Have Gun - Will Travel

Season 1 Episode 15

The Hanging Cross

Aired Saturday 9:30 PM Dec 21, 1957 on CBS
out of 10
User Rating
16 votes

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Episode Summary

The Hanging Cross
On Christmas eve, an embittered rancher wants revenge on Pawnee Indians who he thinks kidnapped his son several years before.

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  • One of only two Christmas episodes in the series, this one neatly avoids getting bogged down in sentiment as so many Christmas episodes do.

    It does have a touch of mush at the end, but this powerful episode could have taken place at any time, unlike so many holiday episodes that are contrived to fit the season. Viewers must have been startled when the usual opening shot panned upward to show Paladin addressing the audience directly, stating that on this night, he will hang up his gun as a gift to them.

    Paladin arrives at the Beecher ranch. This is not an ordinary sort of ranch, with a main house for the owner and a bunkhouse for the hands. It could almost be considered a village. Some of the hands have wives and children (and presumably private quarters), there are central work stations and even a meeting hall that serves as a church. This community, however, is not exactly thriving. Paladin's cheerful Christmas greetings are met with a sucession of blank stares. One man responds with the statement, "This is the Beecher Ranch" as though that explains everything...and it does. Our first look at Nathaniel Beecher shows him adding to the festive atmosphere by beating up one of his ranch hands. It's not explained precisely why; Tater, the foreman, seems to think that the incident was an accident. Beecher, however, claims that it was a mistake, coupled with the man's sassing him. From what we will see of Beecher, the "sass" might have been no more than the hand addressing him without a "Mister" or a "sir".

    Beecher mistakes Paladin for a prospective ranch hand, giving Paladin the excuse to whip out his ubiquitous business card. He has come to try and locate Beecher's son, stolen by Sioux six years previously. It would be interesting to know just how this business deal was arranged; a six year old kidnapping doesn't seem to be the sort of thing Paladin would find in the newspaper. Beecher informs him that the job is now obsolete; he recently found his son by himself. Paladin's not about to leave it at that--he's come eleven hundred miles, and his travel expenses, at least, had been guaranteed in writing. Beecher tries to blow him off, and Paladin threatens to cut out three head of cattle from the herd for himself. Infuriated, Beecher orders him thrown off the ranch (it would have been interesting to see them try). Tater, whom one might suspect pours a lot of oil on the troubled waters surrounding his boss, reminds Beecher that Paladin claimed to speak a number of Indian tongues, and they need a translator for the boy. Paladin offers his services at $100 a day (ordinarily, he would translate for free, but this seems the only way he's going to get any money).

    Tater and Paladin pass by the church hall, which is being tidied up--a sign that some of the people, at least, remember what day it is. Tater tries to get Paladin to make allowances for his very touchy boss. He's not even certain (although Beecher is) that the boy in question is really Robbie Beecher--simply a young boy of the right age who had been found with a group of Pawnee. Presumably Beecher had managed to grab the boy without bloodshed, as nothing of the sort is mentioned. Tater also mentions that Beecher's wife had been killed at the time of the kidnapping.

    They arrive at Beecher's house just after his harrassed housekeeper has managed to force an angry little boy into what she considers "decent" apparel--pants and a shirt. Interestingly, the angry and frightened boy runs to Tater. Beecher jealously snatches him away. Beecher, who is overflowing with emotion at his son's homecoming, cannot comprehend why the boy does not feel the same way. It does not occur to him that this nine-year-old has spent two thirds of his entire life among the Indians, and simply does not remember his former life. Johnny Crawford does an excellent job with the role. He tries valiantly to attack his perceived kidnapper, and stands stoic when Beecher starts to backhand him. When Beecher lets go, he steps away and holds himself aloof. Paladin addresses him calmly in Pawnee, earning a look of astonished relief at the sound of comprehensible words. Paladin also squats down to the boy's level. This is not, as with Beecher, an emotional ploy, but simply a courteous gesture on Paladin's part. He asks a question, and the boy responds with "Chiwa". The boy asks the same question in turn, and Paladin answers "Ula-shah-te". This seems to impress the boy, and he fires off an emphatic statement before rising and standing firm and proud. Paladin seems a bit amused at the boy's adult actions, but of course does not laugh. He announces that the boy's name is Chiwa, son of the Pawnee chief Cah-la-te, who of course will be arriving to to reclaim his son. Beecher angrily promises that Cah-la-te will hang, not considering how the boy might react to this. Learning that the Pawnee have encamped nearby, Beecher orders that a portable gallows be built, while Paladin heads off to discuss things with the Pawnee.

    We learn that Paladin's Indian name is "Ula-shah-te", which one could guess by listening carefully to his dialogue with the boy. The name is appropriate, meaning "He who rides with many tribes", which Paladin has certainly done. Paladin learns that Chiwa had been bought from the Sioux, although Cah-la-te regards him as his son absolutely. The Pawnee hold their children, the future of their tribe, in highest regard, and Cah-la-te has no intention of giving Chiwa up. Cah-la-te, "He who keeps the treaty" has become weary and dispirited because of the white men who can't be bothered to keep the treaties they make. His tribe has become impoverished and they are on the verge of starvation.

    Paladin returns to the ranch to find that a real Christmas celebration has been arranged, perhaps due to the boy's return. The hands and their families happily crowd into the church, but their pleasure is intantly stifled as Beecher enters. He's not pleased to find that Tater apparently exceeded his authority to permit a handsome feast to be prepared, and sourly announces that if any cattle go missing or any fencing breaks, the hands will work double tomorrow--on Christmas Day. Paladin urges them to restore the Christmas spirit with some carols, and Tater leads them off with "The First Noel"--although I would like to know how they all knew which song to sing. They're interrupted by the news that the Pawnee have retaken the boy, which Paladin had suspected might happen, only not so soon. Beecher immediately plans to turn this night into a bloodbath--although he scornfully permits Paladin to stand up and do some preaching. Paladin speaks very movingly, but, as so often happens, his rationality cannot stand up to human nature. Beecher has his employees between a rock and hard place; if they don't obey him, they will be turned out. A few, including Tater, do stay behind, but the rest, with families to think about, reluctantly follow Beecher. Paladin is prepared to battle on behalf of the Indians, but one of the women, Maudie, tearfully challenges him to abide by his own words. Paladin challenges them in turn, hangs up his gunbelt, and goes out into the night.

    Cah-la-te is fully prepared to die, aware that this will most likely drive a permanent wedge between Chiwa and Beecher. Beecher and his men arrive with the gallows and guns at the ready. The standoff is interrupted when Tater and the women and children arrive, laden with their Christmas feast. Cah-la-te is astonished, and Paladin, taking quite a chance, loudly announces that there will be no fighting tonight. Beecher and his gunmen stand dumbfounded, as whites and Indians mix together. The children, as children will, immediately connect and begin to play. Chiwa, watching the festivities, recalls a word in English: Christmas. It does make sense that such an exciting time of the year would stick in a child's mind. Cah-la-te hands Paladin a ring that the boy used to wear, proving conclusively that the boy is indeed Robbie Beecher. Paladin persuades Cah-la-te that he must give the boy up. Cah-la-te will do so, but then wants to die. Paladin points out that he has responsibilites to the other children of his tribe, and heads off to see what he can arrange. Conferring with Tater, Paladin suggests that Beecher consider giving the Pawnee some land and cattle in exchange for the boy's uncontested return. Plus Paladin's usual fee of one thousand dollars, to be paid to the chief. This is where the mush enters the story--Beecher, embittered and tyranical even when he had his boy back, promptly accepts the terms. A little arguing--and perhaps pointing out to Beecher how Robbie would feel with his foster father dead--would have made it a little more plausible.

    The ending is also a bit mushy, but it works well in context. Having arranged everything to everyone's mutual benefit, Paladin, the perennial outsider, distances himself from the throng, taking the opportunity to partially dismantle the gallows, and is left staring in wonder at the symbol he inadvertently created, while the strains of "Silent Night" rise behind him.moreless
Johnny Crawford

Johnny Crawford

Robbie Beecher

Guest Star

Edward Binns

Edward Binns

Nathaniel Beecher

Guest Star

Abraham Sofaer

Abraham Sofaer


Guest Star

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (2)

  • QUOTES (7)

    • (in the teaser)
      Paladin: With this gun, I could've stopped murder tonight. But I've taken it off. That's my present to you.

    • Nathaniel Beecher: You talk Pawnee?
      Paladin: I do. Ordinarily, I'd interpret for nothing. For you, the fee is $100 a day.

    • Paladin: You're a curious mixture, Beecher. Tears in your eyes, bruises on your knuckles, a rope for Indians, misery for your employees, and a full heart for a boy who... which one is really Nathaniel Beecher?
      Nathaniel Beecher: The one that's paying you to talk Pawnee.

    • Paladin: My card says "Have Gun, Will Travel." I have no intention of trying to justify my profession to you people, or my personal code. I am a long way from being a preacher, but I do know something about killing, and that's what you people are going to have to do tonight. Now, rightly or wrongly, the Pawnees believe that boy belongs to them. It might interest Mr. Beecher to know that the boy was adopted--purchased from the Sioux. He might be Robbie Beecher. Few people love children as much as the Pawnees do. Their chief might have given up the boy, and properly treated, he might still give up the boy. On the other hand, those Pawnees can run no further. They would rather die out there in that camp tonight, than give up that boy to force. Now, I suppose this isn't much of a Christmas message. I haven't reminded you that this day has a very special meaning. I haven't tried to tell you that, to a starving man, food might have more weight than all your rifles.

    • Nathaniel Beecher: That's the story from the beginning, Mr. Paladin. The belly always wins out.

    • Paladin: Well, this is the night when some people pretend there's no evil in the world. This is the one night of the year when the white man honors the children of his tribe.

    • Paladin: All my life, I've only seen a dozen real killers, but I've seen 10,000 people that would stand by and let it happen. Now, which is the greater offense?

  • NOTES (2)