with Laura and Almanzo at their newly implemented boarding house. He proves to be quite an interesting and unexpected addition to the Walnut Grove community. Meanwhile, Mr. Edwards faces a moral dilemma when Philip Rogers--the biological father of his recently adopted son Matthew--shows up to reclaim the boy.