By Penny Ward
Updated March 29, 1976 12:00 PM

The Little House on the Prairie near Independence, Kans. is about 1,000 miles from the Big House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., and Roger MacBride, a 46-year-old lawyer, would like to make the trip. MacBride, originator of the Little House TV series, is the presidential candidate of the four-year-old Libertarian party. He will be on the ballot in 36 states championing an individualistic political faith—few taxes, few government services—that hearkens back to a simpler age. “There was a time in this country,” says the portly MacBride, “when people managed their own destinies. That was the bottom line of what America was all about.”

MacBride is the sole heir of Laura In-galls Wilder, the pioneer author whose Little House on the Prairie books extol the ideals of frontier individualism. The nine books (total sale: more than 10 million) have made him a rich man and provided the raw material for the successful TV series.

MacBride never met Laura Wilder, who died at 90 in 1957, nor is he related. He was, however, a close friend of her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who crusaded for libertarian ideals before there was a political party. Rose was the author of 15 books, one of which was condensed by MacBride’s father, a senior editor at Reader’s Digest. “Dad thought she was a terrific thinker,” MacBride recalls. “She became my mentor and influenced me as much as everyone else in my life combined.”

MacBride, who went to Princeton and Harvard Law School, became the attorney and business agent of the divorced, childless Rose. “I was her honorary grandson,” he says. “I called her Grandma.” When Rose died in 1968, MacBride inherited the estate.

While practicing law in Washington, he got the idea for a TV program based on the Little House books, worked up outlines and sold them to NBC. Since then, ABC has bought another idea of MacBride’s, a proposed series called The Young Pioneers, which is based on Rose Wilder Lane’s books.

MacBride’s TV interests now are almost overshadowed by his political career. He surfaced four years ago as a Republican representative to the electoral college from Virginia. Although Richard Nixon had carried his state, MacBride cast his vote for the Libertarian candidate, John Hospers of California. MacBride didn’t even know Hospers but figured his vote would strike a blow for the newly organized party, which he joined a few weeks later.

Now the standard-bearer himself of the Libertarians, who claim 10,000 financial supporters, MacBride runs his campaign from a Washington headquarters and an office that once was the slave kitchen of his 166-year-old mansion in Esmont, Va. There are architects who believe the house was designed by Thomas Jefferson. From its long, white-columned porch, MacBride can look out over his herd of black Angus cattle and contemplate the millennium of diminished government.

MacBride and the Libertarians would reduce foreign commitments (“I’d retire Kissinger to Harvard to write his memoirs”), drop out of the U.N. and end most federal policing of such businesses as broadcasting and transportation. They would also abolish laws regulating prostitution, gambling, drug use and homosexuality. “We combine the best of McGovern and Goldwater,” MacBride says.

Often accompanied by his 6-year-old daughter, Abigail Adams MacBride, adopted during a marriage that ended four years ago, MacBride carries his message around the country in a propeller-driven DC-3. He suspects the Libertarians’ laissez-faire attitude on morals would have drawn tut-tuts from Laura Ingalls Wilder, but that she would have cheered their general philosophy. “It’s a return to her kind of spirit that we need,” he says. “It hasn’t been bred out of us. It’s just repressed. We can find it again.”