Why Did Festus Leave Gunsmoke
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Why Did Festus Leave Gunsmoke? Here’s The Truth

Why did Festus leave Gunsmoke? If you are a fan of this Western Television series, continue reading to know the truth.

Only a handful of television shows can boast of lasting for 20 seasons, and shockingly, Gunsmoke can! The American Western series had 20 seasons, with 635 episodes aired in 20 years. 

Gunsmoke was a popular and successful show, going from a 30- minute run on television to an hour. Characters came, stayed, and left. However, some characters made more impressions than others. 

Festus was one of those unforgettable characters. Despite the production’s fear that people wouldn’t accept him as a replacement for Chester, he gained popularity. He was the character people couldn’t place in a box—a character they loved and hated.

People described his character as “polarizing” because most fans either loved the character and wanted to keep seeing him or hated the character and didn’t want him on the show.  

So, let’s answer the question. 

Why did Festus leave Gunsmoke? 

Festus didn’t leave Gunsmoke.

The show ended.

Festus was a character on Gunsmoke until 1975: when the network ended the show. He made his first appearance in the eighth season of the show and stayed on for eleven years. He probably would have continued on the program if it hadn’t ended.

In the eighth season, he appeared a few times to make it easy for the audience to accept him as deputy Chester’s replacement in the ninth season. He fully joined the cast on its ninth season, on an episode called the “Prairie Wolfer.”

Since the show didn’t continue after its twentieth season, it is impossible to say what happened to Festus; if he would have stayed put or left Gunsmoke.

Do you want to know more about Gunsmoke and Festus? If yes, keep reading!

What Was Gunsmoke About? 

Gunsmoke was formerly a radio show entitled called Gun law. It is one of the most popular Western television shows from the mid-1950s to the 1970s. It was so well-loved that it went from airing for 30 minutes to an entire hour. 

The Emmy award-winning show focused on Matt Dillon, a United States Marshal, saddled with maintaining law and order in a town close to the United States border. The series took place in Kansas (Dodge City).

The different seasons and episodes involved Dillon fighting robbers, bandits, and various people or groups that threatened the town’s peace. The fighting was mostly against invaders, and he fought alongside his allies. 

Dillon’s allies were his supporting characters. His main ally was Marshal Chester Goode, who Festus Hagen replaced after about nine seasons. There was also Doc Adams, the town’s physician, and Kitty Russell, the owner of Long Branch Saloon.

The show’s success relied mainly on the drama and suspense that spun from resolving seemingly serious situations. Issues get settled in ways that many people couldn’t pinpoint Dillon’s stand on morality. The subject of righteousness got handled with ambiguity, and viewers seemed to find it refreshing.

The show’s success prompted other production companies to try making something similar. However, none of them lasted or thrived for as long as Gunsmoke did. 

Who Played Festus In Gunsmoke? 

Ken Curtis played Festus, Dillon’s sidekick, in Gunsmoke. He played the role from 1963 to 1975, sealing himself as an actor. Curtis originally entered Hollywood as a singer with the swing bands, later becoming a singer and an actor. 

People who knew Curtis felt the character “Festus” wasn’t too difficult to play because of his background. His father was a sheriff, and he had spent time working on a jail farm as a child. He had also served in the US Army during the Second World war.

Curtis pursued music for a long time and, after a while, added acting to his pursuits. Besides Gunsmoke, he was in other movies and TV series like Rawhide, Cheyenne Autumn, How the West Won, Perry Mason, Wagon Master, etc. 

Curtis died at 74 in his sleep, leaving behind his wife and two children. 

Who Was Festus In Gunsmoke? 

Festus was one of the main characters in Gunsmoke. He was also Dillon’s deputy. Before he became Dillon’s deputy, he was a Hillman with a ragged appearance who wanted to avenge his brother’s death. 

As shabby as he was, his character was loveable, and many found him endearing. He would come back later in season nine as Dillon’s deputy Marshal and would later become his friend as well. 

How Did Festus Become Deputy Marshal on Gunsmoke? 

Festus finally became deputy marshal because Dillon’s deputy of nine seasons, Chester, left the show. Dennis Weaver, who played Chester, started his program and had to leave Gunsmoke

The switch happened in season nine, in the episode “The Prairie Wolfer.” The production made sure that all three characters (Dillon, Chester, and Festus) appeared in an episode together. There was a scene where they all shared a hug—to make the fans accept Festus easily. 

What You Should Know About Gunsmoke 

The show aired many years ago, but it is still talked about by people of all ages, especially those who watched and enjoyed it. 

Here are few things you should know about the show Gunsmoke:

James Arness was in all 635 episodes:

James Arness played the role of Dillon in Gunsmoke, the only character to appear in all 635 episodes of the television series. Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams, performed almost in all episodes, except he missed six because of a heart attack. 

It was the number one show on television:

The show became a hit. It kept the number one spot for about five consecutive years and kept doing well in the following years despite losing its rank.

It was difficult to cast Marshal Matt Dillon:

It was hard for the show to find someone suited for the role. This difficulty was because the production wanted to have John Wayne, who refused to take the position.

They tried out 26 different actors. Even the person who did the voice-over for Marshall Dillon in the radio show didn’t get picked as they thought he didn’t have the looks for the show. Finally, James Arness, who John Wayne recommended for the show, bagged the role.

Ken Curtis played more than one character:

His main character was Festus, but he also acted as a cattleman who was friends with Chester Goode but got killed.

The radio show was running with the television show:

Many people think the radio show stopped when the television show started, but it didn’t. The radio show ended after about 400 episodes in 1961. 

The show had many notable guest appearances:

The Brady Bunch (Cindy, Peter, and Jan) and some Star Trek stars (Spock, Scotty, Bones, and Kirk) made guest appearances in Gunsmoke

The phrase “get out of Dodge” became popular because of the show:

The show took place in Dodge City, Kansas, so Dillon would send criminals out of the town saying, “get out of Dodge.” The phrase became popularly used among fans and soon for non-fans as well.

The show was once the show with the most episodes ever:

It won a primetime award for the most episodes on television until the Simpsons surpassed it. 

The show ended abruptly:

No one knew the network planned to end the show, so the fans didn’t get to see even a goodbye episode. The program ended on its 20th season, at a regular episode, which was sad for the cast, crew, and fans.

What You Should Know About The Final Episode Of Gunsmoke 

It was almost unbelievable that a show with such a long and successful run didn’t end in a grand style. The end was a usual episode entitled “The Sharecroppers,” mostly centered on Festus. 

Here are a few things you should know about the last episode of the great Gunsmoke

It was Milburn’s last time on screen:

Milburn Stone, who played Doc Adams and was in 629 episodes, died five years after the show ended without featuring in the Gunsmoke TV movie or any other movie for that matter. He died at the age of 75.

The cast and crew didn’t know:

The actors and the production team didn’t know that “The Sharecroppers” would be the show’s last episode. They believed they were going to come back to shoot another season. However, the network didn’t inform them about ending the show. Some of them had to find out about the cancellation from the Hollywood Reporter.

The network had tried to cancel the show before:

The first attempt to cancel the show wasn’t acceptable to most fans, so the network had to keep it running for as long as it did.

The “Sharecroppers” episode was not the last episode filmed:

Sharecroppers was the final episode aired, but it wasn’t the last episode the cast filmed.

The last episode they worked on together was “Hard labor.”


It is impossible to say if Ken Curtis would have continued playing Festus on Gunsmoke if the network hadn’t chosen to end the show. It is safe to assume he, as Festus would have continued since he didn’t leave any indication of departing the show Gunsmoke

This post is an overview of the character Festus and the successful television show Gunsmoke

Did you enjoy reading Why Did Festus Leave Gunsmoke? If you are looking for other great western books, check out these authors.

67 thoughts on “Why Did Festus Leave Gunsmoke? Here’s The Truth

  1. Isabella Brown

    A very detailed article, thank you for this.

  2. Martha Smith

    Loved Gunsmoke still get to see it. I think Festus and Doc was my favorite

  3. Twila Daniels

    Yes I like reading this. I still watch gunsmoke every night. I wished one of the tv stations would start gunsmoke from the first show and show all of them in a row till the last one.

    1. Ronald Hollifield

      Pluto TV has it on now.

    2. Pamela Garcia

      I live in Dodge City KS and my husband and I watch gunsmoke daily… Devotional fan of festus and doc, live next door to I don’t care bar and grill LoL. Nothing like the series FOR SURE ❣️🌹😇🎉👏

    3. Don Smith

      I’m with you Twila, I’d watch every single episode, I watch it mant times every night as it is now but to watch it from start to finish would be great

    4. Bill williams

      ME TV

    5. Loretta

      I agree I wish they would not play the same ones so close to each other. I’m watching right now and they are playing the one about Big Dan and getting a room in the hotel then he brings in his Indian wife. It just played last week.

  4. Virginia Massey

    I think it is ashamed that after such a great long running Western wasn’t informed of the Cancilation. And that the Fans were not informed as well. I am however so happy that some Stations are continuing to play the Re Runs. Because although it is a Western, it is a Clean Family Show that people still love to watch. And at 71 years old, I am seeing eppisoads that I either never seen, or don’t remember seeing as a young girl.

  5. Virginia Massey

    I loved and still do love Gunsmoke.

  6. Helene Bottolfsen

    Loved the show and characters good actors. They were perfect for their roles. I continue to watch Gunsmoke. I watch about 12 episodes a day.

    1. Lorraine B

      I agree 100% with you! I watch, at least, 6 to 10 episodes per day… I am wanting to find and watch the LAST episode with Ken Curtis – one of my favorites… I watch “Gunsmoke” on cable channel – METV! Love it still today at age 74!

  7. John Sharp Sampaga

    I watch Gunsmoke every day, I’m a widower living along on my small farm and enjoy westerns. My dogs and cats keep me company. I watch ESPN and TVLAND, and other stations where there a lot of westerns. Occasionally, they broadcast a Gunsmoke episode I’ve not seen, before, but I don’t mind watching the repeats. I notice many of the characters play different roles, from time to time (good guys and bad guys). (is there a lady in Reno (75-80) who would like to join me?)

  8. Regina C Phillips

    I love Gunsmoke. My husband and I still watch it every day. They play several episodes several different episodes every day on different stations. I love to read about all the characters and how they came and went. I was probably one of their biggest fans. I wish they would do it all again, but they would have to have all new characters and it wouldn’t be the same I’m sure.

  9. Regina C Phillips

    I meant to say new people playing the characters and it wouldn’t be the same.

  10. james michael knox


  11. Thomas E James

    I use to say to myself when Chester was on, WHY do they keep him. Then remember he is playing a character and that is what they want. I fully expected Matt to turn to him one day and exclaim “your character is just plain dumb” but he never did. Surprised Matt didn’t want to change Chester’s role to make him a little more in line with the others. His character didn’t fit in the show at all.
    Chester was very good in the silly show he did with the 18 wheeler chasing him. Dumb as the theme was, it worked and I think Chester’s portrayal was responsible for that.

    1. Richard Schauer

      I always liked Chester. The 18 wheeler show you wrote about was a Richard Matheson story and was directed by Steven Spielberg. It launched Spielberg’s career.

    2. Al Vaccaro

      Just like in the real world, not everyone has the same personality otherwise we would be all like mindless zombies.

  12. Ross Smith

    I like Festus better than Chester. Chester was too much of a bumbler for me.

  13. Dr. Jerry Leonard

    Chester was never a Marshal, and not even a Deputy Marshal. He kept the jail and backed up Dillon but you will never see Chester wearing a US Marshal or Deputy Marshal badge. In fact, Festus was the first to wearing a Deputy US Marshal badge on a semi-permanent part-time basis. Check your facts before you write something. Surely you do know the difference between Dillon as the US Marshal [Head Marchal of the District] and a Deputy US Marshal.

    1. Dick Stewart

      In my opinion, Festus was a great replacement for Chester, who I think was just too silly in his role. There were times that I wanted to just smack him because of his silly remarks. In fact, it looked like in some cases Dillion wanted to smack him, too.

    2. Bob P.

      Dr. Jerry Leonard – You’re right that Chester was never a Deputy US Marshall. His official title was “assistant” to the Marshall, but while he often backed up Matt, he had no law enforcement authority of his own (he was a civilian employee). Chester’s main full-time job was to maintain Matt’s office and jail, feed prisoners, pick up the mail, and so on.

      Festus also helped Matt in an “unofficial” capacity for years after Chester left, but he did eventually become an official Deputy US Marshall. However, he was not the first Deputy Marshal Matt Dillion had officially appointed to help him. Thad Greenwood was the first. Festus continued to assist Matt and Thad, but he did not become a Deputy US Marshall himself until a while after Thad left the show. Eventually Newly O’Brian became a Deputy Marshal too, and he and Festus were in charge of Dodge whenever Matt was away.

  14. Charlotte E

    We watch everyday,but like Chester better than Festus. Festus’ whining gets a little old after awhile.
    We prefer the early and black and white shows.

    1. Brian Welfley

      Amen. I agree with the whining too much.
      I can’t agree with the people who said that Chester was dumb and a bumbler. Obviously they wrote his character so he had to say what he was written. I also liked how he acted like his leg was bum when in real life it wasn’t.

    2. Bob P.

      Chester did a LOT more whining than Festus. Chester was always whining about not having eaten or not getting enough sleep, or having to do something else before eating, sleeping or having a drink. Festus never complained about things like that. Chester’s whining was the only thing I disliked about him. Otherwise, he was a loyal and hard-working assistant. But Festus was both more reliable and harder working, and rarely complained in comparison to Chester.

    3. Charlene Ulrich

      I like Chester better to. My husband and I laugh so much watching Doc. and Chester and Matt picking on each other. We love the whole cast of actors including Festus. We watch atleast 2 reruns most days. We like it better in black and white.

  15. John Whiteside

    I loved them all. Each character was the perfect fit for their time. I just wished that Matt and Kitty were a little more frisky with one another. Gunsmoke reruns never disappoint me. Anyone that doesn’t like my comment…can “Get out of Dodge!”

    1. Brian Welfley

      I agree

  16. Matoaka Little Eagle

    Watching Gunsmoke was an absolute must in my family, as I was growing up, which is funny because my family worked in a tourist attraction that was called Frontier Town. We were the Native family there. You would think that I wouldn’t want to see anything having to do with the wild west or cowboys! But my family loved Gunsmoke and all of the characters. I was so sad when I learned that Milburn Stone had passed away. He was one of my favorite characters. As an adult, the first time I saw a rerun of Gunsmoke, I called my brother long distance and excitedly told him to turn on the tv because Gunsmoke was on! I was so happy! Looking at the reruns, it is amazing to see the roster of actors that started out or had roles on Gunsmoke: Ernest Borgnine, Clint Eastwood, James Mason, John Saxon, …I can’t even name them all. The characters were endearing and rich, the plots were entertaining, and the acting was great. And I really admire and respect the acting capabilities at a time when there were few bells and whistles and the focus was real storytelling of human beings in believable life circumstances. The show had all of the ingredients for greatness, which is evident by is popularity for 20 years. It would be great to have a real Gunsmoke revival of all of the episodes in sequence, as one of the fans here had mentioned. Kudos to Gunsmoke!

    1. janice williams

      Pluto has all the episodes on demand and pluto is free

  17. Charlotte H

    Am retired and watch Gun Smoke at least three times a day. Love them all. Hope they never stop the reruns

  18. Jill L. Baeder

    I absolutely LOVE watching Gunsmoke. Born in the late 50’s I was definitely a child of television. I’ve been enjoying the recent re-runs of the early 1955 episodes. Fantastic but some of the scripts by John Meston are completely barbaric and violent. I’m a lover of early TV westerns and Gunsmoke is the BEST imho.

  19. Jess Arredondo

    Gunsmoke is one of my most favorite shows!
    I watch it every time I get a chance. I had a friend named (Shorty) and he was identical to Festus. Everyone on Gunsmoke are my favorites. I would love to play a western character in a movie. A deputy or sheriff or bartender.

  20. Leveare Redd Adams

    I truly love The Show Gunsmokes. I have the pleasure of watching it 7+ times a day.
    I have the dvds and the books, cups and clothes.
    I am blessed. 🇺🇸💃🏼🙏🏾💕💋

  21. Tanya Nicholas

    Wasn’t the Dennis Weaver movie called Duel? It was a suspenseful movie about an 18 wheeler driver with road rage and it ended with a surprise ending. My husband and I really enjoyed it.

    1. Fred

      Love Gunsmoke and watch frequently. Chesters character was often written as a silly bumpkin. True he was never a deputy. Festus was a GREAT replacement and a good addition to the show

  22. Cecil

    I really like gunsmoke. As a child, I listened to it on the radio with William Conrad as Matt Dillon. We did not have a television, so I only got to see it a few times before the show ended. However, I have watched it in reruns and try not to miss any. Matt, Kitty, Doc, and Chester are a tremendous cast. I do not like Festus. I particularly dislike episodes that feature Festus.

    1. Brian Welfley

      I agree

  23. Cynthia Dee Wilson

    I preferred Festus to Chester, whom I felt was a whiner and not too bright. I would have preferred the character of Festus to have retained more of the edge he had in “Prairie Wolfer,” as opposed to becoming a comedic figure. If I needed someone to watch my back, my money would be on Festus. This is no reflection on the actors, who played their parts as written. It’s a tribute to the actors, writers, and crew that we are discussing the show 47 years after it ended. “Gunsmoke” certainly deserved a better end than it received.

  24. NancyB.

    Gunsmoke is my all time favorite. One thing that really turned me off was Chester. He was worse than and old busy body. He was so nosey and in Matts’ business all the time. The thing that really ruffled my feathers was the way Chester would read Matt’s mail before he gave it to Matt. His constant yelling “Mr. Dillon” was very annoying. Festus was a shot of fresh air. I loved that way he and Doc would pick at each other. They were so funny together. I can’t figure out why the writers gave Chester the part they did. He seemed to be around whenever there was free food or if Kitty gave him free beer. Oh well, that was my opinion which doesn’t account for much. I’m sure there are many people who liked Chester.

    1. Brian Welfley

      Yes the “Mr Dillon” was annoying but prefer Chester over Mr whinny and Chester and Doc argued a lot too.

  25. Loraine

    I love Gunsmoke; I watch it nearly every day from 1-4 pm on TV Land. I love Festus better than Chester; I didn’t like the bum leg thing. I love Festus’ singing too; Tumbleweed nearly makes me cry.

  26. Diann

    I love gunsmoke and all of dodge characters
    Love the station that are still playing the show
    Went to dodge city and visited the gunsmoke
    & saw the show and old jail , Boot Hill

  27. Mike

    Why was coffee mentioned so frequently? Was the show sponsored by Folgers?

  28. K. Crowe

    My husband just turned 90 and discovered the INSP channel. Every day he watches the Westerns and especially Gunsmoke. I just read up on “Chester” and enjoyed the article very much. Saw this show every week with my parents when I was a kid. I didn’t understand what my Dad was laughing at until now. It’s still a very good, wholesome show. Chester and Doc were my favorites. Wish those days of relatively innocent TV were back.

  29. Terry Messick

    I started watching Gunsmoke as a child and I loved watching it then and then I found it on Pluto which carries all 20 seasons I’m in season 8 of it now and I’m going to continue to watch it until I see every single episode I watch it all day long I don’t watch nothing else I seen a lot of the actors at Sydney Iowa Rodeo several years ago our parents took us up there and we got to see a lot of movie actors some of them on Gunsmoke for there

  30. Bill Cord

    Does anyone know why after season 10 Fetus was turned into somewhat of an idiot? In seasons 8-9, he is a sharp individual who was very good at fending for himself. Beginning with season ten, Fetus has his right ear folded to give the impression he is not too bright and as seasons 11-20, he becomes dumber and more of a comic relief.

    1. Bob

      I noticed and it always bothered me that Festus had his ears pushed down by his hat, making his look stupid. I prefer Chester, but Gunsmoke is so good even the worst episode is better than what we have today…….The acting and the writing are superb….I watch it every day and reruns are OK by me……….

  31. Judy

    My husband and I watch Gunsmoke every day and it was great reading all about the characters. We both love all the episodes whether the first time or over and over. It’s our favorite Western due to the endearing characters and interesting plots. I love Festus but don’t care for his Hagen relatives. They’re not so believable and I find them annoying.

    1. Brian Welfley

      I liked Chester better

  32. Estelle Morton

    I never saw Gunsmoke as a child. I am 65 and love this show. I only wish it was in order. Always thought Doc Adams would return. Never really saw how Chester left. I am frustrated that Matt and Kitty never married but at least they were not easy like the Golden Girls. Those five women didn’t remarry because they couldn’t keep their panties on. I really, really enjoy watching Gunsmoke reruns.

  33. Brian Welfley

    So far I have seen Festus in 2 different episodes with Chester. He plays an Indian where the Indian child gets beat up and a bad guy in the “ex – urbans” or something like that name.
    And why did they leave so many full beers at the bar??

  34. Brian Welfley

    Chester makes Festus look like Biden!
    Festus just let crooks dressed as calvary take over the town.

  35. Peggy holmes

    I love gunsmoke one of my favorite westerns watch every night watched it since I was young and I’m 72 and still watch reruns but I don’t care I love the actors and I think they all are fantastic

  36. Beverly

    I am 85 and watched Gunsmoke with my children when they were growing up, now we get together and watch it again. I thought it was a good clean show for them as kids and it is a wonderful memory for us now. We often laugh at the shows costume budget, I think with the exception of Matt, Kitty, Chester and Doc they must have shopped at the skid row store, pretty dirty and ragged for most others. Anyway we love, love, love Gunsmoke and can only say one thing.

  37. Jeff Marriott

    I was watching gunsmoke in the ’70s when I was growing up. Now I am watching it in 2022. It is on two different stations at different times every day and I sometimes watch it two plus times a day I will never get enough of Matt Dillon, Festus Hagen, Kitty, Doc, Chester, Newly, Thad, and Quint

  38. Janice Walker

    To me all the main characters were great, but Festus by far was the most entertaining
    and was the best actor. What a character. I record several episodes daily, and look for those with Festus in it. Chester was always whining, not very interesting.

  39. Owen Kenney

    God Bless Matt Dillion,Festus, Doc,Quinton,Madame Kitty.SHALOM

  40. John McCracken

    Why did you call Festus a Hillman? He was a Haggen every time his last name was used.

  41. Ken Hicks

    Gunsmoke is one of my all-time favorite shows and Festus was my favorite character. He was a great singer and sang with the Sons of The Pioneers.

  42. Richard Feir

    Gunsmoke was a great show. I still frequently watch it. It is an important part of American and television history. The show was well written and the cast was outstanding.

  43. Patty

    Love it and watch it everyday. I watch it over and over.

  44. Bubba Castell

    My Uncle got me started watching gunsmoke , and I still think of him while watching the reruns! My most favorite shows ever

    1. Jon

      I am 68 and remember watching Gunsmoke back in the 60’s and 70’s. I quit watching after it ended in 75. However my wife and I rekindled our interest a few years ago and now watch an episode or 2 daily. We love the natural dialog and comrodeery that obviously existed between the actors. It was almost like there was no script…just ad lib conversation and natural humor. We feel like we know the characters personally.
      I have an autographed copy of a photo of James Arness and almost got an autograph from Andrew McGlaglin (one of the frequent directors) who lived close to our home on San Juan Island in Washington state.
      Unfortunately by the time I got around to asking for his autograph he was near the end of his life and wasn’t up to autographing for fans.

    2. Jon

      I am 68 and remember watching Gunsmoke back in the 60’s and 70’s. I quit watching after it ended in 75. However my wife and I rekindled our interest a few years ago and now watch an episode or 2 daily. We love the natural dialog and comrodeery that obviously existed between the actors. It was almost like there was no script…just ad lib conversation and natural humor. We feel like we know the characters personally.
      I have an autographed copy of a photo of James Arness and almost got an autograph from Andrew Mclaglin (one of the frequent directors) who lived close to our home on San Juan Island in Washington state.
      Unfortunately by the time I got around to asking for his autograph he was near the end of his life and wasn’t up to autographing for fans.

  45. Jay Vinton

    Gunsmoke. I was a kid in my parent’s den, laying on the floor on Gunsmoke night. My dad was an avid fan and turned me into one. Now, at 75, I watch as many as I can every week and remember laying on that cold linoleum floor just enthralled.

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