A series of destructive fires has Virginia City residents on edge and anxious to catch the arsonist. But Deputy Clem's new love interest seems to know a lot more about the fires than what she's letting on.
An orphaned rainmaker named Jamie Hunter comes to Virginia City, hoping to help relieve the drought-stricken area. When Jamie's efforts aren't immediately successful, Ben helps the lad fend off the frustrated ranchers.
A murder suspect escapes a prison wagon. Sheriff Price Buchanan, who covets an appointment to Deputy U.S. Marshal, finds an injured Hoss. Buchanan, knowing his career is at risk if he fails his appointed duty, arrests Hoss and plans to substitute him in as his prisoner. Hoss befriends a fellow prisoner named Madge Tucker, whom knows Hoss was falsely arrested. Together, the two scheme to escape the wagon and Buchanan's clutches.
The Cartwrights are part of a posse that is after Davis, who shot and killed an Army colonel. When Ben and Joe capture Davis in the desert, they are attacked by a rouge Indian tribe, and Ben is seriously wounded. While Joe crosses the desert on foot to seek medical attention (for his Pa) and the posse (to take Davis into custody), Ben and Davis must set their differences aside to survive their hostile surroundings.
Hoss unwittingly volunteers to be named sheriff of an aptly named town named Trouble. While dealing with problems that one might expect to associate with the town, he must find a way to capture the nefarious Clanton gang.
After Ben is seriously injured in a horse-riding accident far from home, Joe seeks help from valley settlers who are terrified of a corrupt rancher and his foremen. While Ben suffers from recurring nightmares of Joe being unable to help, Joe tries to persuade Thornton to do the right thing.
Old-school Zach Randolph refuses to make amends with his gravely ill daughter, Etta, because her son had been born out of wedlock. Joe risks his family's friendship with the Randolphs to set the stubborn old man straight.
A reformed outlaw named Pepper Shannon comes to the Ponderosa seeking a job. Ben agrees to hire him, but has to keep both Pepper and an impressionable Jamie away from each other - a task that's easier said than done.
Honest John, a drifter is looking for a nest and hopes to settle on the Ponderosa through his rapport with the newly adopted Jamie. But John's breakthrough with the boy must be weighed against the seamier side of his character.
Jamie's friend Carrie Sturgis, herself an orphan, is the subject of a heated custody battle between her scheming aunt and uncle, Gifford and Vella Owens, and her gravely ill grandfather. The point of contention: The grandfather owns a gold mine ripe to be harvested, and Carrie is believed to be the heir. The Cartwrights become involved when Jamie rescues Carrie and the Owens couple want anyone named Cartwright arrested.
Hoss is seriously wounded while accompanying the Brennan clan, Virginia natives who are settling out West, across Nevada Territory. The Brennans debate whether to seek much-needed medical attention for Hoss or let him die.
In this adaptation of the Prodigal Son, Jamie - who is struggling to adjust to life on the Ponderosa and at his new school - damages Ben's valuable rifle. Refusing to take responsibility, he runs away.
Ben's dead-on lookalike, the scheming Bradley Meredith, causes serious problems when he poses as the Cartwright patriarch and sells area ranchers' land to the railroad. Ben, who refused to deal with the railroad, must find a way to expose Meredith and convince the farmers that he wasn't responsible.
Leslie and Gillian Harwood come to Nevada from England to take over the operation of a failing ranch near the Ponderosa. They have trouble adjusting to frontier life, which include cattle rustlers who threaten to put them out of business.
Gen. Ira Cloninger, an old friend of the Cartwrights, is toasted at a ceremony as a hero and asked to run for governor. Cloninger accepts and Ben enthusiastically backs the candidate ... unaware that Cloninger has a very sinister hidden agenda involving the massacre of all Native Americans from Nevada Territory.
When an influenza outbreak strikes the Ponderosa, the treatment methods and philosophy of two women from different generations clash. A nurse named Harriet Clinton believes in old-fashioned methods, while the other nurse, Evangeline Woodtree, has studied up on more recent methods. Not helping matters: Doc Martin backs Harriet, in large part because be believes Evangeline's husband is a fraud.
Little Joe is blinded by an explosion and wallows in self-pity as he struggles to come to grips with his condition, which may be temporary or permanent. Ben hires a teacher from the Institute for the Blind to help Joe deal with his predicament.
During a harsh winter that kills off the stock of many ranchers, Ben offers to test a new breed's endurance by herding a cow from the stock on Sawtooth Mountain. A rival rancher attempts to undermine Ben's plans by having his foreman shoot the cow, then claim it had succumbed to the cold.
A traveling professional wrestler named Tom Callahan is the only person who can prove Dusty Rhoades' innocence when the Ponderosa foreman is falsely jailed. But when Callahan stubbornly refuses to come to Virginia City to provide the alibi, Joe decides to pursue him and do everything he can to bring him back.