One of the great TV Westerns of the 60s, perhaps of all time, was Bonanza. I remember it being a must-see at our house on Sunday evenings. And my parents enjoyed it as much as me and my siblings. I learned a lot over the years about the stars who played those larger-than-life Cartwright men, but it was only recently, when I stumbled across an article on the topic, that I learned about the other, less celebrated stars – namely the horses. I thought I’d share some of what I learned with you all.
First of all, none of the actors owned their horses – at least not while the show was filming. They weren’t owned by the studio either. They were owned by Fat Jones Stables, an operation that had a long history – all the way back to 1912! – of providing horses to movie and television productions.
Because Bonanza was the first TV Western to be filmed in color, the mounts for the Cartwright family were chosen with an eye to how they would stand out in this new medium. But each actor also had considerable input into the selection of his horse.
Let’s take the horses in the order of their rider’s family position:
Ben Cartwright: His horse was named Buck, logical since he was a Buckskin. The horse was 12 years old at the start of the series, weighed in at about 1100 pounds and stood a little over 15 hands tall. It was said that Lorne Greene did not care much for horses, but when the series ended its 14 year run, he purchased Buck from the stable because he was concerned with what might happen to the animal otherwise. That same year, Lorne turned around and donated Buck to a therapeutic riding facility that worked with mentally and physically challenged children and youth. Buck spent his remaining years there and by all accounts was a big hit. Buck lived to the ripe old age of 45.
Adam Cartwright: Adam’s horse in the show was named Scout. But Scout was not the original horse selected for the role. In fact the first two horses, Candy and Beauty, both proved to be fractious in front of the cameras and had to be sent back to the stables as not right for the part. When Scout was brought in, he proved to be not only well behaved but a good match for actor Pernell Roberts. Scout was a gelded 7/8 thoroughbred who weighed in at 1100 pounds. Roberts rode Scout for three seasons. Near the close of that third season, Scout and Dan Blocker’s horse got mired in the mud during filming, causing an accident. Whether related to the accident or not, within a month Scout was acting up, tossing his head around and generally refusing to behave during filming as he had before. By the start of the fourth season, Scout had been sent back to the stables and replaced with a horse that was almost identical in appearance. The only difference was that the new horse had four white socks as opposed to the three sported by the original Scout.
Hoss Cartwright: I had trouble finding much information on Chub, the horse Dan Blocker rode. Chub was a half quarter horse, half thoroughbred horse who was selected not only for his temperament but for his ability to carry a man of Dan Blocker’s imposing size. Chub stood 15.3 hands tall and weighed a sturdy 1250 pounds. The horse’s most distinctive feature was the crooked blaze down his face. Chub remained with the series during its entire run and outlived Blocker.
Joe Cartwright: Michael Landon selected a Paint named Tomahawk to be his mount on the show. The horse’s ‘character name’ was Cochise. Standing 15.3 hands tall and weighing in at 1150 pounds, it was second in size only to Hoss’s mount. Tomahawk was with the show for more than five seasons. During the sixth season tragedy struck in a truly terrible incident. A demented intruder broke into the Fat Jones Stables and stabbed several of the horses, among them Tomahawk. The vet was able to save some of the victims but several of the injured animals had to be euthanized, including Tomahawk. Landon was both saddened and outraged by what happened and offered a sizable reward for the capture of the responsible party, but the perpetrator was never identified. In subsequent episodes a number of Paints were used to play the role of Joe’s horse Cochise.
So there you have it – some trivia about the four horses who carried the Cartwrights. Did any of this surprise you? Do you have any particular memories of the show and did you have a favorite from among the animals?