The High Chaparral

Previous Episode

Third Season
Plot and Character Highlights

Next Episode

Joe Butler acting as foreman

Jelks convincing Joe to hire him as a ranch hand

Mitchell Ryan as Jelks

3.73  Jelks                       Joe, John
Joe, foreman of the Cannon Ranch, threatens to quit over John Cannon's mistrust of a new hired hand but later realizes that John's suspicions were well-founded.
Written by Walter Black         Directed by Don Richardson

Story Line:  In need of new help for an upcoming cattle drive, Joe hires drifter Jelks, whose attitude and actions are questioned by the boss. Dissention erupts between John and his foreman over the new man, who inadvertently solves their differences by proving one of them wrong.

Guest Stars: Don Melvin as Hendricks, Henry Wills as Murph, Mitchell Ryan as Jelks.

Character Highlights:  This is probably Joe Butler's strongest episode of the series.  Much of the episode revolves around his relationship with John as he takes on the role of foreman in his brother Sam's absence.  But it also shows his interactions with Buck, Mano, Blue, and Pedro.  Includes humorous scenes in the beginning where the crew is pushing him into the role of interim foreman.  When John is reluctant to cooperate with the crew on the need for a foreman it is Victoria as usual, who talks him into.  While he is reticent at first to take on the lead role, Joe proves he can go toe to toe with John once he is in a management position.  They clash several times as they work out who is in charge of what but always reconcile.  Excellent showdown scene when John, Buck, Mano, Blue, and Pedro are trying to gain the release of Victoria.  It is Joe who saves the day in the end.  

Complete Episode Synopsis:  Sam Butler has left the High Chaparral, and although it is unclear where he has gone or why, or even if he will ever return, one thing is abundantly obvious to the remaining ranch hands - John Cannon cannot run his ranch without an able foreman. Trying to be everywhere at once, involving himself in every detail and satisfied with nothing, John is driving his family crazy and his men to mutiny. In desperation, Manolito calls a meeting with Buck, Blue and the ranch hands to try to rectify the situation. And the boys all agree, their problem is the lack of a foreman, but who should fill the role? Nobody wants the responsibility. Through a process of elimination, though, they finally settle upon the obvious: Joe Butler, Sam's brother. After all, he knows the ranch as well as any of them, he's well qualified, and well respected by the other men. Joe doesn't seem to want the job, though, and he's even less interested in trying to break the news to Big John, but the men have made up their minds.

John, predictably, is not overjoyed to learn that his men have "elected" a new foreman behind his back. He's resistant until Victoria endorses the idea, telling him he needs the help and Joe, a trusted friend who has been with them from the very beginning, is the perfect choice. It is not until she admits to John that he has been impossible to live with since Sam's departure, though, that John finally relents and agrees to appoint Joe as the new Chaparral foreman. At first, things go very well. Joe steps into the position with gusto, not letting even Buck and Blue goldbrick on him, and successfully puts the needs of the ranch before his personal friendships. John is pleased. He's expecting a new herd to be delivered in a week, and he needs things running smoothly. Joe reminds him that they'll need to hire more men, and John asks him to pick up the money to pay for the herd while he's in Tucson. Three thousand dollars is a lot of money to keep at the ranch, Joe points out, but John is not worried. He does caution Joe not to settle for just anyone when he's hiring men, though, and Joe, taking this as a comment on his abilities, gets his back up a little. Startled by this challenge, John backs down immediately.

As Joe rides toward Tucson, somewhere south of him, a lone man is racing from pursuit. He manages to elude the Mexican rurales who chase him by swimming his horse across a border stream into Arizona, and heads north. He arrives in Tucson to hear a few of the locals discussion Joe Butler's hiring scheme, and also the saddlebags full of money Joe has with him. The man goes inside, and asks Joe for a job. Joe looks shocked to see him. It seems he knows the man, and a moment later the stranger, who's name is Jelks, reminds him of the days they all ran together, him, Joe and Sam, with the law right behind him. He admits he's been bad, but he asks for a chance, same as Joe got from John Cannon. Joe is hesitant, suspecting that Jelks has not changed, but he's also swayed by their past friendship, and agrees to give him a try.

Jelks doesn't work out very well, right from the start; he's lazy and a liar, and when John catches him sleeping in the shade while the other men work, it's up to Joe to read him out, putting him on notice that he's got one chance to straighten out or he's fired. Joe sends him off to Twin Peaks to look for strays, but Jelks has no intention of following orders. Instead, he rides back to the ranch, telling Victoria some story about not feeling well. Victoria, suspecting nothing untoward, invites him in to help her hang a picture, and Jelks uses the opportunity to scout out the ranch safe, where he knows John has put the money Joe Butler carried home. He's still there when John returns home, and tells John some other lie about a broken stirrup. John neither believes or trusts him. Later that evening, he tells Joe he wants Jelks fired. Joe feels he has no cause, and when John insists, Joe takes offense and quits in anger. But John is not about to lose a man who has been with him for so long. Later that evening he goes down to the bunkhouse to talk it out. Though he believes Joe has made a mistake in hiring Jelks, he also admits that he made a mistake, too, in trying to tell Joe how to do his job. The two men are reconciled, to the relief of both.

The trouble is far from over, though. The new herd has arrived, and every hand is busy. Too busy to keep an eye on one individual man. When Jelks leaves the herd, nobody notices. He rides back to the High Chaparral, knowing Victoria is alone, and takes her hostage awaiting John's return since she insists she cannot open the safe. When Joe finds him missing, he races back to the ranch, too, but is forced to allow himself to be captured, since Victoria is already in danger. Although Joe knows the combination to the safe, he claims ignorance, hoping to buy them time. Jelks forces Victoria to tie him up, and they wait for John together in the deserted bunkhouse. When John and the others arrive, John turns the money over with little argument, but Jelks refuse to turn Victoria loose, intending to keep her as a hostage. As John argues with him, Joe, in the bunkhouse behind them, continues to struggle against his bonds. He gets himself free, finally, and strikes Jelks down from behind. John rushes in to drag Victoria to safety, and the others race in to help Joe. Joe just hands them the money, he wants to talk to Jelks alone. And Jelks tries to take full advantage of the situation. He plays on what he hopes are Joe's sympathies, begging Joe to let him go, for old time's sake. For a moment, Joe seems to relent. He's merely playing with the man, though, as Jelks had played with him, and knocks him flat.

The next day, the herd is delivered successfully, and Joe suggests they need a man to replace Jelks. When John decides that Joe should handle it, Joe is suspicious; after all, it was his mistake with Jelks that almost brought disaster. John agrees, but he also points out that the first mistake was his, when he brought so much money to the ranch in the first place. He figures that put the two of them just about even. Joe just hopes they can keep it that way.  (Synopsis by Sheryl Clay)

Much of this material, including the Story Line descriptions, comes from The High Chaparral Press Kit released in 1971. The Character Highlights were written by Charlotte Lehan.  The Episode Synopses were written by members of the HC Discussion Group and are attributed at the end of each one.
Especially good portrayals of these characters

Return to Season Three Directory

Return to Home/Contents