Gunsmoke's Milligan TV Episode: Harry Morgan & Joseph Campanella Guest Star
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Gunsmoke's Milligan TV Episode: Harry Morgan & Joseph Campanella Guest Star

Gunsmoke's Milligan debuted on Monday night, November 6, 1972. Harry Morgan guest stars as John Milligan, a hard luck farmer who is ostracized by many in Dodge City following his "back shooting" of outlaw Jack Norcross. Regulars James Arness, Milburn Stone, Amanda Black and Ken Curtis are also joined in the cast by Lynn Carlin, Sorrell Booke, Patti Cohoon and Joseph Campanella.

Gunsmoke (1955-75) still reigns as television's longest-running western. The 1972 episode "Milligan" guest stars Harry Morgan as John Milligan, a farmer who kills a notorious outlaw while on posse duty.

Gunsmoke's Milligan: Cast & Credits

Ron Bishop wrote the teleplay for "Milligan," with Bernard McEveety directing the action. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness)
  • Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake)
  • Doc Adams (Milburn Stone)
  • Festus Haggen (Ken Curtis)
  • Newly O'Brian (Buck Taylor)
  • John Milligan (Harry Morgan)
  • Janet Milligan (Lynn Carlin)
  • Gerald Pandy (Sorrell Booke)
  • Wendy Milligan (Patti Cohoon)
  • Mattis (Scott Walker)
  • Jack Norcross (Joseph Campanella)
  • Bob Power (John Pickard)
  • Reeves (Lew Brown)
  • Potter (Read Morgan)
  • Logan (Gene Tyburn)
  • Looter (Robert Swan)
  • Dofeny (Robert Macaulay)
  • Sam Noonan (Glenn Strange)
  • Nathan Burke (Ted Jordan)
  • Tom (Todd Bass)
  • Girl (Samee Lee Jones)
  • Bank Robber (Sam Lilley)
  • Man in Bank (Hank Robinson)

Harry Morgan (1915-2011) - CBS-TV

Milligan: Episode Synopsis

Farmer John Milligan is turned down for a loan at the Dodge City Bank. Coming in right behind him is outlaw Jack Norcross and his gang, who relieve the bank of some its funds. On his way out Norcross tosses some greenbacks to Milligan, shouting out, "Pray for rain, sodbuster!"

Deputy U.S. marshal Festus Haggen organizes a posse to pursue the gang. Joining them is the hapless John Milligan, who brings along his big revolver. One segment of the posse easily rounds up several members of Norcross' gang. While separated from the others, Milligan comes across Norcross tending to one of his wounded comrades in a shack, who suddenly dies. Spotting Milligan in the window, Norcross goes for his gun, with Milligan closing his eyes and jerking off several rounds, killing the outlaw.

Festus and the rest of the posse hear the gunfire and arrive at the shack. After inspecting the bodies, Nathan Burke pronounces that both men were shot in the back.

Milligan's killing of Norcross, who enjoyed a dual reputation as both a killer and a Robin Hood-type figure, doesn't sit well with many of Dodge City's citizens. Milligan is later assaulted by men wearing hoods, his daughter Wendy is ridiculed at school ("Jack, Jack, never coming back! Milligan, killin' again, shot him in the back!") and once more the unfortunate Milligan is turned down for a bank loan.

Milligan: Air Date & Network Competition

"Milligan" was aired over CBS on Monday night, November 6, 1972, in the 8-9 (ET) time slot. Network competition that evening was The Rookies (ABC) and Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (NBC).

Milligan: Analysis & Review

Harry Morgan (1915-2011), who later found fame on Dragnet and M*A*S*H, appeared in four episodes of Gunsmoke. In this segment Morgan plays John Milligan, a struggling "sodbuster" who is unable to secure a bank loan to tide him over during a drought. Against his wife's wishes, Milligan joins a posse in pursuit of the mythical outlaw Jack Norcross, who with his gang has just robbed the Dodge City Bank.

Milligan finds his 15 minutes of fame (or infamy) when he stumbles across Norcross holed up in a shack. When Norcross goes for his gun hanging nearby, Milligan reacts. "I closed my eyes, pulled the trigger. It wasn't no Wyatt Earp," Milligan recounts later. Following the killing, a shaken Milligan retreats from the shack where he throws up outside.

Norcross had enjoyed a certain affection with the people of Kansas, with posse members commenting that he only stole from the hated banks and insurance companies and even helped out a widow or two. Milligan is quickly branded a back shooter, with his life becoming a living hell.

Morgan gives an outstanding performance as Milligan, who endures a beating from hooded assailants, appeals to the local schoolteacher to stop the harassment of his daughter Wendy and even journeys into town to take on the men who had hung Wendy's beloved cat Jim Grim. You have to admire Milligan's spunk, as he walks into the Bull's Head Saloon and begins to wail away at the animal killers, later aided in his fight by big Matt Dillon. Kudos to Gunsmoke's stuntmen, who stage a wonderful brawl at the seedy Bull's Head, featuring Milligan tossed through a window in one memorable scene.

Milligan is able to collect a $500 reward on Norcross and plans to leave Dodge City. But when the local schoolteacher Gerald Pandy (ably played by Sorrell Booke) arranges a visit from some of his contrite students, who present Wendy with a new kitten, Milligan and family decide to say. 

"Milligan" hails from Gunsmoke's 18th season and is episode #572 of 635 in the series.

Top Image

  • Gunsmoke's Dodge City TV logo - CBS-TV

Copyright © 2012 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.

Related keywords: hbo child of rage
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Comments (3)

Excellent work, William.

Gunsmoke was a great show

Nicely done, William. I must have seen this episode of Gunsmoke a dozen times, but I remember Morgan better for his work on "Dragnet."

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