The Rifleman's Honest Abe Episode: Royal Dano & Charles Cooper Guest Star
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The Rifleman's Honest Abe Episode: Royal Dano & Charles Cooper Guest Star

The Rifleman's Honest Abe debuted on Monday night, November 20, 1961. Royal Dano plays Able "Abe" Lincoln, an emotionally scarred Civil War combat veteran whose impersonation of the late President Lincoln riles an ex-Confederate soldier. Regulars Chuck Connors and Johnny Crawford are also joined in the cast by Charles Cooper, K.T. Stevens and Joe Higgins.

Chuck Connors was the venerable The Rifleman from 1958 to 1963. The 1961 episode "Honest Abe" guest stars Royal Dano as Able "Abe" Lincoln, an emotionally troubled Civil War veteran who pretends he's the 16th President of the United States.

The Rifleman's Honest Abe: Cast & Credits

Michael Morris penned the teleplay for "Honest Abe," with Joseph H. Lewis directing. Regulars, guest stars and supporting players are:

  • Lucas McCain (Chuck Connors)
  • Mark McCain (Johnny Crawford)
  • Able "Abe" Lincoln (Royal Dano)
  • Matt Yordy (Charles Cooper)
  • Emma Lincoln (K.T. Stevens)
  • Nils Swenson (Joe Higgins)
  • Susan (Pam Smith)
  • McKeever (Rex Morgan)
  • Guitarist (Pick Temple)
  • Bartender (Joe Benson)
  • Townsman (Ethan Laidlaw)

L-r: Chuck Connors, Charles Cooper, Royal Dano and Johnny Crawford in "Honest Abe" - ABC-TV

Honest Abe: Episode Synopsis

Lucas McCain and Able "Abe" Lincoln are engaging in a friendly wrestling match. Abe manages to pin Lucas, after which they go inside to celebrate Abe's birthday with Mark McCain and Abe's sister Emma. Abe was emotionally damaged in the Civil War and compensates for his pain by pretending he's Abraham Lincoln, complete with beard, stovepipe hat, frock coat and Mathew Brady photos on his wall.

Abe has a yearning to see North Fork, with he and Lucas going into town. At the saloon, Abe proposes a toast to the Union, with a guitar player striking up a rousing rendition of "Jimmy Crack Corn." Matt Yordy, a surly stranger from Virginia, objects to Abe's presence. He taunts Abe, first telling him he's Robert E. Lee, then John Wilkes Booth and finally Jack Armstrong, the latter of whom is a famous wrestler.

Yordy challenges Abe to a wrestling match, with Abe accidentally breaking his opponent's arm. Abe is remorseful about the incident and apologizes to Yordy. But the ex-Confederate soldier isn't in the forgiving mood, and later rides out to Lucas McCain's ranch five miles outside of North Fork in order to exact his revenge on Lucas' guest.

Honest Abe: Air Date & Network Competition

"Honest Abe" was aired over ABC on Monday night, November 20, 1961, in the 8:30-9 (ET) time slot. Network competition that evening was Window on Main Street (CBS) and The Price Is Right (NBC). The Rifleman was preceded on ABC by another TV western Cheyenne (1955-63) starring Clint Walker.

Honest Abe: Analysis & Review

Although most TV westerns are set in the post-Civil War West, the War Between the States often looms large in story content. In "Honest Abe," the lingering horrors of the war are front and center, with noted character actor Royal Dano (1922-1994) playing a troubled ex-Union soldier named Able "Abe" Lincoln. Able is a combat veteran, deeply scarred by battle who also lost his sweetheart in the conflict. As such, Able makes like he's Honest Abe Lincoln, sporting a beard, stovepipe hat and frock as he relates his "history" to friends and acquaintances.

Although Mark McCain views Abe as "loony," Mark's father Lucas – himself a Union veteran of the war – is more sympathetic. “The war wounded some in strange, unaccountable ways, Mark,” Lucas tells his son.

Charles Cooper (1926-) plays Matt Yordy, the obligatory villain. Yordy is a Virginian and ex-Rebel, who taunts the teetotaling Abe at the saloon. A wrestling match ensues, with Yordy ending up with a broken left arm. The next morning, with his arm in a sling, Yordy rides out to the McCain ranch. Here he confronts Abe, drawing his gun and declaring, "I am a great patriot of the South. You didn't believe me yesterday. But I'm really John Wilkes Booth and I'm here to assassinate you!"

Mark McCain, brandishing the Colt revolver Abe had given him, orders Yordy to put down his gun. Abe inexplicably calls out that Mark's gun is merely a war souvenir with no bullets. As Yordy prepares to fire, Lucas McCain – wielding his trademark .44 Winchester rifle – places two shots near Yordy's feet. Lucas then orders Yordy to get off his ranch.

The Colt revolver, it turns out, had been loaded. Abe wanted to spare Mark the decision of whether to shoot or not, even if it cost Abe his life. "We've just come through a bloody war, Mark, with boys not much older then you finding out whether they could or couldn’t pull a trigger,” Abe says.

The Rifleman almost always had a moral, and "Honest Abe" is no different. When Mark questions whether they're being honest with Mr. Lincoln, Lucas offers up that it's really not a question of honesty, but "more of a matter of kindness and understanding for a fellow human being.”

Some may find "Honest Abe" a strange episode, but the segment ably illustrates the aftermath of war and its lasting effects on those who fought it. In World War I they would have termed Able Lincoln's malady "shell shock," in World War II it would have been called "battle fatigue" and today it would be a clear case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the latter of which affects a number of veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts. 

"Honest Abe" comes from season four and is episode #118 of 168 in the series. Body count: 0.

Top Image

  • Johnny Crawford, left, and Royal Dano in "Honest Abe" - ABC-TV

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

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Comments (3)

My family and I used to watch The Rifleman every week when it came on. Your article reminds me of the good old days of TV.

Like Charlene, I watched it faithfully back in the day and now I watch the reruns on cable whenever I can.

Watched this show faithfully.  I wanted to be Mrs. Lucas McCain!