Life or Death: The Struggle for Water in #Gunsmoke’s Wild West
The episode starts with U.S Marshal Matt Dillon, played by William Conrad, narrating the story of the violence that moved west with young America. The story revolves around a conflict over water rights during a severe drought. A rancher named Dyke Howard has fenced off a pond, Cottonwood Pond, on his property, preventing a cattle herd from accessing the water they desperately need. The owner of the herd, Jack Jackson, is losing cattle at an alarming rate due to the lack of water.
Marshal Dillon, enforcing the law, backs Howard’s right to fence his property. However, he sympathizes with Jackson’s plight and tries to negotiate a deal between the two. Howard offers to let Jackson’s cattle water at the pond for a steep price, which Jackson refuses, leading to a standoff.
As tensions escalate, Dillon deputizes Jackson’s men to maintain order. Despite this, Howard’s men attempt to drive off the cattle by setting a fire, which threatens to spread across the prairie and reach Dodge City. Dillon and his deputies work to control the fire and save the town.
In a twist of fate, a storm breaks out, dousing the fire and providing the much-needed water for the cattle. However, during the storm, Howard is struck by lightning and killed, after he had earlier stated he’d rather be struck dead than give in.
The episode ends with Dillon reflecting on the events, contemplating the harsh realities of life on the frontier, and the often blurred line between right and wrong.