Mark of Guilt

Teleplay: Ward Hawkins  Story: Frank Telford
Director: Leon Benson
Air Date: 15 December 1968
Guest Stars: Dick Foran (Ed Gittner), Alan Bergmann (Sam Gordon), Victor Sen Yung (Hop Sing), Lou Frizzell (Tom Jackson), Sam Greene (Emo Younger), Michael Vandever (Davis), Gordon Dilworth (Judge), Ray Teal (Sheriff), Bert Holland (Burns)

Joe Cartwright getting arrested for murder (again) and going on trial (again) is the basic premise of this episode.  Implicated in the death of Emo Younger, a man who is portrayed to the viewers as cruel especially in the light of the incidence that supposedly leads to his death.

Hop Sing has just returned to Virginia City from visiting one of his (many) cousins in Sacramento and goes over to the livery stable to hire a horse.  At the stable, he runs into Younger and his friend Davis who seem to be just hanging around for no real purpose.  Younger has a grudge against the Cartwrights (most of the bad guys do) and decides the best way to get revenge is to cut Hop Sing’s queue (pigtail) off.  For Hop Sing this is humiliating and something that brings shame as he believes that getting his pigtail cut off will dishonour his ancestor.

The queue hairstyle and its meaning as depicted in the episode were not quite true…

For several hundred years, between the 1600s and the early 20th century, men in China wore their hair in what is called a queue.  In this hairstyle, the front and sides are shaved, and the rest of the hair is gathered up and plaited into a long braid that hangs down the back.

Han Chinese cited both the Ming Dynasty’s “System of Rites and Music” and the teachings of Confucius, who wrote that people inherited their hair from their ancestors and ought not to damage (cut) it.

The Manchus cut short much of the discussion on queue-shaving by instituting a “Lose your hair or lose your head” policy; refusal to shave one’s hair into a queue was treason against the emperor, punishable by death.

Most Han Chinese men acquiesced to the queue rule, rather than risking decapitation.  Even Chinese working overseas, in places like the American west, maintained their queues – after all, they planned to return home once they had made their fortunes in the gold mines or on the railroad, so they needed to keep their hair long.

(Source: What is a Queue?)

For whatever reason Hop Sing wanted to keep his hair, losing it shamed him greatly.  When Joe finds Hop Sing mourning the loss of his hair, he tells him that he will get it back.

Meanwhile, Younger and Davis have a falling out over a horse that Younger has sold.  Davis had an emotional attachment to the horse and is angry that Younger sold it.  This scene gives the impression that there is someone else who would like to see Younger get his just desserts.  By the time Joe arrives, Davis is gone and Younger is home alone painting some furniture – which becomes significant later on.

After a fight that leaves Younger barely conscious, Joe leaves with Hop Sing’s pigtail and paint on his hands (one of the marks of guilt this episode refers to).  Shortly after re-joining Hoss, Candy, and Hop Sing, Joe is accused of murder by Davis who happens to notice the paint on Joe’s hand.  Protesting his innocence, Joe returns to Younger’s home with Hoss, while Davis heads into town to get the sheriff.  After making sure that Younger is dead, Joe finds out that the table he had put his hand during the fight has now been painted over.  The circumstantial evidence is enough for Roy Coffee to arrest Joe for the murder of Younger.

While Joe is “enjoying” another stay in the Virginia City Jail, Hoss and Candy try their best to help find evidence that will set Joe free.  However, this task seems hopeless even to the lawyers involved in the case.  The prosecuting lawyer offers Joe a plea bargain and his defence lawyer thinks he is guilty.  Joe eventually pleads with Hoss to take over as his lawyer…

“Doesn’t make any difference. I’d rather have you handling it and believing in me than have the best lawyer in town that thinks I’m guilty.”

On a visit to the jail to give Joe some pie, Hop Sing sees the evidence and the murder weapon – a 2×4 board and notices something.  He takes a copy of the fingerprint or a chop as Hop Sing calls it and heads back to the Ponderosa.  After some confusion (Candy and Hoss), Hop Sing explains how each man’s chop is different (and that the Chinese have known this for centuries) and that the one on the board is not Joe’s.

Hoss tries to explain it to Joe’s defence lawyer but he (like many others during this time) believes that it is just an old Chinese superstition and has no precedent in an American court.  This doesn’t dissuade Hoss and after convincing the judge during the trial, both Hoss and Hop Sing are able to prove that Joe is innocent.

Ben is absent for the majority of the episode (he is in St. Louis) but he manages to be back in time for the celebratory dinner which sees Hop Sing as the guest of honour.  Other interesting points in this episode are…

  • Hop Sing is (in his own words) a very good Baptist
  • Joe is not a great cook
  • Everybody got chop and all chop is different

Mark of Guilt is an episode that even though it uses a tried and true plot device (a Cartwright is arrested for a crime and has to go on trial) it does try to use a unique way of proving innocence.  This episode also gives Victor Sen Yung (Hop Sing) one of the very few episodes where he has more to do in his role than just serve or cook for the Cartwrights.

If you wish to discuss or comment on any points made in this article please click here (you will be taken to our Forums where you need to be a member to post).