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The Chisholms is a CBS western miniseries starring Robert Preston, which aired thirteen episodes from March 29, 1979, to April 19, 1979, and from January 19, 1980, to March 15, 1980. The 1979 episodes showed the family moving from Virginiamarker to Wyomingmarker. When the series resumed in 1980, the pioneers were shown en route along the California Trail from Wyoming to .


According to the story line, created by David Dortort of Bonanza and developed by Evan Hunter from his own novels, the Chisholms were defrauded of their Virginia land and headed west to seek a new life. Robert Preston appeared as family patriarch Hadley Chisholm but died midway through the 1980 episodes. Rosemary Harris portrays his wife, Minerva. The Chisholms encounter difficult travel, hostile Indians, and family struggles.


Ben Murphy, appeared as oldest son, Will Chisholm. Brian Kerwin portrayed son Gideon in the first four episodes but was replaced by Brett Cullen in the nine segments which aired in 1980. James Van Patten, appeared as Bo; Glynis O'Connor, Elizabeth; Stacy Nelkin, Bonnie Sue in the 1979 segments, replaced by Delta Burke; and Susan Swift, Annabel, youngest of the Chisholms, killed by Indians in a 1979 segment. However, Swift, at fifteen, returned to the program in the 1980 episodes as Mercy Hopwell, a passenger on the wagon train.

Charles Frank, portrayed Lester Hackett the first season but was replaced by Reid Smith in the 1980 episodes. In 1980, Mitchell Ryan played wagonmaster Cooper Hawkins, who becomes the de facto head of the Chisholms after Hadley's death, which occurred in the episode "Death in the Sierra". Victoria Racimo played Kewedinok, an Indian woman who marries Will.

Others cast in the miniseries included Anthony Zerbe, as Jimmy Jackson, and Brian Keith as Andrew Blake. In the second segments, Donald Moffat played Enos; Leslie Nielsen, Sinclair; and Ben Piazza, the historic figure John A. Sutter, on whose land along the American River, gold was found in 1848 and made known in 1849.

Shortly before his death, Chief Eugene Standingbear, an Oklahomamarker native, appeared as a medicine man in the episode "Siege".

In the series finale, "The Siren Song", Minerva, a Baptist, wonders why Bo is spending so much time with a Franciscan priest, played by Donnelly Rhodes.


The first episodes were filmed at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Sitemarker near La Juntamarker on the Arkansas Rivermarker in southeastern Coloradomarker.

The Chisholms is akin to the unsuccessful 1977 NBC venture, The Oregon Trail. In that series, Rod Taylor's character of Evan Thorpe, a widowed father, leaves Illinoismarker in 1842 to seek a new life for his three children in Oregonmarker.


  1. Alex McNeil, Total Television, New York: Penquin Books, 1996, 4th ed., p. 163

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