Bitter Water Full Episode – Bonanza, Season #01, Episode #29
Millions of Americans watch Bonanza, one of NBC’s Western television programs, during its peak era from 1959 until 1973. Harold Jack Bloom wrote Bitter Water, which debuted on television on April 9, 1960.
In this episode, the miner Len Keith wants to buy some land from the rancher Andy McCarren close to the Ponderosa. Tod, Andy’s son, is eager to sell. Besides the partnership Keith offered him, he’s also in love with his daughter.
However, after receiving a warning from Ben that a mine on the property would contaminate the Ponderosa water, Andy changed his mind. Determined to get the land, Len Keith introduces a tick-infected cattle in a herd of cattle in the Ponderosa to turn Andy against the Cartwrights.
Read the storyline and some interesting trivia, or watch the episode below.
Watch the Full Episode of Bitter Water
Watch the Full Episode of Bitter Water:
Apart from the main cast, Bonanza’s 29th episode, Bitter Water, featured the program’s repeating and one-off supporting actors. The episode’s cast consists of:
- Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright
- Pernell Roberts as Adam Cartwright
- Dan Blocker as Eric ‘Hoss’ Cartwright
- Michael Landon as Joseph ‘Little Joe’ Cartwright
- Don Dubbins as Todd McCarren
- Merry Anders as Virginia Keith
- Robert F. Simon as Len Keith (as Robert Simon)
- Rhys Williams as Andy McCarren
- Kenneth Becker as Jim Tucker (as Ken Becker)
- Frank Watkins as Roy Wilkins
- Clarke Alexander as Jamison
- Forrest Taylor as Rancher
- George Bell as Rancher (uncredited)
- Rudy Bowman as Townsman (uncredited)
- John Breen as Party Guest (uncredited)
- Steve Carruthers as Party Guest (uncredited)
- Jaye Durkus as Townsman (uncredited)
- Herman Hack as Rancher (uncredited)
- Chuck Hamilton as Townsman (uncredited)
- Al Haskell as Rancher (uncredited)
- Lynn Noe as Saloon Girl (uncredited)
- Cosmo Sardo as Bartender (uncredited)
- Jeffrey Sayre as Party Guest (uncredited)
- Chalky Williams as Rancher (uncredited)
- Henry Wills as Cattle Seller (uncredited)
Full Story Line for Bitter Water
Ben and Adam stumble across neighbor Todd McCarren surveying the property line. Todd states that it may catch the interest of the new owner. Surprised, Ben thought Todd’s father was selling their land. However, Todd revealed that he was selling it to Len Keith. Ben reminds Todd of their water rights agreement with Todd’s father, stating that contamination might occur if Keith uses it for mining. Todd remains unbothered, leaving the problem to Ben.
Ben visits Andy, Todd’s dad, to speak over the matter. The friendly man acknowledges that he did hand the ranch over to Todd because he couldn’t manage it anymore. He also assures Ben that Todd will stay on the land as much as he did. Ben brought up the water rights agreement and the possible contamination once Keith started the mining operations on their land. Andy, once again, assured him that it wouldn’t come to that extent since he also has cattle using that stream.
Todd enters just as the two are conversing. He accuses Ben of talking behind his back. Todd believes Ben’s there to remind Andy of the things they owed him in the past, hoping to stop them from selling the property. Todd’s behavior outraged Andy, who slapped him as he spoke. It surprised Todd, so he stormed out of the room. Andy apologizes, then reveals that Len Keith offered Todd a partnership that had him believing there might be silver on the land. Ben doubts the existence of silver in their property, and Andy says he feels the same.
Todd visits Len’s home, where Len’s daughter (and also his fiancé), Virginia, welcome his unexpected visit with a kiss. Todd is eager to speak with her father. Len greets him, and then Todd tells him he couldn’t sell the land because of their water rights agreement with the Cartwrights. Len isn’t overly concerned about Ben’s participation, but Todd claims Ben is making Andy’s decisions. Virginia finds it difficult to believe his claim since the Cartwrights have always appeared like reasonable people to her. Todd asserts that’s only in a social way, not on a business level.
Meanwhile, at the Ponderosa, Hoss cleans the stray dog he found. Little Joe arrives with a foul stench caused by the skunk caught in one of his wolf traps. Hoss tells him to take a bath while bragging about the sulfur soap he got to take care of his dog’s ticks.
Later that night, Len visits Ben and asks him to persuade Andy into selling the property for Todd’s future. However, Ben states Andy’s ability to make decisions, including seeing how keeping the land will not harm Todd. On the other hand, Ben tells Len how he has watched him over the years, making money while ruining land and people. Len claims he always tries reasoning first, using his other ways if that doesn’t work.
At the dance that night, Todd engages in a scuffle with Adam. Adam tried to leave, but an offended Todd grabbed his arm and punched Adam, and a fight ensued. The Cartwrights break it up as Virginia cries out for assistance. Virginia requests for her father to take her home. Adam followed them outside to apologize, but Len cut their conversation.
Tucker, Len’s foreman, is waiting for them and leads Len to the bunkhouse. There he finds Roy beating another man, blaming him for the healthy herd infected with Texas Fever, a highly infectious cattle disease. The infected cattle must be put to death and then burned to prevent the spread of disease. Len tells Tucker to make sure the man doesn’t return and to keep the sick cattle in the meantime. Tucker wonders what he’ll do with the infected cows, so Len tells him he will give them to the Cartwrights as a gift.
The Cartwrights discover the infected cattle almost immediately. Rather than killing and burning them, Ben believes bathing the cattle in sulfur soap will eliminate the disease-carrying ticks to stop the disease from spreading. He asks Hoss to get as much sulfur as possible and Joe to remove the potentially infected cattle as he and Adam dig pits.
Virginia goes to town and discovers Todd in the town bar. She comments on Todd’s odd behavior towards the Cartwrights, but he accuses her of siding with them. Virginia does not see it that way, then comments on how the person he loved has changed. Todd goes back to the saloon while Virginia sets off to see Andy.
Virginia consults Andy regarding the trouble they’re facing. She thought Todd wanted to keep the land as a place for their future family, wishing her father could see things the way they did. Andy encourages her to keep her faith in Todd, trusting him to do the right thing.
Todd and Roy followed Hoss and discovered their idea about the sulfur bath. They do not understand what it’ll do for the cattle but believe they need to stop it from happening. Hoss comes in with a wagonload of sulfur, so they go on their position to shoot him. Hoss manages to evade each shot, then hides and fires back. Little Joe comes to the rescue and shoots Roy dead while Tucker flees out of the area. Hoss and Little Joe have no idea about Roy but eventually find an envelope on him with his name. They reckon that more cattle are getting infected as they speak, so they hurried to get the sulfur to the Ponderosa.
Tucker reports to Len about Roy’s death. Len tells him to stay in the bunkhouse in the meantime to hide from the Cartwrights. He then goes to town and tells Todd that the disease infected the Ponderosa herd. Todd also tells him that two of his men offered assistance, but the Cartwrights shot one of them to keep the word from spreading. Determined to go against the Cartwrights, Todd tells Len he’ll rally other ranchers to protect their herd.
Todd returns home to get his rifle. Andy asked him about it, so he informed him about the disease in the Ponderosa herd, including the death of Len’s man. Andy refuses to believe, but that doesn’t stop Todd from pursuing his plan.
Hoss arrives with Roy’s horse as the other Cartwrights push cattle to a sulfur bath. They discover the horse covered with ticks too. Ben asks Adam to go to town to find who Roy is while they continue giving the cattles the bath they need.
Adam arrives in the saloon to ask the bartender about Roy. He claims to have seen Roy with Tucker, who works for Len Keith. He then visits Len’s place, greeted by Virginia, who informs him that Len has left for town. Virginia also tells him Tucker is Len’s foreman and that it’s impossible for them to shoot Hoss since they work for his father. Adam proceeds to the bunkhouse, where he finds Tucker cleaning his rifle. He suspects Tucker was the other man with Roy when Hoss was shot and asks him to claim his innocence to the sheriff. Tucker aims his rifle, and Adam shoots him in defense. The initial shot, coming from Adam, only wounded Tucker. However, a second shot rings out, causing Tucker’s death. Len shot him, and Virginia witnessed the event as it happened. Adam stated he wanted Tucker alive in hopes of getting information. As Adam walks away, Virginia accuses her father of killing Tucker deliberately. However, Len claims he had to shoot him to protect Adam.
Todd holds a meeting with the ranchers. While many showed concern about the plague, a few refused to stand against the Cartwrights. Those siding with Todd will meet at the north end of town in the morning with their rifles. Virginia arrives as the ranchers leave, asking Todd if he knows how the plague started. Todd claims it doesn’t matter; more important is stopping the disease from spreading. Virginia believes her father brought the plague to the Cartwright herd. However, Todd says it doesn’t matter how it began since protecting the other cattle is more important. Virginia refuses to believe it’s his motive. She reminds him that he has been friends with the Cartwrights; at that moment, they need assistance rather than threats. She also accuses Todd of doing this to make a name for himself, not to assist those poor ranchers.
The following day, Adam reports to Ben that Todd McCarren, Len Keith, and the other ranchers are heading toward the Ponderosa ranch with weapons. Meanwhile, Virginia tells Andy about Todd’s plan, asking for his help to stop Todd.
Tod, Len, and the ranchers arrive as the Cartwrights run their herd through the sulfur bath. Ben assures them that the sulfur is effective, but he’ll kill any that shows any sign of infection. Todd draws his gun, ready to shoot the Cartwrights, but Adam yanks him off his horse. Len encourages Todd to shoot as the two square off. Virginia and Andy arrive in a wagon just in time to stand between the two.
Andy tells the ranchers that they passed some of their herds, some of which have gotten the disease. He also orders Todd to look after their cattle. Len blames Ben for it, forcing Todd to pick a side immediately. Ben informs them again that the sulfur bath works for their cattle, and they’re more than welcome to use it for their herd. Virginia accuses her father of spreading the plague to destroy Todd and take his land. Adam backs her by saying Len killed Tucker to keep him quiet. Len draws his gun, but a faster Adam kills him first.
All the local cattle, including Todd’s herd, undergo the sulfur bath the Cartwrights organized.
Full Script and Dialogue of Bitter Water
It's Tod McKaren. Wonder what he's up to now. Well, there's only one way to find out. Let's ask him. Let's go. Why the surveying, Tod? Any law against surveying my own property line? Never any doubt in our mind about its location. Well, maybe there will be in the mind of the new owner. You mean your father's selling out? Not my father. Me. To Len Keith. Len Keith? I thought he only bought mining property. That's what he thinks this could be. Tod, we have a water rights agreement with your father on the use of this stream. If Keith uses it for mining, it'll poison out some of our best bottom land. Seems that's your worry, Ben, not mine. Now, just a minute. Let go! You Cartwrights have shoved us around for the last 20 years. You're a liar. Wait a minute. There's better ways to settle this. As I see it, it's already been settled. Hey, where you two been? Old Hop-Sing had a real good meal fixed for you. And you decided not to let it go to waste and ate it all, huh? How'd you know that? What are you doing reading a book? The Care and Training of Dogs? Oh, a little old stray pup wandered in here, and I've been trying to figure out how to take care of it. I thought you were an expert on things like that. Well, Pa, there's so dang many new scientific ideas that natural know-how just ain't no good no more. Well, as far as I'm concerned you can say that about Tod McKaren, too. I thought I knew him pretty well. Why, what's the matter with Tod? I don't know. Growing pains, likely. Where's that pouch of Virginia tobacco I got? Don't look at me. I didn't smoke it. Thought you were saving this tobacco for Andy McKaren's birthday. Well, I was. But no reason a man can't have a birthday a few days early. I gotta ride over to Andy and have a talk with him about Tod. Pa, wish Mr. McKaren a happy birthday for me too, eh? I will. Who is it? It's Ben, Andy. Oh, come on in, Ben. The door is not locked. Doggone, it's good to see you! Well, doggone good to see you too, Andy. Been a long time. It has been. How you feeling? Oh, I'm practically stuck to this chair, but what's the difference? Good to see you. I brought you some of that good Southern tobacco to take the bite out of your pipe. Thanks, Ben. Hey, smells good. This fire of yours feels good. Ran into Tod today. Yeah, I turned the running of things over to him. I had to face up to it. I'm just not up to handling things anymore. Tod was saying you're thinking some of selling out. You know how kids are. Always trying to get ahead fast. I figure when it comes to selling, he'll want to stay on this land as much as I do. Well, I... I hope you're right, Andy. I guess I got a little upset when he told me he was thinking of selling out to Len Keith. Well, I'd be surprised if he mentioned any other name. He's so sweet on Len Keith's daughter that, well, he doesn't know his own name half the time. Well, she's a fine girl. Tod, uh, seemed pretty determined to sell. That he is. Ben, you have boys of your own. A man's got to let his son grow up, even if he doesn't always agree with him. Well, you're right there. I was just thinking that if Keith ever did start mining operations on your property, it would foul up the water in that stream to where it would poison half the cattle at my range. Oh, it won't come to that, Ben. I've got cattle of my own using that stream. Well... We're getting older, Andy. I hear that. I remember when you, when you brought your family here. I figured that plan to share the water in that stream would outlast both our lifetimes. It's the truth. So did I. Well, I see you didn't waste any time, Mr. Cartwright. Tod, is that a way to behave? I don't like people talking behind my back. Ben came here to talk, not fight. It won't hurt you to listen. What for? I know what he's going to say. We're just one big happy family as long as he's the boss and we do what we're told. You've been listening to that all of your life, Pa. Tod, I've never known your father to back away from me or any other man, long as I've known him. What's he doing? Talking over old times so that you won't forget the little things you might owe him so you'll feel ashamed to let me sell out? Tod! He's been doing that to some of the others around here, only they haven't had the belly to stand up to him. That's enough. Ben Cartwright's the best friend we ever had and you know it. He's no friend of ours. You apologize. Andy, never mind. No, Ben. This is still my house, and I won't have it shamed. Your house, your land. This wonderful land that killed Ma before her time and crippled you so you can hardly walk. All right, keep it, love it. Rot on it for all I care. Andy... I'm afraid I'll have to apologize to you myself, Ben. I figured that... if I come by, it might help. Guess it hurt more. Andy... Now, we don't have too much ready cash in the Ponderosa this time of year, what with it being tied up in the herd and all, but... Well, if it's selling out that Tod is so concerned about... Ben, you know how Tod would feel about any offer coming from you. Yeah, I supposed he'd just think I'd been waiting for the opportunity to buy you out. Pretty sad thing when two old friends can't discuss business without their motives being questioned. It's much deeper than that, Ben. Len Keith has no intention of using this land for ranching. He's offered Tod a partnership. He's got the boy all fired up with ideas of becoming another silver baron. Andy... Now, do you believe deep down in your heart that there's any chance of silver on this land? No, Ben, no more than you do. No. But Len Keith is a mining man and he thinks there may be silver and he's got the boy thinking it, too. Doesn't Tod realize that Keith is just speculating? That's what he always does. Buys up as much land as he can possibly get a hold of in the hope that some of it will pay off. Ruins the land. He's ruined much more than land, Ben. He's ruined many men with him on his way up, and this time it could be my son. Wouldn't want that to happen, Andy, any more than you do. Thank you, Ben. Tod. I didn't expect you until this evening. I have to see your father. Is something wrong? Yes. Hello, Tod. How's my future son-in-law? Disgusted if you want to know the truth. Oh, well, come on and tell me about it. Maybe I can help you. What is it? Mr. Keith, I can't sell out to you. Well, why not? Does your father feel that I didn't offer you enough for the property? Oh, it's not that. He made a water rights agreement with Ben Cartwright 20 years ago. I see, the Cartwrights, eh? What's the matter with them? Do they feel that we're going to muddy up their pretty little stream? It's getting to be you can't make a move in this country without Ben Cartwright's permission. Well, I suppose you can't blame a man for looking out after his own interests. What about my interests? Mine and Virginia's? Where are we going to get the money to get married? Tod, you know money isn't important to me as long as we're together. My mother felt that way. She died when she was 26 years old helping my father try to make something of this land. Tod, I could always find a job for you in one of my mining companies. A man has to make it on his own, Mr. Keith. You ought to know that. It's what you did, isn't it? I certainly did. That's the way I like to hear you talk. Don't worry about it. I'm sure we can get your father to see it our way. Not if Ben Cartwright's doing his thinking for him, we won't. But the Cartwrights have always seemed liked reasonable people to me. You just know them in a social way, Virginia. You've never dealt with them on a business level. Don't worry. I'm not going to let Ben Cartwright stand in the way of the happiness of my two children. Here, Shorty. Come on, boy. Here, Shorty. Come on, boy. Come on, puppy. Come on, Shorty. Come, Shorty, you pup. Nice puppy. Come on, puppy... Come on, puppy. Come over here, Shorty. I'll give you a bath. Get over there in that tub. Come here to me. You gonna get a bath whether you want it or not. Come on here, pup. Come here to me. Come here, pup. Here, Shorty, come on. Nice puppy. Nice, nice puppy. Come on, fella. Yes... If you ain't the beatenest dang dog I ever seen. All morning I've been trying to catch you just to put you in that bucket. Pull that old outfit. Don't you know this is for your own good? You loaded down with them dang ticks and I'm just trying to get them off of you, that's all. Pull that old outfit, you. Hiya, brother. You still playing nursemaid to that little dog you found? Well, I can't hardly help it now, can I, if this poor little critter hangs around. You smell something? Oh, that's me. Yeah, I was setting some traps for the wolves that were bothering the cattle. Caught a skunk in one of them. You sure did. Look here, when I get through with little Shorty here, why don't you jump in? It's gonna take a lot more than soap and water to get me clean. Well, this here ain't ordinary soap. This here soap's got sulfur in it. I was over in Baker's Flat the other day talking to that storekeeper, telling him about old Shorty's wood ticks and he told me that stuff would take anything off. Yeah? Yeah. Probably take my skin off, too. Hi, Pa. You talk to Andy? Yeah. Oh, Andy is gonna honor that water agreement we have with him, just as I thought he would. I just can't figure out what got into Tod. I can't either. Seems like he just doesn't want to get along with anybody. Yeah. Don't you two know what's wrong with Tod? He's in love. I wish it were that simple. Anybody smell skunk? Oh, that, that's me, Pa. I caught a skunk in one of the wolf traps. Well, if you're gonna go to that social with us tonight, I think you better start getting cleaned up now. Yeah. Why, you think somebody'll mind? Get out! Listen, Adam, if, uh, if Tod is at that social, and I think he will be, try to have a talk with him, you know, as a friend. All right. Shorty, I know you ain't gonna never believe this, but this here's real good for you. Hey, now, if looks have anything to do with it, we sure gonna have us a time tonight, ain't we? Yeah, but you just remember what I told you. You stand on your own feet, not the ladies'. Oh, you're a good one to be giving advice about the ladies. What, went with Virginia Keith for three years, now ol' Tod's marrying her. Well, I guess just I never got around to asking her. He sure is a slow worker, ain't he, Pa? Three years. You through with that brush? Expecting somebody? No. Oh, hi. Hoss. Hello, Ben. Hello, Len. I'm not interrupting anything, am I? No, no, not at all. Just getting ready to go to the dance. I'm taking Virginia later myself. Uh... I wonder if I can have a private little talk with you. Let's go get the horses ready. Uh, sit down, Len. Thanks. Well, what's on your mind? Tod McKaren came to see me, and he's all upset about what happened between him and his father. I was a little upset myself. I'm very fond of Tod. He's got a lot of character. He's extremely ambitious. Len, sometimes ambition can drive a young man in the wrong direction. But I don't think that's true in Tod's case. I consider him practically a member of the family. I'd be pretty careful of whatever opportunities I put in his way. Matter of fact, I wanted you to help me. In spite of what's happened, Tod's got a great deal of respect for your opinion. Well, that used to be so. Well, of course, he's a little high-strung, but you and I can understand that. We were young once, too. We saw what we wanted in life, and we went out and we took it. Nowadays, a young fellow needs help to get started. I'm doing what I can for Tod. I thought you'd want to help, too. That was a very nice speech, Keith. Now what did you really come to see me about? Well, I don't want anything for myself. I'm only here to help Tod. Old Andy McKaren does pretty much what you ask him to, now, doesn't he? Now hold on. Andy McKaren has a mind of his own and he's very capable of using it. Yes, but you got to make him understand something. By holding onto that land, he's jeopardizing his son's future. Your, uh, your interest and concern with Tod's future is most commendable. I've watched you over a period of years, Len, making quite a lot of money, and ruin quite a bit of land and quite a few people in the process. I'm not gonna help you ruin Tod McKaren. And I always try reasoning first, Ben. If that doesn't work, I guess I can find some other way. Boys. Little Joe, you sure do smell better than you did this afternoon. Well, thanks a lot. If you gentlemen will excuse me. Of course. Hey, Pa, I'm gonna see if I can't rustle me up one of them little fillies. Have you had a chance to talk to Tod yet? No. He's danced every dance with Virginia. Excuse me, Adam. I think I've just found my filly. Oh, Tod, you dance my feet off. Well, I wouldn't want to do that. I can't spare any of you. Oh... How about some more punch? I'd love it. Adam, you're not dancing. I'm having too much fun watching you two. You look very beautiful tonight, Virginia. Well, thank you. I'm glad you approve of my future wife. You're lucky you proposed to her when you did. When are you two getting married? When your father decides to let me run my own business. Tod, that was a rather unpleasant thing to say. Well, now he didn't mean anything by it. Didn't I? Tod, let's dance. Yes, I think that's a good idea. Don't turn your back on me, Cartwright. Now, look, if you're so set on starting a fight, this isn't the place for it. Oh, I think it is. Tod. Dad, Mr. Cartwright, stop them. They're fighting. Adam. Adam. Hold it. All right, you two, that's enough. Tod, we don't want to fight you, boy. Then stay away from me, all of you. Dad, take me home. All right, Virginia. Come on. Forget it, Adam. Well, let's have a little music. Come on, boys. Dad, I shouldn't have walked out on Tod like that. I ought to go back. Well, this isn't the time, Virginia. My advice is to just let him calm down a little. Dad, sometimes I wonder if your advice for Tod and me is really any good. Virginia... what have I ever told you that hasn't worked out for you? I'm not talking about something you can put your finger on. I'm talking about the way Tod has changed: the way he looks at me; the way he acts. Well, of course he's changed, and all for the good. He's turning into the kind of a man I'd be proud to have as a son-in-law. Would I be proud to have him for a husband? Virginia, if I've done anything at all to hurt you... I'm glad you're still here. I'd like to apologize. It wasn't your fault, Adam. I'm glad you feel that way. I don't think there's anything to be gained by discussing it any further. Let's go on home. Dad, I'd like to talk to Adam. Not tonight, honey. Excuse me, Mr. Keith. Uh, I got to talk to you. Well, can't it wait till morning? No, sir, it can't. You go on in, honey. I'll be right in. All right. What is it, Tucker? It's about the cattle you just bought. Something's come up. You better handle it. That's enough, Roy. After what he done? He could have poisoned half the men in your mine with them diseased cows. Where's the beef now? I put 'em up in the north corral. I figured tomorrow I'll have 'em killed and buried. Him along with them if I had my way. Take him outside, Roy. And Roy, not a word about this to anybody. I suppose he claimed he didn't know the cattle were sick. What do you think? Probably rustled them 20 head to begin with. All of them diseased, huh? You can't have one cow with Texas fever without 'em all getting it. They're crawling with ticks. In other words, you put those sick cattle in with a healthy herd. It spreads like wildfire. I see. Tucker, I want you to ride that man out of town tonight and make that sure he never comes back. Make sure? Mr. Keith, there's... there's only one way I know of to make sure. I'll leave that up to you. And Tucker, don't kill off any of those sick cattle until I tell you to. Well, what can you do with sick cows? I thought I might get big-hearted and make a present of a couple of them to Ben Cartwright. Well, you know what Cartwright would do if they ever caught us at it. Well, don't let him catch you. Them's big stakes, Mr. Keith. Yeah, the biggest. Cartwright's always had everything his way. Let's see how he acts when he finds cattle being added to his herd instead of rustled away, huh? I know he took the first swing at you, but I don't know if that's the way to handle Tod. I've watched both of you grow up, and I've just as much confidence in him as I have in you. I know you have, but I don't have Len Keith telling me what to do. Virginia's Keith's only daughter. I suppose you can't blame him for looking after her interests. But Len Keith never made a move in his life that didn't benefit Len Keith first. And I'll tell you something else. It isn't just a little piece of land he's after. He's an ambitious man. There's no question about that. The way he's extending his mining interests, it looks as if he wants to take over the whole Carson Valley. Including the Ponderosa. Adam, you and I both know that the Ponderosa is one piece of land he'll never get. Dead bull. It looks like Texas fever. Texas fever? Yes, sir. We bought Texas cattle before. They've always been clean. You check the other stock? A few more head showed signs of the sickness. We cut 'em out of the herd. Probably have to destroy them. There's no probably about it. That tick fever plague could kill every head. Not only on our range. It could kill every herd in the territory. Poor critters. They don't even know what ails 'em. Get. Get. Get out of here. Get. Scat. Get out of here. Dang fool dog will have them ticks all over him. Hoss, you remember that sulfur soap you used to wash down that dog? Yes, sir. Well, I'm thinking that if that sulfur soap could wash the ticks off a dog, why not off cattle? We can't scrub down every steer. No, but we can... we can dig a pit between the two corrals, put in some water and a lot of sulfur, like a bath. Run the herd through one at a time. Pa, that'd take a powerful lot of sulfur. Well... But I reckon they ought to have it up at Baker's Flat. You want me to ride up there and see? Yeah, you take the buckboard and haul as much as you can carry. Joe, you better get back to the herd. Have the men cut out every head that even looks sick. All right, Pa. Adam... you and me better get started digging those pits. They're up to something. Nothing they can do but start killing cows. Yeah, maybe. We better stick with them and make sure. No, please don't... Virginia, you shouldn't be in here. Neither should you. Tod, I've looked all over town for you. Everybody's staring at you. Come on. Tod, what's happened to us? This just isn't like you. That-that fight with Adam and... What are you doing? Taking sides with the Cartwrights like everybody else in this country? Sides? What sides, Tod? Don't you see what they're doing to us? Your father made me a good offer on that land. Three times as much as it was worth. Well, if I knew it was going to mean this much trouble, I'm sorry he did. That's easy to say. But it's not so easy to live with. Virginia, I want to amount to something. I want you to be proud of me, the way you are of your father. Tod, I'm proud of the man I fell in love with: a ranching man trying to build something for the future, his and mine. Now, if he starts hitting people and getting drunk the first time things don't go his way, why... I'll still love him because I can't help myself. But I won't be proud of him for it. I've had enough speeches, Virginia. Please go on, honey. I'll-I'll see you after a while. It's wonderful to see you, Virginia. Now that you're practically a part of the family, I never get to see you anymore. Well, I've been meaning to get out to see you for a long time. Oh, I know how it is, planning the wedding and everything. You know... it means a lot to me, having you for a daughter. Virginia. You and Tod having trouble? Yes, we are, Mr. McKaren, and I just don't know how to handle it. Now, you know that all lovers have their little quarrels. That's just the trouble. It isn't just a lover's quarrel. It's something that involves you and my father and a lot of things I just don't understand. Oh, so that's it. It's about Tod selling this place, isn't it? Why shouldn't he sell it? Why should such a simple little business transaction stir up so much trouble? It isn't a simple thing, Virginia. It involves two different ways of looking at life. It involves the Cartwrights too, doesn't it? Well, that's not the point I want to make. I'm talking about the land and a man's attitude towards it. Now, is this something to be, to be torn up and cast aside? Or is it a place for the future? I mean a home for you and Tod and the children. I've told Tod that's all I wanted. I wish my father could see it the way you do, but he never will. It's Tod that we must both be concerned about. Now, we must have faith in him and believe that he will do the right thing. You're right. And I do have faith in Tod. He's coming. Did he see you? I circled around. He's got that buckboard loaded down with bags of sulfur powders. What for? Don't know. I asked the storekeeper at Baker Flat. He said that Cartwright fella talked about washing his cows down with sulfur water. I don't know what good that'd do, but we better see to it that it don't happen anyway. You stay here. Get your rifle and keep down out of sight. Ya. Ya. Whoa. Throw down your gun and crawl out of there. Ha. Come on. Hoss, you all right? Yeah. I reckon I am now. Thanks to you coming along. Come on up and give me a hand. I was rounding up some strays and I heard the shots. Figured I'd better check on it. Looks to me like I've seen that fella before. Have you? Yeah, I think he works for one of the mining camps. We better get that sulfur in. There's two more cows flopped over dead. They're not from the Ponderosa. The sick cows ain't ours? No, looks like it's not. There's gonna be a lot of sick ones from our place, though. Let's get him in. I'll get his horse. I tell you, Roy's dead. Did they see you? Well, yeah, but they couldn't recognize me. Well, I can't take any chances. You saddle up my horse and get back to the bunkhouse and stay there. Keep out of sight. Dad? Your supper's getting cold. Well, I'm sorry, honey. Something's come up. I've got to go into town. But Dad... Do you have to go right now? I've got to. It's important. I just heard that a plague of Texas fever has hit the cattle around here. I've got to warn Tod and the other ranchers. I'll be right back. Are you drunk? If Virginia sent you... No, she didn't. But something pretty important came up. I thought you ought to know about it. You want a drink? Now, listen to me, will you? I just heard that the plague has infected every head of beef on the Ponderosa. Plague? Texas fever. The Cartwrights are working right now to try to save every head they can before anybody finds out about it. Texas fever? How did it get started? Well, who's the only outfit around here who trails in Texas cattle? The Cartwrights. That's just what I figured. A thing like this could be pretty dangerous, couldn't it? It could kill every head of cattle in Carson Valley. Is there any way of stopping it? One way. Kill the sick stock. There's no other way of protecting ourselves? None that I know of. Unless we kill off all the Cartwright's cattle. Oh, they'd never stand still for that. No, I guess not. They showed that pretty plain. What do you mean? Well, a couple of my boys went up there yesterday to see how bad it was and try to help them out. And the Cartwrights shot one of them down. Shot him? Why? Well, that's pretty obvious, isn't it? They're trying to keep word of the plague from spreading. Does the sheriff know about the shooting? The sheriff? What good would that do? He's afraid of the Cartwrights just like everybody else around here is. Yeah... Well, not me. I'm not gonna stand by and watch my cattle die like flies. Just don't do anything foolish. You can't stand up to the Cartwrights all alone. I won't have to, not this time. No cattleman is gonna stand by and watch his herds die off, Cartwright or no Cartwright. Well, if enough of the other ranchers went in with you to stand up against... They'll go in. I'll see to that. I've been waiting for you. I've been wanting to talk to you. Well, I'm in a hurry. I'm sorry I hit you. There was no call for it. It doesn't make any difference. But it does make a difference. I want to talk to you. Well, later. What are you doing? We got trouble. What kind of trouble? I can handle it. Don't turn your back on me. Tell me about it. Pa, I haven't got time. I've got work to do. Does it involve the Cartwrights? Doesn't everything in this country involve the Cartwrights one way or another? I have a right to know what it's all about. There's tick fever on the Ponderosa. I've got to get to the other ranches and warn them so we can stop it from spreading to our stock. Tick fever? How did it get started? It's must've come in on one of the herds the Cartwrights brought up from Texas. Did you talk to Ben Cartwright? One of Len Keith's men tried to. They shot him down. I don't believe it. I didn't expect you to. Tod, you're declaring war. Ben Cartwright did that when he brought in that sick herd. I'm not gonna let you do it. Pa... I've got to. This is that bushwacker's horse we brought back. Take a close look at him. Got ticks all over him. This horse was with tick-infested beef before he got here. Then that dead man could've told us how this plague got here. Find out who he was? Well, he had a letter on him addressed to a Roy Wilkins. Don't forget there was another man with him. Adam, maybe you'd better get to Virginia City. See if you can track this other man down. If you can, bring him out here. Hoss, clean him up, huh? Come on. Let's get back. Yeah. All right, Frank. Send them through again. Let's send them through, boys. Hello, Adam. Give me a whiskey, Cosmo. Yeah. Deal me out, boy. I'll give you a chance to get even later. Something on your mind? You know a man named Roy Wilkins? Roy Wilkins... Sure, I've seen him in here. Who does he work for? I don't know. Hasn't been around here very long. As a matter of fact, the only times I've ever seen him he's always been with a fella named Tucker. Tucker? Works for Len Keith. Len Keith. Thanks. Adam, I thought it was my father. Evening, Ginny. Isn't he here? Well, no, he's in town. Listen, you know a man named Roy Wilkins? Wilkins? There's a man named Roy, I know. He's a friend of Tucker's. Who's Tucker? He's Pa's foreman. He lives in that shack on the other side of the storeroom. Adam, what is it? Well, this Roy Wilkins and one other man, maybe Tucker, I'm not sure, tried to kill my brother this afternoon. That's impossible. Those men work for my father. Excuse me. Hello, Tucker. You're one of them Cartwrights, ain't you? That's right. You wouldn't know a man named Roy Wilkins? What do you want here, Cartwright? I want the man who was with Wilkins when they tried to ambush my brother. I don't know anything about it. Then you wouldn't mind coming back to town with me and telling that to the sheriff, huh? No. No, I wouldn't mind. I thought you missed him. Dad. Adam, is he...? Yeah, he's dead. I wanted him alive. I was hoping he could tell me something. Tell you what, Adam? You think fast, Mr. Keith. Just like you shot fast a while ago. But when this plague trouble is settled, we're going to have a talk. I wish you hadn't seen this, Virginia. I'm sorry I had to see as much as I did. I had to protect Adam. Tucker would have killed him. Tucker had already dropped his gun. You killed him deliberately. Oh, honey, you're all upset. Now, go on in the house. You can't send me away like a little girl, Dad. Don't try to understand it. Do you hear me? Now, go on back into the house. I'm right, and you all know it. If it was one of us had a sick herd on the range, the Cartwrights would be the first to yell, "Burn him out!" That ain't so! Yes, it is! Cartwright should have killed off his whole herd without us having to meet and talk about doing it for him. You can't expect him to kill off healthy beef. Who's to say what's healthy and what's not? Now, the Ponderosa's rich. It's got timber and enough money to restock its range. Most of us live on the beef we raise each year. Now, if we lose our herds, where's the money coming from to pay off the bank loans, to feed our families, to even get started again? You really aim to ride against the Ponderosa? If I didn't fight for my land and what's on it, I wouldn't hold myself much of a man. Anyone else feels the same way is welcome to ride with me. We're with him, ain't we, men? Not me. All right. We'll meet at the north end of town, just after sunup. Every man, bring a rifle and be ready to use it. That's it, then. Tod, what are they going to do? Well, the Cartwright cattle are diseased. They're a danger to the whole range. So we're heading out to the Ponderosa in the morning to settle it one way or another. You mean to fight the Cartwrights? It looks that way. Do you know how this plague got started? It doesn't matter how it got started. We just can't risk a plague spreading throughout the whole territory. Tod, I think my father brought that plague to the Cartwright herd deliberately. Did he tell you that? Adam thinks so, too. Only he can't prove it. I already told you, it doesn't matter who started the plague. Tod, it does matter. The Cartwrights aren't at fault. They've been your friends for years and what they need now is help, not threats. Virginia, we have to look after our own interests. That's what my father tells me. For years, that's what he told me every time he was doing something he was ashamed of. You're beginning to sound just like him. I know what I have to do. Yes, you do. But don't pretend it's to help those poor ranchers. It's just a fast way to make Tod McKaren a big man. Virginia, I don't like what you're saying. Then stop this before it goes any further. It's too late now. Pa, is this dipping doing any good? It's funny. I was just thinking about that. I certainly hope so. You know what our cash situation is. If we were to lose any of our herds right now it'd pretty near wipe us out. Ride on out and see how the boys are doing with that herd in the north quarter. I'll give Hoss and Little Joe a hand with the other herd. Hey, bring him on! Come on here! Well, we got more trouble than plague, Pa. What now? Tod McKaren and Len Keith have got everybody around here stirred up. There's a bunch of 'em riding this way, and they're all armed. Don't they realize we're doing everything we can? Pa, it's a mob. They're not gonna stop and think. They claim they're gonna kill every head of cattle on our range. Well, then we better make 'em stop and think. Ride over to the house and get our rifles. Who is it? Virginia. Oh, come in, Virginia. Well, what are you doing away out here, lass? Mr. McKaren, you've got to do something. Tod... What's he up to? He didn't come home last night. They're riding on the Ponderosa, Mr. McKaren. Tod is leading them. You've got to stop him. Stop him? How can I? He's a grown man. He's got to make his own decisions. Mr. McKaren, I have no place else to turn. I love Tod. I thought you loved him, too. Unless you do something, we're both going to lose him. An old man like me. How can I help him now? Now is the time that counts, Mr. McKaren. Now is when he needs your help more than any other time in his life. That's fine. Good. Keep moving. Hold it, men. Get your guns. Remember, boys, no shooting unless I say so. How do we know they want to talk? We want to talk. Morning, Tod. You suddenly become a rancher, Mr. Keith? I don't owe you any explanations, Cartwright. You're the one to do the explaining, Ben. You brought the Texas cattle in. There are no ticks in the ones we dipped. You want to ride in peaceful and see, you're welcome. Seeing a lot of wet cows don't mean they won't all fall over tomorrow. No, it doesn't. But if any of them come down with a fever, I'll kill every head that gets it. That may be too late, even if you do what you say. You doubting my father's word, mister? Easy, Hoss. You men try to take over my herd, you know there's gonna be fighting. Men on both sides, men we've known a long time could get hurt, maybe even get killed. That'll be on your head, Cartwright. Now get out of the way. Tod, you know better than try to bluff me down. This is no bluff. Don't anybody else move. Shoot him down, Tod. We'll back you up. McKAREN: Tod. Stop it. You stay out of this, McKaren. Keep away, Pa. This is between Adam and me. If you're gonna make a killer of yourself, you better start with me. Your son picked his side, McKaren. You've got no right to be here. Pa, don't you know everything we've got is at stake? I know that better than any other man here. Jamison, I passed by your spread coming here. Your stock's down with fever. Some of the others are also. Son, you better go home and take care of our herd. They're coming down with it fast. I told you what would happen. And you can blame the Cartwrights for it. Let's finish what we come here for. Yeah. Wait a minute. You can kill off every head on the Ponderosa, but what good will that do ya? I tell you that sulfur dip's working. It's saving our beef. It can do the same for yours. It's the only chance any of you have. You better take it. You still handing out orders, Cartwright. Don't back down from 'em. Make up your mind, Tod. Whose side are you on: ours or the Cartwrights? You don't have a side, Dad, except your own. He doesn't care about your cattle. He's only trying to destroy you so he can take your land. We're not talking about land. We're talking about plague. So am I, Tod. My father started it. Virginia. You don't know what you're talking about. She knows what she's talking about, all right. Her father killed Jim Tucker just to keep him quiet. Adam. Dad... Virginia... I... Dad? That offer still goes. Bring your healthy cattle over here, and we'll... we'll run 'em through that sulfur dip. That go for the McKaren family too, Ben? Of course it does. If it's all right with you, Tod? Here, get that one turned around. Yeah, that's it. Well, that's the last of the McKaren steers, Tod. Well, I'd kinda like to stay and help with the rest. Hey, what do you say we take a break for some coffee? Good idea. Hey, Hoss. Come on, coffee. Well, you two are gonna make mighty fine neighbors. Thanks, Ben.
Behind the Scenes of Bitter Water
Lynn Noe, Michael Landon’s future wife, met him when she appeared in this episode. (She’s the blond girl at the saloon sitting at the table on the left as Adam walks in.) Their marriage lasted from 1963 to 1982, and they had four children together before they decided to divorce.
Hoss reads a book called The Care and Training of Dogs, written by Fenton Coe, at the show’s beginning. Fenton Coe was NBC’s Director of Film Production at the time.
When the ranchers ride in to face the Cartwrights at the climax, the audience can hear the sound of moving horses. When the camera shifts, the riders stop. However, you can still listen to people riding their horses before it abruptly stops.
A crew or director’s head shadow plays over the backs of the cast. This part appears at the bottom of the screen from approximately 33:20 to 34:15.
Looking for More Bonanza Episodes?
Bonanza is a family-friendly show you can enjoy alone or with your loved ones. NBC produced the program, running its 14 seasons on their network from September 1959 to January 1973. Bitter Water is the 29th episode out of 430.
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