James Arness took on the role of Matt on Gunsmoke from radio actor William Conrad, which offered a slightly different version of the character


Gunsmoke was an adult Western ensemble that put James Arness’ U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon at the center. He played the character for 20 seasons, starting in 1955 until its surprise cancelation in 1975. However, the creatives behind the scenes had a strong understanding of the American West and the real-life names that lived during that time. An early episode of Gunsmoke featured a real-life stagecoach robber that Matt had on his radar.

‘Gunsmoke’ U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon kept Dodge City safe

Arness took on the role of Matt on Gunsmoke from radio actor William Conrad, which offered a slightly different version of the character. Conrad utilized a voice narration that wasn’t present in Arness’ iteration of the television show. The original version of the character was a bit darker, as Matt was quick to anger and violence.

In the Gunsmoke radio show, Matt made reference to familiar figures in the American West. However, the television version of Dodge City grew apart from the original iteration of the character the further along it went. He certainly didn’t have the dark edge that the radio version had

Gunsmoke Season 1 Episode 19, called “20-20,” picks up when an aging ex-lawman named Troy Carver (Wilton Graff) travels to Dodge City with a dirt farmer seeking revenge on his trail after Troy killed his brother years prior. The ex-lawman’s eyesight is failing, making it difficult for him to defend himself for much longer. Matt decides to help Troy with a plan to give him the best possible chance of a fair fight.

Many Gunsmoke Easter eggs involving Matt are found in the background in his office. The wanted posters told a lot about where the creatives’ minds went when concocting these stories. In “20-20,” there’s one for Black Bart, also known as Charles Boles.

Black Bart wasn’t a character in “20-20,” but his presence is felt in another way. He’s clearly on Matt’s radar, proving his existence in Dodge City and beyond.

Black Bart, or Boles, was a real outlaw, who was born in 1829. He’s from Norfolk, England, but his family immigrated to Jefferson County, New York, when he was only 2 years old. He was the third of 10 children, although he didn’t stick around forever. He joined a couple of his brothers in the California Gold Rush in 1849, but he ultimately threw in the towel and returned back East and got married to Mary Elizabeth Johnson.

Boles fought in the Civil War for the North in the 116th Illionis Volunteer Infantry, where he was injured at the Battle of Vicksburg.

However, he took on the name “Black Bart” after robbing more than 28 stagecoaches, where he occasionally left poems at the site of the crime. Boles was arrested and spent six years in prison, but he disappeared soon after. He was presumed dead in 1888, although there was no record of any cause of death.


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