"Bonanza" episode
Season 1, Episode 29
#29 in Series
Air date April 9, 1960
Guest starring:
Written by Harold Jack Bloom
Directed by George Blair
Episode Guide
Previous Episode:
San Francisco
Next Episode:
Feet of Clay
External links
Bitter Water on IMDb
Bitter Water on


A neighboring rancher, Andy, is good friends with Ben, but his son (Todd) wants to sell their land for mining operations which will spoil the water rights agreement that Andy and Ben made years ago.


Ben and Adam find their neighbor Todd McCarren surveying the property line. Todd says, rudely, that the new owner might be interested in the line. Ben's surprised to hear that Todd's father is thinking of selling. They've had an agreement on water rights ever since Todd's family arrived. Todd doesn't care. He's the one selling the land, not his father. And what the new owner, Len Keith, does to Ben's down stream property isn't Todd's problem.

Ben goes to talk to Todd's father Andy. Andy's a friendly man and admits that he did turn the ranch over to Todd since he physically can't keep up, but he assures Ben that Todd won't really sell the land he was raised on. Ben's glad because he always thought the water rights would out last both of them. Todd comes in and accuses Ben of going behind his back. He thinks Ben's there reminding Andy of all their old favors so that Todd won't sell. Andy is upset with Todd's behavior and actually slaps him. Todd storms out. Andy apologizes and says that Todd's future father in law, Len Keith, has Todd thinking there might be silver on the land. Ben doesn't think there's silver there and neither does Andy, but Len's got Todd thinking it might be there.

Todd goes to Len's house. He's engaged to Len's daughter, Virginia. She greets him, but Todd is anxious to speak to her father. Len isn't overly concerned about Ben's involvement, but Todd says Ben is doing Andy's thinking for him. Virginia finds that hard to believe. The Cartwrights have always been decent people. Todd says that's socially, not business.

Later that evening, Len goes to visit Ben and tries to convince him to talk Andy into selling the land, for Todd's sake. Ben says Andy's perfectly capable of making up his own mind and he doesn't see how keeping the land will hurt Todd. On the other had, he's seen Len ruin men before and he doesn't want to see Len hurt Todd too. Len says he always tries reason first, but if that doesn't work there are other ways.

At the dance that night, Todd picks a fight with Adam. Adam tries to walk away, but Todd grabs him and the fight starts. Virginia calls for help and the Cartwrights break it up. Virginia asks her father to take her home and they go outside. Adam follows shortly after to apologize, but Len rushes her off.

At their ranch, Len's foreman, Tucker is waiting for them and takes Len over to the bunkhouse. Roy is beating another man up. They blame the man for bringing in a herd that is infected with Texas Fever, a highly contagious cattle disease. The only way to keep it from spreading is to kill off the infected cattle and burn them. Len tells Roy to take the man out and see that he doesn't come back, but he tells Tucker not to kill any of the herd yet. He's going to make a gift of them to the Cartwrights.

It doesn't take the Cartwrights long to discover the infected cattle. But rather than killing and burning the cattle, Ben thinks a bath in sulfur soap will rid them of the ticks that spread the disease and maybe they can keep it from spreading further. He tells Hoss to go get as much sulfur as he can. Joe will cut out the cattle that even look sick, while he and Adam dig pits to push the cattle through.

Virginia goes to town and finds Todd in a saloon. He comes out to talk to her and accuses her of siding with the Cartwrights. She doesn't see it that way, but doesn't like the man Todd is becoming. Next she goes to see Andy. She says she thought Todd wanted to treat the land as their future, for themselves and their children. Andy tells her to keep her faith in Todd.

Todd and Roy have followed Hoss and learned about the sulfur bath idea. They don't know what good it'll do, but figure they should stop it. As Hoss pulls a wagonload of sulfur, they shoot at him. Hoss takes cover and fires back, but Joe comes to the rescue and shoots Roy. Tucker takes off. Neither Hoss nor Joe knows who Roy is, but they find an envelope on him with his name. But since more cattle are getting infected, their first priority is to get the sulfur to the Ponderosa.

Len goes to town and tells Todd, acting all innocent and ignorant, that there's a plague on the Ponderosa cattle. He says two of his men went to offer help and the Cartwrights shot one, obviously to keep things quiet. Todd is legitimately worried and knows the Cartwrights should kill their herd. He also knows they won't. He says the only way to protect the other herds is to do what the Cartwrights won't. He says he'll rally the other ranchers to do what must be done.

The Cartwrights are pushing cattle through the sulfur bath when Hoss rides up with Roy's horse. It's covered with ticks too. Adam goes to town to discover who Roy is. The bartender doesn't really know Roy, but he was always with Len's foreman, Tucker.

Adam goes to Len's bunkhouse and finds Tucker. He says he suspects Tucker of being with Roy when Hoss was shot at. Tucker pulls a rifle and Adam shoots him. Adam's shot is only a wound, but a second shot rings out and Tucker is killed. Len shot him and Virginia saw the whole thing. Adam said he wanted Tucker alive to talk, but accuses Len of being a fast thinker. He leaves and Virginia accuses her father of intentionally killing Tucker. Len claims he was protecting Adam.

Todd has a meeting with the ranchers and many are upset about the plague, but a few refuse to go against the Cartwrights. Those that will say they'll meet in the morning with rifles. Virginia arrives as the meeting is breaking up. She asks Todd if he knows how it started. Todd says it doesn't matter, it just can't be allowed to spread. She says she thinks, and Adam agrees, that her father brought the plague to the Ponderosa cattle. Again Todd says it doesn't matter how it started, he has to protect the other herds. She won't believe that. The Cartwrights have always been their friends and what the Cartwrights need is help, not threats. She accuses Todd of doing this to make a big name for himself, not to help the ranchers.

The next morning the ranchers, Todd, and Len ride up to the Ponderosa where the Cartwrights are running cattle through the sulfur bath. Ben tells them that the sulfur is working, but if any of his cattle do become infected he'll kill them himself. Todd is ready for a fight and pulls his gun. Adam hauls him off his horse. Len encourages Todd to shoot and Todd and Adam square off. Virginia and Andy ride up in a wagon and place themselves between the two. Todd tells Virginia to move, but she won't. Andy says if Todd's about to become a killer he can start by killing him. He tells the ranchers that they passed some of the herds and some of their cattle have gotten the fever. He tells Todd that they have to go take care of their own herd. Len says Ben's to blame for this and some of the ranchers want to start killing Cartwright cattle. Ben tells them again that the sulfur dip is working and they're more than welcome to use it for their own cattle. Virginia accuses her father of starting the plague so he could take all their land. Adam backs her and Len goes for his gun. Adam is faster and kills Len.

The Cartwrights run all the local cattle through the sulfur bath, including Todd's herd.


The Cartwrights



Did you know?Edit

  • Michael Landon met his future wife Lynn Noe when she appeared as an extra on this episode. (She's the blond saloon girl who sits down at a table on the left as Adam walks through the door.) They were married from 1963-1982 and had four children together before divorcing.


"It'll take more than soap and water to get me clean."
Little Joe Cartwright[src]



Bitter Water (1960) Bonanza

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