Bonanza: Why the Cartwrights were ahead of their time

Bonanza: Why the Cartwrights were ahead of their time

Bonanza is a classic Western TV series that aired from 1959 to 1973 and followed the lives and adventures of the Cartwright family. The show was a hit during its run and has since become a cult classic. While it may seem like just another Western show, the Cartwright family and their values were actually ahead of their time. Here’s why:

Environmentalism and conservation

The Cartwrights were known for being environmentally conscious and conservation-minded, which was a rarity for their time. They were firm believers in preserving natural resources, protecting wildlife, and keeping the land pristine. This mindset is evident throughout the series, with the Cartwrights often advocating for responsible use of land and resources.

In one episode, “The Last Hunt,” Ben Cartwright goes to great lengths to stop a group of hunters from killing a herd of buffalo, recognizing that the animals were on the verge of extinction. In another episode, “The Flapjack Contest,” the Cartwrights take a stand against a group of loggers who were clear-cutting a forest, leading to soil erosion and destruction of habitat for wildlife.

Racial equality and social justice

Bonanza was unique in its handling of issues related to race and social justice. The series frequently tackled topics such as slavery, racism, and discrimination, and always took a stand against these injustices. The show’s handling of race relations was ahead of its time, and the Cartwrights were portrayed as advocates for racial equality.

In the episode “The Crucible,” Ben Cartwright takes in a former slave named Gabriel, who is being pursued by slave catchers. The episode confronts the issue of slavery head-on and Ben stands up against the slave catchers, risking his own safety to protect Gabriel. In another episode, “Enter Thomas Bowers,” the Cartwrights defend a Chinese immigrant against a group of racist locals who are trying to drive him out of town.

Women’s rights and empowerment

Bonanza may have been a show about cowboys, but it also played an important role in promoting women’s rights and empowerment. The Cartwright women were often portrayed as strong, independent characters who were capable of holding their own and making their own decisions.

In the episode “The Sisters,” we see Ben’s daughters, Virginia and Inger, taking charge of the ranch while their father is away. They prove themselves to be more than capable of running the ranch and making decisions, despite the fact that they are women. In another episode, “Woman of Fire,” we see Hoss falling in love with a woman who is a skilled blacksmith and metal worker, challenging traditional gender roles and expectations.


The Cartwrights were ahead of their time in many ways, promoting values such as environmentalism, racial equality, and women’s rights, which were not commonly discussed on TV during the time the show aired. Today, Bonanza remains an important piece of our cultural heritage, and its messages still resonate with audiences who are looking for shows that tackle important social issues.

If you’re looking for a classic TV show with a positive message, Bonanza is definitely worth checking out. Whether you’re a fan of Westerns or just interested in seeing how the Cartwrights were ahead of their time, the show has something to offer for everyone.