The most horrifying behind-the-scenes Bonanza rumor is based on a true unsolved crime

Michael Landon chased down the culprit to no avail when the Cartwrights' horses were attacked in 1961.

Read to Me

The horses that the Cartwrights ride during the opening sequence of Bonanza have become embedded in fans' minds as they tune in again and again.

With eyes closed, true fans could probably picture all four characters in their iconic wardrobes, saddled up atop four distinctly different horses: brown, red, black, and black-and-white.

The horses are so familiar, they're characters themselves.

That's why a shocking rumor that arose during the show's second season caused some fans to feel their pulse race.

"Can this dreadful story I read be true — that all the horses the Cartwrights rode on TV's Bonanza were shot and that Michael Landon offered a reward to find the guilty person?" Mrs. Charlene Boyles asked the Cincinnati Enquirer's trivia column "Glad You Asked That!" in 1970.

"The incident your reader refers to occurred about nine years ago," responded Richard Collins, a Bonanza producer who worked on more than 100 episodes.

He quickly clarified that none of the horses were shot. However, there was an attack and not all of them survived:

"The horses were not shot but mutilated, and as a result, Michael Landon's horse did die," Collins confirmed.

Collins continued, describing how Landon immediately went after the culprit, offering a reward for any information on the attack. But Landon's best efforts unfortunately didn't nab the bad guys in the real world.

"[Landon] offered a reward and an intensive investigation was undertaken, but unfortunately, no evidence was uncovered, and the case is inactive at present," Collins said.

You could say the tragedy remains Bonanza's biggest unsolved mystery. After mourning the loss of Little Joe's horse, the show had to go on.

Landon's horse got replaced by another black and white pinto, and it was this horse that accompanied Little Joe during appearances at rodeos and events around the country.

The actor would eventually find out that this new horse perhaps had a little more bite in him than his last ride.

In 1964, Landon was riding his new horse at a Houston rodeo when a 55-year-old woman named Emma Thompson approached the TV star on his steed.

That's when the horse unexpectedly bit Thompson, actually severing off the tip of Thompson's finger.

"Isn't this ridiculous?" Thompson bravely laughed off her injury, while holding up a casted forefinger for the photographer when The Tampa Times came to see her at the hospital.

Bonanza fans wonder what happened to Little Joe's horse in old newspaper columns.

The Tampa Times reported that they weren't the only ones to pay Mrs. Thompson a visit.

Landon stopped by to console her, too.

Lucky for everyone, Thompson was as tough as any TV Western cowboy and took the bite in stride, seeing it as the cost of getting too close to Little Joe's horse, which was what every fan at the rodeo was there to do.

But in our digging, we found out that not all big fans of Little Joe have a perfect memory of what his horse looked like.

In 1971, a fan wrote into an Abilene Reporter-News trivia column, perplexed by a decision to swap out Landon's horse:

"What happened to Mike Landon's (Little Joe on Bonanza) horse? Not too long ago he was riding a red and white (bay) horse, now he's riding a black and white horse? What happened to the red and white horse? I liked it better."

In this case, the fan got the colors wrong, and was likely confusing Pernell Roberts' horse with Landon's. The official response from NBC director of program publicity Gene Walsh was that "Michael Landon's horse in Bonanza has always been a black and white pinto."

The trivia columnist couldn't help but pick fun at the fan, pondering, "Was just wondering if maybe your color TV was out of whack awhile back?"

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gmail 1 day ago
It has nothing to do with the quiz, I attempted to post something else and then another person commented, maybe confusing mine with there's. No big deal. I just don't care for editing of older shows.
JDnHuntsvilleAL 1 day ago
Little Joe's horse WAS distinctive, but his was the ONLY one. Millennial MeTV writer gets it wrong again.
gmail 1 month ago
Never fails, after all of these years, I still bust a gut, Opie's Charity is true comic genius writing, without, sex, race and cursing.
If only we could get back to that kind of innocence and comedy!
Watch some smart one, will send a snippy reply...
gmail 3 months ago
Just watched Ed Sullivan Show, many old memories came back. Really enjoyed this.
Wiseguy gmail 3 months ago
Apparently you don't get Decades where Ed Sullivan has been shown for years weekdays (and apparently still is).
What does that have to do with the article?
MikefromJersey 3 months ago
I could have done without knowing about this.
Speaking of horses, who can tell us the real name of Mr. Ed? And in the immortal classic Robin Hood(1939) starring Errol Flynn, what famous horse did Olivia de Havilland ride?
First person to answer wins a genuine toupee used on Bonanza by either Lorne Green, Dan Blocker,
Pernell Roberts or Ray Teal(Sheriff Roy Coffee). That has to be the baldest cast ever.
Patrick MikefromJersey 3 months ago
Seems like Mr. Ed's real name was "Bamboo Harvester"? Years ago I worked in radio and remember asking that as a trivia question. And thanks but no thanks for the toupee. LOL. I do seem to remember reading a story about them shooting a Bonanza scene in which Lorne had to jump into a pond for some reason, and when he did he went down under the the water but his toupee came off of his head and was floating on the surface.
MikefromJersey Patrick 3 months ago
Hi Patrick, You got Ed's name right, the toupee is in the mail. The Lorne Greene wig story
was famously told on the Tonite Show with Carson. It was hilarious, and Carson would cite
it as why Landon was a great guest, he always came prepared with material. If one did a search
for it, say "Mike Landon telling Lorne Greene toupee story on Tonite Show ", it would be well worth one's time watching it on You Tube or whatever. Trust me fellow posters, it is great.
F5Twitster 3 months ago
I’ll bet that the horse-killer was deadbeat, anti-American Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
Lantern 3 months ago
Had the horse-biting incident occurred today, Mrs. Thompson would have sued the living daylights out of the Bonanza producers.
MaryMitch 3 months ago
Michael rode several paint horses during the last 7 seasons. Some were specialized "stunt" horses. In some episodes we can see Little Joe riding off on one horse, see stock footage of him riding a 2nd horse, and arrive at his destination on a 3rd!
dangler1907 MaryMitch 3 months ago
There is some confusion between the point of the story (the horse Landon rode in the opening title sequence) and the horses he rode in the various shows. They're not the same thing at all.
lndbndr2 3 months ago
I have just started to watch Bonanza reruns. I always watched as a little girl with my Dad. Back in the mid sixties I was 5 and I clearly remember that this was a favorite show of my Dads'. My Mom also watched but it was my Father's joy watching it I will never forget. He was a POW from WW2 and it made him happy to watch men on horses. I love it again for you Dad. Thanks
retired2019 3 months ago
Does anyone know what the name of Candys horse was?
texasluva 3 months ago
Just shows you what some humans are capable of. Did this suspect actually go after these particular horses because they were on Bonanza? I can't understand what is to be gained by such an act. I mean if no one else knows but yourself then for what purpose? Then again try to explain anything rational about this attack. Maybe a personal vendetta vs one or more of the actors? You learn something new everyday, good or bad.
MarshaStapleton texasluva 3 months ago
I'm wishing I could "unread" this sad story.
texasluva MarshaStapleton 3 months ago
I hear ya. Past history of humans sometimes hard to believe and bear. Learning something new every day can be awesome or heart wrenching.
denny 3 months ago
That was really a good article up until the last 5 paragraphs. A guy got confused of the color of the horse a "pick fun of him."
dangler1907 denny 3 months ago
Are you posting in English?
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