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.