Gunsmoke (1955-75) ruled the airwaves as TV's longest-running western. The 1970 two-part episode "Snow Train" features Matt, Doc and Festus as passengers on a train which is halted by Sioux Indians in the rugged mountains of Colorado. The Indians' demands: that the two unknown men who sold their braves bad whiskey be turned over to them.
Gunsmoke's Snow Train: Cast & Credits
Preston Wood wrote the gripping teleplay for "Snow Train," with longtime Gunsmoke hand Gunnar Hellstrom directing. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:
- Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
- Doc Adams (Milburn Stone)
- Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis)
- Al (Eddie Applegate)
- Scott Coleman (Tim Considine)
- Ada Coleman (Pamela Dunlap)
- Pennigrath (Dana Elcar)
- Tibbett (Roy Engel)
- Billy (Gene Evans)
- Hap (Eddie Firestone)
- Floyd Coleman (Ron Hayes)
- Sam Wickes (Clifton James)
- Bud (Richard Kelton)
- Mae (Doreen Lang)
- Lucas (Ken Lynch)
- Clay Foreman (John Milford)
- Sarah (Anne Seymour)
- Donna (Loretta Swit)
- Telegrapher (Bill Erwin)
- Running Fox (Richard Lapp)
- Red Willow (X Brands)
- Hunter (Ronald A. One Feather)
- Hunter (Lemoyne L. LaPointe)
- Hunter (LeMoyne W. Willard)
Gene Evans (1922-1998) as he appeared in TV's My Friend Flicka (1956-57) - CBS-TV
Snow Train: Episode Synopsis Parts I & II
Matt, Doc and Festus are on their way back to Dodge City after testifying at a trial in Denver. In all, some 25 passengers and crew are aboard the train, which is currently traversing the snowy, treacherous mountains of Colorado. Over 100 Sioux Indians, led by Red Willow and his English-speaking son Running Fox, have come off the reservation. The Indians abruptly halt the snow train, as it is called, barricading a stretch of tracks with fallen trees. During the ensuing collision Ada Coleman, the pregnant wife of Scott Coleman, is injured, with Doc tending to her.
Matt Dillon exits the train, talking to the chief and his son. The Sioux are in a vengeful mood, as two passengers who had boarded the train in Denver sold bad whiskey on the reservation. The result: three of Red Willow's braves are dead and five are permanently blinded. Red Willow gives Matt until morning to turn over the culprits.
Lucas, the train conductor, in cahoots with the two engineers, try to back the train up. But the Indians are ready, cutting down several trees which now block the train's retreat. An exchange of arrows and bullets follow, with Tibbett catching a Sioux arrow in his back, making for two patients now under Doc's care in a separate railroad car.
Festus and Floyd Coleman create a diversion, giving Matt an opportunity to slip off the train at night and attempt a ten mile trek to a relay station at Oblivion where a telegraph can be sent for help. Three of Red Willow's braves see Matt's tracks in the snow and follow him in dogged pursuit.
With Matt gone, the hotheaded Sam Wickes and his followers disarm Festus. Wickes now conducts his own witch hunt, trying to determine who the culprits are. Suspicion falls heavily on two young men seated together, whose story about working on various ranches and the like simply doesn't ring true.
Snow Train: Air Date & Network Competition
"Snow Train" was aired over CBS on two consecutive Monday nights, October 19 and 26, 1970, in the 7:30-8:30 (ET) time slot. Network competition was The Young Lawyers (ABC) and The Red Skelton Show and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC). Gunsmoke was followed that evening on CBS by the sitcom Here's Lucy starring Lucille Ball.
Snow Train: Analysis & Review
"Snow Train" features some of the best western scenery ever filmed for a Gunsmoke episode. The segment was filmed on location in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, with snow-covered mountains and roaming buffalo filling the small screen. An actual set was constructed in Hill City, South Dakota, with aging remnants still standing today.
An all-star cast was assembled for the two-parter. Ken Lynch plays the husky-voiced conductor, with Roy Engel and Eddie Firestone as the train's engineers. Other players on the train to frosty hell include Tim Considine and Pamela Dunlap as a young married couple; Ron Hayes as Considine's brother; Gene Evans as a salty, tobacco-spitting mountain man; Eddie Applegate and Richard Kelton as young Army deserters; Clifton James as a self-important businessman; John Milford as a gambler with Loretta Swit as his fiancé; Doreen Lang and Anne Seymour as elderly best friends and Dana Elcar as a con man masquerading as a pastor.
In many ways, "Snow Train" resembles an airplane disaster movie – say, Airport, for example – which also debuted in 1970. It's just a smaller screen version, complete with its own collection of motley characters who are thrown together when disaster strikes. There's the usual pandemonium when the train comes to a sudden stop high in the Rocky Mountains, surrounded by hostile Sioux Indians. That leads to fear and accusations, as the passengers attempt to identify the two men who sold bad whiskey on the reservation.
Gene Evans garners one of the episode's best performances, playing the old, grizzled "Just Billy" ("We're all of the animal breed," he says), who's headed to St. Louis to live with his sister at her boarding house. Also look for Dana Elcar as a Bible-carrying reverend who's called on by Doc to administer some spiritual comfort to the badly-injured Tibbett, whose back was pierced by an arrow during the ill-fated train retreat. Elcar's Pennigrath is then forced to admit his real profession, telling Doc: "I work the trains." Doc immediately knows what that means – confidence man – but insists that Pennigrath try anyway. "You go over there and you do what any decent man would do." A reluctant Pennigrath walks over to Tibbett, where he honors the man's request for a reading of the 23rd Psalm: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..."
"Snow Train" features plenty of action amidst a whodunit atmosphere. Scenarist Preston Wood ably delivers on the latter, making the viewer believe that the two nervous partners Al and Bud are the guilty parties in the bad whiskey sale. But things are not as they appear to be, as we later learn that it was Scott and Floyd Coleman who had sold the alcohol to the Sioux. The brothers had purchased the whiskey from a third party hoping to make some quick money, not realizing that it was contaminated.
"Snow Train," which features an excellent music score by John Carl Parker, comes from Gunsmoke's memorable 16th season and constitutes episodes 521 and 522 out of 635 in the series. It's a classic two-part segment, with stoic Matt Dillon once again paying the price as he is plugged in the upper right arm by a bullet. No problem, though, as the big lawman is all healed by the next episode...
- Gunsmoke regulars Ken Curtis, left, and James Arness - CBS-TV
Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.