A crisis with the stage line brings Slim and Jess closer as friends and solidifies Jess' place an the Sherman Ranch.
A man is sitting on a horse waiting to be hung by Jack Slade. Slade gives him the chance to say some last words and the man says there will come a day when Slade will have to quit playing God, and face him. Slade proceeds to hang the man, and then pulls out a bottle. Before he takes a swig, he tosses it away.
At the Sherman ranch, it's nighttime and a number of men are very quietly letting horses out of the corral. The next morning, Jonesy and Andy are working to clean up the corral and discussing the night's events. Jonesy says it was a very neat job "like they was all run off by a bunch of chambermaids." What a great line.
They find it hard to believe that all of the horses could be stolen without waking any of them up. Jonesy says there are experts in just about any profession. Slim and Jess have gone out to see if they can track the horses.
While they're talking, Slade rides up. He's a curt, officious man and demands to know everyone's name, where Slim Sherman is, what happened to all the horses, without introducing himself. Jonesy is immediatly defensive. When Slade demands to know if Jess Harper works there, he refuses to answer.
Finally Slade tells them he is the new superintendant of the Stage Line. He also tells Jonesy to give Jess a message. He's fired. As far as the stage line is concerned, Jess is a drifter with a bad reputation. No ifs ands or buts about it apparently. Jonesy says Slade can tell Jess himself.
As he's leaving, Slade says they can pass on some more information to Jess. He only warns a man once. Andy says Jess isn't afraid of Slade or anyone else. Jonesy asks, "Who do you think you are? The almighty himself?"
Slade answers that a man said about the same thing to him just yesterday just before he hung him from a tree.
In a cave, the gang that stole the horses are holed up. Two of them are brothers, Ben and Johnny Leach. Two of the gang come and tell Ben that two riders came close (Jess and Slim, no doubt). They shot at them, but missed and they got away.
Ben has decided they're going to pull out. The rest of the gang isn't happy about that, but Ben says those two know the area better than they do, and also just because he says so. Ben is the leader, you see.
After the other guys storm off, Ben talks to his little brother. Johnny wants to quit the gang. Caroline, his intended, is going to meet him in Laramie. Ben says no, now is not the time for Johnny to be quitting.
Ben has plans to finish their campaign of horse thievin', get themselves a nice herd and sell them to the army. Johnny doesnt care about the horses, or the profits. He just wants to quit and get married.
Ben insists he can't go now. He needs him too much right now, and he might run right into a posse. He bargains with Johnny and makes him agree to staying two days, maybe three. Young Johnny is none to happy.
Back at the ranch, Jess and Slim come home while Slade is spying from a distance. They found the horses in Bartlett Canyon. Andy is anxious to tell Jess about the man who is looking for him. Before he can get it all out, Slade comes in.
He tells Jess he's fired, to get his gear and get out. Slim of course says he'll do the hirin' and firin' on his own place. Jess says he'll leave when the man who hired him tells him to. There are some tense moments. Slade tells Jess to draw. Slim says he'd better figure on taking them both out cuz that's the only way he's gonna get Jess. Jonesy and his shotgun join in the arguement and wins by default. Slade tells Slim that this will cost him his franchise. Slim says he doubts that.
With the horses missing and the stage line needing them, Slade backs off for now, but you know this isn't over. He tells Jess his last act for the company will be to get the horses back, then he's fired. Yeah, we'll see.
Slim tells him they trailed the horses to Bartlett Canyon, but the thieves took shots at them. They plan to go to Laramie and get a posse, then enter the canyon by a different route.
Slade decides he's staying for dinner and goes out to meet the stage. After he leaves, Jess thanks Slim. Slim says that the priviledge of firing him is his and nobody elses.
Outside, Mose asks what happened to the horses? Slade tells him about the robbery and says the stage will have to stay and rest the horses before they go on to Laramie. Slade goes to tell the passengers about the delay. Grandma Walton, the typecast irritable old lady, and pretty young one are assisted out, along with the Reverend from Little House. Inside, Grandma Walton continues to complain, about everything in general and the west in particular. She is Mrs. Clark and the young woman is her daughter, Caroline. Get it? Caroline, Johnny's intended?
The reverend from Little House is actually Samuel Clemens, making an appearance in the wild west, no doubt gathering material for his next book. He knows Slade from his reputation, and introduces him to the ladies with a certain amount of slyness. It's hard to tell if Clemens admires him or is just fascinated by his reputation.
Slim goes into the bedroom and finds Jess laying down. He asks if he's coming to lunch and Jess says he's not hungry. Slim says they may have a lot of riding to do. Jess says he's not so sure he'll be going along. Ya see, Jess is feeling a bit sorry for himself. He needs Slim to perk him up.
Slim does not disappoint. Slim reassures Jess that no one will make him fire Jess. It takes some convincing. Slim says he wants him to stay, but Jess says it may not be that simple. If he stays, Slade will stay after him until one of them is dead.
Slim's never seen Jess act this way before and he figures, correctly, that Jess is worried that if it comes to a confrontation with Slade, and Jess kills Slade, the stage line will take it out on Slim. Jess ascedes, and Slim tells him "Why don't you let me worry about that?" Slim tells Jess that he doesnt need the stage line money enough to let a friend ride off and not come back. Jess says maybe he was thinkin' of riding out and maybe it would save a lot of trouble all around. Slim says, "This place wouldn't be the same without you and your troubles." See our Favorite Moments page for details of this scene.
At lunch, Mrs. Clark complains about the food and the coffee, but Caroline sweetly assures Jonesy that everything is delicious. Clemens agrees. Mrs. Clark snaps "What would a writer know about food?" He politely imparts that he may not know much, but he's at least impartial. Slade takes exception to Clemens "arguing with ladies" and asks him to step outside and discuss the matter. Jess steps up and quietly shoves a gun in Slade's side while handing him a napkin he dropped.
Clemens continues with the set to. He assures everyone that he has no intention of stepping outside with a man who has "executed 27 men".
Mrs. Clark turnes slightly green at this. Well, as much as you can on a black and white show. For goodness sake, all she said was that she didn't like the coffee and Clemens said he did. "Do you shoot people for that out here?"
Slade says he's just a bit edgy today. Clemens apoligizes and the uncomfortable lunch ends with Mrs. Clark changing her mind about the coffee.
Meanwhile, Ben and the boys are moving the horses. Ben doesnt have enough horses to satisfy him and wants to pick up more.
Slim, Slade and Jess ride along looking for signs of the gang. After a time, they spot the horses up ahead. Slade says they'll go the rest of the way on foot. They all take out their rifles and dismount.
The men watching the herd are Johnny and couple of others including Tex. Tex brings Johnny his rifle and asks when the last time he cleaned it was. Johnny's not much interested. He's not cut out for this kind of work and it's obvious to all. Johnny tells Tex he's quitting just as soon as they sell the horses. Tex tells him to not let his brother talk him out of it either.
Slade gets the drop on the gang and starts shooting when they don't move fast enough. Johhny starts to run and Slade shoots him. Slim and Jess make Slade stop. They're not shooting back. All of the gang are down. Slim says they could have taken them alive. Jess says they're all just kids and he didn't even give them a chance.
Slade tells Jess to go get their horses. Jess says he wouldn't turn his back on Slade for anything. Slim tells him to go on, it's okay.
Johnny is still alive, but shot in the side. He crawls to one of the horses and gets away before Slade and Slim arrive. Slade tries to shoot him, but Slim stops him. Slade says Slim may just have made himself an accessory to murder if that boy goes and kills others.
Back at the ranch, the passengers are getting back on the stage. Andy asks Mr. Clemens what he's going to call his book. Samuel says "Roughing It" and asks Andy if he likes it. Andy says it sounds kinda tame. Clemens is amused and says he'll send Andy a copy.
As the stage is pulling away, Johnny comes riding up. Caroline sees him and makes Mose stop the stage. Johnny asks Jonesy to hide him and they take him into the barn. Caroline gets off the stage and runs into the barn.
Johnny begs Jonesy to make Caroline go away. She of course doesnt. Johnny tries to make her leave him telling her he's changed his mind about them getting married. She doesnt believe him. He tells her to forget she ever knew him and he'll do the same. "Now get out!". Upset, she leaves.
Jonesy and Andy tend to Johnny who has passed out. Jonesy, depairing that Johnny is only a boy, says he needs a doctor and asks Andy to see if he can stop the stage. Andy's too late and the stage is gone. Jonesy will just have to do the best he can, and he asks Andy to hide Johnny's horse behind the barn.
The rest of the outlaw gang come back to camp and find their friends dead and dying, and Johnny missing. Tex is alive and tells Ben that it was Jack Slade and that Johnny got away. He asks Ben for a cigarrette, but dies before Ben can light it.
They find Johnny's blood on the ground and decide to follow the trail, hoping it will lead them to Slade as well as Johnny.
Back in the barn, Johnny tells Jonesy not to bother with him. Jonesy's not sure he's going to make it. In a moment, Slim, Jess and Slade come back with the horses. Andy quietly tells Slim to not let Slade go into the barn. Slim is puzzled, but doesnt ask. They walk over to where Slade is standing and Jonesy hands him a bottle that he apparently asked for. He takes a big gulp and offers it to the guys, who refuse. Slade notices Andy has blood on his shirt. Jonesy tells him he cut himself on a wire.
Slade is about to ride out, but Jess stops him saying there's a matter they havent settled yet. Slade says it's settled as far as he's concerned. Because Jess helped bring the horses back, he's giving him one week's notice. "See that you're gone by the 12th." And he rides out.
As soon as Slade is gone, Jonesy tells Slim about the boy in the barn. They all go in to see. Meanwhile, the outlaws find Johnny's hat and decide he's heading for the relay station. Ben says that if he's there, they'll take him out and they don't care who they have to kill to do it.
In the barn, Slim says they don't dare move Johnny. He's hurt pretty bad. He tells Andy to put his saddle on one of the relay horses and he'll go get the doc.
As Andy runs out, Slade comes in the barn. He surprises the guys and says a doctor won't be necessary. All they need is a length of rope.
Slim says if he wants to testify against the boy, he can, but he's not hanging him. Slade says he's a horse thief and he'll hang anyway. Jess says that's for a jury to decide, not Slade. Slade says they'll argue about that later. The reason he came back was to tell them that Ben Leach and his gang are riding in.
They hear a horse outside and run out to find Andy is on a horse and riding out. Two of the gang stop him on the road and now they have Andy.
Ben waves a white flag and rides in with Andy. He wants his brother back in exchange for Andy. Slade says they'll talk. Ben doesn't trust him and neither do Jess and Slim. They draw on Slade to keep him from opening fire on the boys.
Slade drops his gun and so do Jess and Slim. Ben and his boys drop theirs too. One of the guys keeps a gun in his belt.
As they ride in, Slade goes into the barn and brings Johnny out. While Slade is holding Johnny, one of Ben's men opens fire and a gun battle ensues.
In the end Ben shoots Slade point blank several times. Jess is helpless to stop it because he's out of bullets and Slim is protecting Andy. In the end, Slim, Jess, Andy and Jonesy are the only ones left standing.
Slade isn't dead, and asks Jonesy for a drink, and hurry. Slade asks Andy if he's alright. Then takes a drink and tells Jess that the Overland Stage Line is proud to have him as an employee. He says the killing had to be done but he hated to do it. Slade finishes the bottle and dies.
In the end, Mose comes in with the stage and has a package for Andy. It's a copy of "Roughing It", buy Mark Twain. The inscription reads: "To Andy Sherman, hope you enjoy it, Samuel Clemens."
Andy is confused. He doesnt know which is Sam's real name. Jonesy says that Mark Twain must be his real name and he's not surprised he doesn't use it except when he has to. That Jonesy, he's a smart one.
Annie's Favorite Moments:
I love when Slade first walks into the house to confront Jess. Jess is standing in a group with Slim, Andy, and Jonesy. He immediatly moves himself across the room away from the others. A subtle, but telling protective maneuver. A minute later, Slim pushes Andy behind him and moves over in front of Jess. It's like a cowboy ballet.
Later, after the climactic gunfight, Slim is holding on to Andy and doesn't let go. As they walk back to the barn and pass Jess, Jess reaches out and touches Andy, just to be sure I guess. Very nice moment.
Notes of Interest:
As Slim is riding with Slade and Jess looking for the outlaws, he passes a camera that clearly casts a shadow on him as he passes.
The Owie Factor:
All of our guys stay intact in this one.
John Dehner as Jack Slade
James Best as Ben Leach
Dabbs Greer as Samuel Clemens
Rad Fulton as Johnny Leach
Olive Sturgess as Caroline Clark
Ellen Corby as Mrs. Clark
Bing Russell as Tex
Four stars. I like the dark character that Slade presents. He's complex. Not entirely evil, but not a nice guy either. I also liked how they handled the outlaw gang. They were nice guys. Bad boys, but nice guys. Sorry they all died.