Intending to confront the card-shark who he believes bushwhacked and robbed him, Little Joe instead decides to get his money back by betting the shady gambler that big brother Hoss will win the Founders' Day flapjack eating contest against champion Big Ed Simpson. But Hoss isn't sure that winning the five hundred dollar first prize is worth suffering through his little brother's training program, especially when it includes meals consisting of only carrots, apples and water...and no beer!
Little Joe and his friend Tuck vie for the affections of pretty Lucy Melviney, a sheltered, naive young woman who soon puts all of their lives in danger when she chooses to believe that real life should mirror what she reads in the pages of her classic romantic novels.
A crippled former ballet dancer falls in love while teaching classical dance to the daughter of a traveling violinist, wants to help her audition for the San Francisco ballet but meets resistance from her father who wants her to keep performing with him.
Worrying that a hired gun may just cause more trouble for the ranchers, Adam Cartwright votes no when the Cattleman's Association asks ruthless range detective, Sherman Clegg, to stop a region-wide rustling problem; but when tragedy follows and Clegg is accused of murder, Adam appears to be the only one to take the side of the very man he originally opposed.
While his troupe visits the Ponderosa, lonely, aging aerialist Guido Borelli hides his true feelings for his beautiful, young partner, Petina, but is quick to comfort her after a fistfight with her hot-tempered boyfriend, Carlo, lands Little Joe in jail for attempted murder.
Suffering from an infected foot, Hoss finds unexpected relief from Professor Poppy, an itinerant patent medicine peddler who secretly carries a medical bag. But Hoss soon finds that the professor may really be Doctor P.A. Mundy who is being trailed by a vengeful Englishman claiming that Mundy murdered his wife.
Adam stops Howard Mead from robbing Johann Brunner and his sister Hilda. However, Howard's talent for singing and guitar playing, along with his hard-luck stories, persuade Adam to give him another chance, and Hilda agrees to drop the charges. This may be a mistake, as Howard's talents cannot hide his dark side even as Hilda falls for him.
When Hoss' snoring, Adam's guitar playing and Little Joe's courting shenanigans keep a dog-tired Ben Cartwright awake, he rides wearily away from the Ponderosa to try to find a quiet room at the Virginia City hotel; but the wild, frontier town's chaotic night life soon makes him think he would have been better off back at the ranch.
When Trace Cordell comes back to Virginia City after serving his time for bank robbery, Ben Cartwright is among those at the stage to welcome his former neighbor home. But, except for Ben, no one is happy when the ex-con wants to take up where he left off, running his family's ranch outside of town; especially not banker Paul Dorn, the man who was put in a wheelchair by Cordell's bullet five years earlier.
The ladies on the Entertainment Committee want something a bit different for the town's anniversary celebration. They want a play or maybe Shakespeare. It's voted that Ben has the connections to find just the act the ladies had all ordered.
Wiley Kane comes to the Ponderosa, along with his sister Annie, offering to work to pay back the debt he feels they owe the Cartwrights from when their father Sam swindled them. Joe tries to teach Annie to read, but Wiley objects to this out of pride. Later Wiley and Annie learn that their father, whom they assumed was dead, is actually locked up in the Virginia City jail.
Several Virginia City citizens appoint Ben as a temporary circuit judge. He soon faces a major test when the bank is robbed clean, and an old safe cracker confesses to the crime - but refuses to tell where he hid the money unless Ben lets him go free.
Don Jose Ortega claims to have a brass box full of Spanish land grants, giving him ownership over most of the area around Virginia City, including the Ponderosa. Although Jose is reluctant to pursue his claim, his nephew, bitter over the loss of land in the Mexican War, would like to claim it back. Making things worse, many others living in the area are determined not to lose their land and will resort to any means to stop the Ortegas' claim.
A judge awards itinerant horse breeder Jim Acton's beloved mare to rancher Sam Whipple. Jim tries to buy her back, but Whipple refuses his offer, after which a fight ensues and Jim kills Whipple in self-defense. The Cartwrights want to bring Jim in to make sure he receives a fair trial, but an ambitious and overzealous deputy doesn't care how he brings him in.
The Cartwrights try to help a religious group that is passing through the Ponderosa, but incur the wrath of the clan's leaders when they come to the defense of one of their members, a young woman whom they accuse of being a witch.
Hoss finds a stagecoach whose passengers have been murdered, except for a little girl who is in a catatonic state due to shock. The Cartwrights take the girl in, hoping to find her relatives, but Hoss is becoming so attached to her he is reluctant to see her go. An uncle of hers is located and arrives in Virginia City, but he has other reasons for being there besides to claim the child.
After falling off a wagon, a dying friend asks Ben to make sure his large estate is given to a relative since he didn't have a will. After posting an ad in a newspaper, several people come forward to claim it.
The Cartwrights are fully aware that Virginia City's new minister is a former gunfighter. But when one of the Ponderosa's ranch hands recognizes him as the man who killed his twin brother, he tries to goad him into a duel.
While hunting cougar, Joe and Hoss find a young woman unconscious and bring her to the Ponderosa. The girl was abandoned in the wilderness by the wagon train she was traveling with because she is clairvoyant and sees bad events before they happen, and they thus think she is a witch. While recuperating, she predicts a future misfortune for Little Joe.
Hoss catches young Billy Penn working with rustlers, but because Billy stops another member of the gang from shooting him, he doesn't tell the boy's father. Billy is embarrassed and bored by his father's hog farm and yearns for a better and more exciting life. But it won't be so easy breaking away from the rustling gang either.
Ben is appointed temporary sheriff after Sheriff Coffee is injured while bringing in one of the Lassiter boys, who has been sentenced to hang. Elizabeth Lassiter, bitter ever since the death of her husband and loss of her ranch, has turned her sons and her foreman into outlaws, and is now threatening to kidnap one Virginia City resident a day and kill them unless her son is freed. Little Joe becomes the third one taken hostage.
Hoss brings young Skeeter Dexter to live at the Ponderosa after his brutal stepfather leaves the area. Skeeter, a boy with a natural affinity for animals, has had no luck with his home life: his mother is bitter and destitute and has blamed him ever since his father abandoned her.
Little Michael Thorpe's father is accidentally shot and gravely injured. Believing that only God can save his father, and told by his Indian ranch hand that God lives on a mountain, Michael wanders off onto that mountain, and finds an old hermit who he thus thinks is God.