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!

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.

The locket containing Marie's picture in season four, episode 20 The locket containing Marie's picture in season four, episode 20

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.

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Muleskinner 56 months ago
First time I have heard this song. It sure tells the whole story of Ben and his three wives and their sons.
daDoctah 56 months ago
Fun fact: between 1960 (Percy Faith's "Theme From a Summer Place") and 1970 (the Guess Who's "American Woman"), a span of just a shade over ten years, only one Canadian act ever got to number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and even then only for a single week. No, not Paul Anka or Neil Young, but none other than Lorne Greene, who topped the charts December 5, 1964 with "Ringo", a song that had nothing to do with the Beatles' drummer (as one might guess, it being 1964), but told the tale of an outlaw and the lawman who finally takes him down.

The song was knocked out of the number one spot the following week by Bobby Vinton's "Mr Lonely".
Utzaake daDoctah 56 months ago
Much prefer its parody, "The Ballad of Irving" by Frank Gallop.
harlow1313 56 months ago
I'm not much for thrash metal, but I respect Lorne's versatility.
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