All aboard. People I very much appreciate:

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Having recently found a rare whole map (above) of the Ponderosa Ranch I decided it's time to write about Bonanza. It was a cowboy show that aired Sunday nights. It was very popular and well-done except for a stubborn technical problem shown in the following clip:

The show ran 14 years and every week the map caught fire. After several years, by 1962 or 3, it was noticeable. No reason was ever given for it. And because Bonanza dealt with issues neglected by other oaters, no one investigated these regular mapfires. They became an unexamined enigma, until now, but before I proceed let's briefly discuss the show.

The Ponderosa Ranch, as we can now see from a whole map, began at Lake Tahoe and stretched upward over a region now known as Nevada, Idaho, Canada and the North Pole. It was occupied and run by the Cartwright family, consisting of four men. No women. This was because people were less complicated then and used to reproduce by binary fission. Pa Cartwright would simply pinch another Cartwright off himself as needed.

Due to the size and location of the ranch, travelers frequently crossed it. Each week a stranger would arrive at the ranch house in a covered wagon, on foot, horseback, or by buckboard behind a stocky cob. They all had problems. Bonanza was a western that turned upon human problems: inferiority complexes, abusive relationships, racial prejudice, post-Civil War trauma, women's independence and families in need. Even age discrimination-- I remember one episode where they helped old Sheriff Coffee catch bank robbers by making the Virginia City Bank escape proof.

I recall Bonanza discussions on my Monday morning school bus ride. The show encouraged thoughtfulness and tolerance. But one grows up and gets to thinking about burning maps, don't one? Over the years I have dismissed many theories and settled upon the most promising line of cartographic research.

Bonanza was set in the late 1860s, a primitive era during which trees were still built entirely of wood. To give them weight and substance, many frontier varieties --especially pine, which figure abundantly in the map-- were filled with oil and resin. Unlike their more bombacaceous counterparts in the south and east, they were not water-filled and suffered greater flammability. Hence the piney high Sierras --and the Ponderosa too-- were horrendous fire-traps. Mapmakers of the time marked this danger by adding phosphorous to their iron and oak-gall inks to indicate the danger. Unfold a map and those parts catch fire.

In closing, I cannot fault the technical staff of that dear old show for simply adhering to authenticity. One might suggest a bit of explanation on their part would've helped, but the sheer stunning insightfulness of their work renders all further commentary inadequate.


  1. dum da de dum da de dum da de dum da de dum dum.... Had to watch that darn show every Sunday night cause there was nothing else on and Dad wouldn't miss it...

  2. And all these years I thought I was the only one who pondered the mystery of the eternally burning Bonanza map.....

    I once visited the Ponderosa Theme Park near Lake Tahoe (no longer in existence). It didn't impress me.

  3. We were also Bonanzans. I never thought about the burning map til now. I shall ponder on that.

    But there are 2 Bonanza things that stuck in my life. The made up lyrics that included, "Adam went away cuz he didn't like the pay on Bonanza! Hoss up and died, Little Joe cried, Pa went to NBC...Bonanza, 4 men alone!" And the leprechaun episode, which forever stayed in my family with the call and response,
    "Yoohoo, where aaare you?"
    "I'm over heeee-re."

  4. Delores--Yes, we even got excited because it was a color broadcast even tho we didn't have a color tv, few did. Dad wasn't alone.

    Jon--I too drove to the Ponderosa in '67, I think. Couldn't get in because my little dog, Sweeny, was with me. Sweeny peed on security guy's golf cart.

    Austan--Great Hymn lyrics. So we were both raised Bonanzan? Not surprised.

    --To all, my thanks.

  5. There was a pub in my old home town called the Ponderosa; the sort of pub that is apt to catch fire. Must have been a pine framed construction.
    I don't think Pa would have approved of the goings on there, but it's since been renovated and renamed.

  6. Neat history... I have obviously missed out! I think they were blazing saddles, blazing trails... some kind of fire-y adventure. Or you could be right, highly flammable maps.

    I wish we still replicated people that way; sounds a lot better than child birth.

  7. That was one my favorite shows, too, and oddly enough, even though the old episodes are still shown on TVLand, I have no interest in re-watching them. Somehow, I just know it wouldn't be the same ...

  8. Lily--Indeed, Pa was not a character who approved of goings-on.

    CarrieBoo--Yes, one never knew what the next episode would hold but there was sure to be blazing in it, plenty of blazing.

    Susan--You're right. In its time the Ponderosa was excitingly action-packed. But now I think of the old West as just too full of things I could get hurt on.

  9. My family didn't have television when I was growing up in NZ,but everyone else did. The boys at school drew Bonanza scenes in their exercise books and turned our pine tree fenced playground into the Wild West. Somewhere along the line I must have seen the show at a friend's place because that introductory shot of Lorne Greene leaped right out of my memory bank.

  10. Thanks, Jeneane! Good memories I hope.


I value your comments. Say hello. Reach out a bit. I do.