Gideon Hale is a 9-year-old boy with a speech impediment; he stutters. Everyone at Walnut Grove School tease the boy, except for James. James decides to take Gideon under his wing and become his long-sought-after friend. However, when Gideon's back is turned, James (albeit reluctantly) goes along with the teasing. Unfortuately, James is unaware that Gideon is listening in. Gideon realizes that James is just like everyone else and, in tears, runs away. When their son fails to return home, Mr. and Mrs. Hale become very worried and enlist the Ingalls to help search for ...
A pregnant Laura has a tough time caring for the Wilder farm when Almanzo and Charles are away on a delivery trip to Arizona; a drought and her duties at school doesn't help matters. Later, Laura has a heart-to-heart talk with Willie about responsibility and being a role model. Willie takes the discussion seriously, organizing the classmates to help manage the Wilder farm when Laura falls ill with heatstroke.
A present-day couple buy an antique, folding-leaf table with a large "I" branded on it and are curious to learn about its origins. The story focuses on Charles' efforts to patent the table and have it mass produced. However, a ruthless businessman is successful in a bid to steal the patent and snare an ill-gotten profit, forcing Charles to realize that his family, and not the tables, are his greatest legacy.
Hester Sue's ex-husband, Sam, arrives in Walnut Grove, stating that he is reformed from his days of drinking, gambling and wild living. Sam appears to be reformed and Hester Sue believes him enough to agree to re-marry him. Should Hester Sue turn the other cheek and forgive Sam, or is he psychologically controlling his former wife through a very clever series of lies to conceal his current lifestyle?
The marriage between Almanzo and Laura faces its first stern test when he falls seriously ill with diphtheria and later suffers a crippling stroke. Eliza Jane arrives to help care for her brother, but makes matters worse by babying him.
Almonzo's continued morose outlook on life during his recovery from a crippling stroke, not to mention Eliza Jane's pampering, takes its toll on the Wilder marriage. Not even the birth of the couple's daughter, Rose, seems to help matters. Then, a massive tornado destroys the Wilder home, and Laura is badly injured; she recovers, but goes into shock when she sees a pile of rubble instead of the slightly damaged home she thought was there. Laura becomes severely depressed, leading Almonzo to finally realize his outlook has rubbed off on his wife; he makes good on a ...
Mr. Edwards arrives back to Walnut Grove harboring some disturbing secrets, namely that his marriage was ruined because of his alcoholism. His inability to stay off the bottle nearly destroys his cherished friendship with Charles when he causes an accident that nearly kills Albert. Charles tells Mr. Edwards to leave Walnut Grove and not come back, leaving Almanzo and Laura as his last hope.
Caroline travels to an influenza-ridden mining camp with Dr. Baker after she receives a plea for help from an old friend who is pregnant and desperately ill. After realizing that her friend will die and that the baby's father never wanted children at all, Caroline agrees to uphold her friend's deathbed request to give her child a good home.
During a trip to Sleepy Eye, James and Albert walk into a bank robbery staged by a nefarious gang. James is critically wounded, and the doctor tells Charles that James is expected to die. A grief-hardened Charles enlists Mr. Edwards (and later, Albert, after he disobeys a direct order to stay in Sleepy Eye) to track down the men responsible.
James continues to linger in a coma, weeks after being shot during a bank robbery in Sleepy Eye. Charles refuses to believe his son is virtually dead and, as the weeks pass, becomes verbally abusive to his family and friends. Unable to deal with mounting pressure by the others to let James die in peace, Charles leaves home and takes his adopted son with him. In the woods, Charles builds an altar and prays to God for a miracle.
The Ingalls can't make ends meet so they move to the city to find work. The Carters buy the little house and Mr. Carter runs the blacksmith shop and Mrs. Carter starts a newspaper. (John and Sarah Carter - they have two sons, Jeb and Jason.) Laura has decided she wants to spend more time with Rose so the town has hired a new teacher, Etta Plum. Almanzo's brother, Royal has come to visit and brings with him, his daughter, Jenny.
Harriet finds some old Walnut Grove bonds under a loose step when they are fixing up Mr. Hansen's old house. She says she won't cash them in but only if they do her this little favor of renaming Walnut Grove Olesenville and that little favor of letting Nels be the Mayor.
Mr. Stark has gotten himself so far in debt that he has lost his mind. He goes home and shoots his wife and daughter. Then he goes off and ends up at Laura's house. He mistakes Laura and Jenny for his wife and daughter, but when he sees Rose, he thinks that his daughter has had a baby.
A dwarf man, Lou, from the circus tries to find work in Walnut Grove after his wife dies in childbirth. He can't get a job because Harriet doesn't like the fact that he's little and from the circus and even threatens to close her bank account if the banker hires him. So, he steals food and a doll from the mercantile instead. So, Harriet presses charges and a judge is on the way, but while they wait on the judge, Nancy falls in a sewer hole and Lou is the only person small enough to help pull her out, so all is forgiven.
Nellie comes home for a visit and discovers that Nancy is more of a spoiled brat than she ever was. Nancy doesn't want to have anything to do with Nellie and snubs her every chance she gets. Laura and Nellie act like they are best friends. Everyone is paying attention to Nellie because it's her birthday and they haven't seen her in a while and so Nancy is feeling left out. She decides to run away. Nels and Nellie go to look for her, and they find her and it seems she has changed. When Nellie leaves,they find out that Nancy hasn't changed.