Season 1 Episode 5 (Aired: 11/3/1960, NBC)


From the episode's tagline: "Oklahoma Territory. A new, violent land. A marshal and his deputies get well acquainted with violence and with every kind of outlaw there is. Not every outlaw wears a mask. Sometimes they look like a respectable rancher and their weapon is barbed wire."



Three people find themselves stopped short by a fence that has been erected during the night right across what was previously a public passage. Just as they are about to cut the wire, the new owner of the ranch fires a warning shot. Sam Decker (Edward Binns), a rancher himself, lets the newcomer know that the fence is severely lacking a common and essential nicety for their respective area: a gate. He is told by Jack Duane (Alfred Ryder) that from now on he has to go around, upon which Decker informs him that he has right of way across his land. The men then trade some more threats. Duane has shown himself to be a fast shooter and very good marksman, so Decker decides to back down. But not without humiliating him first by saying, "Well, that's a mighty big gun for such a little fella" and "See you in court, Shorty".

As it turns out, Duane was booted out of two states before, Wyoming and Texas, where he is said to have left a bloody trail. Where he turns up, trouble is sure to follow. His philosophy, that he is certain to ingrain into his son, is that only a gun makes the difference between the ability to stand up to any man and spit in their eye, or have him walk right over you. The son, who is considerably taller than his father but a lousy shooter, really looks up to him for his abilities with a gun. Duane is just demonstrating to his son how to draw and aim at the same time when the marshal's deputies come riding in, accompanied by Decker, to serve him a injunction. The document states that the fences have to stay down permanently. Duane marches up to Decker and sneers at him for putting his tail between his legs and scurrying to the law. Decker does not take the bait and states that it's not the worst thing for anyone to do because it keeps down the death rate. He goes on to say that people in Oklahoma are trying to get along with their neighbors, and putting up fences would force them to take unacceptable detours. To acknowledge right of way would be in the public's interest and an act of courtesy to one's neighbors. Duane agrees that the fence would stay down, but under no circumstance is anybody allowed to cross his property, he proclaims, and he throws the injunction into a horse trough.

A new confrontation between the two men dawns when Decker, under escort of the marshal's deputies, tries to drive cattle across the route through Duane's land. Duane, flanked by his son and two ranch hands, eventually backs down. The son, Mike (Hampton Fancher), expecting his father to put his gun where his mouth is, looses all respect for him at that moment. A "little bitty man with a big mouth" is what he calls him. Duane makes sure his ranch hands understand that he only gave in so that his son would not be hurt. After getting some more disrespect from his son at the dinner table, Duane decides to restore his reputation. He challenges Decker to a duel at the rancher's house. Decker isn't stupid and he refuses. He even takes off his gun belt relying on the belief that it's considered bad manners to shoot an unarmed man.

Duane won't let get in his way. He kills Decker anyway and then re-dresses him with his gunbelt and even fires Decker's gun. What he does not know is that the whole thing has been witnessed by Decker's Chinese cook. The cook managed to hide himself and returns the next day with the law.

Duane gets arrested but when he's caught he claims that he only acted in self-defense since Decker came at him with a gun and his son, who was with him, saw it all. Now impressed with his father again, the son backs his story. Confronted with the cook, Duane first questions his reliability and then makes a threat to his life. In jail he trusts his son to deliver a letter to an old friend, Lonely Logan (Leonard Nimoy) whom he says will bust him out of there. Mike doesn't know what's in the letter and Logan does not enlighten him to its contents either. So it comes as an ugly surprise when Mike realizes that his father has hired Logan to kill the witness and that his father has acted no more honorably than any common criminal. The court is adjourned because the prosecution cannot bring forth any other evidence against Duane. Meanwhile Ben Garth (Lane Bradford), one of the ranch hands, rides out of town on a nod from Duane. He finds Logan at his campfire who's already awaiting his payment. Garth throws the money at his feet and while Logan hurriedly grabs for it so it won't be scorched by the fire, Garth kills him. The deputy who followed Garth is too late to save Logan but is right on time to arrest his killer. Only, Garth has no intention of going quietly with him and ends up dead, too.


Duane has to be set free. Decker's son reacts unhappily and is lectured by the marshal that the law has a long arm and that sooner or later Duane will hang, so will he please do nothing rash. While the deputy arrives in town with the two bodies, Duane is buying a round for the stony-faced townspeople in the saloon, celebrating his release. When he presents his son with his first drink as a sign of manhood, Mike throws it in his face, stating that he'd rather be dead than be like his dad. He runs out, swings himself on his horse and rides away. Duane looks on but does not know what to say. Next he finds himself confronting Decker's son who's ready to get into a duel. Duane misses all the vital organs. The marshal demands that Duane leaves town but let's his dislike of the man slip through by now calling him "Shorty", too. Confident that Duane will not kill him in front of everyone, the marshal disarms him and throws the gun to the ground. He scornes Duane some more which leads to an attack in the course of which Duane ends up in a horse trough. Pushed beyond reason he gets hold of his gun again and aims it at the marshal, who accepts the invitation to a shoot-out because he's had enough of Duane. The marshal suffers a leg wound while Duane, too emotionally upset to shoot straight, bites the dust.


Additional Information:

The hour long series had a run of two seasons, with the first season produced in black and white and the second season receiving the color treatment from NBC. To set it apart from other Western fare of its time, in the first season the series concerned itself with motivation for its bad guys. They were not just bad because they were born bad, but there was a reason why they acted this way. In the second season this approach was abandoned in favor of more traditional plots that told the stories from the point of view of the law enforcement officials. The Outlaws was set in the 1890's after the land rush of 1889.



While the series tried to make its central villains into more-dimensional characters, what makes the secondary characters tick leaves you with some questions - at least in this episode. It remains unclear both whether Garth kills Logan at the behest of Duane and also what would command such loyalty or obedience, or whether he kills him because he just sees an opportunity to keep the money for himself by doing away with the hitman. The way the scene in the courthouse plays out, in which Garth gets a sign from Duane, leaves room for both interpretations. Logan's motivation on the other hand is quite simple: money. But I'm rather sure there are not that many hired guns in Western TV lore where the hitman has to put on his glasses before he nails someone. A nice touch to a character that otherwise could have turned out unmemorable. But then, I admit to being biased in this respect.