The Chisholms

The Chisholms is a CBS western miniseries starring Robert Preston, which aired from March 29, 1979, to April 19, 1979; and continued as a television series from January 19, 1980, to March 15, 1980. The 1979 miniseries showed the family moving from Virginia to Wyoming. When the TV series commenced in 1980, the pioneers were shown en route along the California Trail from Wyoming to Sacramento, California.[1]

The Chisholms
Created byDavid Dortort
Developed byEvan Hunter
Directed byMel Stuart
Edward M. Abroms
Sigmund Neufeld Jr.
Nicholas Webster
StarringRobert Preston
Rosemary Harris
Ben Murphy
Mitchell Ryan
Brian Kerwin
Brett Cullen
James Van Patten
Stacy Nelkin
Delta Burke
Susan Swift
Charles Frank
Sandra Griego
Billy Drago
Brian Keith
Anthony Zerbe
Reid Smith
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes13
Executive producer(s)Alan Landsburg
David Dortort
Producer(s)Paul Freeman
Running time275 mins (miniseries)
50 mins (series)
Production company(s)Alan Landsburg Productions
Original networkCBS
Original releaseMarch 29, 1979 (1979-03-29) 
March 15, 1980 (1980-03-15)


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 the character died midway through the 1980 TV series. Rosemary Harris portrays his wife, Minerva. The Chisholms encounter difficult travel, hostile Indians, and family struggles.[1]


Ben Murphy appeared as oldest son, Will Chisholm. Brian Kerwin portrayed son Gideon in the miniseries, but was replaced by Brett Cullen in the 1980 TV series. James Van Patten, appeared as Bo; Glynnis 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 the 1979 miniseries. However, Swift, at fifteen, returned to the program in the 1980 series as Mercy Hopwell, a passenger on the wagon train.[1]

Charles Frank portrayed Lester Hackett the miniseries but was replaced by Reid Smith in the 1980 series. In 1980, Mitchell Ryan played wagonmaster Cooper Hawkins, who becomes the de facto head of the Chisholms after Hadley's death (in the episode "Death in the Sierras"). In the miniseries, Sandra Griego played Kewedinok, an Indian woman who marries Will.[1] Victoria Racimo replaced her in the 1980 series.

Others cast in the miniseries included Anthony Zerbe as Jimmy Jackson, Billy Drago as Teetontah/Teetonkah and Brian Keith as Andrew Blake. Illinois native Tom Adams was the actor cast as Clay Cummins in the 1980 series, along with 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).[2]

Shortly before his death, Chief Eugene Standingbear, an Oklahoma native, appeared as a medicine man in the episode "Siege".[2]

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.[3]


The first episodes were filmed at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site near La Junta on the Arkansas River in southeastern Colorado.[4]

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 Illinois in 1842 to seek a new life for his three children in Oregon.[5]

Home media

On June 10, 2014, Timeless Media Group released the complete series on DVD in Region 1.[6]


  1. Alex McNeil, Total Television, New York: Penguin Books, 1996, 4th ed., p. 163
  2. "The Chisholms (1980)". IMDB. Retrieved February 25, 2009.
  3. "The Chisholms: Summary". Retrieved February 25, 2009.
  4. "The Chisholms (1979)". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 25, 2009.
  5. "The Oregon Trail (1977)". IMDB. Retrieved February 25, 2009.
  6. TMG Distributes Package Art for 'The Complete Series' on DVD Archived 2014-03-12 at the Wayback Machine

The original mini-series episodes were filmed in Illinois at New Salem State Park near Springfield, and Jubilie State Park near Peoria.

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