O’Donnell Museum Honors Dan Blocker: A Gentle Texas Giant

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Bobby Dan Davis Blocker was born in Texas in 1928. At the time, he was the largest baby to be born in Bowie County (at 14 pounds). Dan Blocker would go on to more claims to fame as you’ll soon find out, which is why a portion of a museum in O’Donnell, Texas, is dedicated to his life and career. You see, Dan Blocker was known as Hoss Cartwright on the TV show “Bonanza,” which ran from 1959 – 1973.

O’Donnell is located south of Lubbock. Blocker’s family moved there from De Kalb to open a general store. Those who knew the actor as a child have said that his character wasn’t far from the real man. They say that growing up, Blocker’s heart was practically as big as the boy himself. His character on “Bonanza,” being that of a gentle giant, was how locals in the town remember him. “O’Donnell was quite a thriving little town when Dan lived here,” explained Doris Conrad, Secretary-Treasurer of the group in charge of maintaining the museum, in an interview with austinchronicle.com. “We had two lumberyards, two drug stores, and two doctors and a dentist back then.” Though its glory days have passed it by, O’Donnell remains a charming Texas small town. The O’Donnell Heritage Museum, which is managed by volunteers and pays homage to the town and to Dan Blocker, is located at the corner of 8th and Doak streets.

Video: YouTube/BonanzaDude553

A YouTube channel featuring clips of the TV show that lives on in reruns shared this clip of Blocker’s highlights as Hoss Cartwright. His journey to fame began when he left O’Donnell in 1940 to enroll in school. Blocker first studied in San Antonio, then went on to Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, and finally Sul Ross State University in Alpine. It was there where he became interested in acting, and he graduated with a degree in speech and drama. Following a teaching stint in Sonora, Blocker moved to Los Angeles, California with his wife, Dolphia, and began working on his doctorate while looking for acting jobs. He has a brief appearance on the show “Gunsmoke” as a blacksmith, and then in 1959, he was cast as Hoss Cartwright, the middle son of Ben Cartwright (played by Lorne Greene) on “Bonanza.” In addition to his work on the show, Blocker was also a co-owner in a chain of steakhouses that went by the same name. But it came to a very tragic end in 1972 when he went to the hospital for surgery on his gall bladder. He developed a blood clot in his lung, and as a result, he passed away at the age of 43. The show was canceled the following year.

After his death, the park in O’Donnell was dedicated in his honor, which is located right next to where his father’s store was situated. At the heart of the park sits a life-sized bust of Blocker as Hoss, done in bronze by artist Glenna Goodacre. And located directly across the street from the park is the O’Donnell Museum. It holds a collection of artifacts which have been donated by area families over the years, along with an exhibit on Blocker’s life.