In a slight revision of history, Dan and Johnny are responsible for bringing Jack McCall to justice. McCall committed the famous back shooting murder of Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood while he was playing cards. The cards he was holding (aces and eights) have ever after been called "The Dead Man's Hand." Dan met Hickok after the war and is saddened that he met his death from such a cowardly attack.
Johnny expresses the hope that McCall does show up in Laramie so they can take him. Dan doesn't figure that's likely with all the lawmen looking for him between Deadwood and Laramie. Johnny has more mundane troubles on his mind. His "Uncle" Jess Miller refuses to see a doctor to tend his badly swollen leg. He uses a poultice of axle grease and cobwebs, a common remedy among old-timers.
Although he hasn't been mentioned before, we learn that Uncle Jess has taken care of Johnny since he was ten. And Johnny treats him like family although he's not a blood relative. Despite Jess's protests, Johnny decides he must get the doctor. When Uncle Jess sees the headlines of the newspaper Johnny's brought, he tells him that everytime he hears of a lawman being killed, he worries about Johnny.
At the doctor's office Johnny hears Doc tell Mrs. Mitchell that he'll be operating on her little girl in the morning. It's a life or death situation. Doc agrees to go see Uncle Jess for Johnny's sake but he wants Johnny to guard Jess's shotgun. When they get to Jess's cabin, they find it's been take over by Jack McCall who needs a place to hole up while the law is hot on his trail. McCall is on edge and liable to kill Johnny just because he's a lawman.
McCall sends Johnny to Laramie to get him a good saddle horse (Johnny rode out in the doctor's buggy) and a week's provisions. He warns him they'll be a double funeral if he tells anyone. When he first returns it looks like Johnny is going to do the smart thing. He rushes in the office and says he has to talk to the Marshal. But then Mrs. Mitchell comes in desperate to find the doctor because her child's taken a turn for the worse. That seems to loosen Johnny's brain.
He goes and buys a horse and the provisions. When he returns to the office, the livery man has dropped by the bill of sale for the horse. Dan wonders how Johnny can afford to keep two horses.
Johnny gets hostile about the questions. Dan says, "I thought we were friends." Johnny retorts, "Friends don't ask so many questions." Johnny denies he's in any trouble.
Dan knows something is wrong. He watches Johnny leave town in the doc's buggy with two horses tied behind. Dan follows Johnny out to Jess's cabin and hides watching.
McCall decides he'll take Johnny with him in case there's a posse waiting. However, when they start to leave, Dan's horse whinnies and McCall panics. He herds everyone back inside. Dan can't get a clear shot. He climbs on the roof and puts a board over the chimney. When the smoke forces McCall out, Dan takes him prisoner. When it's all over, Johnny admits he didn't act much like a lawman, making a deal with McCall. Dan kindly responds, "A lawman's got feelings too. A lot of folks forget that. He's got his loved ones too, like anyone else." And then he says what we wanted to say all along. "Next time boy, have a little more faith in me."
NiteOwl Review: We have to admit some impatience with a plot that depends on one of the leads acting in a manner we consider out of character. We can't see any reason why Johnny wouldn't have trusted Dan to work with him to get McCall without risking his Uncle Jess and the doctor. Otherwise a decent enough episode.
According to the backstory of the characters, Dan's last job prior to coming to Laramie was as marshal in Abilene, Texas. One of Bill Hickok's most well-known achievements was cleaning up Abilene, much to the disgruntlement of the cowhands who didn't like the tamer version of the town. Hickok's employment there ended late in 1871 after he accidently shot and killed one of his own deputies.
Dan and Johnny are shocked at the news that Bill Hickok has been murdered
"I used it on you when you were 12"
"I worry about you Johnny"
"I like my job, Uncle Jess"
Johnny and Doc are ambushed
Johnny starts to tell Dan
but stops when Mrs. Mitchell enters
"Why do you need two horses"
Dan knows something is wrong
He gets angry over the questions
"I didn't act much like a lawman"
"Next time Boy, have a little more faith in me"
Historical Note: Bill Hickok was murdered August 2, 1876. Interestingly, the historical events contemporary with an earlier first season episode "The Outcast" date that episode no earlier than 1884. (Dan and Johnny protect Robert Ford who murdered Jesse James in 1882 and whose brother committed suicide in 1884, an event referred to in the episode.) The gravestone Johnny McKay is putting over former Marshal Lemp's grave in the first episode shows it took place in 1879. For most writers in episodic western TV, anything that occurred between 1870 and 1890 was apparently fair game for a plot regardless of the chronological sequence of the events.
Original air date Jan 11, 1959
Directed by Stuart Heisler
Written by Edmund Morris
John Russell as Dan Troop
Peter Brown as Johnny McKay
Edgar Buchanan as Jess Miller
James Bell as Doc Stewart
Michael Dante as Jack McCall
Phil Tead as Mr. Seymour
Dee Carroll as Mrs. Mitchell
Tom Fadden as Mr. Slade
James Dobson as Jody Peters
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