A Mystery, The Pagosa and Gunsmoke Connection

Doing postings on The Journal brings me to a lot of places looking for information of one sort or another. Although I often find myself out on some trail or similar place, lot of the other places are on the internet. Sometimes I find a bit of info and through it see other paths to look for. I look for article info and also when a site viewer has a question. Sometimes the magic of the internet delivers an entirely new subject on my screen because it has a word  two in common with the subject of interest. The digital universe is a fantastic place for an old coot like me, I would never have dreamed!

I received this query a few days ago:

QUESTION: Great site with lots of fascinating information–thanks! So, here’s my question: I’m now 71 years old and am writing a memoir of my life. Beginning in 1948 when I was 6 years old, my parents brought us to Pagosa Springs on vacation from Texas for about three years. The first year or two, we stayed in a cabin on a farm owned by a Swedish man named Vic Johnson and his wife, perhaps 10-15 miles east of Pagosa Springs. My first question is this: does anybody remember Mr. Johnson and are there any interesting facts, photos, etc about him that I might include. Now for my second question: one of my strong memories is going to buy ice with my Dad and being flabbergasted with the ice being buried inside mounds of sawdust inside the big barn. I read your account of the Cotton ice house, which sounds like the exact place. Was it still in operation in 1948 and are there any facts, photos, etc about it that I might include. I appreciate your help very much!   Name omitted.


The questions had me looking around at events and names from the 1940s and 1950s. A title popped up. It simply said, “Romance and Escape – Pagosa.” Now, with a title like that and the story just a click away, I couldn’t help myself! I found a story about a 1952 radio broadcast with that name. It turns out that Pagosa has some connection with the creation of Gunsmoke, a long running radio and early television series. In the days of black and white television Gunsmoke was a must see!

There is only one Pagosa as far as I know. You will see below that the original scripted episode was “lost.” It was still named Pagosa on the second take, but Pagosa somehow became a desert town. How this all came about is an open question. I judge that someone had experience with Pagosa Springs and was inspired to use the name and setting for a script and, later, the location was changed. Fred Harman was certainly well known in the Hollywood and creative circles at this time and it may be there was connection there.

Fredharman53Fred Harman and Little Beaver, 1953 

If anyone knows more about this please let me know.  


Read the article below and click on the link to play the Pagosa episode.

Escape and Suspense!

Vintage Radio Broadcasts of Dangerous Adventure, Urban Legends,

and Tales of Fear and Trembling

Romance and Escape – Pagosa

Escape’s “Pagosa” is a “lost” episode. It aired on November 30, 1952, but no known recordings of that broadcast have survived.

What we do have, is a recording of “Pagosa” that aired on the CBS program Romance on August 5, 1951. This episode was written by John Meston and produced by Norman MacDonnell, and it, along with the Escape episode “Wild Jack Rhett” were precursers to the Meston/MacDonnell series Gunsmoke (1952-1961).

In John Dunning’s book The Encyclopedia of Old Time Radio, he quotes an interview that Norman MacDonnell gave in 1967 about the creation of Gunsmoke (in 1952):

“We got Walter Brown Newman to come in–one of the better writers in town–we gave him an acetate recording of “Pagosa”, and I believe, Wild Jack Rhett”, and said, this is the style, this is the color, this is the feel.”

Both episodes focused on dialogue and simple sound effects that kept the audiences involved in the action, and that style was brought to Gunsmoke.

Gunsmoke radio In the above quote, MacDonnell is definitely referring to Romance’s version of “Pagosa” since Escape’s version was broadcast months after Gunsmoke went on the air.

So, what about Escape’s version? Unless a script or a recording turns up, we can’t know if Norman MacDonnell made any changes when he brought the story over to Escape. Romance’s version has William Conrad in the lead role and a supporting cast of Escape regulars. It probably wasn’t that different.

Still, we know that Escape’s version would probably have had Ben Wright in the cast, it probably wasn’t as focused on the romantic feelings of the characters, and that they probably tossed in a deadly snake somewhere, just to call it their own. (That’s just a guess.)

Listen to it and decide for yourself.

“Pagosa” starred William Conrad as Jeff Spain. Also appearing were Georgia Ellis, William Wright, Tony Barrett, Lamont Johnson, Tom Holland, Herb Ellis, and Junius Matthews. William Johnstone was the narrator.

Download Romance-Pagosa 510806 0006

(Image of the cast from CBS Radio’s Gunsmoke from Wikipedia)