Throw A Long Rope (Episode 1.03)

Produced by Charles Marquis Warren
Written by Howard Swanton
Directed by Ted Post

There’s got to be another way...

Episode scene:

The Virginian is shaken by the near-lynching of a farmer who he believes was unjustly accused of stealing cattle. He argues with Judge Garth that hanging cattle-thieves is legalized murder. Judge Garth angrily defends the law of the range, saying that it is not murder but “legalized and instantaneous execution to be administered to horse- and cattle-thieves.”

Quotation from the book (Chapter 33):

“Judge Henry,” said Molly Wood, ... “have you come to tell me that you think well of lynching?”
“Of burning Southern negroes in public, no. Of hanging Wyoming cattle-thieves in private, yes. You perceive there’s a difference, don't you?”
“Not in principle,” said the girl, dry and short.
... “I want you to be just as willing to be put right by me as I am to be put right by you. And so when you use such a word as principle, you must help me to answer by saying what principle you mean. For in all sincerity I see no likeness in principle whatever between burning Southern negroes in public and hanging Wyoming horse-thieves in private. I consider the burning a proof that the South is semi-barbarous, and the hanging a proof that Wyoming is determined to become civilized. We do not torture our criminals when we lynch them. We do not invite spectators to enjoy their death agony. We put no such hideous disgrace upon the United States. We execute our criminals by the swiftest means, and in the quietest way... For in the South they take a negro from jail where he was waiting to be duly hung. The South has never claimed that the law would let him go. But in Wyoming the law has been letting our cattle-thieves go for two years. We are in a very bad way, and we are trying to make that way a little better until civilization can reach us. At present we lie beyond its pale. The courts, or rather the juries, into whose hands we have put the law, are not dealing the law. They are withered hands, or rather they are imitation hands made for show, with no life in them, no grip. They cannot hold a cattle-thief. And so when your ordinary citizen sees this, and sees that he has placed justice in a dead hand, he must take justice back into his own hands where it was once at the beginning of all things. Call this primitive, if you will. But so far from being a defiance of the law, it is an assertion of it - the fundamental assertion of self-governing men, upon whom our whole social fabric is based.”

Additional comments:

  1. This episode is my personal favorite. It showcases the talents of each of the series’ regulars, and highlights the relationships among the “Shiloh family” members. Scenes between the Virginian and Judge Garth, such as the one above, are particularly poignant. Their respect and affection for each other is obvious throughout. In the end, the Virginian’s protests stir Judge Garth into action and he stops his fellow-ranchers from attacking the homesteaders. Lee J. Cobb was wonderful as the Judge. In this scene he runs the gamut of emotions as he worries about what is troubling his foreman, wistfully remembers his early struggles to build up his ranch, and angrily defends his right to hold onto it.
  2. In The Executioners, the Virginian refused to attend the public hanging of Tom Newcomb and tells Molly Wood that a man’s death should be private. He later tells Judge Garth his fears that “no one goes unmourned.”
  3. In the book, the Virginian has no qualms about using the “law of the range” to dole out justice to rustlers, even going so far as to hang his former best friend, Steve.

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(Compilation © 2002 by Alice Munzo. All rights reserved.)
(Pictures updated November 13, 2003 courtesy The Hallmark Channel)