What is The Ponderosa?
Twenty original episodes of The Ponderosa aired on Sunday nights on the PAX network between September 9, 2001 and May 12, 2002. The Ponderosa is a prequel to the classic western series Bonanza. The Ponderosa takes place approximately ten years before the first season of Bonanza, when the California Gold Rush is still young, the famous Comstock Lode has not yet been discovered, and the mighty Ponderosa ranch is just a flickering vision. Ben Cartwright (played by Daniel Hugh Kelly) and his three young sons are ranching a small section of scrub land near Lake Tahoe in what will become Nevada Territory. Intelligent, handsome Adam Cartwright (Matthew Carmody) is 21, gentle giant Erik "Hoss" Cartwright (Drew Powell) is 17, and spirited "Little Joe" Cartwright (Jared Daperis) is 12. Ben doesn't have much gray hair yet, and Hop Sing (Gareth Yuen), the Cartwright family cook and housekeeper, is younger and calmer. Yet hints of the men they will become are evident. With the help, and sometimes the hindrance, of the citizens of the only nearby settlement, a tiny trading post called Eagle Station, the Cartwrights make a go of it against the odds, united by an exceptionally strong family bond as they work together to build the dream seen on Bonanza. The Ponderosa is executive produced by Beth Sullivan, the creative force behind Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.
The Cartwrights named their land for the large Ponderosa pine trees that cover much of it. Their brand is a small pine tree.
Original Bonanza Cartwrights
The Ponderosa Cartwrights
Additional characters appearing on The Ponderosa include Margaret and Tess Greene, a mother-daughter duo who own the nearby Greene Valley ranch; "Big Dan" Larsen, a former trapper and mountain man now working as a handyman in Eagle Station; Shelby Sterret, the Calamity Jane-type owner of the local saloon and eatery; Eli and Ruth Orowitz, a Jewish couple who operate the local general store; and Jack Wolf, the town "bad guy" who runs a saloon/hotel/cathouse.
Carlos Rivera De Vega, a Mexican soldier who grew up on the ranch now run by the Greenes and who assisted the Cartwrights with the establishment and building of the Ponderosa; his teenage sister Isabella; gambler Jack Roberts; Maurice "Frenchy" Devereaux, owner of the Eagle Station livery and a member of the town council; and Samuel Newborne, an intelligent escaped slave and reformed conman; also appeared as recurring characters in the program's first season.
Canon between Bonanza and The Ponderosa differs somewhat. For example, Bonanza explains that Little Joe was born at the ranch, while according to The Ponderosa the Cartwrights did not acquire the ranch until Little Joe was around eleven years old. On Bonanza the Cartwrights were seldom without their gunbelts. On The Ponderosa they are only occasionally seen with guns. Several other discrepancies exist. The Ponderosa is best categorized as a historical drama, while Bonanza was a western. Many fan fiction stories incorporate themes from both shows.
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