The Big Valley

Season 1 Episode 22

The Death Merchant

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Feb 23, 1966 on ABC

Episode Recap

A man and his mule are walking along miles of orange groves when suddenly, shots ring out. There are two young men, not much more than boys, taking shots at the man not to hurt him, but to scare him. The man ducks out of sight, loads his gun, and gets his vengeance by seriously wounding the one boy. The boy's brother helps get him to safety, clearly shaken up by the deadly turn their mischief has taken.

The man and his mule continue until they reach the Barkley's house. There, the crusty old gent is treated like royalty by Nick and Jarrod, for he is Handy Random, the man who killed the man that killed Tom Barkley. Random accepts several glasses of sherry and whiskey, and makes himself right at home. When Heath walks in, however, he is seriously displeased to see Random. Heath informs the family that Random is not to be trusted, and that wherever he goes range wars break out at Random's instigating.

The grove of oranges where Random walked is in a land dispute by a neighboring family called Craddock, consisting of a patriarch and his sons. The dispute formed when a river bend that served as a boundary flooded and redirected the course of the water, thereby now circling the orange groves. Craddock claims this was "an act of God" and that the groves are now his. The Barkley's disagree.

Audra shows Random kindness by giving him a muff that she knitted. He in turn tries to give her the gun that killed the man who killed her father, but she recoils from the gesture.

Random offers to take care of the Craddock family by being a hired gun for the Barkley's and settle their dispute with actions. However, they refuse his offer and soon become suspicious of him by Heath's claims that Random is bloodthirsty. Jarrod and the other family members insist that the court will settle the land dispute, but that they don't want any bloodshed. After Heath confronts Random for having shot Heath in the back years ago with gravel, the family asks Random to leave.

Random goes immediately to the Craddock family and offers to wipe out the Barkley's as a nuisance to their land dispute. He names his price, and makes mention that buckshot is up in price and so he's using gravel instead. Craddock decides to hire him.

Audra rides over to the Craddock place to try to reason with them and urge them to wait for the court's ruling over the land. It turns out that Audra refused a proposal from one of the sons, and this has been a source of bitterness in the family towards the Barkley's. As she is riding along, Random actually takes a shot at Audra, an unarmed female, showing how savage and cruel he truly is. When one of the Craddock boys, Frank, tells Random to drop his gun, he himself is given a gut full of gravel from Random's gun. Craddock is sure that the Barkley's were the ones at fault for hurting his son, until he remembers Random's words about the price of buckshot and realizes that Frank's chest is full of gravel.

Heath follows Audra and Random tries to coax them both out into the open, saying it's safe and that he didn't mean to hurt anyone. Heath tells Audra to call to Random and tell him Heath's hurt. When Random is almost upon them, ready to shoot Audra, Heath opens fire on him. The first shot doesn't kill him, however, and Random talks about death and dying and how cold he is. When Heath offers to give him his jacket, Random goes for Heath's gun. Audra must shoot Random, and this time he's instantly dead. Heath assures her that Random had really died a long time ago, and that she didn't kill him.

Craddock and his son bury Frank, and after the funeral is finished, Nick tells Craddock that they buried Random down by the creek. Craddock wants to know which side, and Nick says that it was on the Barkley side. Craddock tells the Barkley's that, according to his religion, he can't work for two weeks following the death of a family member. This means that the Barkley's have the opportunity to harvest the oranges. Jarrod says that they're in agreement to this, unless the court rules in Craddock's favor, in which case he'll owe them the cost of labor. Craddock agrees, and he and his son leave.

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