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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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".
#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."
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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".
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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".
#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".
#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.
#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.