Gunsmoke's Yankton TV Episode: James Stacy & Forrest Tucker Guest Star

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Gunsmoke's Yankton debuted on Monday night, February 7, 1972. James Stacy has the title role, playing a hard-luck drifter who sets his eyes on the wealthy daughter of cattle baron Will Donavan (Forrest Tucker). Regulars Amanda Blake, Glenn Strange and Ted

Gunsmoke (1955-75) blazed new horizons during its phenomenal 20-year run on television. The 1972 episode "Yankton" guest stars James Stacy as a saddle tramp who's determined to marry the daughter of wealthy rancher Will Donavan (Forrest Tucker).

Gunsmoke's Yankton: Cast & Credits

Jim Byrnes authored the teleplay for "Yankton," with Vincent McEveety directing the action. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake) 
  • Will Donavan (Forrest Tucker)
  • Henrietta Donavan (Nancy Olson)
  • Emma Donavan (Pamela Payton-Wright)
  • Yankton (James Stacy)
  • Lathrop (Woody Chambliss)
  • Nathan Burke (Ted Jordan)
  • Hank (Hank Patterson)
  • Dressmaker (Margaret Bacon)
  • Sam Noonan (Glenn Strange)
  • Pete (Tom Sutton)
  • Cowboy #1 (Bill Hart)
  • Cowboy #2 (Bennie Dobbins)
  • Man at Bar (Bert Madrid)

James Stacy in Gunsmoke's "Yankton" - CBS-TV

Yankton: Episode Synopsis

Wandering saddle tramp Yankton tries to buy a poker pot at the Long Branch Saloon, throwing $600 into the kitty, believing that no one can match the bet. Wealthy rancher Will Donavan, however, does a tad better than that, topping the bet with $5,000 and raking in the winnings. Without money, horse and a place to lay his head, Yankton signs on at the Long Branch as a janitor, "swamping" for Miss Kitty.

Will Donavan, who has been gone three days, returns home to his ranch where his wife Henrietta informs him that she and 19-year-old daughter Emma plan to take a trip to Europe lasting four or five months. Will is against the continental excursion, but Henrietta insists, explaining that Emma is lonely and needs to see the world outside of Dodge City.

When Henrietta and Emma come into town they draw the attention of Yankton. After Sam the bartender informs him that Emma is Will Donavan's daughter, Yankton makes his play, staging a minor runaway buggy accident in which he saves the day and meets Emma. The 19-year-old is smitten with Yankton, but both her parents are opposed to the budding romance, with Henrietta sending in some of the Donavan ranch boys to work Yankton over and Will offering a bribe to the saddle tramp to leave town.

Yankton: Air Date & Network Competition

"Yankton" was first aired over CBS on Monday night, February 7, 1972, in the 8-9 PM (ET) time slot. Network competition that evening was Nanny and the Professor starring Richard Long and Juliet Mills and local programming (ABC) and the wild Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC).

Yankton: Analysis & Review

James Stacy (1936-) was only one year away from tragedy when he garnered the title role of "Yankton," one of Gunsmoke's more memorable episodes. In 1973, while riding a motorcycle with his girlfriend, Stacy was struck by a drunk driver. The accident killed the woman and left Stacy badly injured, resulting in the loss of his left arm and left leg. Huge medical bills ensued, with the Hollywood community rallying around Stacy as he recovered both physically and financially, eventually returning to his craft. 

James Stacy is at his best as Yankton, the drifting jack-of-all-trades who comes to Dodge City where he's handed his head by rancher Will Donavan in a no-limit poker game. Yankton wants to be somebody – and that takes money – pursuing Donovan's 19-year-old daughter in order to marry his way into the wealthy Donavan family. 

Forrest Tucker (1919-1986) plays the successful, hard-drinking Will Donavan to near perfection. Tucker's Donavan is bold and brassy, once a saddle tramp himself who later built a small cattle empire and now counts himself as one of the richest men in Kansas. Donavan is one tough hombre, telling Yankton in one scene, "If you keep seeing Emma I'm going to blow a hole in you big enough for an eagle to nest in."

Nancy Olson (1928-) appears as Will Donavan's beautiful, classy, headstrong wife Henrietta while Pamela Payton-Wright (1941-) plays Emma, the object of Yankton's undying attention. Both women deliver outstanding performances, with Olson portraying sophistication and Payton-Wright exuding a kind of naive, sexy, little girl charm. In one scene, the latter sweetly elicits a reluctant "I love you" from her beau Yankton. 

"Yankton" has both action and romance. The action part comes at the Long Branch Saloon, where big, brawny Will Donavan wipes the floor with the hapless Yankton. The romance comes in Yankton's persistence, as he wins over the smitten Emma, showing up at the Donavan ranch with Emma in tow and announcing that they are now married. Will agrees to start his new son-in-law as an ordinary ranch hand, promising the foreman's job and who knows if things work out. Meanwhile, Will examines his own unhappy marriage, agreeing to accompany the wife of 23 years whom he still loves on her trip to Europe.

"Yankton" comes from Gunsmoke's 17th season and is episode #560 of 635 in the series. 

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.