The Best Episodes of Bonanza
Last Updated: May 22, 2019
The show chronicles the weekly adventures of the Cartwright family, headed by the thrice-widowed patriarch "Ben Cartwright" (Lorne Greene). He had three sons, each by a different wife: the eldest was the urbane architect "Adam Cartwright" (Pernell Roberts) who built the ranch house; the second was the warm and lovable giant Eric "Hoss" Cartwright (Dan Blocker); and the youngest was the hotheaded and impetuous Joseph or "Little Joe" (Michael Landon). Via exposition (Bonanza, "Rose For Lotta", premiere September 12, 1959) and flashback episodes, each wife was accorded a different ethnicity: English (Bonanza, "Elizabeth My Love"; episode #65) Swedish (Bonanza, "Inger My Love", episode #95) and French Creole (Bonanza, "Marie My Love", episode #120) respectively. The family's cook was the Chinese immigrant Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung). Greene, Roberts, Blocker, and Landon were billed equally. The opening credits would alternate the order among the four stars.
#1 - The Night Virginia City Died
Season 12 - Episode 1
In the 12th season premiere, a series of destructive fires strike Virginia City, and always late at night. Is it the work of a ruthless arsonist, or someone very close to Deputy Clem?
#2 - The Trouble with Jamie
Season 7 - Episode 25
The Cartwrights attempt to straighten out the snobbish young son of Ben's cousin.
#3 - Mrs. Wharton and the Lesser Breeds
Season 10 - Episode 17
Candy sets out to help a feisty and elderly British woman recover the jewels stolen from her in a stage holdup.
#4 - The Power of Life and Death
Season 12 - Episode 5
A man called Davis has shot Colonel Clayton and escapes on horseback. Joe and Ben join the posse that sets out to find Davis. Ben and Joe volunteer to cross the desert. Ben and Joe find Davis hold up at a water hole, when Indians attack and Ben is wounded in the leg, and steal the horses. Joe unties Davis, who tends to a wounded Ben, who is suspicious that Davis will try to escape. After playing a game of cat and mouse, Ben and Davis come to an agreement: survival. Joe makes the decision to cross the desert on foot, while Ben and Davis are at the water hole, both men in need of medical help and justice.
#5 - An Earthquake Called Callahan
Season 12 - Episode 28
The only person who can get Dusty out of jail is a professional fighter who will not return to Virginia City, so Joe stays on the man's heels no matter where he goes.
#7 - Woman of Fire
Season 6 - Episode 17
Ben's friend, Don Miguel, visits the Ponderosa with his two daughters, Margarita and Elena, and Elena's two very anxious suitors. Their mission? They're on their way to California to meet Margarita's suitor, Don Luis. Trouble is, Margarita is a "woman of fire" who manages to scare away all suitors with her hot temper. Since Margarita is the older daughter, she must be married before Elena. Elena's two suitors are quickly losing their patience, and Don Miguel fears his name will be disgraced if Margarita rejects Don Luis.
#8 - Justice Deferred
Season 9 - Episode 13
An anguished Hoss discovers that his testimony helped hang an innocent man accused of murder. As he struggles to bring the real killer to justice, Hoss must also combat the cowardice of another witness and the jury foreman, an influential banker.
#9 - The Thirteenth Man
Season 9 - Episode 17
The ranchers are once again losing stock to rustlers and not everyone agrees with range detective Marcus Alley's preventive methods.
#11 - It's a Small World
Season 11 - Episode 14
A prejudiced Virginia City banker spurns Ben's recommendation of a recent widower (with an infant daughter to raise) for a bank teller's job because he's a midget. The midget, a former circus performer, steals money from the bank to support his daughter.
#12 - The Courtship
Season 2 - Episode 16
Hoss plans to marry the widow of one of Ben's friends, not knowing she is a compulsive gambler and refusing to believe it when the other Cartwrights confront him with the truth.
#13 - The Way of Aaron
Season 4 - Episode 24
Adam takes a shine to Rebecca Kaufman, the daughter of a Jewish peddler, and bandits are convinced the Kaufman wagon is worth robbing.
#14 - Judgment at Olympus
Season 9 - Episode 4
Candy is arrested for committing murder in the town of Olympus. He is accused of killing Jed Wheelock, the son of wealthy A. Z. Wheelock. He insists on finding his son's killer but he wants a fair trial for Candy. Joe accompanies Candy to make sure things go smoothly, but when Joe is accused of killing a witness who claims he saw Candy kill Jed, Joe is locked up for murder with Candy, and it is up to Hoss to find the killer.
#15 - The Desperado
Season 12 - Episode 19
Hoss is held prisoner by a fugitive black couple who they admit hate white people and have nothing to lose by killing them.
#16 - False Witness
Season 9 - Episode 6
While at the bank in Sandust, Little Joe and the bank's secretary witness an armed robbery. During a subsequent gunfight, the main culprit kills the banker, but is quickly brought to justice. Joe, Hoss and Candy agree to be witnesses but must avoid being killed in the meantime.
#17 - The Duke
Season 2 - Episode 25
Hoss takes on The Duke Of London, an arrogant, abusive bare-knuckle fighter, though his brawn is no match for the Duke's agile skills.
#18 - Forever (2)
Season 14 - Episode 2
Little Joe learns of the tragic and savagely brutal circumstances of Alice's death and is determined to bring her killers to justice. While a good part of this episode focuses on the pursuit of the thugs that killed Alice, what made this episode was a moving scene where Ben comforts Joe over the death of his new wife. Sitting in the smoldering ruins of what was Joe's new home, Ben (who rarely gets emotional) and the ever-emotional Joe really grieve for Alice ... and in a way, this was their way to grieve the death of series star Dan Blocker.
#19 - The Gentle Ones
Season 9 - Episode 7
Most people consider Mark Cole a coward, but he does not hesitate to step forward when his brother attempts to break a horse by torturing it.
#20 - Star Crossed
Season 9 - Episode 23
Candy falls in love with a beautiful young woman, unaware that the man claiming to be her cousin is a bounty hunter who is not only harassing her but has framed her for murder and robbery.
#21 - Silent Thunder
Season 2 - Episode 13
Captivated by the pretty, deaf-mute daughter of a reclusive mountain man, Little Joe teaches the young woman sign language. Thrilled with her newfound ability to communicate, Annie mistakes her gratitude to Little Joe for love, much to the chagrin of Albie, who is determined to have her for his own.
#22 - Gabrielle
Season 3 - Episode 14
In this Christmas story, inspired by Johanna Spyri's "Heidi", Hoss and Joe come across a blind girl whose family has been killed in a wagon wreck, learning later that her grandfather is a bitter hermit who spent 21 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
#23 - Death at Dawn
Season 1 - Episode 32
Virginia City is plagued by organized crime, Sam Bryant and his gang. One of his men, Farmer Perkins, kills a storekeeper, and at his trial, the wife of the store owner is afraid to testify. When Perkins is sentenced to hang, Bryant kidnaps Ben and wants to exchange Ben for Perkins, which leaves Adam with the most difficult decision of his life. A stellar cast.
#25 - Vengeance
Season 2 - Episode 21
Hoss accidentally kills a drunk he was trying to disarm. The man's brother bushwhacks Hoss, who has lost the will to live. Joe makes a promise to Hoss that he will kill Red Twilight, the vengeful brother who bushwhacked Hoss, no matter what happens, and will not let Adam stand in his way.