THE DAKOTAS “A Man Called Ragan.” ABC-TV, Pilot Episode, 23 April 1962. Larry Ward, Chad Everett, Jack Elam, Mike Green. Guest Cast: Arch Johnson, Jeanne Cooper, Lee Van Cleef. Based on a novel by Harry Whittington. Director: Richard C. Sarafian.

   Although The Dakotas is sometimes said to be a spinoff of ABC’s western series Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker, that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Although (as I understand it) this pilot episode ran in Cheyenne’s time slot, so did another ABC western, Bronco, in a “wheel” format, nor did Clint Walker appear in this first Dakotas episode.

   The confusion seems to have been compounded when The Dakotas again took over the same time slot as Cheyenne when the latter was cancelled halfway through the 1962 season. The first episode of The Dakotas’ first season was aired on January 7, 1963. (I was not watching. I was out celebrating my birthday.)

   The leading character of both the pilot is Frank Ragan, an ex-marshal in the Dakotas territory played by little known Frank Ward, although he was on dozens of TV shows over his career as an actor. With a patch over one eye, when he rides into the small town of Stark City, he has already had enough of his former job and has resigned. One last thing he must do, however, is to learn what happened to a good friend who lived there before his death, his homestead burned to the ground.

   We the viewer are way ahead of him as soon as Ben Stark (Arch Johnson) the area’s most powerful rancher — and the man who owns the town — and his men make an appearance. A showdown is inevitable, and Frank Ragan is just the man for the job.

   But the showdown must come at the end of this episode, and along the way the men who will become Ragan’s deputies in the rest of the series must be introduced:

   Jack Elam plays J. D. Smith, a gunman for hire who changes sides when he sees how the cards are being played; Chad Everett is Ben Stark’s adopted son Del, who is beginning to learn that his father has serious feet of clay; while Mike Green is the town’s sheriff, Vance Porter, a cowardly man totally under Ben Stark’s thumb.

   It isn’t a gang of men totally dedicated to law and order, in other words, but the series lasted for nineteen episodes before being cancelled with the reputation of being the most violent TV series on the air. I’d go along with that. When Ragan and his men ride out of town at the show’s conclusion, the only person left behind in the town is saloon owner Marti Stevens (Jeanne Cooper). Everyone else is dead. (It was a very small town, but it has been made even smaller.)

   Critically, I think the dialogue was a little too stagey, as if this were a tryout for Playhouse 90, say, and of the regular cast, the only one worth watching is Jack Elam. He steals every scene he’s in.