If you enjoyed the last episode penned by Gene L. Coon, I have to ask why?
But there’s a chance you’ll also enjoy this one, which is also about strained relations with the Paiute and based off of an actual historical event.
We begin as we always do: with a man riding up on a horse to look at something. This time, the man is Mike Wilson, played by Jack Warden, and the something is a small trading post. Inside, Mike’s brother is negotiating a deal with two Bannock fur traders, who have brought along their wives to pick out fabrics. The Wilson brothers are intensely horrible people, and they decide to take the two women as payment for a bolt of cotton. Naturally, the fur traders object, but they’re severely beaten. And then we go to the title sequence!
It’s always jarring when the teaser is dramatic and, right after, the theme song is so jaunty.
Over on the Ponderosa, Hoss and Little Joe are heading to San Francisco for vague business reasons, and Ben warns them not to get shanghaied. There’s an awesome episode later on where they do get shanghaied, but right now we have to watch this less amusing episode where only upsetting things happen. Sorry.
Ben’s got things to do in Virginia City, so Adam rides down to the grazing pasture alone. There he finds Bruno, one of the Bannock traders from earlier, who tells him about the Wilsons. The guy playing Bruno is doing a ridiculously bad job, and it would be funnier if he wasn’t bleeding to death and begging Adam to help him.
Adam gives us the very first example of his angry-about-society face, which will become a classic standby, and offers to go get the sheriff. Bruno says it’s too late for sensible action. Nuntah, the other trader, has already gone to Ring Nose – the leader of the Shoshone-Bannock – and now they’re organizing retaliation.
Adam’s not too fond of Ring Nose’s usual approach to problem solving, and thinks it would have been better if Nuntah had gone to Winnemucca, since they’re in Paiute territory anyway. He says “powder keg,” so if you’re playing any kind of Western cliché drinking game, take a shot.
In the distance, smoke signals start to fill the sky. “Ring Nose calls braves!” Bruno says with a vaguely German accent, just to change things up. Adam is certain there’s still time to make sure this doesn’t turn into a total bloodbath, if they can get to the Wilsons before Ring Nose does. I really want him to be right, but I’m looking at my chart of which of Ben’s sons have been kidnaped so far and…
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, Adam Cartwright.
Meanwhile, over at Wilson Station, everybody is drunk and confused about why the two women they’ve kidnapped and assaulted don’t seem more into them. The women have managed to barricade themselves in a storage room, but Mike Wilson drags them out. Things are just about to get extremely unpleasant when Adam busts the door down with his gun drawn. He disarms the men and the two women run gratefully to Bruno, even though it might have been smarter to go stand behind the man with the revolver.
Mike Wilson is all: “What’s the problem, mysteriously angry dude? They’re just chicks!”
Adam doesn’t even bother to explain what’s wrong with that question, he instead opts to defeat the Wilsons in a quick and vicious display of pugilism. He and Bruno decide to head back to the Ponderosa.
“That damn Cartwright stole our women!” Mike Wilson grumbles, clearly struggling to grasp the concept that women are people. He tries to get the others all geared up to chase Adam and Bruno down, but they’re too drunk to care.
Wilson decides to go alone, and just as he’s riding out, Ring Nose and half a dozen warriors ride in. They shoot at Wilson, who makes it safely away, and bust into the station. They drag out Wilson’s brother and a third guy who hasn’t said anything, and they execute them at gunpoint.
Ring Nose orders his men to ride into Sun Valley, and we get a montage of them killing people and burning houses down on their way in. There’s an implication that reactionary murders are going to create more problems than they solve, but I don’t see how that could possibly be true.
Almost instantly, the men of Virginia City hold a town meeting, so that the leading citizens can discuss all of the recent examples of arson and dead people. Mike Wilson has been invited to speak, and he tells the crowd that a group of one hundred “naked, painted braves” rode up to the station “hootin’ and hollerin’” and gunned everybody down. A dude in a lavender top hat asks him if it was Winnemucca.
Hell, half the time Mike’s too drunk to tell white people apart, and these fine gentlemen seem to think that Winnemucca is responsible; so who is he, the only eye witness, to correct them? Yes. It was Winnemucca.
He tells the sad story of helplessly watching his brother die, right when Ben walks in to buy oranges or whatever. The meeting is taking place in a combination civic hall/liquor store/produce aisle, because Virginia City is still very small. Somebody demands to know why Winnemucca would do such a thing, and Ben looks around at the townsfolk all confused like: “Is Winnemucca angry again? What did you morons do to his antelope this time?”
Before he can start some kind of speech about brotherhood and fair trials, a frantic prospector runs in with the news that seven or eight mysterious indians have killed more settlers, including a well-liked man and his wife. Everybody stands up to go get their pitchforks and sawed-off shotguns. But Lavender Top Hat is a cool customer, and he tells them that it’s no good rushing off in a blind rage. If they’re going to get revenge on the Paiutes, they’re going to need organizing.
“I wasn’t a Major in the army for nothing,” says Major Lavender Top Hat, “We’ll do this the military way! Get as many men as we can, and then just rush ‘em with a bunch of bayonets.”
(I may have misquoted the last sentence.)
Further cheering occurs as everybody drunkenly celebrates the horrible genocide they’re planning thanks to a bunch of lies.
Later, Ben is in the office of local respected person Bill Stewart. Stewart has briefly forgotten who he is, despite having helpfully personalized stationary around, so Ben reminds him that he is the town’s leading citizen. Apparently, Ben and Stewart have had disagreements in the past, probably about environmentalism, but Ben thinks they should team up and put a stop to this stupid militia idea.
We learn a little more about Major Lavender Top Hat. First, his name is Ormsby. Second, he’s no drunken fool, he’s a good soldier. Questionable taste in headwear aside, Ormsby isn’t the kind of person to start a mini-war – at least, not according to Stewart, whom we have never met before and will never see again after this episode.
Ben’s emphatic that trouble is about to be made. Stewart counters that Ben is a worrisome old biddy, but he agrees to help. He’ll talk to whoever’s still planning to go to mini-war in the morning.
Back at the Ponderosa, a soft evening breeze rustles the fake trees as Bruno stands stoically on the front porch, waiting for news. Adam comes out and says that the women have been given a spare room and everything looks okay, he offers to let them stay the night. Bruno thinks this is a good idea and heads inside to check on his wife.
Ben rides up, grumbling about how everybody is a drunken idiot, and it looks like there’s a good chance he spent the whole ride home telling his horse about it. Adam tentatively asks what’s wrong, but it’s with the hesitance of someone who doesn’t want to be the person who just gave their dad permission to complain about dragonfly conservation for three hours.
So Ben tells Adam how some Paiutes went wild and attacked Wilson station, and Adam corrects him and explains that there weren’t any Paiutes involved at all. Wilson probably changed the story so that he wouldn’t be thrown in jail for kidnapping.
Huh. Well. Now Team Cartwright really need to stop all of those guys from attacking the Paiute.
Adam gets a little freaked out and urges Ben to go back to town right away to correct everybody. Ben says that the townsfolk are far too drunk and keyed up to listen to reason, and that Bill Stewart’s going to take care of things in the morning. Adam doesn’t like it, but he – god knows why – trusts his father’s judgment.
One thing upsets him, though. When he was at Wilson Station, he says, he wanted to kill the Wilsons himself. So he understands that. But why did Ring Nose have to slaughter random people on his way back to the mountains?
Ben has this disturbingly racist answer:
“They’re primitive and proud. And once they’ve tasted blood…”
(Maybe he’s thinking of Shere Khan, or perhaps a different villainous tiger?)
The next morning, Major Ormsby rides up to his tiny army of fools in the heart of Virginia City. He’s dressed in his old military uniform, which is usually a sign of lunacy. I have to say, it’s much harder to pick him out of a crowd without the old haut-de-forme.
He goes over to Wilson and that excitable prospector from earlier, and notices that most of the men who are willing to fight are still wasted from the night before. Those who sobered up before daybreak, or those who decided to go to bed instead of committing atrocities, have effectively surrendered to the non-existent Paiute threat. The cowards.
Mike Wilson is all: “We just need enough guys to shoot a bunch of indians without anybody asking them any direct questions about yesterday’s events! I’m certainly not framing anyone!” And the crowd cheers and passes around another whiskey jug.
Bill Stewart arrives with Ben and Adam. He jumps up onto the sidewalk like he’s Professor Harold Hill, and calls for everyone’s attention. Ormsby right away orders Stewart to button it, as though he should be recognized as the commanding officer in the new militia-based hierarchy.
Lots of Westerns dealt with the difficulty of seeing the difference between a good soldier and an effective soldier. Shows like Rawhide and The Rifleman, where the main characters were veterans of the Civil War, often tackled these themes head on. But Bonanza preferred sneaking right up to the edge of certain issues without directly discussing them. The fact that none of the Cartwrights, not even Ben, had ever been soldiers, hindered these kinds of plots. Their military villains were usually under-developed.
Anyway, Bill Stewart tells the crowd that the Paiute haven’t done anything wrong, and that the Bannock are responsible for the killings. Mike Wilson steps forward and announces that he ought to know more about it than anybody, he was the only eye witness. Adam starts to argue that point, calmly pointing out that Mike is a liar and a rapist.
Mike sees that he now has a problem, so he decides it’s time to blame Adam for everything.
Apparently, Adam came in with his Paiute best friend and demanded that the Wilsons sell them some booze. When the Wilsons refused, Adam swore vengeance and promised to have “the whole Paiute tribe” attack the station. Moments later, a hundred Paiute braves tore Wilson’s brother and partner to pieces. Which is a different method of death than the one he described to the mob earlier, and maybe somebody should have noticed that. Also, they should have noticed that Adam would never use words like “booze” unless he was making fun of someone.
The rowdy drunken crowd of idiots is all for hanging Adam, so Ben intervenes with a different approach. He says that if a stupid drunken mob, off their faces from ten hours of continuous keg pounding, tries any sort of military manoeuver against Winnemucca’s highly trained, elite warriors, nobody’s going to come home alive.
Might have been nice if you’d defended your son, Ben.
Adam’s done with this, and gives a speech that amounts to: “The Paiutes haven’t killed anybody. I haven’t killed anybody. You’re all human garbage.”
Ormsby gets up in Adam’s face and wants to know why, if no Paiutes were involved in the attack, did all of the Paiutes leave town before word had even properly spread about the massacre? Adam begins to explain how minority groups develop a grapevine to protect themselves, but Ormsby cuts him off and says that sociology is witchcraft.
Bill Stewart decides to jump in, and he suggests that everybody go and talk to Winnemucca and see what’s actually up. Reluctantly, Ormsby agrees and asks Stewart to come along. Stewart says that he can do more for the group by staying in town and not doing anything. Ben will go instead.
Adam volunteers to go as well, probably so that he can get in a righteous I-told-you-so, and Ormsby commands that all men with horses are to go along with him. Somehow, they obtain a drummer boy, and the procession of drunks, cowards, lunatics, and two Cartwrights, makes its way into the mountains.
They notice signal fires on the horizon, and Ben says that the Paiute have probably heard them coming for miles. You know what? It was probably the drummer boy. Who thought that was necessary?!
Time to check in with old Winnemucca himself. He’s being played by a different and much better actor than last time. Star Trek fans might recognize him as Bela Oxmyx from that one episode on the mafia planet. Winnemucca is holding his own version of a town meeting, when a scout comes to tell him that Ormsby has about thirty men with him, including Ben and “the son he calls Adam.”
Adam’s such a dumb name. What did Ben do, open a book and pick the name of the first guy that was in there?
Young Wolf, Winnemucca’s son, thinks that they should just shoot the militia full of arrows and leave their bodies for the animals to find. Star Trek fans might recognize the actor playing Young Wolf as Apollo from that one episode where everybody meets Apollo. He says that if Ben Cartwright, who’s supposed to be Winnemucca’s friend, is riding with the army sent to kill everybody, it means that the situation is now irreversibly hostile.
Winnemucca is certain that Ben is only coming to have a conversation. Young Wolf wants to know why somebody would bring thirty armed men and a rifle to a conversation. He points out that nobody is on their way to talk to the Bannock, which seems a little messed up in his opinion. Winnemucca concedes, and tells his men to take position on the rocks and keep their guns aimed at the white men. Nobody is supposed to shoot.
If you sat through The Meat Episode with us, you might remember Hoss talking about how the Paiute never use guns. I guess they decided to change tactics after the antelope-war-that-barely-happened.
A group of elders is going to go down and talk with Ben and his violent companions, but if peace should turn to war, Young Wolf is in charge of killing anything that moves. Young Wolf doesn’t seem impetuous, but there’s a glimmer of rage in his eyes that could lead to trouble.
When Winnemucca greets the militia, Ormsby somehow takes this as a sign of aggression. I seriously have no idea why. He’s about to order an attack, when Adam points out that they’re surrounded by snipers. Ormsby is surprised that ambushes are a thing. They didn’t have them back in his army days.
Ben talks Ormsby into speaking with Winnemucca.
Winnemucca goes first. He opens with how disappointing it is that Ben has come to kill him and his family. Ben replies that he’s not here to kill anybody, he’s here to talk about peace. Ormsby’s all: “This is taking too long! Get to the point!” We’re seriously two sentences into this conversation, and this idiot can’t handle the tedium of diplomacy. Ben tells Ormsby to shut up, or everybody’ll wind up dead for no reason.
The militia is covering Ormsby, Ben, and Adam from behind some rocks. Mike Wilson is starting to get a little nervous about all of the talking that’s happening. After all, people might not be pleased to learn that he covered up his own criminal activities by starting a war. Mike wishes more people would solve their problems with guns.
His drunken prospector friend sees two Paiute snipers watching from higher ground. Of course, Mike takes aim and kills one of them. This starts a firefight between both sides, even though Ben and Winnemucca both yell at their men to stop shooting. In the confusion, Adam and Ben both get knocked out at different times.
Everything goes to absolute hell.
Both sides suffer high losses, including the drunken old prospector and Major Ormsby. Some clear-minded individual manages to pull Ben out of the conflict, and Ben weakly tries to go back for Adam, but it’s too dangerous and there’s no time.
Everybody is dead. Dramatic commercial.
Virginia City’s small hospital is overflowing with the dozen or so survivors, as Bill Stewart makes his way over to Ben. Ben’s getting all bandaged up and mumbling about how Adam is dead. Mike Wilson, looking as fresh as a daisy, tells Stewart that Ben led everybody into a trap.
He’s just the worst.
Wilson says that everybody knows Ben’s an ally of the Paiute. Stewart points out that if Ben was part of the ambush, how come they killed his eldest son? Then Wilson tries to say that he saw Adam run off with some of the Paiute snipers, which is when Stewart puts the brakes on all this.
“You talk an awful lot,” He says, towering over Wilson, “it better be that all of it is true.”
Wilson looks worried, like he’s suddenly realized that more lies will make things worse instead of better. He backtracks a little and says that he saw Winnemucca order Adam’s unconscious body taken with them. Ben staggers over, begging Wilson to tell him if it’s true.
Stewart tells Ben that trusting Wilson might not be the best idea, and that if Adam is alive, right now it’ll just raise questions about why he was the only one spared. For the sake of Ben’s sanity, it might be better to believe only what he saw with his own eyes. No more, no less. Ben renounces sanity and demands to know if his son is alive or not.
Stewart tells the crazy old man to go back to the Ponderosa and have a bowl of soup.
Once Ben’s gone, Wilson is like: “You’re letting him get away with murder!” And Stewart looks at Wilson like he knows what he’s done, he just doesn’t have any proof. He assigns Wilson to take a couple of men to go get the California militia – the one sanctioned by the government – since they’re going to need help. Ugh. Somebody hurry up and kill Wilson. Whoever does it gets a million Monopoly dollars and my undying gratitude.
Back at the Paiute village, surprise! Adam is alive! His hands are bound, and he looks a little less polished than he normally does, but he’s totally alive. He’s thrown before Winnemucca, and he’s not really happy about the way things are going.
Young Wolf wants to know why his father is keeping a prisoner, and also why everybody isn’t burning Virginia City to the ground. He’s not really happy about the way things are going, either. Winnemucca tells his son to shut his trap, and that there are lots of different tactics for all kinds of outcomes. Politics is complicated.
Winnemucca asks Adam to explain to Young Wolf what the white man is going to do now. So, Adam says that they’ll probably send for the official California militia, which is about a thousand armed men, and wipe out the Paiute. Young Wolf calls Adam a liar and holds a knife to his throat. Adam tells Winnemucca to talk to Ben, to make peace because there’s no other option. Yes, the Paiute can defeat a bunch of drunken miners out for revenge, but the troops coming from California will outnumber them two-to-one, and they’ll probably be sober.
Luckily, Winnemucca has a plan. They will go to Ben Cartwright, and they’ll tell him that if the army marches on the Paiute, his son will be killed at once!
Adam prefers his original plan.
Over on the Ponderosa, Ben is getting ready to go and meet with Winnemucca when Little Joe rides up. Apparently, word of the trouble in Virginia City got to Sacramento, so he and Hoss decided that Hoss would go do business in San Francisco, and Little Joe would go home to
make things worse
help. Little Joe asks where Adam is.
He’s on a beautiful farm, Joe. Playing with other architects and talking about Longfellow. They’ve got lots of room for him to run around, and he says he’ll write you letters at Christmastime!
“Your brother is being held prisoner by the Paiutes.” Ben says angrily, saddling up his horse. Little Joe wants to know if Adam’s okay, and Ben tells him they have to go to some kind of ransom drop or negotiation, and he’ll explain everything later.
Little Joe is baffled that so much could have gone so wrong while he was away. Now he knows how everybody else feels when they leave him alone for two days, and come home to find him hosting cockfights in the backyard so that he can get out of his impetuous engagement to a fake baroness. Confusing as hell, isn’t it, Joe?
They ride to the meeting place, where Winnemucca and his men are waiting. They bring out Adam, who looks even shabbier than the last time we saw him, and Adam looks right at Little Joe and says:
“Did a group of vigilantes run you out of San Francisco?”
Little Joe tries to smile and make a snappy comeback, but he’s too worried. If Adam dies, Little Joe will have to become Hoss, and he doesn’t think he can eat that much.
Winnemucca gives Ben his ultimatum. Ben tries to explain that even though he wants to, he might not be able to stop the army. In the name of friendship, could Winnemucca please not kill his son? Winnemucca gets pretty dramatic about responsibility, and says that there’s only one deal being made that day: If Ben wants Adam to live, he has to stop the army. No haggling.
Adam suggests Ben get Ring Nose to tell the truth about what happened at Wilson Station, and ask Bruno and Nuntah to come and speak against Mike Wilson.
Ben tells Winnemucca he must have time to go to Ring Nose, and Winnemucca says that his people won’t attack anybody for now. But they will defend themselves. He gives Ben and Little Joe some time to talk to Adam.
“Looks like you got yourself in some hot water,” Little Joe says, trying to be upbeat.
“Yeah. It was me this time instead of you,” Adam replies. Because there’s never so much going on that you can’t make fun of your little brother.
Ben asks Adam if he’s being treated alright, and Adam says everything’s great except Young Wolf – who is guarding Adam for this conversation – keeps trying to cut his throat. Little Joe looks all confused and asks Young Wolf if he’s the same Young Wolf Adam used to play with when they were little kids.
Young Wolf says that kids are dumb because they don’t have any prejudices, but now that he’s grown up, he knows enough to hate Adam like he’s supposed to. Adam turns to Joe and is all: “Yeah. This is my childhood best friend. He turned out great, right?”
On their way to speak with Ring Nose, Ben and Little Joe pass by Mike Wilson and the troops from California, led by one Major Hudlersfeet? Umberlord? Humdeedee? Ben mumbles it. Major Bumbleshore shakes hands with Ben and asks if he knows Mike Wilson. Ben says that he does know Mike with an ominous baritone hatred clinging to all his words.
Wilson panics and tells the New Major to ask Ben how come his son is hanging out with Winnemucca. The New Major is a great guy, and he tells Wilson to shut up or he’ll have him gagged. Ben explains the whole story, and the New Major says that he’d prefer to believe Ben’s version, but he’ll need a confession from Ring Nose. He’s also under direct orders from the governor of California to attack the Paiute, and he can only delay for a short while. Ben has to act quickly.
Ben thanks the New Major, and he and Little Joe ride off. Wilson seems shocked that the New Major wants to believe in a chance for peace instead of siding with him, and the New Major tells Wilson that he fully intends to put him in jail as soon as he has enough evidence.
I like the New Major much better than the last one.
Over in his holding cell/teepee, Adam is kind of trying to escape but also not too worried about it. Young Wolf excuses the guards and tries to cut Adam's throat again because they’ve received word that the troops from California are coming around Pyramid Lake. I wonder if Young Wolf tried to kill Adam this often when they were kids. Teaching him checkers must’ve been fun.
Winnemucca comes in and stops Young Wolf with the classic fatherly question: “Don’t you have something better to do?” Before he leaves, Young Wolf asks Adam if he remembers the knife he’s being trying to kill him with lately. Adam remembers it, Ben gave it to Young Wolf when they were little. Young Wolf says he’d like to return it to Ben – the violent way.
Winnemucca tells Adam that everybody is going to die. It’ll be easier if he just accepts it. Adam suggests surrender, but Winnemucca says he can’t do that. He’s sorry about having to execute Adam, since Adam’s always been a good kid, but there’s nothing else to be done about all of this. At the sound of the first shot fired by the California troops, Young Wolf will cut Adam’s throat.
Meanwhile, Ben and Little Joe arrive at Ring Nose’s camp. They demand to see him, and he comes out looking all confused but ready to fight. Bruno’s there, and Ben’s like: “Thanks for nothing, Bruno.” Ring Nose tells Ben that nobody talks to his people that way, and if he’s got a problem spit it out.
Ben explains everything so far, and Ring Nose wants to know why he should put himself at risk for all of this. Ben says there are two reasons. The first is that it’s dishonorable to allow an entire people to be wiped out for something you did. The second is that Adam was the one who helped Bruno and Tuntah get their wives back, and it would be really uncool to let him be murdered because of it.
Ring Nose asks Ben if he can promise them any kind of protection for helping out, and Ben says he can’t. Luckily, Ring Nose is a very reasonable person when he’s not burning homesteads down on a vengeance spree, and he agrees to help regardless.
Time is against the New Major, who’s been holding off for as long as he can. He arranges for everyone to get into position, and gives the order not to fire unless fired upon. Beside him, Mike Wilson smiles smugly. Last time he was out here, he heard that same order.
Up on the rocks, Young Wolf and Adam are hanging out just like old times. Except Adam’s hands are bound and Young Wolf is watching an army march on his people. Young Wolf notes that a lot of soldiers are down there, and Adam’s like: “Kind of makes you think about surrendering, doesn’t it?” But Young Wolf laughs and says that it just means there’s going to be a big audience for Adam’s death.
Good god, Adam. Did you borrow something from him and never give it back? Try to find out what it was while there’s still time to save yourself.
Adam tries to wiggle out of his bonds while Young Wolf watches the soldiers get into formation. The bugler sounds the advance.
It’s a tense moment where neither side wants to fire, and Adam manages to slip free of his ropes and make his escape while all eyes are on the advancing troops. Young Wolf pursues, because he really wants to kill Adam.
Despite his questionable motives, his dedication to this is pretty admirable.
Adam gets to the troops and yells at them not to fire. Just then, Young Wolf appears on the rock behind him. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Mike Wilson takes the opportunity to shoot Young Wolf dead. This leads to open fire on both sides.
Adam goes to Young Wolf’s body and seems genuinely upset, not just at the start of warfare, but at the loss of his friend. His friend who has literally been trying to kill him with a knife at every available opportunity for the last five days. It’s understandable, though. I’m upset about it, too.
Anyway, Adam takes Young Wolf’s knife and looks remorseful.
Ben, Little Joe, and Ring Nose are almost there. Technically, they’re already too late to accomplish their goal, but I guess they can stop the fighting before everybody dies?
Mike Wilson corners Adam on horseback. He chuckles and says he’s being looking forward to killing him.
Adam doesn’t say anything. He just throws Young Wolf’s knife into Wilson’s neck.
Sometimes, the Cartwrights are terrifying. Also, Adam wins the million Monopoly dollars.
Ben and company arrive, far too late. The New Major is horrified at the carnage, and orders that every one of his men be told that it was all because of a mistake. He appreciates the honesty of the Bannocks, and says that he’ll try to arrange some kind of leniency at their trial.
The last scene is Winnemucca mourning all of his dead young men.
We have such a fun happy time watching our cowboy show.
High Point: Young Wolf’s burning desire to kill Adam for no reason.
Low Point: For an episode that’s supposed to teach us about understanding, this one gets pretty racist.