‘Bonanza’: What Does the Show’s Name Mean?

by John Jamison

Classic TV Western “Bonanza” went down as one of the most successful shows of all time. It enjoyed a 14 season run from 1959 to 1973 and was easily the most popular show of its day. It’s fitting, then, that the show’s title reflected the veritable goldmine that it eventually became.

“Bonanza” is a mining term that literally refers to a deposit of silver ore. In fact, the term is often used to reference one specific mining boom that came about in the mid-1800s. The Comstock Lode, one of the biggest mining developments in the history of America, was discovered in the mountains near the real town of Virginia City, Nevada.

Fans of the show “Bonanza” will recognize Virginia City as the home of the Cartwright family. Indeed, they were a fictional family who lived in an actual historically significant mining town. In that regard, the show is not unlike “Gunsmoke,” which revolved around fictional characters inhabiting the real-life town of Dodge City, Kansas.

Of course, the literal translation of “bonanza” from Spanish to English yields the word “prosperity.” It’s an appropriate term given the good fortune the Cartwright’s enjoyed on the Ponderosa Ranch. The family itself wasn’t rich in silver ore. But it was prosperous in terms of land and livestock. And much of the action around the Cartwright’s was driven by the mining boom taking place in Virginia City.

The Legendary Success of Classic Western ‘Bonanza’

Everything about the show was a bonanza. From the title down to the impact it had on television and society as a whole, “Bonanza” was one of a kind.

The main cast, which featured Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker, and Pernell Roberts, became hugely famous for its efforts. Behind “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza” holds the title for one of the longest-lasting Western TV shows in history. Beyond its endurance, however, was its sheer popularity.

“Bonanza” absolutely dominated the 1960s. The show maintained a place in the top 10 of all television shows for 9 of its 14 seasons. Further, it held the number one spot for three straight seasons from 1964 to 1967.

In the face of the show’s massive success, “Bonanza” star Lorne Greene, the actor behind Cartwright family patriarch Ben Cartwright, insisted that they couldn’t have done it alone. In an interview on “Today with Steve Liebmann and Sue Kellaway” in the 1980s, he said as much.

“And we had a tremendous amount of help from so many people who came along the way that the show couldn’t help but become successful,” Greene said. “We had so many people helping us.”

In the end, “Bonanza” finally tapped out after the death of iconic Big Hoss Cartwright actor Dan Blocker in 1972. The show went on for another season. But they’d already mined it for everything it was worth.