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- Episode Guide
- Bonanza Episodes
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Summary: When four Paiutes come into Wilson's Trading Post, proprietor Jack Wilson keeps and mistreats the two women. Adam and a brave rescue them and Wilson flees to avoid punishment. When Indian raids are made on wagons and small ranches, Wilson accuses the Paiutes. In reality, the Bannock Indians are responsible. Ben and Adam convince the townspeople to ride with them to talk to Winnemucca. Wilson shoots an Indian, which results in a battle between the militia and the Paiutes, and Adam is taken hostage.
Written by: Gene L. Coon
Directed by: Paul Landres
Guest Stars: Jack Warden (Mike Wilson); Anthony Caruso (Chief Winnemucca); Mike Forrest (Young Winnemucca); Walter Coy, Douglas Kennedy, Howard Petrie, Peter Coe, George Keymas, Michael Ryan, I.Stanford Jolley, Gregg Martell.
Images courtesy of Adamant
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This episode is based on an actual incident (or a chain of them). I tried to write a "short summary" of the actual history, but the episode touches on so many different things, it's really long! For a TL;DR version, the historical person James Williams probably was about as foul and manipulative as Wilson in the episode, and the Cartwright desire to prevent a stupid war -- and their failure to accomplish that -- reflect the attitudes and failures of actual historical people. The Indian portrayals seemed less accurate to me, although we know less about what happened on that side (Indian reports are from decades later). Chief Numaga of the Paiutes seems to have been more for peace (he voted against going to war prior to the Williams Station incident), while Chief Winnemucca, although generally friendly to white settlers, may have been in favor of war (Wikipedia says it's Old Winnemucca who was crossing Numaga; I'm wondering if it wasn't Young Winnemucca).
On to the history ramble.
With the emigrant trail crossing some of their hunting grounds, a lot of the Paiute's food was being hunted by others, and the browse eaten by oxen and other animals the emigrants were bringing through; add in the miners and all coming in after the Comstock Strike, and Paiutes were starving the winter of 1858-59. By early 1860, some of the Paiutes had about had it with all these new people, and wanted to drive them out.
Then, according to later Paiute reports, in May 1860, someone at the Williams Station/Saloon/General store traded an Indian boy a bad gun for his pony -- when the boy realized he'd been cheated and protested, they set a dog on him. Then, when he got back and found out two children were missing, he realized he'd heard them crying in the root cellar. So a bunch of Indians went to rescue the children (it may have been children, it may have been young ladies as in the episode), killed everyone there, then killed everyone in two nearby settlements as well (13 settlers, two Williams brothers, and everyone in the saloon). They killed some prospectors, too, but this wasn't discovered until later. All (or most) of this happened May 6.
The local towns (Carson City, Virginia City, Silver City and Genoa) formed militias, meaning to meet at Williams Station. That first night, at Williams Station, Judge John Cradlebaugh of Carson City kind of gave a speech that has always sounded to me like something Ben Cartwright would say, pointing out that the Williams Brothers had a bad reputation and probably had done something pretty bad to set the Indians off, and that he was not interested in protecting "white civilization" but in protecting the local communities (including, I have always assumed, peaceful Indian communities as well as white). The next morning he, the men he'd recruited, and some others headed back home.
The rest of them continued on into an Indian ambush and got clobbered -- seventy six whites killed, maybe three Indians (the whites say they killed three; the Indians say they were only wounded). All that happened on May 12 (and the day following, maybe – the Indians chased the whites back to town). Then the US Army sent some men and weaponry out and set up a much more disciplined local militia, and in late June they went out and killed a lot of Paiute (160, according to the whites; considerably less than that, according to the Indians) and scattered the rest out into the desert.
Finally the Army set up a fort near the river. Although the Indians say not many were killed in the battle, there were skirmishes for some time thereafter, and probably a lot more died of starvation, because their ability to gather food was so hampered by hiding from and avoiding the military.
The Paiute War was the only thing to cause serious delays with the Pony Express -- stations and riders were ambushed, and Robert "Pony Bob" Haslam made his famous 380 mile round trip getting the mail through. If I remember rightly, that and the Fort are about the only parts not at least implied in the episode!
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