bitter water
Bonanza Western TV
The Lone Writer  

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:

Main Cast

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.

Books Worth Reading:

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.

Books Worth Reading:

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.

Books Worth Reading:

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.

Books Worth Reading:

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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


I didn't expect you
until this evening.

I have to see your father.

Is something wrong?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.



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.


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?


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.


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.


Throw down your gun
and crawl out of there.

Ha. Come on.

Hoss, you all right?


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.


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.


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.


Works for Len Keith.

Len Keith.


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?


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, I wouldn't mind.

I thought you missed him.


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.



Virginia... I...


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.

Books Worth Reading:

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 its network from September 1959 to January 1973. Bitter Water is the 29th episode out of 430.

You can find more about any of the 430 Bonanza episodes here>>

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