Monday, January 24, 2005

Ponderosa Redux

Cartwright Land

have rediscovered my boyhood affection for the erstwhile TV show Bonanza. The reasons for this are myriad: I’m attracted to the seemingly simple yet paradoxically complex stories, and to really cool characters (especially Adam). Bonanza appears daily on the TV Land Network, and an excellent web site can be perused here: Here’s an outstanding excerpt from the site:

The Cartwrights -- Proud, Stubborn, Defiant
The sight of the Cartwrights charging down a hillside on horseback-Old Ben with his great mane of hair whipping behind him like a Biblical prophet; Adam, with the deadly eyes of a swooping hawk; Hoss, so huge of chest and shoulder that the giant bay under him looked puny by comparison; and Little Joe, a wild rebel yell on his lips was enough to cow the coolest man. And this close-knit family of men stood between the silver barons and the most extensive stretch of timberland in the Comstock Lode area.
The Cartwrights controlled the vast Ponderosa, a ranch that extended from the lush shores of Lake Tahoe down the snowcapped slopes of the Sierras and east to the desert-like environs of Virginia City. Over part of its thousand square miles roamed 10,000 head of cattle, grazing in the grassy lowlands; the rest of the acreage was covered with thickly wooded hills, studded with magnificent evergreens. Some trees were huge and ancient, others just slim seedlings, carefully planted and nurtured to replenish the forest and the earth it stood upon.
With the help of 200 men who tended the cattle, operated and homesteaded on land, the Cartwrights developed the Ponderosa into a ranch of great value. Their ranch house, with its giant halls, thick oak furniture and mammoth stone fireplace, was almost baronial in style. The job of patrolling and protecting their holdings, of guarding the treasured territory against cattle rustlers and timber raiders, was a task calling for the utmost vigilance and bravery, the sharpest eyes, and the surest aim. The Cartwrights possessed these qualities and more. Woe to the stranger who set foot on their land. Dozens of dead could testify to the futility of expeditions organized to take over the Ponderosa. But the Cartwrights knew the mining tycoons would never give up trying. They and their adversaries also knew that as long as they were together, the Cartwrights would never be beaten.

Ben, The Father

The day Ben Cartwright first clapped his eyes on the pastures, timbered hills, and soaring mountains of the western corner of Nevada, he said goodbye to the California-bound wagon train with which he was traveling, and settled down to raise his three sons and create something worthwhile out of the wilderness. As the years rolled by, he persuaded passing pioneers who loved the land as he did to join him, to build homes and bring up families, as he was doing.

It took Ben Cartwright many years and hundreds of miles of wandering before he found his own Garden of Eden. Tragedy had sat down on his shoulder since his early youth, when he helplessly watched his first young bride, Elizabeth, daughter of a down East sea captain, die in childbirth. Taking his firstborn son, Adam, with him, he made his way from New England to Saint Louis, where he invested the money his parents had left him in a profitable trading business. Soon, Ben fell in love again, this time with Inger, the hardy daughter of a Swedish immigrant. She could ride and shoot, and gladly followed him westward when they were married. But shortly after Ben's second son Eric, nicknamed Hoss, was born, Indians near Denver ambushed the Cartwrights, and an arrow killed his bride of a year.

Pursued by bitter memories, he traveled South to New Orleans, where he tried his hand at importing and exporting. There he met and lost his heart to a fiery Creole beauty, Marie, whose father had been one of Jean Lafitte's henchmen. Surrounded by suitors, she aroused such feelings of passion and jealousy in Ben that he vowed to have her for himself alone. He wooed and won her in a cyclonic courtship. She bore him a third son, Little Joe, but after a few happy years death struck once more, and Ben's wife lost her life in a horse riding accident at the Ponderosa, which was just freshly built by Ben in Nevada. Before his arrival in Nevada, Ben was witness to the destruction of the lush Sutter Valley, in California, and in the wake of the aftermath, decided to journey to Nevada, with young Adam and Hoss, to build his empire.

Now, twenty years later, Ben Cartwright is old, but he stands strong and straight as one of his own pine trees. A devout, Bible-quoting man filled with righteous fervor, he stares down at the sprawling new city, swollen with strangers, pronouncing in terrible tones that it is a veritable reincarnation of Sodom, a city of evil. His great mane of flowing white hair crowns his head as with an angry halo. But when his magnificent temper is soothed, his face can soften and his eyes glow with love, for his ranch and his sons. He watches over them paternalistically, curbing their revelries; joining in their horseplay with the rich, full laughter of a man without fear; and cherishing them, not only for themselves alone, but also for the fond memories of their mothers evoked by their widely differing appearances and mannerisms.

Adam, Guardian Of The Ponderosa

The son who most clearly reflects old Ben Cartwright's rock-ribbed integrity and purposefulness is his first born, Adam. It is he who most seriously shoulders the awesome responsibility of running the ranch. It is he who is naturally closest to his father, who feels the need to share his father's half-ridden grief for the loss of his beloved wives.

Adam posses the hardheaded, tight-fisted qualities of his New England ancestors. There is a gruffness about him, at times even a bitterness, savage and sharp as a Northeast wind. But old Ben knows that there is a loneliness deep inside the man that can only be assuaged by love-the free and unstinting love of his father, the love of the woman who has the courage to get close to him.

Roaming with his father through the rugged Western badlands, Adam has developed an extraordinary keenness of mind an eye and toughness of the body. He has survived many a skirmish with savages, has been exposed to onslaughts of the elements that would kill a lesser man. Cold and fearless, with a normally narrow-eyed, tight-lipped expression, he is known throughout the territory for his deadliness with a six-shooter or rifle, and for his iron-willed determination to serve his father. Together they will keep the Ponderosa and it's tall trees inviolate, swiftly and boldly smashing any attempt at the desecration of their holdings.

Hoss, The Gentle Giant

Hoss, five years younger than Adam, is a colossus of a man, broad and powerful as an ox. He has the clear blue eyes, wheat-colored hair and sturdy structure that bespeak the son of a Swedish-born mother.

Yet beneath his mighty physique, Hoss is gentle and childlike. Although he is capable of killing anything with his bare hands if provoked, he loathes violence of any kind. Shy and awkward with people, especially women, Hoss is most comfortable with animals. His nickname arose as much from his habit of taking better care of a horse than himself, as from his bulk and brute strength. People are too complicated; animals he can understand, and they seem to understand him, as he talks soothingly to a sacred heifer or threatens to throw an ornery mustang the length of the corral. Anyone who harms one of nature's creatures becomes an enemy for life. He is proudest of the time he rescued a full-grown brown bear from a trap, nursed its leg and then triumphantly returned the beast to its natural habitat.

Hoss' idea of human companionship is the tug and sweat of a "rassle", a good-natured cuff between the shoulder blades, a friendly bear hug. He is a hearty man with a robust sense of humor and a perpetual grin on his open face. Also, he is a man with an insatiable hunger, who dotes on the massive meals lovingly prepared and served by the Ponderosa's Chinese cook, Hop Sing.

Hoss has an abiding need to know that the Cartwrights stand as one, that no dissention breaks their ranks. He is fondly protective of the family's "baby", Little Joe, whose impulsiveness and pugnacious nature often bring on trouble.

Little Joe, The Fiery Gentleman

Little Joe, in his late teens, is a laughing cavalier who loves to assume the courtly manners of the South, of the worldly city of his birth, New Orleans. To him, New Orleans possesses a glamour and sophistication heightened by the stories he dimly remembers being told by his mother when he was a boy. And although there was an unsavory side to his mother, Little Joe knows nothing of it and holds her in the highest esteem, with the encouragement of his father.

He is gay and romantic, forward with women who attract him and in turn are attracted by his lithe good looks and flashy smile. He dresses as impeccably as a New Orleans gentleman, but his neat garments clothe a body as wiry as annealed steel, as graceful as a wildcat. With a cocky, insouciant smile always lingering on his lips, Little Joe seems to invite all comers, all sizes, all ages, to tackle him at their risk.

In keeping with his fondness for the courtly ways of his mother's world, Little Joe is an accomplished duelist, sporting an epee in his saddle. He is also unerring with a knife or rope, and would much rather use these weapons than the omnipresent gun that rules the West. He refuses to accept the normal code of his environment, much to the mused chagrin of his father and brothers.

Little Joe does not seem to take life seriously, a trait that often vexes his brother, Adam, whereupon Joe will taunt him to the point of rage. But although he would be rather charging across the countryside whooping a rebel yell, or dueling an imaginary adversary, or serenading a flesh and blood girl, Little Joe is not irresponsible. He knows that he is needed-to pitch in and help in the back-breaking work, to defend the ranch with his life if need be.”


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