Revisit ‘Gunsmoke’s Final Episode – How Did It End?

Many popular television shows, including the famous Gunsmoke, didn’t end quite like the creatives involved imagined. The cast and crew didn’t even expect the long-running series to end when it did, leaving many audiences puzzled about the conclusion of the adult Western. Here’s a look at the Gunsmoke ending and whether the final episode created any true resolution for Dodge City.

CBS canceled ‘Gunsmoke’ after 20 seasons

'Gunsmoke' James Arness as Matt Dillon, Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty Russell, Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen, Buck Taylor as Newly O'Brien, and Milburn Stone as Doc Adams standing along the Long Branch saloon staircase
L-R: James Arness as Matt Dillon, Amanda Blake as Miss Kitty Russell, Ken Curtis as Festus Haggen, Buck Taylor as Newly O’Brien, and Milburn Stone as Doc Adams | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Gunsmoke first made its move from radio to television screens in 1955. There, a new cast separate from the voices that listeners came to associate with the characters. Viewers across the country eventually warmed up to James Arness’ U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon, Amanda Blake’s Miss Kitty Russell, Milburn Stone’s Doc Adams, and Dennis Weaver’s Chester Goode.

CBS enjoyed Gunsmoke‘s high ratings for years, which consecutively ranked at the very top of the ratings. However, the network started to doubt its staying power after it finally started to slip in the ratings. CBS finally brought Gunsmoke to an end without warning after the 20th season. The news shocked the creatives attached and the audiences who enjoyed the program from home.

Did ‘Gunsmoke’ have an ending? They ended it with a Festus Haggen episode

The end of Gunsmoke was an episode featuring Ken Curtis’ Festus Haggen at the center. Director Leonard Katzman’s “The Sharecroppers” was season 20 episode 24, airing on March 31, 1975.

Landlord Dibble Pugh (Victor French) is upset with Linder Hogue (Jacques Aubuchon) for not successfully improving upon the land. Dibble’s daughter, Av Marie (Susanne Benton), plans to marry Linder’s son, Toby (Bruce Boxleitner) and move far away. However, Linder refuses to allow Toby to marry her.

Av Marie sends her brother, Abel (Terry Williams), into the city to buy a mule. It’s a final plan to invest in their land before Linder inevitably evicts them. A man named Rupert (Graham Jarvis) tricks Abel into purchasing Festus’ mule, giving him a fake bill of sale. When he goes to ride off with it, Festus shoots at him, injuring his leg. Festus and Abel figure out the situation and set things right. As a result, the deputy takes him back to his family after Doc checks him out.

Meanwhile, Av Marie heard word that Toby spent time with other women to make sure he was making the right decision marrying Av Marie. She decides to get revenge and try to make him jealous in return by flirting with Festus after he agrees to help Dibble work on his land in response to hurting Abel.

Festus becomes privy to Av Marie’s plans to use him to get Toby jealous, which increases tensions between the two men. This leads to Toby hitting Festus and his plans to hurt him some more. She finally reveals to Toby that she was only doing it to make him jealous, convincing him to apologize to Festus. He ultimately continues the deputy’s work as an apology after being threatened. Av Marie and Toby marry and leave after making amends with Festus.

It’s a rather strange note to end on, providing no real closure for the viewer. After 20 seasons, Gunsmoke came to an end with an episode never meant to signal its conclusion. As a result, the show ended on a fine, whimsical note, but it wasn’t the end that the story deserved.

The adult Western had 5 made-for-TV movies

Related

Here’s Who Took Miss Kitty Russell’s Place on ‘Gunsmoke’ After Amanda Blake Left

Gunsmoke came to an end after “The Sharecroppers,” but the story found a way to continue in its own way. CBS later saw the value in continuing the story with five made-for-TV movies.

It all started with 1987’s Return to Dodge, which brought back Arness, Blake, and Buck Taylor. The remainder of the Gunsmoke movies had the subtitles The Last Apache, To the Last Man, One Man’s Justice, and The Long Ride.