death at dawn
Bonanza Western TV
The Lone Writer  

Death at Dawn Full Episode – Bonanza, Season #01, Episode #32

The classic Western television series, Bonanza, shows the daily adventures of the Cartwright family, owners of the fictional Ponderosa ranch. Laurence E. Mascott wrote its thirty-second episode, Death at Dawn, which appeared on-screen on April 30, 1960, influenced by the vintage-like television series, The Untouchables. This episode also marks the end of Bonanza’s first season.

A criminal gang took over Virginia City with a murderous protection racket, requiring citizens to pay for protection in case they experience an accident. The Cartwrights are against them, determined to stop their doings, but the gang kidnaps Ben for offering a local safe harbor at the Ponderosa.

The guest actors for this episode include Morgan Woodward, Robert Middleton, and Paul Carr. Morgan Woodward acts as Sheriff Biggs, Wendell Holmes plays Judge Scribner, Paul Carr as McNeil, Peter Leeds plays Norton, Hugh Sanders as Dr. Brahm, Anthony Joachim plays The Hangman, and Jess Kirkpatrick acts as Norton (Kelly).

Read the storyline and some interesting behind-the-scene trivia, or watch the complete episode below.

Watch the Full Episode of Death at Dawn

Watch the Full Episode of Death at Dawn:

Main Cast

Apart from the main cast, episode 32, Death at Dawn also features recurring and supporting guest actors. The episode’s cast complete cast is as follows:

  • Michael Landon as Joseph ‘Little Joe’ Cartwright
  • Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright
  • Pernell Roberts as Adam Cartwright
  • Dan Blocker as Eric ‘Hoss’ Cartwright
  • Robert Middleton as Sam Bryant
  • Gregory Walcott as Farmer Perkins
  • Morgan Woodward as Sheriff Biggs
  • Nancy Deale as Beth Cameron
  • Paul Carr as McNeil
  • Wendell Holmes as Judge Scribner
  • Hugh Sanders as Dr. Brahm
  • Peter Leeds as Norton
  • Ric Marlow as Scoffing Townsman
  • Anthony Jochim as Hangman
  • Bill Edwards as Mr. Cameron
  • Nick Borgani as Townsman (uncredited)
  • Bill Clark as 2nd Gunman (uncredited)
  • Duke Fishman as Townsman (uncredited)
  • Chuck Hamilton as Townsman (uncredited)
  • Jimmie Horan as Townsman (uncredited)
  • Jess Kirkpatrick as Kelly (uncredited)
  • Bob Miles as Townsman (uncredited)
  • Ron Nyman as Townsman (uncredited)
  • Mark Russell as Townsman (uncredited)
  • Jack Tornek as Townsman (uncredited)

Full Story Line for Death at Dawn

Little Joe bumps into a group of men who taunted him after hearing Ben call him across the street. Offended when they called him a “little boy,” Joe was about to fight the group, but Ben stopped him, as there were other men ready to back them up. It appears that the residents of Virginia City are under the control of a gang of 19th-century gangsters who force them to purchase protection lest “accidents” happen to them. Joe has expressed his frustration about the town’s lack of freedom and peace since a gang arrived in the city. Ben calms him down, asking Joe to help Hoss load the supplies from Mr. Cameron’s store.

Inside Mr. Cameron’s store, one of the gang members, Farmer Perkins, killed the store owner after refusing to fulfill his and his gang’s demand. The victim’s wife, Beth, witnessed the event unfold, screaming her lungs out as she held his husband’s body. Hoss and Joe rushed inside, finding the unbothered Perkins walking towards the door and Beth with his husband behind the counter. Sheriff Biggs and a few of the townspeople arrive shortly after. Beth walks to the sheriff, telling him that Perkins killed her husband, but Perkins denies her claim, saying it’s a terrible thing for her to say.

The sheriff takes Perkins to jail to lock him up, but Perkins remains at ease, believing he won’t last long inside. Later, Sam Bryant enters, asking how much the bail is to get one of his boys out. The sheriff refused, telling Bryant to go after the circuit judge since he won’t set any bail. Ben, Adam, and Joe enter the room to check if Perkins has gone out, then informs Bryant that Judge Scribner will hold a hearing on Perkins at the town hall as soon as he arrives. Bryant hates the idea, especially seeing the Cartwrights getting mixed up in their affairs.

The gang occupied most of the space in the courtroom, almost making it possible to obtain silence in the place, not until Bryant ordered them to quiet down. Judge Scribner asked for a witness, but Doctor Brahm stated that Mrs. Cameron was in no condition to testify, as she was still shocked by seeing Perkins shooting her husband in cold blood. Brahm further implied that she’s inflected by the same sickness the town experiences—fear. Scribner asked for another witness, so Joe stood up to deliver his statement. He said they heard a shot ring inside the store and rushed to see Farmer Perkins while Mr. Cameron was lying on the floor dead with his wife standing over him. However, they did not witness the actual shooting. When asked by the judge to speak his truth, Perkins said he did the same thing as the Cartwrights. Judge Scribner requests another eyewitness apart from Mrs. Cameron. Since no other witness was present at the trial, Scribner adjourned the hearing until Mrs. Cameron was ready to testify. He also declared that Perkins must remain in the sheriff’s custody. Bryant insists that Perkins is subject to bail since he hasn’t faced any charges.

The Cartwrights talk about the hearing with the sheriff. Unfortunately, there’s nothing Sheriff Biggs can do since he did his part, a hearing took place, and they requested bail. Joe suggests he arrest Sam Bryant, but there cannot charge him with no evidence. Ben, determined to stop the gang, pledges to get Beth Cameron to testify. Sheriff Biggs offers to make them deputies, and they accept the badges.

Ben approaches Beth, informs her about the trial then offers Beth protection in exchange for her testimony. However, seeing what happened to her husband after standing up against Sam Bryant has scarred her enough. Although hesitant initially, she later asked for Ben’s help, and he promised she could depend on him.

The gang had fun at the town bar when the Cartwright boys arrived. When Perkins and Hoss are about to hand wrestle, Joe pulls Perkins’ gun and aims at him as Adam and Hoss announce that the trial will resume.

Beth testified at the courthouse. She narrated how Perkins threatened to wreck their store unless her husband paid for their so-called “protection” and that he shot him down after refusing. Judge Scribner charged Perkins guilty of murder and sentenced him to hang by the neck until dead. Disappointed with the outcome, Bryant warns Ben that he’ll never see Perkins dead.

Meanwhile, the Cartwrights bring Beth to stay in the sheriff’s room for her safety. They hear knocking outside caused by the people preparing the gallows for the upcoming hanging.

Ben expressed his gratitude to the judge for the fair trial he conducted. A few gang members ambushed Ben as he passed an alley, knocking him unconscious. They bring him to Bryant, who orders him to tie Ben’s hands.

The sheriff and his men were preparing the gallows when someone threw a stone with a note tied in a red handkerchief flew to them. He goes to the Cartwright boys to look for Ben, discovering that he’s been out for quite a while now. He showed them the note threatening to hang Ben if they hung Perkins. It also says they’ll send Ben back if they set Perkins free. Sheriff Biggs believes letting Perkins go is the only chance to get Ben back. However, the Cartwright boys decline his suggestion. They have six hours to come up with a practical plan. Hoss suggests continuing the preparation for the hanging like they received nothing in hopes of getting another messenger they could follow. Sheriff Biggs thinks it’s a good plan and goes outside their designated places.

The plan goes well when one of the gang members cautiously goes to jail to leave a note on the door. Sheriff Biggs followed the messenger. However, the messenger knew someone was following him, so he led him into an alley, where he shot him. Joe heard the shooting, so he rushed to the area, then shot at the messenger in self-defense. Hoss followed shortly after, and they took the badly injured sheriff to the doctor.

Ben and the other gang members heard the shooting from outside. One of the men, Norton, reports to Bryant that Allen, the messenger, was shot dead while the sheriff got injured. Norton suggests they give up, but Bryant is determined to get Perkins out of jail. McNeil supports Bryant, then approaches Ben to taunt him.

The Cartwrights gather to figure out another plan. However, seeing they’re running out of things to do to save their father, they begin to think about letting Farmer Perkins free. Adam convinces them that they should proceed with the hanging to prove to Bryant that no murder gets away in their town. If Bryant sees what will happen to murderers, Adam believes that Bryant will back down, realizing he’ll face a murder charge for killing Ben. However, Hoss and Joe think it’s not the best plan, so they leave to find Ben.

Bryant orders Ben to write a note for his sons to tell them he’s running out of patience. However, Ben breaks the pen, saying he raised his sons to decide for themselves. They later have Ben stand on the table to check if the noose is high enough.

Adam announces in front of the gang members that all murderers in Virginia City will face a hanging, with Farmer Perkins as the first to take place. The men were about to attack Adam, but Joe fired his gun to stop them, then they left the saloon. Outside, Adam tells Hoss and Joe that they should handle things according to the law, the same way their father would take things.

Bryant informs Ben about his sons, telling him there’s still time to bring them back to their senses. Ben thinks they’re doing what he’d do if he’s in their place. Ben also tells Bryant that he’ll have to face the hanging after since Ben would be the last straw the town needs to regain their senses. At that moment, Norton decided to leave. Bryant threatens to kill him, but Norton rebuffs, saying he has no gots to kill on his own. McNeil aims his gun at Norton, but he warns him that he will get hanged for killing him, not Norton. However, McNeil insists on staying by Bryant’s side, believing Bryant’s sticking by Perkins’ side.

Hoss and Joe found McNeil. There they witness the hanging of Farmer, much to McNeil’s disbelief. McNeil believes they’d find Ben dead. However, Bryant approaches the crowd with Ben, declaring that he didn’t do anything to him. McNeil realized Norton’s right about Bryant—he lets other people kill for him. Disappointed, McNeil grabs a gun and fires at Bryant, shooting him dead. The Cartwrights fired back, leading to McNeil’s death.

The Cartwright boys help Ben stand up, glad to have him back.

Full Script and Dialogue of Death at Dawn

Hey! Hey now, why don't
you look where you're going?

Sorry. I didn't see you.

You don't sound
half sorry to me.

Look, I said I was sorry.

Why don't we leave it at that?

If you don't mind,
we'll call the shots.

Now, suppose you use
the other side of the street.


Joe, come here.

Your daddy's
calling you, little boy.

All right, I'll take
you one at a time.


What's the matter, Joe,
didn't you hear me calling you?

You see what they
were trying to do?

Yes, I saw what
they were trying to do.

I also saw the half dozen
men across the street

ready to back them up.

Yeah, well, I don't care
how many there are.

What's got into this town?

You can't walk down
the street anymore.

We're just going to stand by
and let them get away with it?

Now, look, do you think
that walking into a trap

they deliberately set for you
and getting your head broken

is going to stop them?

Now, get along to
Mr. Cameron's store
and help Hoss load the supplies.

I'll round up Adam and join you.

All right, Cameron,
what's your answer?

You know my answer.

I won't back down
for you or Sam Bryant

or any of the gang.

Well, now, that's
just plumb too bad.


No... no!

You killed him.

Now, whatever'd make
you say a thing like that?

Joe, what happened?

Phil's dead.

Hey, Sheriff, what kind
of town you running here?

Going to stand there and let
that fella hold a gun on me?

Sheriff, he killed my husband!

Why, Mrs. Cameron,
you don't mean that.

You killed him!

Mrs. Cameron, that's
a terrible thing to say.

Why, I've got some friends
that would be downright upset

to hear you say
a thing like that.

We know who your friends are.

Why don't you leave her alone.

Here, let me handle this.

Beth, come on.


I don't know what made her
say a terrible thing like that.

You killed him,
Perkins, and you know it!

I'll take care of
this, Cartwright.

All right, Perkins, let's go.

I'm locking you up.

All right, Sheriff.

If that's what you
think you ought to do.

Nice neat place
you got here, Sheriff.

Real nice.

Yes, sir, you keep
it up real nice.

You know the way, Perkins.

Anything you say, Sheriff.

Anything you say.

Right in there, Perkins.

Waste of time you
locking me in here.

You know that, don't you?

But if that's the way
you want to do business.

Howdy, Sheriff.

They tell me you got
one of my boys in here.

How much is bail gonna run?

Circuit judge is
in town, Bryant.

I ain't setting no bail.

That's the judge's job.

Well, I suppose the judge
has got to earn his money, too.

That you, Sam?

Sure is, Farmer.

They treating you good?

Just fine, Sam.

Just fine as can be.

They don't treat you right,

you just let your old friend
Sam Bryant know, you hear?

Don't tell me they let
Perkins go already?

No, they ain't.

But it might be
a real good idea.

Not this time, Bryant.

Judge Scribner's in town.

He says he'll hold a hearing

on Farmer Perkins
down at town hall

just as soon as
he can get there.

You know something?

I sure hate to see
outsiders like the judge

get mixed up in
our private affairs.

I think outsiders ought to
tend to their own business.

And that goes for
you Cartwrights, too.

See you later, Sheriff.


Order. Order in the court.

Hey, Red, I'm thirsty.
Come on, cough it up.

Hey, come on, let's
give Farmer his drink.

Go on, Farmer, there you go.


Order in the court.

Order in the court.

Please be seated.

Please be seated. Order!


All right.

Quiet down now.

You want to see Farmer Perkins

get a fair hearing
now, don't you?

All right, now, sit
down, everybody.

Go right ahead, Your Honor.

Are the witnesses present?

Two of them are
right here, Your Honor.

Your Honor, before you
start, I think you should know

these two didn't see a thing.

Are you acting as
lawyer for Mr. Perkins?

Well, Your Honor, I'm
acting like just what I am...

Farmer Perkins' friend.

I'll not have any more
of these outbursts.

All right, Mrs. Cameron.

Is Mrs. Cameron
present in the courtroom?

Your Honor, if I may?

Yes, Doctor?

Mrs. Cameron is in no condition
to testify at the present time.

She was an eyewitness
to the alleged crime.

Do you measure emotions
by the clock, Your Honor?

This woman just saw her
husband shot down in cold blood.

Doctor, you'll please
resist passing judgment.

I ask you if Mrs. Cameron
is present in this court.

No, she is not.

She's in my office...
A very sick woman.

May I ask the
nature of her illness?

You certainly may.

It's the same sickness

that afflicts this
entire town... Fear.

Can we now hear from
the other witnesses?

Well, sure, we're all
witnesses, everyone here.

Hey, that's right.

I'll be a witness for
you anytime, Farmer.


There you are, Your Honor.

These here are my
character witnesses.

The best money can buy.

I'll not have a travesty
made of my court!

I'll testify, Your Honor.

My brother and I were outside

of Cameron's store
when we heard the shot.

We ran in and found
Farmer Perkins.

Mr. Cameron was
on the floor dead,

and his wife was
standing over him.

That's exactly the
way it happened.

But you did not see
the actual shooting?

No, Your Honor, we did not.

All right, Mr. Perkins.

Well, now, Your Honor,

my good friends here
the Cartwright boys,

they've already said all I know.

It's the same thing
with me exactly.

I heard a shot, I ran in,

and there was poor Mr. Cameron,

and that right
pretty wife of his.

Don't suppose she
shot him, do you?

Hey, that's right there, Farmer.

She must have done it.

Are there any other eyewitnesses

to the alleged shooting?

I mean, other than Mrs. Cameron?

Judge, you know as well as I do

what kind of man
Farmer Perkins is.

At this moment,
Mr. Perkins' character

is not on trial.

Due to the failure

of our only
eyewitness to appear,

I must adjourn this hearing.

I said adjourned only
until Mrs. Cameron

is available to testify.

Meanwhile, the suspect
is to remain in the custody

of the sheriff.

Hey, now, what's
he talking about?

Your Honor.

Just a minute.

He's subject to bail, isn't he?

I mean, he hasn't been
charged with anything yet.

I've already drawn up
the paper, Your Honor.

All right, Ben, you saw it...
All legal right down the line.

I could have told
you it would happen.

Well, I just don't know

what's gotten into
the people of this town.

They just going to stand
by and watch them get away

with a coldblooded murder?

'Cause that's all it is...
A coldblooded murder.

Oh, I'm not sure the
people of this town

care one way or another.

What you're saying is that
this case is closed, is that it?

Well, you saw what happened.

I arrested Perkins,
they had a hearing,

and he's out there
walking around.

Look, Sheriff, if you
want to do something,

why don't you start by
arresting Sam Bryant.

He's the head man.

On what charge, son?

Associating with bad company?

Keeping order in the mines?

That's what he was hired for.

That's what him and his men do.

Now it's gone a lot
further than that, Sheriff.

They've taken
over the whole town.

So they have.

You could have stopped
them before it went that far.

By myself?

With no deputies, not
a soul to back me up?

What is it you expect me to do?

I don't know what
to expect of you,

but I know what I'm gonna do.

I'm going to get Beth
Cameron to testify.

And if she does, the judge
is going to reopen the hearing

and set a trial immediately.

And if that's done, will you
rearrest Farmer Perkins?

I'm a practical man, Ben,

and a sociable one.

I don't like taking
chances on my life.

But if I'm going
to... I want company.

I got the right to
swear in deputies.

And deputies is what I want

before I go after
Farmer Perkins again.

Now you made the complaint, Ben.

I've offered the same chance
to half the people in this town.

I know Beth
Cameron will testify.

There was a hearing a while ago.

You were needed at that hearing.

You weren't there.

What do you want me to do?

Isn't one killing enough?

My husband's dead, isn't he?

My husband tried to
stand up to Sam Bryant,

and they killed him.

And if I try to stand up
to them, they'll kill me.

Is that what you want?

No, of course not.

And it won't happen.

Suppose my sons and I
promise to protect you?

Would you testify, then?

Can you promise to
protect all of Virginia City?

And the judge?

Can you promise to keep
Perkins in jail, that he won't go free

or break out and come after us?

All right, Mrs. Cameron.

Let's just say that your
husband died for nothing.

Ben, wait.

Please help me.

Now, Judge Scribner will be in
town for a few more hours only.

He says he'll hold a trial
if he can have witnesses.

Will you come for me, Ben?

You can depend on
that, Mrs. Cameron.

Ah, if you're so smart,
you do it! Come on!

Come on! You take him!

Come on, big strong
man. Wait. Come on.

Okay, go!

Go, go, go!

Come on, there!

Come on now, Jim! Come on now!

Come on now, take him.

Come on. Go get him!

Go get him! Put him down there!

That's it, Jim. You
got him. You got him!

That's it, boy!

I ain't never lost yet!

Well, you just run out of luck.

Ho-ho-ho, boy!

Go on, Farmer, you can take him.

Come on now.

Go, go, go!

Go on!

Come on now! Come on, Farmer!

Come on, take him!

Take him now! Come on!

All right, boys, leave
them right where they are.

Now you wouldn't want

to spoil all the fun,
would you, boys?

Trial's gonna resume at 1:00.

Trial? Again?

That judge sure is a glutton
for punishment, ain't he, boys?

Yeah. What trial
you talking about?

That trial's over.

It's all right, boys.
Don't get excited.

We gonna have a
repeat performance.

Come on down to the
courthouse with me.

Don't worry, Farmer.
We're with you, boy.

We're with you,
Farmer. Take care now.

Will you answer the question,
please, Mrs. Cameron?

Farmer Perkins threatened
to wreck our store

unless my husband
paid him for...

for what he called

My husband said
he'd never back down.

Farmer Perkins drew his
gun and... shot my husband.

Thank you, Mrs. Cameron.

The defendant will please rise.

Since you waived trial by jury,

it becomes my sworn duty
to pass sentence on you.

I hereby find you guilty
of murder as charged.

Mr. Perkins,

I sentence you to hang
by the neck until dead.

The execution is to
take place in the yard

of the town jail
tomorrow at dawn.

This case is closed.

You hold the top
cards... temporarily.

Not for long.

I promise you, Cartwright,
you'll never live to see the day

that Farmer Perkins hangs.

I've never seen
a jail cell before.

Well, this isn't a
cell, Mrs. Cameron.

This is a Sheriff's room.

Do I have to spend
the night here?

Yeah, I'm afraid so, ma'am.

See, we haven't got enough men

to watch your house,
and Pa thought

you'd be a lot safer
in protective custody.

What are they doing?

Can't have a hanging
without a gallows, ma'am.

Killings and beatings
and now a hanging.

Won't we ever have a
decent town to live in?

That's what we're trying
to get, Mrs. Cameron.

You have to believe that.

Well, Judge, all I can say

is that the example
you set us today was

a very necessary one.

And I can assure
you that by the time

you get back in here next month,

things will be a lot more
peaceful around here.

Thank you very much, Ben.

Please don't wait around.

The stage will be leaving
in few minutes. Oh, well.

Your boys will be
needing you at the jail.

As a matter of fact, Judge,

those boys can get
along with me very well.

Although I wouldn't
want them to know that.

But we are a bit shorthanded.

Good night, sir.

Good night, Ben, and good luck.


Over there.

Tie his hands.
Keep an eye on him.

Norton, take a
couple of the boys

and circulate around out there.

Let me know if
you hear anything.

Right, sir.

That's all, boys. Game's over.

Got some writing to do.

You sure that gallows is
gonna be ready on time?

What time is dawn?

5:00. A little before 5:00.

And I've got the hanging
set for 5:00 sharp.

We won't keep
the Farmer waiting.

What is it, Sheriff?

What's the matter?

Hey, Sheriff, what's your hurry?

You running for reelection?

Where's your dad?

What's keeping him?

He ought to been
here a half hour ago.

I know. I'm getting
worried about him.

Judge has probably trapped him

into some long-winded
discussion of the law or something.

No, not tonight.

I just wanted to make sure

this was no crazy man's
idea of a joke. Read that.

"Hang Farmer Perkins
and we hang Ben Cartwright.

"Set Farmer Perkins
free, give him a horse

"and a half-hour head start,

and we'll send
Cartwright back to you."

Shut up, Perkins!

You'll still hang.

Or will he?

I don't want to rub it in,
but you boys got us into this.

Now if you've got
any suggestions

for getting us out... Have you?

Just this. Before you
three go off half-cocked,

let me give you a little advice.

There's only one sensible
way to get out of this mess.

What's that?

Let Farmer Perkins go.

We don't see it
your way, Sheriff.

No, we don't.

All right, you boys think

you're a match
for old Sam Bryant,

one of the toughest,
smartest gunman

that ever shot up a mining camp?

Him and his men
outnumber us five to one.

He's got this whole
town in his grip,

they're so scared of him.

Has he got you
scared, too, Sheriff?

I got just one life, Joe.

It's against my
principles to bet it wildly.

Now if you boys want

to play games with your
father's life as the prize,

you got the authority.

Now let's see if you can come up

with a practical plan.

We got six hours.

We ought to be able to
come up with something

Like what?

Like a search.

Search every
house till we find Pa.

How do you know he's in town?

Maybe they've got him
hid in a mine or someplace.

Besides, we got neither the time

nor the men for a search.

Sheriff, let me
ask you something.

What would happen if we went
right ahead with the preparation

for the hanging just
like nothing happened?

And they never wouldn't know

whether we got
that message or not.

They'd just send
another messenger.

That's right. And
we'd be waiting for him.

And we jump him.

No, we'd follow him.

We'd follow him right to
where they're holding our pa.

Now that's the first good
suggestion I've heard tonight.

Adam, you stay here.

I'll take the boys,
stake 'em out

so we can keep an eye on
anybody that might come around.

Let's go.

Howdy, Doc.

There's some of us
you can count on, Sheriff.

We're spotted around
watching the jail

in case Sam Bryant
and his men try to rush it.

Well, that's not Sam
Bryant's way of thinking,

but I'm much obliged
to you anyway, Doc.

All right.

Hey, Doc. Yes?

We're expecting a caller.

Don't stop him. Just
keep out of sight.

Will do that.

Thank you.

Hoss, over there
by those stairs.

Joe, back there in the alley.


Keep your eyes sharp.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

Let's go.

I'm still the sheriff here.

♪ ♪

We sure needed that one alive.

There was nothing I could do.

Not if I wanted to
stay alive myself.

See what we can
do for the sheriff.

Joe, he's hit pretty bad.

You go get the doc, and
I'll get him over to his house.


What's happened? What was
that shooting going on out there?

How should I know?

Can't see a thing from here.

It was Allen.

They shot him down.

He got the sheriff.

How far away?

They didn't see you come here?

No, they didn't see me.

Sam, why don't we give it up?

They got guns
guarding that jail.

I'm giving up nothing.

I'm getting Farmer
Perkins out of that jail.

And I'll still be
running this town.

I like the way you talk, Sam.

I'm with you. You
can count on me.

Good boy.


Stop that dang-blasted
hammering out there!

How do you expect
anybody to sleep?!

Sure hope the sheriff makes it.

Doctor's doing everything
he can for him, Adam.

Besides, it's our Pa we
ought to be worried about.

We've already tried one scheme.

All we did was
kill the messenger.

He might have
lead us back to him.

You talk like we
might as well give up.

What are you figuring
on doing, just sitting there?

Well, now, if you've got
any ideas, I'd like to hear 'em.

I'm with Hoss. We
got to do something.

Well, just exactly what?

Well, we could at least
go around the saloons

and see if we couldn't
pick up something.

Look, Sam Bryant's got
his spies all over the place.

You'll only pick up what
he wants you to pick up.

You sure think he's
smart, don't you?

Yes, I do, because he is!

I'm beginning to feel the
key lies in Bryant's mind.

What do you mean?

A couple of hours ago,

when the sheriff was all
set to let Farmer Perkins go,

you were both against it.

Now, do you still hold to that?

Well, Adam, that...
was a couple hours ago.

We still thought we'd
find Pa by... by dawn.

And now you're not so sure.

Well, you're not
making it any easier,

the way you're going about it.

Look, all I asked was

if you're still intent on
hanging Farmer Perkins.

I don't know! I don't
want to stand here

and play question
and answer games.

They got my father out there
and they threatened to kill him.

Maybe you forgot that,
brother, but I haven't.

Joe, I feel the same
way about it you do.

I done told you that.

But Pa sure wouldn't want us
all fighting among ourselves.

All right, then let him
start making sense.

Well, if you give me
a chance, maybe I will.

Now, look at it this way.

What would Bryant
do if, say, come dawn,

we simply went ahead
and hung Farmer Perkins?

Regardless of what Sam
Bryant said he'd do to our Pa?


Now, what would you do
if you were wrong, Adam?

Would you go out to my father's
grave and say, "I'm sorry, Pa.

I made a big mistake"?

Joe, he's my father, too.


I sure hope you're
right in your thinking.

'Cause I don't like the sound
of it any more than Joe does.


If we let Farmer Perkins go,
then Sam Bryant has proved

that you can get away
with murder in this town.

And he'll have no
qualms about going ahead

and hanging Pa anyway.

You still haven't told me

how we're going to
get Pa away from him.

On the other hand, we go
ahead and hang Farmer Perkins,

and we show that
we punish murderers.

And Sam Bryant will see that
his only chance is to let Pa go.

Oh, come on, Adam. First
you stand there and tell me

how smart you
think Sam Bryant is,

then you say he's
going to back down.

He's never been afraid
of the law in this town.

No, but, he's never been
charged with murder, either.

And once Sam Bryant knows
that he's facing a murder charge,

I figure he'll be smart
enough to back down.

And that's why we got to go
ahead and hang Farmer Perkins.

I'm sorry, Adam. I
can't go along with it.

It's too big a gamble.


you go right ahead thinking
like that if-if you want to,

but you're gonna
have to do it alone.

We're gonna go find
Pa. Come on, Joe.

Try it one more time.

Only, shorten the rope a bit.

That Farmer's a tall one.

Don't want his feet
to touch the bottom.

Whole Comstock's
staying up for the hanging.

Yeah, there's no lack of people.

Not one single lead on Pa.

Come on, Little Joe. We
still got lots of looking to do.

What you looking at?

I just wanted to see
exactly what kind of a life

I'm putting in the
balance with my father's.

Before you let me go, huh?

What makes you
think I'll let you go?

You don't worry me none.

Bryant will get me out of here.

He's smart.

And besides, what kind of son

would swap his own
pa's life for mine?

You got 90 minutes left. Do
you want to talk to a preacher?


What's so funny?

I killed a preacher once.

Back in Kansas, I think it was.

What for?

For preaching at me.

I want you to write a note.

To whom?

To your sons.

Tell them I'm running
out of patience.

Tie it off.

Tell them to let
Farmer Perkins go,

or in one hour, their father
will be wearing a new necktie.

I raised my sons to
make their own decisions.


Time's run out for
looking anymore.

Yeah, they've got him
out there somewhere.

Yeah, if we just knew where.

But even if we knew,

three of us against
ten or more of them.

It's a risk I'd be
willing to take, Adam,

for what we got at stake.

All right, so would I,

but in a wild gunfight,
who'd be sure and get killed?

One of Bryant's men
would take it out on Pa first.

Come on in here.

Where you going?

Gil's Saloon.

I'm going to announce
exactly where I stand

so it will be sure and
get back to Bryant.

Well, if you can convince
that bunch over there,

you can convince me.

Now just remember,
a lot of Bryant's men

will be there to stir
the mob up against me.

Lock the door after us.

You'd better hurry back.

The hanging's at 5:00.

Bring Cartwright over here.

Sorry we couldn't build you
a fancy gallows like the town.

We'll just have to make do.

Get up on the table.

Ain't you gonna wait to
see if they hang the Farmer?

Sure. I just want to see if
the noose is high enough.

What's the matter
with you, Norton?

Something bothering you?

No. Nothing.

I'll hang him.

I like doing it.

Whether they hang my
friend Farmer Perkins or not,

I'll enjoy it.

Perfect fit.

Cartwright, you never
looked so good to me.

Get down.

Now I want Sam Bryant and all
of you to understand the following.

From now on, all murderers
will be hanged in Virginia City.

And the first
hanging to take place

will be that of Farmer Perkins

this morning at 5:00
a.m. as scheduled.

And any future murderers
will also be hanged.

And if Sam Bryant
wants to escape hanging,

he'll let my father go.

I know Bryant, kid,
better than you do.

He don't fool around.

You're signing your
pa's own death warrant.

It's that badge.

That stinkin' badge
has gone to his head.


Is it the badge?

Is it the law, the principle?

It's only part of it.

That's the way Pa would think.

Then it's all a matter
of your thinking

that you know Bryant's mind.

Maybe you can outbluff him

in this little poker
game you're playing.

Yeah, I guess it
comes down to that.

But, Adam, it's Pa's
life you're gambling with.

What if you lose?

Don't you think
I thought of that?

Cartwright, your son
Adam's now acting sheriff.

Says he's going to go ahead

and hang Farmer
Perkins regardless.

And then leaving it up to
me whether or not you swing.


Good for him.

He's bluffing.

You think so?

You know how stubborn
we Cartwrights can be

if we want to be.

Yeah, stubborn, but not stupid.

There's still time
to write him a note...

Bring him to his senses.

Why? He's doing
exactly what I'd do.

Then hang.

Then you'll hang.

'Cause that would
be the last straw

this town would need
to bring it to its senses.

Tell me, Bryant, how do
you think it will feel to hang?

In about 30 minutes,

you're going to
find out, Cartwright.

Remember, that's
my rope over there.

30 minutes.

I'm getting out of here, Sam.


You make another
move toward that door,

I'll kill you.

No, you won't, Sam.

You ain't got the guts
to do your own killing.

And don't you do
it for him, McNeil.

One shot and that will
bring a crowd running in here.

And you'll be the
one that's gonna hang

for killing me, not him.

I stick by Sam and
he sticks by me.

He's sticking by
the Farmer, ain't he?

Well, he ain't gonna let
the Farmer hang, is he?

I don't know, McNeil.

Why don't you wait and see.

And when you find out,
you come and let me know.

I'll be around.

Where's Hoss and Little Joe?

They're outside watching things.

Adam, I know what
it's like to lose someone.

Do you?

And to know that
you're the cause of it.

Adam, Ben Cartwright's
worth 10,000 Farmer Perkins.

There's still time.

Let Perkins go.

Come on, get up.

Put the noose around his neck.

All right, get down.

Come here. I want to
show you something.

Get on down to the corner.

You can see the jail from there.

Now, when they
turn Perkins loose

come on back here
and let me know.

What difference does it make?

We're gonna hang
Cartwright anyway, ain't we?

Just get down there
and let me know.

Okay, I just wanted to
be in on the fun, that's all.

You know, there wasn't
any need to send the boy,

'cause they'll hang
Perkins all right.

And after they do,

they'll be coming here for you.

Let them come.

They've been after me before.

They haven't got a thing
they can prove against me.

They will have...
After you hang me.

Shut up, Cartwright.

Shut up or I'll yank this table
out from under you right now.

You'll never go through with it.

What's so funny?

Old Ben Cartwright.

I bet he ain't so high-minded
with a rope around his neck.

McNEIL: Let go of me!

Come on, boy. Come on, let go!

Let go of me!

Let go of me!

We found him down at the corner.

It's McNeil... One
of Bryant's men.

What'd you do with my pa?!

Where is he?!

It's 5:00.

You hung him.

You hung the Farmer.

We told you we
was going to, boy.

All right, all right, you want
to know where your pa is?

I'll tell you where he is.

He's down at the old stable
hanging on the end of a rope.

And you thought you'd
back Sam Bryant down.

Well, you go down there and see.

Joe, Joe, no.

Come on, the stables.

Listen to me, all of you.

Look, I brought
Ben Cartwright back.

I didn't do nothing.

No, look.

I'm giving him back his gun.

You done right
hanging Farmer Perkins.

You turned yellow.

You let the Farmer down.

You're just like
Norton said you was.

You let other people
do your killing for you.


Feel all right, Pa?

Yeah. Yeah, I'm
all right. I'm fine.

You know something?

You boys look awful good to me.

Behind the Scenes of Death at Dawn

Beth Cameron’s actress, Nancy Deale, married Lorne Greene in December 1961. At that time, Lorne was 46, while Nancy was 28. Until his passing in September 1987, they remained married.

Morgan Woodward appeared in this episode eight times in total.

Robert Middleton made his first three appearances in the series through this episode. His second was in King of the Mountain (1964), playing Grizzly Martingale, and his third was as C.J. Shasta in The Greedy Ones (1967).

The actors rushing in after the general store scene is shot cast their shadows on the stage backdrop to represent the structures across the street.

Looking for More Bonanza Episodes?

Have fun watching Bonanza by yourself or with your family! The series ran under the production of NBC from September 1959 to January 1973. There are 14 seasons and over 400 episodes, with Death at Dawn as the 32nd episode.

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

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