Against Ben's orders, Jamie drives a supply wagon on a route he's not supposed to; he loses control and wrecks the wagon. Jamie escapes uninjured but one of the horses is so badly hurt it has to be shot. To teach Jamie a lesson in responsibility, Ben decides to take his adopted son on an extended tour of the Ponderosa, to see how various residents and employees deal with their mistakes. The lesson makes an impression on Jamie, who is then asked to carve his name in the a tree, signifying he is the latest Cartwright to take "The Grand Swing" (Hoss and Little Joe also ...
Jill Conway is an alcoholic mother whose husband was sent to prison (for robbery) on Hoss' testimony. In a pent-up rage, Jill demands that Hoss look after her son, Petey. Hoss, however, wants Jill to see this as an opportunity to reform herself and is determined to use tough love to help her realize it.
Two ranchers find a seriously wounded Little Joe in the Nevada desert. As he struggles for life, Joe mumbles incoherently about his surrealistic nightmares about a teepee and a wagon wheel. Ben and Hoss are left to decipher what Joe is talking about and determine what happened.
The Cartwrights assist Jamie's friend, Cassie O'Casey, and Cassie's mother in dealing with their father and husband, Kevin, who is running a race horse scam. Hoss uses a "fixed" horse race of his own to outwit Kevin.
Jamie's girlfriend, Neta Thatcher, witnesses a drifter named Griff Bannon rob and kill a man at a roadside camp. Bannon - who assumes his victim's identity and inherits his fortune - is aware that Neta has witnessed the crime and begins stalking her. Neta is terrified to tell anyone about the crime she witnessed, but has even more problems on her hands: Her tough love father, who refuses to allow her to socialize with the Cartwrights. Meanwhile, Bannon takes a job at the Ponderosa using his victim's identity, and he and Jamie become friends. However, Bannon's cover is...
Jamie and three of his schoolmates - Lester, Judith and Roberto - are kidnapped after church by the nefarious Doyle gang, whom escaped from a wagon carrying them to prison. Doyle plans to use the teens as bargaining tools to ensure that the authorities will enable his gang's escape to Mexico. After Doyle makes his demands and warns that any attempts by the Cartwrights to interfere will result in the teens' deaths, Ben comes up with a plan to rescue Jamie and his friends, but is constantly undermined by the father of one of the boys, whose plan would surely result in ...
In the third and final episode featuring the Calhouns, Luke is bankrupted after a stock investment gone bad, so he and his daughter Meena, move to the Ponderosa until he can get back on his feet. Without Ben's permission, Luke turns the Ponderosa into a casino, with lap dances and gambling all over the place.
Ben begins the process to adopt Jamie as his son, but the process is complicated when Jamie's maternal grandfather, Paris Callahan, comes forward wanting custody. Ben must bear the heartbreaking news to Callahan that Jamie has bonded with the Cartwright family.
In a rare episode with Hop Sing in the spotlight, the Cartwright's servant is panning for gold during a vacation when he falls in love with a white woman. The relationship blossoms into an engagement, but the marriage never takes place. Ben bears the heartbreaking news that a judge confirms: Territorial law forbids interracial marriage.
Hoss turns to a clairvoyant named Judith Coleman to help in a search for Jamie, who has gotten lost in the high country. However, Judith is reluctant to help out, fearing that her psychic abilities will ruin her engagement to a minister who opposes her gift as witchcraft.
Cactus Murphy, an embittered ranch whom Ben fired, suggests that the Cartwright patriarch is getting a little old to "put in a real week's work." Ben's response: Take a job under the assumed name Ben Brown and show Murphy that he is still more than capable of sweating out the job of a rancher.
Ben's friendship with the Kosovos, a young immigrant family from Serbia, puts him in danger when family patriarch Nick suffers a psychotic snap, goes on a rampage and barricades them in their home. Ben does all he can to reason with Nick, whose wife and son have become deathly afraid of him in the process - especially since the consequences could be deadly if Ben says the wrong thing.
In a satirical look at unusual, silly laws and customs, Joe and Hoss try to explain to their skeptical father why their delivery run to Agua Santos, Mexico took so long. An unimpressed Ben listens as his sons explain their story, which all started when Joe forgot to take his hat off in church and was exasperated when Hoss ran into trouble trying to bail his younger brother out of jail.
A band of rogue ex-Confederate soldiers comes to the Ponderosa to demand a $25,000 ransom. Hoss tries to disrupt the robbery and is critically wounded by the group's leader, Shanklin. While Jamie escapes and tries to search Virginia City's saloons for Joe, Ben learns that Shanklin is an outstanding surgeon and demands that since he wounded him, he can perform the surgery to save Hoss' life.
The Cartwrights attempt to reconstruct a 24-hour period of Ben's life after he fears he may have been the unknown gunman who shot down Sid Langley, a corrupt real estate broker who has become hated in Virginia City. The reason? Ben had suffered a concussion from an unknown source just before his meeting with Langley and happened to be his last appointment before Langley's body was found. Oh, and Ben strongly disapproved of Langley's unethical business practices.
Jamie's 7-year-old friend, Jonah Morgan, is badly wounded when he and Jamie walk into the Virginia City Bank during a robbery by the evil Springer gang. The boy later dies of his injuries. Joe and Jamie accompany Jonah's grief-hardened, paraplegic grandfather on the hunt for Springer and his cronies.
It's a case of comic mistaken identity when Hoss - on a delivery run for the Ponderosa - is mistaken as a member of the bumbling Younger Brothers gang. Ben and Joe are eventually able to convince the authorities to let Hoss go, but not after a series of misunderstandings wherein they too are involved with the Youngers' gang.
A friend of Ben's asks to stay at the Ponderosa for a time. Soon Ben discovers the woman is trying to plan a rendezvous with her husband who is a fugitive confederate soldier. Ben must decide where his loyalties lay.
Ben's ability to close a lucrative cattle purchase with a picky livestock heiress hinges on Hoss and Joe's ability to sell a dilapidated saloon they were duped into buying. However, the Cartwright brothers are convinced that the shanty of a saloon contains a valuable painting.
In his second attempt to cash in on Ben's good name, crooked lookalike Bradley Meredith learns that the Cartwrights are in Carson City and, posing as Ben, pretends that he is seriously ill and begins to liquidate the Ponderosa's assets. The Cartwrights come just in time to foil Meredith's plans.