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WHAT MOTIVATES COURAGE?

by Sharon Rondeau

The Organ Mountain Range near Las Cruces, NM

(Jun. 29, 2013) — In an episode of “The Rifleman” on Saturday morning, a witness of a man’s whereabouts in the protection of two sheriff’s deputies is killed by an unknown assailant while traveling by horseback in a remote area.  The deputies bring the witness to the town marshal’s office in North Fork, NM, where the show takes place, and the local physician declares that there is nothing he can do for the man.

The shot was fired at long range, and the suspect was a man named Slade Burrows.  It was later discovered that the rifle had had a special telescope mounted on it, which was uncommon in the day.

The show is set in post-Civil War New Mexico Territory when transportation was by stagecoach, horse and buggy, or horseback.  It was common for many adult males to carry guns.  The main character, Lucas McCain, played by Chuck Connors, was an ambidextrous rifleman sharpshooter whose skills were second to none and who used his ability to “protect himself, his son, and his neighbors.”

North Fork, NM was an apparently fictitious town, whereas there is a North Fork, NV.  In the show, there were constant threats, including “bad guys” with guns.  The pilot of “The Rifleman” was written for the Western “Gunsmoke” and named the main character “John McCain.”  The pilot was rejected by the producers of Gunsmoke.

The Arizona Territory separated itself from the New Mexico Territory on Feb. 24, 1863.  Both territories considered themselves part of the Confederacy during the Civil War.  “Arizona Territory” is referred to in the script of the show.  Both territories became states in 1912 within a month of each other.

Another episode of the show contains a summary which reads, “A blacksmith-turned-deputy sets the stage for trouble when he demands that all townspeople turn in their weapons.”

In Saturday’s episode, Lucas McCain enters the town marshal’s office seeking the doctor, who is also the town veterinarian, for treatment for an illness for Mark’s horse, Blue Boy.  The deputies are there with the deceased witness and the doctor.  Upon finding that he recognized the dead man, Lucas is made to realize that he is the only other known witness to the man’s presence in Laramie, WY, where he was seen with an accused murderer, Slade Burrows, and a murder victim.

The trial was to be held in Silver City, NV at the end of that week.  Despite the grave danger in which he placed himself, McCain agreed to testify. Knowing the risk to McCain, the deputies offered to accompany him, but McCain declined.

McCain’s young son, Mark, played by Johnny Crawford, was initially thrilled that his “Paw” was going to “be a witness” and proudly told his friends and everyone he met of his father’s commitment to testify.  In the show, McCain was widowed, perhaps when his wife gave birth to Mark.

Lucas urges Mark not to brag about his plans to testify by attempting to minimize his part in the case. “I saw something and it’s up to me to get up in front of the court to say so.  I’ve always taught you to tell the truth.  That’s all I’m gonna do,” Lucas told Mark.

Mark’s best friend, another boy about seven years old, told Mark that his father had said that Mark’s father would not come home alive from the trial.  The two boys began arguing and ended their conversation in fisticuffs on the ground.

When the doctor/veterinarian goes to McCain’s ranch to see Blue Boy, he advises McCain that the horse may die but that “losing a father’s something else.” He tries to convince Lucas not to testify, to which Lucas responded, “A man lives by certain principles, doc. Take those away and he might as well be dead.” When the vet suggested that principles could be “bent a little,” Lucas disagreed, stating, ““If you start bending principles, then they’re not principles anymore. Like the fellow who says he wants to be a little dishonest, it just can’t be done.”

McCain asked Hattie, an older woman who ran a mercantile, if she would take care of Mark while he went to Silver City, which he said would be two days.  “Of course,” Hattie responded, but then told McCain that he made her “sick” because of the risk he was choosing to take.  She said that there was no substitute for his being a parent for Mark.  As a woman who had never married and had a family, she said she knew loneliness well.  “Principles never tucked a boy in at night, or principles never washed behind his ears when he needed it,” she told Lucas.

Chuck Connors  exhibited outstanding athletic ability and played in minor-league baseball teams until his acting career blossomed in 1952. “The Rifleman” ran for five seasons to great acclaim.

McCain remained resolute in his commitment to go to Silver City.

At a later point in the show, McCain tells his son that one uses a gun “only as a last resort.”

Unbeknownst to McCain, a man named Brad administers a brew to Blue Boy and saves his life, then stays overnight in their barn.  Mark then considered Brad “a friend.”  Lucas warns Mark not to make friends too readily with strangers.  “You act in haste, son, you repent in leisure,” McCain told him.

Mark confided to Brad that he didn’t want his father to go to Silver City after all.

Unbeknownst to Mark or McCain, Brad had been following the deputies and was the killer of the witness they had been attempting to escort to the trial.  that morning, McCain began to suspect that something was wrong and sent Mark to school so that he would not witness any possible altercation.  Brad turned on McCain and attempted to kill him, confessing that Slade Burrows was his brother.

As Brad threw a pitchfork at McCain, Mark unexpectedly returned from his trip to school and called out Brad’s name, distracting him from his intent to kill.  McCain then had time to take down Brad, incapacitating him.  Mark picked up his father’s gun but did not have to use it.

Mark was left wondering “how a person can be so good to animals and so mean to people.”

The danger to his life having been eliminated, McCain leaves for the trip to Silver City with less trepidation and confidence that he would return soon.

Mark did not need to use the gun to take down his father’s assailant; he distracted him and thereby assured his attack could be stopped.  He and his father “made a good team.”

Some men will do what is right at any cost, while others hang back, waiting for someone else to take the risk.  Some will go against all odds to expose the truth, while evil forces attempt to bury it.

Some will do nothing, even when the fate of their nation is at stake.

Those taking the risk deserve our respect and admiration.  They deserve our assistance.  They deserve our unflinching support.

On whose team are we?  Are we united or divided, loners or team players?

This summer could determine the future of America.  Can we put aside petty differences and lend complete support to those who takin the risk?

 

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  1. The art of producing such shows has long been forgotten. Unfortunately, the lessons therein have also been forgotten.