7 must-see 'Gunsmoke' episodes from the Western's early, half-hour years

Catch Bones, Jeannie, Hoss and the Man from U.N.C.L.E. in these tales from the first six seasons.

Gunsmoke lasted an astonishing 20 seasons. Television changes dramatically over the course of two decades, especially in the early years of the medium. It comes as no surprise that the first episode of Gunsmoke, which aired on September 10, 1955, differs greatly from the finale that hit screens as March came to a close in 1975.

For starters, the Western went from black and white to color. Additionally, in its first six seasons, as the show ran concurrently with its radio version, Gunsmoke aired half-hour episodes. In 1961, the series would switch to an hour-long drama. 

These early outings are taut, gripping tales, grittier and darker in tone. Over 20 years and 635 episodes, Gunsmoke was every kind of Western at some point — romantic, comedic, hard-boiled, moral.

Here are a handful of our favorites from the early years.

1. "Matt Gets It"

Season one, episode one

We have to start at the beginning, no? The first episode is not only notable for being first, nor for its villain, the snarling Dan Grat, who proclaims, "Ah'm bad. You want me, Marshal, you got to come git me!" No, this is a fascinating piece of Western history because John Wayne himself introduces the series. "Good evening," he says. "My name's Wayne…. I'm here to tell you about new television show called Gunsmoke. No, I'm not in it. I wish I were, though." He then lauds James Arness, who looks remarkably young as Matt Dillon.

2. "The Killer"

Season one, episode 28

Long before he was gunning down bad guys in Death Wish, Bronson was an outlaw of choice on TV Westerns. The leathery actor mesmerizes as Crego, the titular killer in this standout. It's one of his earliest roles, not long after changing his billing from Charles Buchinsky.

3. "Indian Scout"

Season one, episode 23

The Star Trek cast found plenty of work in Westerns before heading to the stars. It's always fascinating to see the Enterprise crew in new lights. Here, DeForest Kelley (credited as DeForrest Kelley), looking somewhat like an Amish hipster, is miles away from Bones McCoy. The Georgia native gets to show off his accent a bit.

4. "Alarm at Pleasant Valley"

Season one, episode 39

After serving in the Korean War, Dan Blocker settled down with his new wife and became and English teacher. Who knows if the former drama major would have ever become a television star, had he not won an audition to appear as a cavalry lieutenant in this season one finale. Of course, it ignited his career, and a few years later he would become Hoss on Bonanza.

5. "Sins of the Father"

Season two, episode 17

In one of her earliest roles, Angie Dickinson portrayed a Native American woman (it was the 1950s) married to mountain man Big Dan Taggitt. The Dodge City folk are not too thrilled about the couple staying at the Dodge House.

6. "Romeo"

Season three, episode nine

As you can tell by now, early Gunsmoke episodes are great for spotting budding television legends. Here, fresh-faced Barbara Eden and Robert Vaughn play star-crossed lovers in an oater adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. It's no Shakespeare, but it is a thrill to see Jeannie and the Man from U.N.C.L.E. as a young couple.

7. "Love They Neighbor"

Season six, episode 20

For his captivating portrayal of sidekick Chester Goode, Dennis Weaver won an Emmy Award in 1959 for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series. The actor, who would go on to star in McCloud and Spielberg's TV movie masterpiece Duel, directed only a handful of television episodes over his long career. This was his first, a sad story about two families fueding over a sack of potatoes.


Han Solo and Spock also popped up on the immortal Western. READ MORE

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


VictorJones 28 months ago
You misspelled "Thy." I had no idea what was supposed to be so great about Gunsmoke until I saw the black-and-white episodes, and the half-hour episode take to a whole other level. I especially like "Doc's Reward" (with Jack Lord), ,the one with Mort Mills as a crooked deputy who comes to extradite Vic Perrin, the one with Warren Oates where Matt and Chester attempt to bring to Dodge the father of the prisoner Matt had to kill and his remaining sons stalk them, and the episode where Lola Albright entices a ranch hand to murder her older husband (played by John Carradine). In the half-hour episodes, when left town on business, the viewers followed him, as opposed waiting around Dodge with Festus, Doc, and Miss Kitty.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?