The BEST Episodes of Bonanza

Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!

Last Updated: Apr 3, 2021

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.

Death at Dawn

#1 - 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 9.09
45 votes
Directors: Charles F. Haas
Writers: Laurence Mascott
Bitter Water

#2 - 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 9.02
48 votes
Directors: George Blair
Writers: Harold Jack Bloom
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
52 votes
Directors: Arthur Lubin
Writers: John Furia
The Search

#4 - The Search

Season 6 - Episode 21 - Aired Feb 14, 1965

Adam sets out to track down the man who has been impersonating him to clear his reputation.

star 8.67
6 votes
Writers: Frank Cleaver
The Horse Breaker

#5 - 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 8.30
47 votes
Directors: Don McDougall
Writers: Frank Chase
The Bride

#6 - 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 8.29
17 votes
Directors: Alvin Ganzer
Writers: Richard Newman
The Toy Soldier

#7 - 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 8.25
16 votes
Directors: Tay Garnett
Writers: Warren Douglas
Elegy for a Hangman

#8 - Elegy for a Hangman

Season 4 - Episode 17 - Aired Jan 20, 1963

A stranger, Bob Jolly, arrives in Virginia City to accuse a drunken Judge Harry Whitaker of sending his innocent father, Carl, to the gallows. Adam defends the judge's honor because of his long friendship with the Cartwrights. After Adam talks with Jolly, he begins to believe his story. Upon further investigation, Adam discovers that Senator Cal Prince and Hobie Klinderman as well as the judge might have had a lot to gain from Carl Jolly's murder. In an attempt to learn what really happened, Adam organizes an informal meeting in the saloon.

star 8.21
19 votes
Writers: E.M. Parsons, Shirl Hendryx
Day of the Dragon

#9 - 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 8.19
16 votes
Directors: Don McDougall
Writers: John T. Dugan

#10 - 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 8.19
16 votes
Directors: Dick Moder
Writers: Marion Parsonnet
The Lila Conrad Story

#11 - 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 8.18
11 votes
Directors: Tay Garnett
Writers: George Waggner, Preston Wood
Little Man...Ten Feet Tall

#12 - 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 8.13
15 votes
Directors: Lewis Allen
Writers: Eric Norden, Frank Arno
The Savage

#13 - The Savage

Season 2 - Episode 12 - Aired Dec 3, 1960

Adam's life is saved by a woman known to the Indians as White Buffalo Woman, but who is actually the daughter of Norwegian immigrants.

star 8.12
17 votes
Directors: James Neilson
Writers: Joe Stone, Paul King
The Crucible

#14 - The Crucible

Season 3 - Episode 28 - Aired Apr 8, 1962

Adam is left to die in the desert after two thieves take $5,000 and his horse from him. Near death, he stumbles into an old prospector named Kane who offers to lend him a mule and supplies in exchange for three day's work at his mine. Kane, however, turns out to be a demented madman. He holds Adam prisoner and tortures him to prove his theory that anyone could be driven to kill, even a man as rational as Adam. This is Pernell Robert's favorite episode along with "The Wooing Of Abigail Jones".

star 8.11
19 votes
Directors: Paul Nickell
Writers: John T. Dugan

#15 - Gabrielle

Season 3 - Episode 14 - Aired Dec 24, 1961

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.

star 8.11
19 votes
Directors: Lewis Allen
Writers: Anthony Lawrence
The Night Virginia City Died

#16 - 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 8.09
11 votes
Directors: William Wiard
Writers: John Hawkins
The Duke

#17 - 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 8.08
13 votes
Directors: Robert Altman
Writers: Mathilde Ferro, Theodore Ferro, William R. Cox
Bank Run

#18 - 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
13 votes
Directors: Robert Altman
Writers: N.B. Stone Jr.
Day of Reckoning

#19 - 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 8.07
14 votes
Writers: Leonard Heideman, R. Harner Norris
The Waiting Game

#20 - The Waiting Game

Season 5 - Episode 10 - Aired Dec 8, 1963

Adam becomes involved with the recently widowed Laura Dayton and her little girl, Peggy.

star 8.06
17 votes
Directors: Richard Sarafin
Writers: Ed Adamson
The Guilty

#21 - The Guilty

Season 3 - Episode 23 - Aired Feb 25, 1962

When Ben fails to prevent the death of a friend's son, Adam and Joe, concerned by their father's depression, attempt to prove there was nothing he could have done.

star 8.06
18 votes
Directors: Lewis Allen
Writers: Clifford Irving
The Hayburner

#22 - The Hayburner

Season 4 - Episode 21 - Aired Feb 17, 1963

For a change, it is Adam rather than Joe who becomes mixed up in one of Hoss' funny exploits. Together they purchase a thoroughbred horse, and end up competing against their little brother in the big Virginia City race. This is Pernell Robert's favorite comedy episode.

star 8.00
16 votes
Writers: Alex Sharp
The Dream Riders

#23 - The Dream Riders

Season 2 - Episode 32 - Aired May 20, 1961

To finance his dream of constructing an airship capable of crossing the Atlantic, Ben's old friend plans to rob the Virginia City bank while diverting the citizens' attention with a hot air balloon.

star 8.00
10 votes
Directors: Robert Altman
Writers: Jack McClain, James Van Wagoner
The Countess

#24 - 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 8.00
13 votes
Directors: Robert Sparr
Writers: William R. Cox
The Courtship

#25 - The Courtship

Season 2 - Episode 16 - Aired Jan 7, 1961

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.

star 7.94
16 votes
Writers: Richard Neil Morgan