Jim 1950s - 1960s

Aired: 1959-73

DAD: Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) / Widower x 3

DAD’S JOB: Rancher

KIDS: Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocher), Little Joe (Michael Landon)(all in their 20’s and

WHERE’S MOM?: Each of the three Moms died in childbirth – really! (or NOT — read the

Viewer Responses, below)…

STAND-IN “MOM”: Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung)

As Danny DeVito said in the movie Tin Men, this show is about “a 50-year-old man with three 49-year-old sons.” Domestic conflict was solved the same way each week – the boys would go into town and get into a big fight at the saloon.

Strangely enough, Lorne Greene would play another TV Single Dad on television more than 17 years after the start of Bonanza, in the TV show BattlestaR Galactica.

Here’s a reminiscence of the show by”I seem to recall an episode in which time flashes back to the wagon trail days, with Lorne capped in a dark toupee, and his wife (who was played by Inga Swenson of “Benson” fame, I believe) had just given birth to Hoss.

She said she wanted to name him Hoss because it meant “big friendly man” or something in her native tongue (I suppose she was Swedish – the typecast seems to have stuck). Which is strange, considering it seemed more likely to be a nickname for “horse” since he was big.

Here’s some more details provided by alert viewer David K. Anderson:

Adam’s mother was the daughter of a New England whaling captain. Ben was a mate on his father-in-law’s ship until his wife died giving birth to Adam. Ben decided to leave whaling and head West with his infant son. He made it to New Orleans where he met and married Little Joe’s mother. She was a French beauty who also died in childbirth. Ben decided to head farther west taking his two sons with him. Hoss’s mother was an Indian maiden (possibly played by Inga Swenson; I don’t remember). Once again, she died in childbirth and Ben headed farther west to Nevada territory to found the Ponderosa and raise his motherless boys.

That should settle the controversy, right? Wrong. Libby Moore ( in
her version of the Cartwright Wives deaths…

“[Ben’s] first wife, Adam’s mother, did die this way [in childbirth], but Hoss’ mother died in an Indian attack when Hoss was a baby and Joe’s mother died when he was a small child, from a fall from her horse.”

Had enough? here’s some more thoughts on the Cartwright birth history from Alert Viewer Shirley Thompson….

Regarding your “alert viewer” David K. Anderson… He lists the order of the sons birth as Adam, Little Joe and then Hoss. Sorry, but anyone who is “alert” knws that it was Adam, Hoss, THEN Little Joe. Libby Moore is correct from what I can gather.

But wait! There’s MORE from Valerie Ellis, yet another Alert Bonanza Viewer:

Libby is right about the various ways the ill-fated Cartwright mothers met their end: Adam’s mom, childbirth; Hoss’ mom, Indian arrow; Little Joe’s mom, fall from horse. And all kidding aside about the age of Pa vs. the boys, Lorne Greene really was only about a dozen years older than Pernell Roberts (No. 1 son Adam), who’s 9 years older than Michael Landon (baby brother Little Joe). Trust us. We know this stuff. You probably got other emails from Bonanza Internet folks because someone passed on your URL. And I know way too much about ’60s television and need to get a life.

(There’s no such THING as knowing WAY too much about ’60s television, Valerie.)

And then Whitney Miller wrote in to say the following:

I really like Bonanza, and the 3 people that sent in their little say so are all wrong. I’m sending one that you may want to put on your site and you may not want to:

Ben Cartwright first met and married Adam’s mother, Elizabeth. She died right after Adam was born and Ben went westward with Adam where he met and married Inger Stevenson (a Swedish lady) when Adam was 6. Inger did not die while giving birth to her son, Eric, she died in an Indian attack a little while later. Eric Haus Cartwright was called Hoss because it meant “big friendly man” (which he did grow up to be) and because when Ben took Inger west from away from her brother, it was his one wish that they would call their first (and only!) son Hoss. Ben then took his 2 sons and went on where he met Marie, whom he fell in love with and married (I don’t know how old Adam and Hoss were, but I think they were about 12 and 6). She had Joseph Francis Cartwright (whom they called Little Joe, or Joe later on in the series), but she did not die until he was 6 years old (does 6 seem to be a lucky number with the Cartwrights or what!?). Ben then took his 3 motherless sons away.

Now, I’m prepared to argue this point. I watch Bonanza about every day, and I know for a fact that Hoss is older than Joe (1 person says differently), etc…..

Want some more? Alert Viewer Jeff James writes in:

just seen the episode where Ben met Inga somewhere in Illinois…..Inga’s Brother Günter…got called ‘Hoss’ by someone in a saloon. The old wino who called Gunter this said it was an Old Appalachian Term meaning ‘Big Friendly Man’. Gunter told Ben he was a Hoss and what it meant after he had Married Inga just before they left to GO WEST.

In the ‘Wagon Trail’ episode he said that if it was a boy would then it would be named after Inga’s Father ‘Eric’ and that the Third boy after his father ‘Joseph’. At Hoss birth they gave the Child both names and Ben said to Adam “Let’s see which one sticks” Inga was killed by an arrow soon after in an Indian attack at Ash Hollow.