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The Central and Western Railroad faces trouble. Indians have demanded $500,000 in gold or they will continue their slaughter of the work crews building the railroad. Five men will die each day until they money is paid – or James West and Artemus Gordon put a stop to the murders. The leader of the Indians, American Knife, proves elusive – until he wishes to be seen.
Friday November 12th, 1965
Special Guest StarsGuest StarsCo-Guest Stars
Parnell and McGreavy of the Central and Western Railroad push a handcart along the tracks. En route they encounter a crew walking along the tracks in the other direction. Parnell pleads with the men to return to work and then tries insults. Nothing works. The men ignore him. Soon enough, he and McGreavy discover why: someone has erected a wooden frame across the tracks and from it, hung four men. McGreavy utters a soft prayer as the men drift closer, noting that the victims’ were tied. Parnell recognizes the men – all friends: Cassidy, Denniston, Gwyneth, and young Danny. He stops and turns to face the hills. Bitter and frustrated, he yells at the “heathen savages” who lurk there. Then he sends Mike McGreavy back for a burial crew. Mike reminds Parnell that the threat they received said five men would die each day until the railroad paid. And that there are four corpses swaying on the crude frame. Angry, Parnell tells Mike that he’ll murder five times five himself if they don’t return, and sends McGreavy away, reminding him as he goes to bring cloth for winding sheets. McGreavy turns to one of the men and swears no friend of his will be buried with a heathen arrow in him. He pulls the arrow, and fails to note the cord tied to it. A tremendous blast kills Parnell and collapses the scaffolding. McGreavy realizes the trap claimed the day’s fifth victim, crosses himself, and pumps his way back to the depot. On other tracks, James West’s custom train approaches...Read the full recap
Jim and Sheila Parnell kiss
Jim tied to a torture rack – he must prove his sincerity to the Cheyenne!
Artie and Jim on the ground, about to be killed!
The train leaves for Chicago
We learn in this episode that James West served in the Union Army in some capacity.
At the time the show is set, the early 1870s, the two tribes of the Cheyenne nation ranged from Southern Colorado to western South Dakota (the Black Hills). From these we know that the location of this episode is somewhere in these Great Plains states.
Parnell: (his last words) No friend o’ mine will be buried with a heathen arrow in him!
Adamson: We asked for troops, and the government sends us one man.
General Ball: The government cannot supply enough troops to patrol a thousand miles of track, and Captain West is not just one man!
McGreavy: It’s a hard world, little Sheila. And you’ve run into part of that hardness.
Sheila Parnell: It’ll be a long, cold night.
Jim: We could comfort each other.
Sheila Parnell: If I’m to face death tomorrow, I could use a bit of comfort this night.
Artie: James, my boy, that is a nice, useful sort of gorgeous girl!
Jim: The only kind to have for a tight situation.
American Knife: Captain West, I presume? The Cheyenne… welcome you…
Jim: Your accent... Harvard?
American Knife: Good heavens, no! Dartmouth.
Jim: (to Little Willow, the squaw assigned to torture him) I don’t want to hurt my throat screaming… would a few moans be alright?
American Knife: I understand your problem. It is very difficult to kill an old friend. So I thought… a new friend should do it for you.
American Knife: (offering a toast) To General Ball... and what he once was...
Prescott: Truth often has a bitter taste, but if thee can keep it down, it strengthens a man.
Do you work out?
Farrell rides by the flat car and grabs a barrel of golden railroad spikes. The golden spike used at the ceremony of the First Transcontinental Railroad wasn’t pure gold (to make it harder, it was alloyed with copper) and it still weighed just shy of a pound. We see earlier in the episode that each barrel contained more than a hundred spikes. No normal man would be capable of reaching out with one hand while riding by and grabbing a barrel containing spikes made of pure gold. Gold is one of the densest (and therefore heaviest by volume) metals.
The American Civil War
General Ball employed a tactic here that he used at Shiloh. This refers to the 1862 Battle of Shiloh, a major engagement of the American Civil War. The Union victory at Shiloh left Mississippi open to invasion through Tennessee. Ball also describes his man Jackson as a sharpshooter with Quantrill. Quantrill's Raiders were band of bushwhackers whose actions remain controversial to this day. Essentially partisans, these men led by William Quantrill raided throughout Kansas. After their dissolution, a fragment of them stayed together, eventually under Frank James, and became the James-Younger gang. Jesse James remains one of the most famous outlaws of the 19th century West even today.
One of the earlier episodes, this has a more traditional Western feel than episodes produced after Fred Freiberger introduced elements similar to "James Bond" films: tricky villains with odd plans, amazing gadgets and beautiful women. It is one of the better of those episodes but is not typical of the series.
Through writing, especially dialog, Kandel draws out the character of General Ball, convincing viewers that he is the military genius Jim believes him to be, and gradually revealing the more recent facets of his character,
Stephen Kandel turns stereotypes on their ear with the character of American Knife, a Dartmouth-educated Indian chief. American Knife’s dialog gently mocks a number of such stereotypes – the idea that all the members of a particular ethnic group “look alike” to non-members, the idea that foreign names are strange and difficult to understand, and even the backhanded compliment “some of my best friends are...” More generally, his education suggests that one must look beyond one's preconceived notions, for Indians of that era were not often educated men. At the same time, that education keeps the viewer wondering about who the real villain of the piece might be until relatively late in the episode.
One cannot be certain, because no specific reference is made to it, but it is likely Kandel intended Prescott to be a member of the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. His refusal of strong drink, plain garments, reference to Jim as "friend West" and use of familiar forms such as "thee" and "thou" for the second person are all characteristic of the "plainness" that is part of this faith.