‘Bonanza’: Before Becoming ‘Hoss Cartwright,’ Dan Blocker Served in Korea, Was a Sergeant

by Mark Long

For many “Bonanza” fans, Hoss Cartwright, played by Dan Blocker, was their favorite Cartwright brother. Sure, Little Joe was the good-looking one, and Adam was the smart one, but gentle giant Hoss resonated with audiences.

Viewers saw Blocker as the embodiment of this role, but he was much more than it alone. Many people don’t know, for example, that he was a decorated Korean War veteran.

Blocker was born in De Kalb, a small northeast Texas town, in 1928. After attending the Texas Military Institute preparatory school, he eventually ended up at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Tex.

He was a star football player there and graduated in 1950 with a degree in drama in speech. Shortly after that, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

This was during the height of the Korean War, and after training at Fort Dix, La., Blocker was shipped overseas. He served there from December 1951 to August 1952 as an infantry sergeant in F Company, 2nd Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.

Even though Blocker was in Korea less than a year, he distinguished himself in combat, earning a Purple Heart. He also received the National Defense Service Medal, Korean War Service Medal, and Combat Infantryman Badge.

A ‘Bonanza’ in Post-Military Life

Blocker mustered out in 1952 and spent several years teaching public school in Texas and New Mexico. He originally went to Los Angeles to attend graduate school, but started picking up acting jobs here and there in shows such as “Gunsmoke” and “Colt .45.”

His big break came when he was cast in “Bonanza” in 1959, and he played Hoss in 415 episodes across 12 years.

Despite his success, Blocker never went “Hollywood.” In the 1965 interview below with Austin television personality Cactus Pryor, he makes it clear that he’s remained a 100% son of Texas.

Taken Too Young

Blocker died at the age of 43 in 1972 due to complications after gallbladder surgery. In the 1971 interview below with Dallas television journalist Bobbie Wygant, it’s clear he had no inkling of what was to come. He’s already contemplating the inevitable end of “Bonanza” and talks about being a devoted family man, frequently returning to De Kalb to see his mother.

Many actors have played heroic straight shooters on television and in movies. It’s rarer that they’ve done the same in real life. Blocker is one of those exceptions who walked the walk for his country, and his fans thank him for his service.