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Series / The Dakotas

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From left to right: Del, Ragan, Vance, & JD.

The Dakotas is a western television series that ran for only 20 episodes on ABC in 1963. It starred Larry Ward as Federal Marshal Frank Ragan, and Jack Elam, Chad Everett and Mike Greene as his three deputies: JD Smith, Del Stark and Vance Porter. The show followed Ragan and his deputies as they tried to keep law and order in the Dakota Territory.

Noticeably darker and more morally ambiguous than many contemporary Western series, The Dakotas was eventually cancelled due to the episode "Sanctuary at Crystal Springs", in which Del and JD shoot two murderous outlaws inside a church. Viewers wrote angry letters of complaint, and the network pulled the plug.

This show provides examples of:

  • An Aesop: Fairly standard for a TV Western, but these weren’t always warm and fluffy.
  • Always Gets His Man: Ragan, to the hilt. Incorruptible and morally certain that the lawful way was the best way to do things.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Averted. Several beautiful female characters were revealed to be rotten to the core. JD Smith was described as "the ugliest man you ever saw", but was very much one of the good guys.
  • Berserk Button: Deputy Vance Porter did not like to see anyone small and/or vulnerable bullied or threatened.
  • Broken Pedestal: JD's mentor from his criminal days, with whom he had a father/son relationship, tries to lure him back to his life of crime, and is eventually willing to shoot him to save his own skin.
  • By-the-Book Cop: Ragan. He is severe on any of his deputies if they deviate from the letter of the law. Ragan is shown to believe passionately in the civilising effects of law and order in The Wild West, and believes that lawmen who break the rules are a corrosive force.
  • Circuit Judge: A fairly rare type appeared in one episode, "Return to Dryrock". He initially seemed to be a very obvious Hanging Judge - and was called out by Ragan as such - but actually turned out to be a Reasonable Authority Figure.
  • Clueless Deputy: Averted. All three deputies are competent and skilled.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: JD has to choose between his wild past and law-enforcing present when his old mentor gets out of jail in "Reformation at Big Nose Butte".
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The Old West variety in "Crisis at High Banjo". Also happens to be Ragan's nemesis.
  • Crossover: Ragan and JD started out as characters in an episode of Cheyenne, and the show spun off from there.
  • Crusading Widow: Ragan. His wife was murdered on their honeymoon.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Ragan, whose wife was murdered on their honeymoon. Also, JD Smith. He lost his mother when young, and his Preacher Man father was extra hard on him because he was the minister's son. He went off the rails, became a gunslinger, and joined a band of criminals.
  • Darker and Edgier: Much darker than other Western Series such as Gunsmoke or Bonanza. Can you imagine Hoss coming out with this line?
    Ragan: You're gonna get it in the head. I'm not going to count to ten, or three, or any of that foolishness. You're gonna get it now.
  • Downer Ending: The show was not afraid to have these.
  • Girl of the Week: Not too many, given the show's short run, but it still managed a couple. One for Del in "A Nice Girl From Goliath", and another for JD Smith in "Trial at Grand Forks".
  • The Gunslinger: JD Smith used to be one, and these guys pop up repeatedly in many episodes.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: "Red Sky over Bismarck". The man in question is unjustly accused of murder, and the bigoted townspeople are only too keen to believe the accusations.
  • Heel–Face Turn: JD Smith, who went from gunslinger to deputy.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Averted. Ragan’s wife was murdered on their honeymoon. When he eventually finds the man responsible, it looks like he is going to abandon all his principles and kill him, but he changes his mind at the last minute and stays true to his morals.
  • Miss Kitty: A peripheral character in many episodes, and a Temporary Love Interest in the episode "A Nice Girl from Goliath".
  • The Neidermeyer: "Mutiny at Fort Mercy" is about a tyrannical and insane Army captain whose command of a military prison had become ridiculously cruel and harsh.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: "Terror At Heart River" had some Irish railroad workers with the worst Irish accents ever heard.
  • Preacher Man: A fairly important character in a few episodes. In this series, he’s usually standing against prejudiced townsfolk. JD Smith’s father is also this trope, making him the Preacher's Kid.
  • Quick Draw: Just try to outdraw Deputy Smith. Another episode, "Fargo", looks at what happens when encroaching age means a noted quick draw is no longer as fast as he used to be
  • Rebel Relaxation: JD Smith. All the time.
  • Retired Gunslinger: JD Smith, who is The Lancer. Smith’s readiness to get his hands dirty and breaks the law when necessary contrasts sharply with Ragan’s ‘by the book’ attitude.
  • Riding into the Sunset: The men sometimes do this at the end of episodes.
  • A Storm Is Coming: This show is quite fond of using thunderstorms to heighten the tension in fraught scenes. It also liked to have a whistling wind and a barn door banging to create mood.
  • U.S. Marshal: Ragan, who is also The Hero.
  • Wardens Are Evil: "Mutiny at Fort Mercy" is about a tyrannical and insane Army captain whose command of a military prison had become ridiculously cruel and harsh.