‘Bonanza’: All of Ben Cartwright’s Deceased Wives All Had Different European Ancestry

by John Jamison
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

By the time we catch up with the Cartwrights on “Bonanza,” none of Ben’s wives are in the picture. Of course, each of his three sons came from different mothers. They have all since passed away, but interestingly, each of Ben Cartwright’s wives claimed a different European nationality.

As the owner of the Ponderosa, Lorne Greene’s Ben Cartwright has made a good life for his sons. But the Cartwright boys and fans alike were curious about their respective mothers. Over the course of “Bonanza,” the show takes its time in revealing details about the former wives of the Cartwright family patriarch.

The first time we get a good look at Ben’s first wife is in 1961. The episode titled “Elizabeth, My Love” from Season 2 of “Bonanza” gives fans a flashback to Ben Cartwright’s days as a sailor. In the episode, we get to see Elizabeth Stoddard, Adam Cartwright’s mother. She is English.

Next, we get a look at Eric “Hoss” Cartwright’s mom. In the episode titled “Inger, My Love” from Season 3 of the show, we get yet another flashback. This time it depicts Ben and Adam’s journey to Virginia City. We see Ben meet his second wife, a Swedish woman named Inger.

Finally, we get to meet Little Joe’s mom, Marie. In the Season 4 episode of “Bonanza” titled “Marie, My Love,” Ben tells the story of how he met the French Creole woman in New Orleans.

The Writer Who Tackled these Episodes for ‘Bonanza’

Lawrence Thomas, prolific writing career aside, wrote only eight total episodes of “Bonanza.” Why? Well, he didn’t really write Westerns. What he did know how to write, however, were relationships.

It fell to him to script the all-important episodes exploring the lives of Ben Cartwright’s former wives. And the story of how they came to be is actually pretty funny. “Bonanza” creator, producer, and writer, David Dortort, told Lawrence that he wanted to do some episodes that showed the relationships between Lorne Greene’s Ben Cartwright and his son’s mothers.

According to IMDB, Thomas said, “Let me do it, I can kill off at least two of them!”

The Australian writer expected his answer to get him tossed off of the show entirely. On the contrary, that’s exactly what Dortort needed from him. So the writer went ahead and wrote the relationship-based episodes despite not having much Western writing experience to his name.

And that lack of Western experience was actually perfect for what “Bonanza” was trying to do. At one point toward the beginning of the show, Ben Cartwright actor Lorne Greene almost walked out because he thought what they were doing was too typical of a TV Western.

“I remember one time after about 17 or 18 shows, I really wanted to get out of the show. I thought the show was not doing what I had told the show was going to be about,” Greene said in a 1983 interview.