If you think about “Little House on the Prairie,” a handful of things are bound to come to mind. Maybe you instantly think about your favorite cast member or character. On the other hand, a favorite episode or plotline might come to mind. However, whatever comes to mind, that sprawling landscape is bound to play a part in the memory. Plum Creek, where the Ingalls family made their home is almost as iconic as the cast and adventures they had.
However, finding the location on which to shoot “Little House on the Prairie,” was not an easy task. Without that classic setting, the iconic cast would not have been able to bring us the harrowing and heartwarming tales of Plum Creek, Walnut Grove, and the good folks who lived there.
Kent McCray, production manager for “Little House on the Prairie” talked about scouting the perfect location in an interview with The Television Academy Foundation before his passing in 2018.
Kent McCray on Scouting Locations for ‘Little House on the Prairie’
McCray was tasked with finding the location on which to shoot “Little House on the Prairie” before production began. In the interview, he said that he thought he had it nailed early on. In fact, in his mind, he had found the perfect location.
The spot was just outside Patagonia, California. It was a wide-open meadow dotted with trees. A stream ran through it. The late production manager said that the shooting location for the western “McClintock!,” Sharp’s Ranch, was not far from there. The two places combined had everything they needed for the show. However, McCray visited the location during the spring.
McCray took the assistant director, art director, and executive producer for “Little House on the Prairie,” to see the location months later. When the four men rolled into the wide-open meadow, things were a little different. According to McCray, there had been a killing frost. The tree line around the meadow was bare. Behind those leafless trees was a hill dotted with Saguaro cactus. In the interview, McCray said he was sitting there “like a dummy. I wanted to crawl under a rock.”
The team, however, would not be stopped. They went back to the hotel that night and decided that they would travel to Northern California the next day. Each city in California has a location department in its city liaison office, according to McCray. So, he started calling around, looking for leads on a possible location.
The Hunt Continues
They flew to Sacramento, then got in a car and started driving to possible locations. After a whole day of scouting, the “Little House on the Prairie” team came up empty-handed. So, they returned to the hotel to have dinner. That’s when they got a phone call.
The man on the phone said that he had one more place to show them. The place, McCray said, was on Route 4 just outside Fairfield in the Simi Valley. The “Little House on the Prairie” team drove out to Big Sky Ranch and spoke to the landowners. They were on board with the production team building sets on the land.
Also, the location was just an hour and a half away from Sonora. McCray said that area would be perfect for snowy scenes.
With the perfect location selected and an agreement with the landowners struck, they were able to begin production on “Little House on the Prairie.”