Dan assesses his new deputy
Dan meets Johnny as he rides into Laramie
The pilot episode of Lawman begins with Dan Troop riding toward Laramie to accept the marshal's job. On the outskirts of town, he encounters Johnny McKay placing a headstone on the grave of David Lemp, the previous marshal. The headstone gives the date of death as 1879. When Dan spots the grave of someone he recognizes, he comments that he wondered what happened to Sam. Johnny immediately gets his back up, assuming that someone acquainted with an outlaw must be up to no good. He lets Dan know that Lemp was a good friend of his. After Dan looks over the other markers, he remarks "Looks like this is a pretty rough town on lawmen." Johnny retorts, "Pretty rough on horse thieves too, Mister."
Dan meets the town council delegation
The cat appeared in several first season episodes, perhaps to show Dan's softer side or as a symbol of independence
Dan's initial contact with Tom Pike and Carl Shoemaker, two town councilmen, establishes him as a man who makes no effort to ingratiate himself to those who employ him. When Carl remarks that the people in Abilene must have been disappointed when he told them he was leaving. Dan responds that they managed to hide it. "You'd be surprised how unnecessary I start looking when the trouble dies down." Told the people of Laramie wouldn't be ungrateful, Dan says, "I like my gratitude once a month, payable at the nearest bank."
Dan's first order of business is to hire a deputy. When he hangs one of his "Deputy Wanted" posters in the Blue Bonnet saloon, he has an encounter with the town bad guys, the Hawks brothers. Dan comes out on top. The three brothers are perfectly cast. Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef were, of course, classic western villains for decades. Edd Byrnes (billed as Edward) had great potential as a psycho villain before he became popular as the jive-talking Kookie in 77 Sunset Strip. (Byrnes played Peter Brown's psycho killer brother in the Maverick episode "Stage West.")
Dan's next order of business is to return some personal effects of the former Marshal to his widow, Dru Lemp, who now runs the local cafe. She has some bitterness that his few belongings aren't much to show for a man's whole life. Dan reminds her that her husband didn't have a chance to live his whole life. She asks Dan what makes a man keep on with a job like his. Dan just says that someone has to do it. While they're talking, Johnny, who works at the cafe, comes in and is formally introduced. Dan shrugs off Johnny's attempt to apologize for his attitude at their first meeting. In a later conversation, Dan explains to Dru he keeps on with his job despite the odds because he knew someone a long time ago that got killed in a town like Laramie by a stray bullet in a pointless gunfight. When Dru comments that it must have been someone very special, Dan confirms that "she was."
Johnny applies for deputy job
Johnny responds to Dan's search for a deputy by applying for the job. Dan tells him he's looking for someone who's "dry behind the ears." Dan asks him why he wants to be a lawman. He advises him to get a few cows, build up his stock and settle down with a wife and kids. Johnny explains that he wasn't cut out to be a rancher. He figures that there's only two ways he can go to amount to anything. The way Billy the Kid took or Dan's way. Dan warns him about the perils and loneliness of a lawman's life. Johnny insists he can take it. Dan responds that he wouldn't last out the week and sends him back to his job at "the hash house." On his way out Johnny tells Dan that Flynn Hawks was the man who killed Marshal Lemp and half the town saw it.
Lacy tries to force Dan to draw, but ends up in jail
Lacy taunts Dan with what will happen when his brothers come for him
Expecting trouble, Dan draws when Johnny comes in the office
While Dan's looking for Flynn Hawks, Lacy Hawks tries to goad Dan into a gunfight. Dan refuses "to draw on a boy." He arrests Lacy, knowing his brothers will come to get him. When Johnny appears at the office offering to help, warning that both Hawks brothers just showed up, Dan is downright scornful. "Don't you think taking care of the Hawks boys is going to be enough trouble without taking care of you on the side too?" Dan sends him out the back door.
Dan and Johnny exchange a long look, Johnny knowing he's being assessed. We get the barest smile from Dan, the first we've seen in the whole episode. Dan turns, hesitates for a moment, then tears down the "Deputy Wanted" sign from the board in front of his office. With just a slight motion of his head toward the office door, he lets Johnny know he's now a lawman.
NiteOwl Review: A good character-establishing first episode and a must have for any Lawman collector. "The Deputy" displayed the restraint and dignity which marked the series. Rejected rather harshly for the deputy job, Johnny reacts with just the barest hint of kicked puppy, no righteous indignation or hot anger. In the end, after Johnny has saved the Marshal's life, there's no hand on the shoulder or verbal thanks, just the long assessing look, the barest hint of a smile and a nod toward the office as the "Deputy Wanted" sign is torn down.
In half an hour, the viewer understands Dan Troop to be the consummate lawman, a man of courage, integrity and physical prowess. He doesn't curry favor, bend his principles or back down from a purposeful fight. However, he will not use violence to bolster his ego or allow himself to be goaded into a fight out of pride. He's a man who speaks the truth plainly with no attempt to soften harsh words or to engage in lengthy explanations. He's kind to Marshal Lemp's widow with no indication of an ulterior motive. (In fact, although it would seem the Dru Lemp character was included as a possible female companion for Dan, the dialogue between them in the entire half-season her character lasted would have required little rewriting if she had been cast as his sister.) There is a single hint that Dan's dedication to the harsh life of a lawman, as well as his solitary existence, stems from the death of a woman killed many years ago.
The producers were wise not to try to build Lawman around the Dan Troop character alone. He was too unflawed, too complete. Although we don't learn as much about the character of Johnny McKay in this first episode, he's clearly very young and inexperienced but determined to make something of his life. Stung by Dan's insistence that he'd be more of a hindrance than a help in a tight spot, he shows his mettle in the end. He's the perfect complement to the Dan Troop character. Of course, the inclusion of the young Johnny McKay character, especially as played by Peter Brown, gave preteen and teen girls a sexy but nonthreatening character upon whom to focus their young lust. John Russell was an attractive man, but too mature for the adolescent crowd.
Told that it wasn't easy to get the council to meet his salary demands but that they held out in order to get the best, Dan maintains his steely demeanor. He won't engage in small talk or offer thanks. When he gets only a frightened uninformative response to his questions about who killed David Lemp, we see why Laramie needed to import some backbone. When the office cat jumps on the desk, Dan insists they don't shoo it away. Tom and Carl seem surprised that Dan actually likes cats. Dan notes that cats are independent; they don't ask any favors. "They'll even catch your mice for you if you don't rub them the wrong way."
Original air date Oct 5, 1958
Directed by Montgomery Pittman
Teleplay by Dean Riesner
From a novel by Harry Whittington
John Russell as Dan Troop
Peter Brown as Johnny McKay
Bek Nelson as Dru Lemp
Edward Byrnes as Lacy Hawks
Jack Elam as Flynn Hawks
Lee Van Cleef as Walt Hawks
Stanley Parrar as Judge Patterson
Lane Chandler as Tom Pike
Rankin Mansfield as Carl Shoemaker
Official Peter Brown Fan Site