The BEST Episodes of Bonanza

Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!

Last Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Network: NBC

The show chronicles the weekly adventures of the Cartwright family, headed by the thrice-widowed patriarch Ben Cartwright. He had three sons, each by a different wife: the eldest was the urbane architect Adam who built the ranch house; the second was the warm and lovable giant Eric "Hoss"; and the youngest was the hotheaded and impetuous Joseph or "Little Joe". Via exposition and flashback episodes and each wife was accorded a different ethnicity. The family's cook was the Chinese immigrant Hop Sing.

Bitter Water

#1 - Bitter Water

Season 1 - Episode 29 - Aired Apr 9, 1960

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 9.18
44 votes
Directors: George Blair
Writers: Harold Jack Bloom
Death at Dawn

#2 - Death at Dawn

Season 1 - Episode 32 - Aired Apr 30, 1960

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 9.07
43 votes
Directors: Charles F. Haas
Writers: Laurence Mascott
Feet of Clay

#3 - Feet of Clay

Season 1 - Episode 30 - Aired Apr 16, 1960

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 9.02
49 votes
Directors: Arthur Lubin
Writers: John Furia
The Night Virginia City Died

#4 - The Night Virginia City Died

Season 12 - Episode 1 - Aired Sep 13, 1970

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?

star 8.70
10 votes
Directors: William Wiard
Writers: John Hawkins
The Duke

#5 - The Duke

Season 2 - Episode 25 - Aired Mar 11, 1961

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.

star 8.58
12 votes
Directors: Robert Altman
Writers: Mathilde Ferro, Theodore Ferro, William R. Cox
The Power of Life and Death

#6 - The Power of Life and Death

Season 12 - Episode 5 - Aired Oct 11, 1970

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.

star 8.56
9 votes
Directors: Leo Penn
Writers: Joel Murcott
The Horse Breaker

#7 - The Horse Breaker

Season 3 - Episode 10 - Aired Nov 26, 1961

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 8.38
45 votes
Directors: Don McDougall
Writers: Frank Chase
Desperate Passage

#8 - Desperate Passage

Season 9 - Episode 8 - Aired Nov 5, 1967

Driving horses to Utah, the Cartwrights and Candy discover only two people left in a town wiped out by rampaging Paiute Indians. Together, Mary Burns and Josh Tanner must travel through hostile territory, along with the Cartwrights and Candy.

star 8.38
8 votes
Directors: Leon Benson
Writers: John Hawkins
The Lila Conrad Story

#9 - The Lila Conrad Story

Season 5 - Episode 14 - Aired Jan 5, 1964

Joe and Adam protect a saloon girl, who has killed in self-defense, from an angry lynch mob. The accompanying Judge, along with his wife, takes a liking to Lila, and before it is all over, he and Lila discover much more about themselves.

star 8.33
9 votes
Directors: Tay Garnett
Writers: George Waggner, Preston Wood
The Burning Sky

#10 - The Burning Sky

Season 9 - Episode 18 - Aired Jan 28, 1968

A cruel, sadistic, alcoholic and racist rancher named Aaron Gore stalks the wife of Ben's friend, whom he has hired as a horse trainer. The woman is a glowingly beautiful Sioux who befriends Mr. Gore's son, whom he regularly beats up. Mr. Gore uses some incredibly vicious means to ensure she regrets ever having anything to do with his son.

star 8.33
3 votes
Directors: John Rich
Writers: Carol Saraceno, William H. Wright
Return Engagement

#11 - Return Engagement

Season 11 - Episode 22 - Aired Mar 1, 1970

En route to San Francisco, actress Lotta Crabtree arrives in Virginia City for a special performance. Hoss is smitten by the beautiful actress, which makes her leading man jealous. When he is killed during a performance, Lotta and then Hoss are suspected of the death. It is up to Ben to set things straight.

star 8.33
3 votes
Directors: Don Richardson
Writers: Stanley Roberts
The Lady and the Mountain Lion

#12 - The Lady and the Mountain Lion

Season 10 - Episode 21 - Aired Feb 23, 1969

A shady magician, with his twin daughters, comes to Virginia City and there is a lot of confusion with the daughters of the magician, twin confusion!

star 8.25
4 votes
Directors: Joseph Pevney
Writers: Larry Markes
Little Man...Ten Feet Tall

#13 - Little Man...Ten Feet Tall

Season 4 - Episode 34 - Aired May 26, 1963

When a Italian immigrant comes to the Ponderosa, he decides he wants to give up the guitar to become a cowboy.

star 8.25
12 votes
Directors: Lewis Allen
Writers: Eric Norden, Frank Arno
A Question of Strength

#14 - A Question of Strength

Season 5 - Episode 6 - Aired Oct 27, 1963

Hoss and a pair of nuns, the younger one having a difficult time training for the order, are robbed and stranded at a way station.

star 8.17
12 votes
Directors: Don McDougall
Writers: Frank Cleaver
Day of the Dragon

#15 - Day of the Dragon

Season 3 - Episode 11 - Aired Dec 3, 1961

Joe wins a card game and an unexpected prize...a young lady. She goes to the Ponderosa and serves them, not wanting to be set free. Meanwhile, an army is looking for her and the Cartwrights.

star 8.14
14 votes
Directors: Don McDougall
Writers: John T. Dugan

#16 - Riot!

Season 14 - Episode 5 - Aired Oct 3, 1972

While at the Nevada State Prison to inspect conditions, Ben is taken hostage in a riot. The riot is an attempt by frustrated inmates to expose horrific conditions at the prison. While Joe and Candy plan to resolve the situation, Ben begins a friendship with Griff King (who isn't exactly receptive), and helps communicate the inmates' demands to the warden and state prison board.

star 8.14
7 votes
Directors: Lewis Allen
Writers: Robert Pirosh
The Secret

#17 - The Secret

Season 2 - Episode 31 - Aired May 6, 1961

Joe is the victim of an elaborate frame-up, accused of murdering a pregnant girl. When Ben is asked if Joe is telling the truth, he replies, "If I were to start doubting my son at this point, everything I've lived and worked for would be lost".

star 8.10
10 votes
Directors: Robert Altman
Writers: John Hawkins
The Countess

#18 - The Countess

Season 3 - Episode 9 - Aired Nov 19, 1961

A woman Ben once loved, Lady Chadwick, returns and attempts to trick him into marrying her by ruining his business. Ben says almost losing the Ponderosa will make him and his sons appreciate it more.

star 8.09
11 votes
Directors: Robert Sparr
Writers: William R. Cox
Bank Run

#19 - Bank Run

Season 2 - Episode 19 - Aired Jan 28, 1961

When they "rob" the bank in Virginia City to save depositors from being cleaned out by its president, Hoss and Joe wind up wanted by the law.

star 8.08
12 votes
Directors: Robert Altman
Writers: N.B. Stone Jr.
The Toy Soldier

#20 - The Toy Soldier

Season 5 - Episode 5 - Aired Oct 20, 1963

Adam encounters drunken artist James Callan, branded a "squaw man" because he is married to an Indian, and whose talent is going to waste in the town of Sheep Head.

star 8.08
13 votes
Directors: Tay Garnett
Writers: Warren Douglas
Day of Reckoning

#21 - Day of Reckoning

Season 2 - Episode 7 - Aired Oct 22, 1960

Prejudice erupts on both sides when Ben gives an Indian named Matsou and his wife, some of his land, after saving Ben's life from a renegade Indian who almost killed him on the Ponderosa. An intense and magnetic performance by Ricardo Montalban.

star 8.08
13 votes
Writers: Leonard Heideman, R. Harner Norris
The Many Faces of Gideon Flinch

#22 - The Many Faces of Gideon Flinch

Season 3 - Episode 7 - Aired Nov 5, 1961

Hoss and Joe become involved when "Bullethead" Burke vows revenge on an old man he claims cheated him in an investment deal.

star 8.08
13 votes
Directors: Robert Altman
Writers: Robert Vincent Wright
Something Hurt, Something Wild

#23 - Something Hurt, Something Wild

Season 8 - Episode 1 - Aired Sep 11, 1966

The Cartwrights' friendship with a neighboring rancher is threatened by his mentally unstable daughter.

star 8.07
14 votes
Directors: William Witney
Writers: William R. Cox
The Bride

#24 - The Bride

Season 2 - Episode 18 - Aired Jan 21, 1961

The Cartwright boys are surprised to find that a woman, claiming to have recently married their father, shows up on their doorstep. When Ben gets home, he is just as surprised as they are. Has the lady been swindled by a con-man, or is she something of a con-woman herself?

star 8.07
15 votes
Directors: Alvin Ganzer
Writers: Richard Newman

#25 - Vengeance

Season 2 - Episode 21 - Aired Feb 11, 1961

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.

star 8.07
15 votes
Directors: Dick Moder
Writers: Marion Parsonnet