The Best Episodes of Bonanza

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.

Feet of Clay

#1 - Feet of Clay

Season 1 - Episode 30

Hoss takes Billy Allen, the young son of a convicted felon under his wing, then is forced to kill his father and Billy will not forgive him. The most emotional Hoss story since "The Newcomers" and one of Blocker's best.

star 8.36
11 votes
Directors: Arthur Lubin
Death at Dawn

#2 - 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.

star 8.30
10 votes
The Horse Breaker

#3 - The Horse Breaker

Season 3 - Episode 10

A professional wrangler working for the Cartwrights is paralyzed when thrown by a particularly mean bronco. The woman nursing him was once engaged to the late son of a neighboring rancher out to get Ben.

star 7.89
9 votes
Directors: Don McDougall
San Francisco

#4 - San Francisco

Season 1 - Episode 28

In this comic episode, the first to take place far from the ranch, Ben, Hoss, and Joe deliver a herd to San Francisco. Although he warns his sons to be careful in the big city ("This is not the Ponderosa!"), Ben is the one who is shanghaied and must be rescued.

star 7.89
9 votes
Directors: Arthur Lubin
Bitter Water

#5 - Bitter Water

Season 1 - Episode 29

Len Keith, a miner, wants to purchase some land adjacent to the Ponderosa from rancher Andy McKaren. Andy's son, Tod, is anxious to sell. Keith has offered him a partnership,and more importantly, he is in love with Keith's daughter. When Ben warns Andy that a mine on the property would foul up Ponderosa water, Andy agrees not to sell the land. Len Keith, determined to get that land, plants tick infested cattle in a Ponderosa herd to turn Andy against the Cartwrights.

star 7.78
9 votes
Directors: George Blair
Desert Justice

#6 - Desert Justice

Season 1 - Episode 23

When a tough U.S. Marshal from California arrests a Ponderosa hand, Dave Walker, for murder, Adam and Hoss go along to make sure their employee reaches Los Angeles alive. In one scene, Adam is dressed in black for the first time. In another, Hoss, upon seeing Southern California for the first time, remarks, "It sure ain't never gonna amount to much". Later, Adam makes an amusing reference to the chow Joe says he was forced to eat in "The Last Hunt".

star 7.75
8 votes
Directors: Lewis Allen
The Last Trophy

#7 - The Last Trophy

Season 1 - Episode 27

Adam takes Ben's friends, Lord Marion Dunsworth and Lady Beatrice, on a hunting expedition, and they are captured by a gang of crude thieves and murderers. During one early scene, after listening to Ben reminisce, Hoss says, "Always like to hear Pa get wound up. He don't do it often."

star 7.70
10 votes
Directors: Lewis Allen
Escape to Ponderosa

#8 - Escape to Ponderosa

Season 1 - Episode 25

After Adam is bushwhacked by three army deserters, Ben tracks them down, and tackles the brutal Captain Bolton who is pursuing them.

star 7.57
14 votes
A Rose for Lotta

#9 - A Rose for Lotta

Season 1 - Episode 1

The scene opens to Ben and Adam Cartwright looking at the beautiful scenery of the Ponderosa. This episode is about mine owners wanting Ponderosa timber and Ben won't sell it to them. So they hire an actress and she lures Little Joe into town and the land miners hold him hostage for the timber. Ben and his sons go into town, and spend the whole night looking for Little Joe, and he is busy hiding from the mine owners. In the end they find Little Joe dancing with the actress and they ride into the sunset.

star 7.53
107 votes
Directors: Edward Ludwig
Enter Mark Twain

#10 - Enter Mark Twain

Season 1 - Episode 5

Samuel Clemens arrives in Virginia City to write for the Territorial Enterprise at the same time a crooked politician tries to lay claim on the Ponderosa.

star 7.40
30 votes
Directors: Paul Landres
The Avenger

#11 - The Avenger

Season 1 - Episode 26

A restaurant owner whom Ben and Adam have confronted over stolen Ponderosa beef ends up dead one night. His daughter, Sally Byrnes runs the cafe and in her resentment, wrongfully accuses Ben and Adam of murdering her father and they are sentenced to hang. A rancher by the name of Hawkins is also jealous of the Cartwrights and has hired his men to stop the town from helping Ben and Adam, ensuring they hang. Hoss and Joe are willing to stop them, but Ben insists they stay within the limits of the law.

star 7.33
9 votes
Directors: Christian Nyby
The Newcomers

#12 - The Newcomers

Season 1 - Episode 3

John Pennington and his crew want to mine the Ponderosa land by hydraulic means. Ben is totally against this method and evicts them in short order. Hoss is given the task of telling Pennington's men to leave, but soon has a moral dilemma on his hands when he meets Pennington's beautiful sister, Emily. He soon discovers a heartbreaking secret...she's terminally ill; but their relationship soon leads to plenty of trouble for the Cartwrights.

star 7.26
35 votes
The Paiute War

#13 - The Paiute War

Season 1 - Episode 4

Trader Mike Wilson attempts to escape punishment by the Paiute Indians after mistreating two of their women, by placing the blame on Adam. A fierce war between the Paiutes and the California militia follows, and the Paiutes seize Adam as hostage. Very impressive battle scenes in the this first mini-epic of the series. This episode did all it could to stage the real thing; 50 Indians were used and 50 cavalry actors and extras were used, and the production involved three days of shooting on location. This episode encompassed both the biggest cast and most costly stunts. This episode is based on the factual accounting that occured in May and June of 1860.

star 7.21
34 votes
Directors: Paul Landres
The Phillip Diedesheimer Story

#14 - The Phillip Diedesheimer Story

Season 1 - Episode 8

Adam and Hoss assist a German engineer in developing the concept of "square set timbering" in the mines. Based on fact, and the first episode not to include all four Cartwrights. Hoss refers to the character, Emily, with whom he was in love with in, "The Newcomers".

star 7.18
17 votes
Directors: Joseph Kane
Death on Sun Mountain

#15 - Death on Sun Mountain

Season 1 - Episode 2

Greedy opportunist Mark Burdette and his accomplice Early Thorne stir up trouble between the Paiute tribe and the citizens of Virginia City. Ben discovers Burdette and Thorne are selling antelope beef to the miners and finds the price too high. He offers the miners beef at a more reasonable price. Burdette and Thorne retaliate by framing the Paiute's for attacks, by dressing as them and killing ranchers. Based on a factual accounting. Lorne Greene's first voice-over narration, and no landing constructed yet for the Ponderosa stairway.

star 7.16
61 votes
Directors: Paul Landres
The Saga of Annie O'Toole

#16 - The Saga of Annie O'Toole

Season 1 - Episode 7

Adam defends the mining claim of Annie O' Toole in a court presided over by Judge Ben Cartwright. Annie comes to the Washoe Diggings with a claim to a mine filed by her beau, Swede Lundberg. Swede has two claims and sold one to an acquaintance of theirs named Gregory Spain, creating confusion, that only Judge Ben Cartwright can make a ruling on.

star 7.16
19 votes
Directors: Joseph Kane
The Julia Bulette Story

#17 - The Julia Bulette Story

Season 1 - Episode 6

Little Joe is infatuated wih saloon owner Julia Bulette, whom he imagines is like his late mother. First episode to reveal backround details concerning Marie Cartwright, and inspired by the true story of a Virginia City madam. Also, the first episode to showcase Michael Landon.

star 7.15
26 votes
Directors: Christian Nyby
Blood on the Land

#18 - Blood on the Land

Season 1 - Episode 22

A shiftless sheepherder, Jeb Drummond, encroaches his herd of sheep on the Ponderosa and refuses to budge. He resists all of Ben's attempts to throw him off his land and finally resorts to taking Adam prisoner in exchange for ownership of the ranch.

star 7.14
7 votes
Directors: Felix Feist
The Truckee Strip

#19 - The Truckee Strip

Season 1 - Episode 11

Luther Bishop and Ben Cartwright have had an ongoing land dispute for a number of years, over a small tract called the Truckee Strip. One of Bishop's employee's has a grudge against the Cartwrights and wants to stir up the feud again, while also harboring designs on Bishop's pretty daughter, Amy. Joe meets and falls in love with Amy, in spite of the family differences and the two want to marry. Just when it looks like the feud will end with the union of the two young people, Bishop's man attacks Amy and Joe must come to the rescue.

star 7.13
15 votes
Directors: Christian Nyby
The Stranger

#20 - The Stranger

Season 1 - Episode 24

Nevada Territory is awaiting statehood, and Ben considers running for governor until he learns he is wanted for murder in New Orleans. Inspector Charles Leduque arrives and says Ben is wanted for commiting the murder 20 years earlier, and after Joe kills his bodyguard in self-defense, Inspector Leduque makes it appear the other way around. Ben has no choice but go with Leduque, to clear his name in a very suspense-filled episode. Once again, there are several references to Joe's mother, and viewers are shown Marie's grave near the shore of Lake Tahoe.

star 7.13
8 votes
Dark Star

#21 - Dark Star

Season 1 - Episode 31

Joe falls in love with Tirza, an undeniably strange gypsy girl who says she is cursed and never does seem to "snap out of it". The first episode of the series with a supernatural flavor, directed appropriately enough, by Lewis Allen, who made the classic ghost film "The Uninvited".

star 7.10
10 votes
Directors: Lewis Allen
The Hanging Posse

#22 - The Hanging Posse

Season 1 - Episode 12

Adam and Joe reluctantly join a group of vengeful townsmen, who are out to lynch the three men who supposedly killed Vannie Johnson. The posse is run by Paiute Scroggs and Flint Johnson, the dead woman's husband. When Adam and Joe clash with them, they both separate and try to reach the three men before the posse does. This episode's storyline is a variation of the 1943 film "The Ox-Bow Incident".

star 6.95
19 votes
Directors: Christian Nyby
The Magnificent Adah

#23 - The Magnificent Adah

Season 1 - Episode 10

Virginia City is visited by actress Adah Issacs Menken, who happens to be an old acquaintance of Ben's. Joe is badly beaten by Adah's jealous suitor, John C. Regan, who is bested in a fight with an enraged Hoss.

star 6.94
17 votes
Directors: Christian Nyby
Mr. Henry Comstock

#24 - Mr. Henry Comstock

Season 1 - Episode 9

In a flashback, the legendary prospector arrives on the Ponderosa and participates in the founding of Virginia City. Coincidentally, guest star Jack Carson played a teller at the Comstock Bank and Trust in the 1942 film, "Gentleman Jim". This early classic was the second episode filmed.

star 6.91
11 votes
Directors: John Brahm