1 9 7 9 (USA)
4 x 90 minute episodes
1 9 8 0 (USA)
9 x 60 minute episodes
Beginning as a six-hour miniseries on four consecutive Thursdays in March and April 1979, The Chisholms grew into a nine-part series the following year (with some cast changes), following the close-knit Virginia farming family as they travelled west by covered wagon with their meagre belongings to seek a new life in the 1840s, after losing their small farm in a legal dispute with their enemy-neighbours.
Facing the ever-present risks of hunger, fever and Indian attacks, Hadley Chisholm (Robert Preston) and his clan had only their toughness and gritty determination to see them through as they trekked along the Old Oregon Trail to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and beyond to California.
Plain-talking, God-fearing, snake-handling Hadley and his cultured wife, Minerva (Rosemary Harris) were travelling with their children: 27-year-old recently-widowed Will (Ben Murphy); 23-year-old Gideon (Brian Kerwin initially replaced by Brett Cullen for the series); 16-year-old Beau (James Van Patten) and his twin sister Bonnie Sue (Stacey Nelkin); and 12-year-old Annabel (Susan Swift).
The family were accompanied on part of their journey by a guide named Lester Hackett (Charles Frank), who agreed to accompany them as far as Missouri. After enjoying a night of intimacy with Bonnie Sue, he abandoned the Chisholms – on Will’s horse.
Will and Gideon pursued him but ended up in a prison work gang for a month.
Once released, the brothers stumbled upon a wounded and widowed Native American woman named Keewedinok (Sandra Griego), who chose to accompany them on their journey as they raced to catch up with the rest of the Chisholm family. She and Will eventually grew closer and developed a relationship.
After a Pawnee attack on the Chisholms’ lone wagon in which young Annabel was killed, the family were finally reunited at Fort Laramie – where they were also surprised by the unexpected reappearance of Lester Hackett, who renewed his courtship with Bonnie Sue.
The miniseries left the family at Fort Laramie, hunkered down for the winter and awaiting the following summer to continue their trek to California.
Returning in 1980, the nine-part series began where the miniseries left off, with the Chisholms ready to push west by covered wagon.
Will Chisholm had now married Keewedinok (played now by Victoria Racimo), and Bonnie Sue (now played by Delta Burke) had borne a child out of wedlock with sweet-talking Lester Hackett (now played by Reid Smith) – who eventually did turn himself around and marry her.
Susan Swift (who had played the now-deceased Annabel Chisholm) returned as a 13-year-old girl called Mercy Hopwell, a young orphan who had been captured by Indians and now accompanied the family on their journey west.
Hadley Chisholm was killed off after a few episodes (because Robert Preston wouldn’t agree to the drudgery of an entire series) so mountain man Cooper Hawkins (Mitch Ryan) was hired by the Chisholms to lead the family to California.
Cooper stayed with the family when they finally settled down near Sacramento in 1846, just before the Gold Rush.
In fact, Cooper donated his beaver trapping savings of $4,000 to purchase land from John Sutter (Ben Piazza), the man who discovered gold at Sutter’s Mill in 1846, precipitating the Califonia Gold Rush of ’49, and it was Sutter who sent supplies ahead to the beleaguered Chisholms.
James Van Patten
Brian Kerwin (1)
Brett Cullen (2)
Bonnie Sue Chisholm
Stacey Nelkin (1)
Delta Burke (2)
Annabel Chisholm/Mercy Hopwell
Sandra Griego (1)
Victoria Racimo (2)
Charles Frank (1)
Reid Smith (2)
Chapter I | Chapter II | Chapter III | Chapter IV || Siege | Betrayal | Endless Desert | Vengeance | Death in the Sierras | The Promised Land | The Suitor | Chains | The Siren Song