A song sung by Lorne Greene explains how ''Little'' Joe Cartwright got his name
It turns out, it's not because he's smaller than Hoss!
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So where does Little Joe Cartwright's nickname come from? On his 1964 album Welcome to the Ponderosa, Lorne Greene rounds out the tracklist with a six-minute song titled "Saga of the Ponderosa."
At the 4:20 point in the song, Greene confirms of his third bride, "So she gave my boys a brother, and we called him Little Joe." According to this song, the youngest Cartwright boy was named "Little" Joe in honor of the man who had not only saved Ben Cartwright's life but had been a dear friend and husband.
Bonanza did give viewers a look at the boys' mothers' origin stories. Specifically, in the season-four episode titled "Marie, My Love," we learn of a friend and fellow rancher named Jean DeMarigny who died while working alongside Cartwright. Cartwright returns to DeMarigny's hometown to inform the family of his passing, meeting his widowed wife in the process.
While we may get to see how the two fell in love, viewers do not get to see the birth of the youngest Cartwright boy.
That is where the lyrics to this epic tale come into play. "Saga of the Ponderosa" introduces us to a friend of Cartwright's named Big Joe Collins, who is essentially the same character as Jean DeMarigny. It may be a different name than the one presented in the show, but the story is identical.
Ben and Joe were working in Virginia City, trying to start their fortune until, as Greene sings, "...disaster dealt a hand I couldn't play / Big Joe Collins was a friend, and my life woulda ended / But he saved it at a cost of his own."
From this point on, the information in the song matches what we learn in this episode as Greene continues, "And his wife was alone, far away from the West / And I couldn't refuse his last request / I made the sad and weary trip, and told her how he died / And from the day I saw her tears, I couldn't leave her side."
Viewers had long speculated that the name "Little Joe" came from the fact that Joe was such a smaller baby and, subsequently, adult than his big brother Hoss Cartwright.
As it turns out, Ben Cartwright was honoring the man who died in the name of friendship. Take a listen to the song below.