Gunslingers! Cattle rustlers! Card sharks and thieves! Outlaws of all types found haven in the largely lawless Wild West, where justice was served frontier style, with or without a makeshift trial, and grudges were settled at the barrel end of a gun, or at the loop end of a rope.
Not in Dodge City. Not on Marshal Matt Dillon’s watch.
Originally, a radio show, Gunsmoke came to television at a time when Westerns were written for a very young audience. Gunsmoke was the first TV Western that appealed to adult viewers, depicting life as it might have been in a frontier town.
Dodge City is a typical town of the late 1800s, with its share of saloon brawls, family arguments,
bank robberies and Indian threats. There to keep the citizens safe, and the town as peaceful as possible is Marshal Matt Dillon. He’s not your average frontier lawman. Instead of reaching for his gun as a first response, he solves crimes and disputes using judgement, keen observation, and chasing down clues. He catches outlaws with cunning and skill. But when criminals give him no choice, he doesn’t back down. He’s quick to fight back and quick on the draw. He is measured, fair, honest, and dedicated to enforcing the law in an often lawless environment.
Matt has few friends, but those in his circle are among his closest confidants. Indeed, Matt’s trusted friends and colleagues help his cause for law and order. Among them is Kitty Russell, owner of the Long Branch Saloon. If anyone thinks they can get over on Miss Kitty because she’s “just another pretty face,” they are sadly mistaken. She is as tough as she is lovely, a businesswoman who takes no guff, but a better friend you couldn’t find. She does have a soft spot in her heart, and it belongs to Matt.
In early episodes, up to season 9, Chester Goode, lives in Dodge City and works as Matt’s high-strung assistant. He has a distinct limp, presumably from an old war wound. Though many refer to him as a deputy, he wears no badge or gun. Technically, his duties are to help out around the jail, clean the office, run errands and make coffee. However, because he is brave and determined, he is always there to back up Matt apprehending outlaws.
After Chester departs, Festus Haggen, who has been in and out of Dodge City over time, joins forces with Matt as an official deputy. A Tennessee mountain man, Festus comes from a family of questionable repute. Indeed, even he has sometimes been on the wrong side of the law. Festus and Matt meet while chasing down the same outlaw—Blackjack Haggen, the uncle who left Fergus, Festus’ twin brother, for dead after a bank robbery went afoul.
Another of Matt’s trusted friends is Dr. Galen Adams, the town physician. “Doc” and Matt often exchange witty banter and tease each other good-naturedly, as close friends do. You’ll often hear Doc kid Matt about how easy Matt’s job is. In addition to his surgical and medical skills (he doubles as the town veterinarian) Doc is a good listener, and will offer his opinion and advice when Matt is stuck on a case. Always wearing a stylish vest and tie, Doc’s little black bag contains not only the requisite tools of his profession, but also a bible.
Among the town’s tradesmen, in the first three years of the series, look for half-Comanche blacksmith and a good friend to Festus, Quint Asper, played by a very young Burt Reynolds.