Country of origin United States
First episode date 1 October 1978
Theme music composer John Addison
Original language(s) English
|Written by James A. Michener (Novel)
(Part 5, 7, 9 & 11)
(Part 2, 6 & 12)
(Part 3, 4 & 11)|
Directed by Harry Falk (Part 8, 9 & 10) Paul Krasny (Part 3, 4 & 5) Bernard McEveety (Part 11) Virgil W. Vogel (Part 1, 2, 6, 7 & 12)
Starring Michael Ansara Raymond Burr Richard Chamberlain Robert Conrad Richard Crenna Timothy Dalton Andy Griffith Mark Harmon Gregory Harrison David Janssen Alex Karras Brian Keith Stephen McHattie, Lois Nettleton Adrienne La Russa Lynn Redgrave Pernell Roberts Robert Vaughn Dennis Weaver Anthony Zerbe Stephanie Zimbalist
Awards Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Long Form – Multi-part
Cast Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad, Barbara Carrera, Raymond Burr, Timothy Dalton
Centennial is a 12-episode American television miniseries, that aired on NBC, from October 1978 to February 1979. It was based on the novel of the same name by James A. Michener, and was produced by John Wilder.
- Only the Rocks Live Forever
- The Yellow Apron
- The Wagon and the Elephant
- For as Long as the Waters Flow
- The Massacre
- The Longhorns
- The Shepherds
- The Storm
- The Crime
- The Winds of Fortune
- The Winds of Death
- The Scream of Eagles
- Location and filming
- Critical reception
- Historical basis
- Differences between the book and miniseries
The miniseries follows the history of the area of the fictional town of Centennial, Colorado, from 1795 to the 1970s. Its cast included Michael Ansara, Raymond Burr, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad, Barbara Carrera, Richard Crenna, Timothy Dalton, Sharon Gless, Andy Griffith, Mark Harmon, Gregory Harrison, David Janssen, Alex Karras, Brian Keith, Sally Kellerman, Stephen McHattie, Lois Nettleton, Donald Pleasence, Adrienne La Russa, Lynn Redgrave, Clive Revill, Pernell Roberts, Robert Vaughn, Dennis Weaver, Anthony Zerbe and Stephanie Zimbalist.
The miniseries was one of the longest (26½ hours, including commercials) and most ambitious television projects ever attempted at the time. It had a budget of US$25 million, employed four directors and five cinematographers, and featured over 100 speaking parts spanning 26 hours of television viewing time. Centennial was released on DVD on July 29, 2008.
Only the Rocks Live Forever
The story begins in the mid-18th century among the Native American tribes of what is now northern Colorado. A young Arapaho boy named Lame Beaver grows up during this period. He becomes a great warrior after a single-handed raid on the Comanche brings horses to the Arapaho for the first time, enabling them to become part of the great plains horse culture. By the end of the 18th century, Lame Beaver's band is camped along the South Platte River, and they begin to encounter white trappers for the first time.
One such trapper is Pasquinel (Robert Conrad), a French Canadian/Metis fur trader who has gone out to the Rocky Mountains to trade for beaver pelts. Pasquinel and Lame Beaver (Michael Ansara) end up confronting each other in the dead of night, with knives ready. But Pasquinel puts down his blade in an act of trust, and the two become good friends. Lame Beaver comes to see great courage and honor within this white man, and so trades pelts with him for French trinkets. However, the beaver pelts that Pasquinel acquired from the Arapaho, as well as his remaining trade goods, are stolen by members of the Pawnee tribe. The French trader had felt himself safe after meeting with their chief. He is saved by Cheyenne warriors, and manages to track down the rogue Pawnee just as they are about to trade his pelts. The traders on their keelboat kill the treacherous Pawnee, but also turn on the plucky Pasquinel. He is left for dead on the riverbank.
Pasquinel manages to return to St. Louis, then part of the Spanish Empire, with a Pawnee stone arrowhead in his spine. Lacking resources, he is introduced by a surgeon to Herman Bockweiss (Raymond Burr), a Bavarian immigrant merchant and silversmith, and goes to him for backing. Pasquinel later marries Bockweiss's daughter Lise (Sally Kellerman), who is attracted to him even though he keeps leaving for long periods in order to trade furs in unknown territory. The marriage is questionable from the start, as Pasquinel is rumored to have wives in various cities across North America. His financing secured, Pasquinel once again heads west and encounters Alexander McKeag (Richard Chamberlain), a Scottish-born trapper captured by the Pawnee. He gives the Pawnee chief a gun and arranges to free the red-bearded Scot. He also gives the chief some of Bockweiss' fine silver. The delighted Pawnee chief guarantees Pasquinel and McKeag safe travel through his land, and the two white men become partners and lifelong friends.
On their way back to Lame Beaver's Arapaho village, Pasquinel spots the same pirates who robbed him a year before. Using McKeag as bait, he lures the pirates in and fires at them. Pawnee warriors aid him as well, killing the rest of the pirates in retribution for their braves' deaths. McKeag is angered that Pasquinel would use such underhanded tactics, but it's just business for the voyageur. In a later encounter, a couple of Utes "coup" the white traders. Pasquinel warns McKeag not to harm them, and just fires over their assailant's heads to scare them off. McKeag tries shooting them and is lanced in the shoulder with a spear. Pasquinel manages to get the wounded McKeag to Lame Beaver's village, where the Scotsman recovers from his injuries. McKeag falls in love with Lame Beaver's beautiful daughter Clay Basket (Barbara Carrera), and she returns the Scotsman's love.
Pasquinel and McKeag eventually leave for St. Louis with their furs. Clay Basket wants to marry Alexander McKeag upon his return, but her father Lame Beaver says she should marry Pasquinel instead. Lame Beaver feels that Clay Basket needs a strong husband who will care for her and keep her safe. Back in St. Louis, Pasquinel and McKeag are confronted by the brother of one of the dead river pirates, who accuses them of killing his kin. Pasquinel feigns no involvement, but ends up getting into a bar brawl with the man. McKeag also fights with the rest of the man's friends.
Meanwhile, Lame Beaver discovers a strange rock in a creek in the mountains. It is actually gold, but the Arapaho chief knows nothing of its value. He makes it into a bullet for his new rifle. Pasquinel and his new bride Lise set up a proper household in St. Louis, but the fur trader feels out of place with the aristocratic society in which she lives. The citizens of St. Louis regard Indians as inferior, and hold that they must be assimilated into the white world, a view opposed by the more knowledgeable voyageur. He and McKeag eventually pack up and head westward to Lame Beaver's village. In the meantime, Lame Beaver leads his braves in a raid against the Pawnee, killing their chief using one of the golden bullets. But the Pawnee soon rally and the brave Arapaho is slain. Clay Basket is devastated when, with her widowed mother forsaken and her own fiance Pasquinel gone, the rest of the tribe ransacks their teepee. The old woman has to live out in the cold because no male family member is around to take her in.
When Pasquinel and McKeag return to the region, they learn about the Pawnee chief's death. A native warrior shows them the bullet that killed his chief; the two traders immediately recognize the object as solid gold. They realize that the bullet means there is a local vein of gold that only Lame Beaver knew of. The two then arrive in Lame Beaver's camp, only to discover his body ceremoniously exposed along the river, as well as corpse of his widow who died of exposure in the night. Clay Basket tells Pasquinel that she is supposed to marry him. McKeag has his doubts, as his partner is already married in St. Louis. Pasquinel decrees that he will follow Lame Beaver's wishes and take her though. McKeag senses that Pasquinel is merely using the marriage as an opportunity to further his trapping career and to get at the gold. Their partnership and friendship begins to splinter.
The Yellow Apron
Clay Basket gives birth to two sons, Jacques (Stephen McHattie) and Marcel (Kario Salem) Pasquinel. But their father leaves them for long periods of time, because he must live in two worlds. One with his Indian bride, and the other with Lise in St. Louis. McKeag hates the situation, but bears with it and cares for the boys like an uncle. But Jacques grows contemptuous of McKeag's presence, sensing something between McKeag and his mother.
Despite McKeag's disapproval, Pasquinel eventually agrees to take his Indian family to St. Louis. While at an army fort, a group of drunken soldiers confront Pasquinel, insulting the trader and his family. During the ensuing scuffle young Jacques' face is slashed by one of the soldier's blades. A deep, painful physical scar results, fueling the spiritual rage that Jacques will always feels towards the whites and army posts. Afterwards, Pasquinel tells McKeag to return west without him, as he is staying in St. Louis for the time being. He returns to Lise and reveals the fact that he has a second wife who is Arapaho. Meanwhile, Kiowas attack McKeag, Clay Basket, and the boys at their camp. McKeag fends them off, but Jacques is shot in the hand by a stray arrow, further scarring him. Clay Basket fears that young Jacques will be psychologically damaged and left a scarred outcast, since both worlds he comes from reject him.
Pasquinel lives happily for a time with Lise; he and Lise now have a radiant young daughter, Lisette, the pride of her grandfather Herman Bockweiss. Pasquinel feels once again like an outcast, especially when rumors of his Indian wife spread; there are additional rumors of other wives in New Orleans, Montreal, and Detroit. In Colorado, McKeag teaches the Pasquinel brothers fur trapping, a risky move that might infuriate the local natives. Pasquinel eventually returns to his Indian family, despite the objections of Lise. The Frenchman isn't happy with their fur catch, and berates his eldest son for not following McKeag's instructions for setting the beaver traps. Jacques lashes out with his knife, starting a fight with the Scotsman. This incident is the final straw for McKeag. He can no longer take the stress of tolerating Pasquinel's double life, having to suppress his own love for Clay Basket, and having to deal with Jacques animosity and contempt. He ends his partnership with Pasquinel and leaves, noting that Jacques is just "twisted" and will kill them all.
McKeag begins to live as a hermit, trapping alone in the mountains. Pasquinel continues to search for Lame Beaver's gold, and finds out that Clay Basket is pregnant with a girl. McKeag's loneliness gets the best of him, and he becomes half-mad from the isolation. It's a particularly hard winter, and his crude cabin is buried in snow. In the Spring, 3 passing trappers find McKeag and tell him of a rendezvous of mountain menon the Green River. He joins them, and finds Indians and traders of all races and nationalities having fun and taking part in various events. He is given the "Yellow Apron," part of a dance event where one mountain man wears the apron, performs a dance in front of the gathering, and passes it on. With the help of a Scottish bagpiper, McKeag performs a traditional Scottish dance for a cheering crowd at the Rendezvous.
In the middle of the Rendezvous, McKeag reunites with Pasquinel. The two old partners happily dance and resolve their old differences. As their friendship reignites with this wild and joyous Scottish dance, Pasquinel collapses in agony. It is the old arrowhead acting up, so McKeag and other trappers undertake a dangerous operation to remove it. They succeed, and McKeag gives the ever-vengeful Jacques the arrowhead. But later on, when the healing Pasquinel asks McKeag to rejoin him so that he won't be alone, McKeag refuses and leaves once again.
Some years later in St. Louis McKeag runs into Lise and her daughter, who is now nearly grown. He reveals to Lise that Clay Basket is the same woman McKeag had told Lise he loved, decades earlier at Lise & Pasquinel's wedding. The townswoman convinces McKeag to confront Pasquinel about this fact, since it is the reason their friendship-partnership split so long ago. McKeag follows Lise's advice, and goes looking for Pasquinel to tell him of his love for Clay Basket. The brothers Marcel and Jacques have left on their own, while Pasquinel has taken Clay Basket and his newest daughter Lucinda (Cristina Raines) up into the mountains. In a valley on a small creek, the aged Pasquinel finally finds Lame Beaver's original vein of gold. He joyously plucks gold out of the water, having at last found what he has sought half his life. It is at this moment that McKeag arrives, as do Pawnee braves. The Pawnee shoot Pasquinel with multiple arrows and kill him. The heartbroken Clay Basket and McKeag can only watch, and then hold the dying voyageur in their arms.
McKeag vows to care for Clay Basket and Lucinda. Clay Basket then reaffirms her love for McKeag, as he does for her. McKeag adopts Lucinda as his own, and leads his new family out of the mountainous regions. The vein of gold lies lost and forgotten, its location dying with Pasquinel's last breath.
The Wagon and the Elephant
In 1845 Levi Zendt (Gregory Harrison) is the restless youngest brother in a wealthy German-American Mennonite family from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Levi is falsely accused of attempting to sexually assault a fellow Mennonite girl. Refusing to repent, he is shunned by his fellow Mennonites -- including his own family.
Zendt decides to flee Pennsylvania for the Oregon country and purchases a well-used Conestoga wagon. Before he leaves he goes to the local orphanage and picks up Elly Zahm (Stephanie Zimbalist), a teenage orphan who has always been smitten with Zendt. Elly witnessed the "assault" through a window and is one of the few people in the county who knows that Zendt is innocent. The pair head west, marrying along the way. Upon reaching Cairo, Illinois the former Mennonite is forced to sell his prized draft horses. It is explained to him that the beasts would never survive the trail across the Great Plains -- oxen are much better suited, despite being slower.
Making their way to St. Louis by steamboat, they join a wagon train heading over the Oregon Trail for the Pacific guided by the unsavory mountain man Sam Purchas (Donald Pleasence). In St. Louis they meet English writer Oliver Seccombe (Timothy Dalton) and Army Captain Maxwell Mercy (Chad Everett). Seccombe is a romantic looking for adventure and writing a book trying to prove the theory that the Native American tribes descend from Welshmen. Mercy is an army negotiator sent to forge treaties with the tribes of the west. He is well-meaning but underestimates the demand Americans have for western lands and the animosity the plains tribes have for all whites. Mercy is married to Lisette (Karen Carlson), Pasquinel's daughter from St. Louis, and unsuccessfully tries to use this relationship to try to gain the Pasquinel brothers' favor.
After stopping at a frontier fort and meeting Alexander McKeag the Zendts continue into the Rocky Mountains. They are warned that Purchas is a scoundrel and likely to cause them grief. When he tries to rape Elly several days later, the newlyweds decide to turn back. They return to the fort defeated, their wagon in shambles. McKeag offers to partner with the Zendts in a trading post near the South Platte River that had been the primary site of the Arapaho village of Lame Beaver. Elly also realizes that she has become pregnant. They agree to stay and settle but before they can reach the site Elly is bitten by a rattlesnake and dies.
Devastated by his wife's death, Zendt heads into the mountains and lives alone as a hermit in the cabin once occupied by McKeag.
For as Long as the Waters Flow
Lucinda McKeag (Cristina Raines), now a grown woman, takes pity on Zendt and goes to his cabin to nurse him back to health. The couple begins a romantic relationship and return to McKeag's trading post. The former Mennonite proposes marriage, but only if his wife learns to read so she can understand the Bible, as is customary among his people. The young Metis woman goes to live with her father's widow in St. Louis and attends school there. Despite a romantic fling with a young Army officer, she decides to return to the West.
Zendt marries Lucinda and takes over the trading post when McKeag dies. Hans Brumbaugh (Alex Karras), a Russian-German (Wolgadeutsche) immigrant seeking his fortune, passes through the trading post. While panning in a stream near Zendt's trading post, he rediscovers the gold vein that Lame Beaver and Pasquinel found long before. Brumbaugh is attacked by a gold-crazed fellow prospector and slays the man. He becomes so distraught about the killing that he leaves the claim without taking any of the cursed gold. He purchases land from Zendt and becomes a farmer. Using irrigation techniques, he turns marginal land into rich cropland and becomes such a success he is given the nickname of "Potatoes Brumbaugh." He will later switch to sugar beets and become wealthy.
Maxwell Mercy invites the Plains tribes to a peace conference at Fort Laramie. There he forges a treaty guaranteeing safe passage to settlers on the Oregon Trail in exchange for legal recognition of tribal land claims. Wiser heads on both sides however know that the treaty will merely delay the inevitable war between the two sides.
By the 1860s, the Civil War has broken out in the east and the Army sends most of its troops back east to fight in the war. The local tribes take advantage of the lack of a strong military presence in the territory to redress past grievances and raid white settlements. The tribes are led by the Pasquinel brothers. A recent Colorado settler named Frank Skimmerhorn (Richard Crenna) forms a volunteer militia to deal with the tribes. Skimmerhorn, a survivor of tribal wars in Minnesota, is a charismatic but mentally unbalanced leader who has a pathological hatred of all Native Americans. He leads an attack on a band of peaceful unarmed Arapaho ordering the slaughter of everyone in the camp including women and children. Captain John McIntosh (Mark Harmon), a young officer under Skimmerhorn's command, refuses to join in the massacre and is court martialed for insubordination. At the trial, graphic testimony from a young soldier turns public opinion against Skimmerhorn. However, by manipulating the facts, Skimmerhorn is able to regain favor with the people, culminating with his capture and summary execution of Jake Pasquinel. Seeing no hope, Mike Pasquinel is convinced by the Zendts to surrender to the Regular Army in Denver where, in theory at least, he will receive a fair trial. As they are marching to the Army's command headquarters waving white flags Skimmerhorn (who is giving an interview to a local newspaper editor) shoots Mike in the back killing him in cold blood. Public opinion is then firmly turned against Skimmerhorn. Maxwell Mercy, outraged at his brothers-in law's murders, challenges Skimmerhorn to a duel and nearly kills him only to be stopped by Levi Zendt. Disgraced and rejected by his son John, Skimmerhorn leaves Colorado.
Oliver Seccombe returns to the area as an agent of several wealthy British investors led by Earl Venneford of Wye who want to start a cattle ranch. By claiming watering holes under the Homestead Act and utilizing the open range, they can monopolize thousands of square miles with a very small investment. The ranch would eventually control nearly 6,000,000 acres (20,000 km2), an area nearly the size of Vermont.
He hires John Skimmerhorn (Cliff De Young), son of the disgraced militia colonel, to acquire longhorn cattle in Texas and drive them to Colorado. For the cattle drive, the young Skimmerhorn hires several cowboys, including the experienced trail boss R.J. Poteet (Dennis Weaver) and young cow hand Jim Lloyd (played by Michael LeClair as a teen during this episode and by William Atherton as the older Lloyd). At first Skimmerhorn encounters resistance because of his father's actions with the Indians, but he distances himself from his father's shadow and quickly earns the respect of the cowhands. The epic cattle drive across the tractless Llano Estacado is successful and the new ranch, named Venneford, becomes one of the largest ranches in the west. In 1876, Colorado becomes a state and the small community that has grown up around Zendt's trading post is renamed "Centennial" in honor of the American centennial.
Seccombe stays on to manage the ranch and with John Skimmerhorn as foreman and Jim Lloyd as a regular ranch hand. Lloyd falls in love with Levi Zendt's beautiful but wild daughter Clemma (Adrienne Larussa). Clemma however merely toys with Jim. Charlotte Buckland (Lynn Redgrave), the daughter of one of Venneford's wealthy British investors, comes to Colorado to find adventure. Clemma leaves town leaving Jim heartbroken. Charlotte falls in love with Seccombe and the two are married.
A range war develops between the cattle ranchers led by Seccombe, farmers led by Hans Brumbaugh, and sheep herders led by new settler Messmore Garrett (Clint Ritchie). New town sheriff Axel Dumire (Brian Keith) tries to settle the conflict peacefully but it soon escalates into violence. Oliver Seccombe, angered by threats to his interests, engages the services of a gang of outlaws to kill Brumbaugh, Garrett and other leaders of the farmers and shepherds. Jim Lloyd and John Skimmerhorn find themselves caught between sides in the war. They are cowboys but are also sympathetic to the plight of the farmers and shepherds and refuse to believe that Seccombe is behind the cold blooded killings. Brumbaugh and Garrett both survive assassination attempts but several farmers and shepherds are killed in the violence. Eventually the outlaws are ambushed by a group of vigilantes led by Brumbaugh and Jim Lloyd. The sheriff is able to restore order but several gang members escape vowing vengeance.
Seccombe proves to be a poor businessman with questionable morals and the finances of the ranch are eventually called into question by the Venneford's British investors. They dispatch Finlay Perkin (Clive Revill), a dour Scottish accountant, to audit Venneford's books. Seccombe has been secretly selling off ranch cattle to fund his activities. Perkin soon realizes that Seccombe is skimming money after seeing the combination of thousands of missing cattle and Seccombe's palatial new ranch house, evidence of his profligate spending. Seccombe's crimes are covered over however when a terrible blizzard hits the region, killing many of the ranch's cattle and thereby hiding the losses incurred by Seccombe's embezzlement. Levi Zendt dies in an accident, leaving Lucinda and their two grown children Clemma and Martin.
The blizzard saves Seccombe from formal legal charges but he is still compelled to resign in disgrace and turn over ranch operations to John Skimmerhorn. The fraud accusations and the large loss of cattle combine to take a toll on Seccombe's health and he commits suicide leaving Charlotte a widow. Mervin Wendell (Anthony Zerbe), his wife Maude (Lois Nettleton), and young son Philip (Doug McKeon) come to town. The Wendells are ostensibly itinerant actors but in reality they are charlatans and con-artists working their way across the new railroad towns one step ahead of the law. Their favorite con is called the "badger game". The con works on the local pastor and the Wendells reap large blackmail proceeds. Their plan turns sour when they try it on a worldwise businessman, Soren Sorenson (Sandy McPeak). He recognizes their trick, too late, and threatens to expose them. Wendell attacks him. They struggle and Sorenson is killed by Maude Wendell. While looking through his belongings, they find a large fortune in cash that Sorenson was going to use to finance a real estate purchase. Philip hides the body in a subterranean cave along the riverbank. They keep the money but realize that they cannot spend it as it will expose their guilt.
The Winds of Fortune
The widowed Charlotte Buckland Seccombe travels to England briefly but returns to Venneford after inheriting a majority interest in the ranch. She falls in love with Jim Lloyd, now ranch foreman, but their romance nearly falls apart when Clemma Zendt returns and Jim breaks off his engagement with Charlotte. Charlotte resolves to fight for Jim and goes to Clemma and blackmails her into leaving town—or she will use all her resources to expose Clemma's activities during her time away, which include alcoholism, prostitution, fraud, and a lengthy prison term. Clemma gets on the next train to Chicago, and Jim and Charlotte reconcile and wed.
Sheriff Dumire has suspected the Wendells of shady activities since their arrival and questions them about the missing businessman. He hounds the Wendells but they won't crack and without a body the sheriff can do nothing. The Wendells' young son Philip admires the sheriff and has no respect for his father. He wants to tell him the truth but cannot bring himself to betray his own flesh and blood. The sheriff is killed by remnants of the gang hired to drive the farmers out in the range war, and Philip begins to reveal the secret only as Dumire dies. With the sheriff out of the picture, Mervin and Maude Wendell are now free from legal suspicion. He charms a railroad land agent and begins planting the seeds of a future real estate empire.
The Winds of Death
By the turn of the 20th century, Mervin Wendell has grown rich selling marginal land to naive immigrants and easterners for dryland farming, lending on the land at extortion rates then foreclosing and reselling the land at a profit. Though the secret of his family's success still haunts the now grown up Philip (Morgan Paull), he continues the family real estate business often mercilessly foreclosing on unsuccessful farmers. Among those are young Iowans Earl and Alice Grebe (Claude Jarman, Jr. and Julie Sommars). Despite warnings from Hans Brumbaugh and Jim Lloyd, the Grebes settle on the drylands of the prairie and take out a mortgage with Mervin Wendell. This gamble on marginal land soon turns disastrous as the Dust Bowl years of the 1920s and 1930s and a freefall in wheat prices after World War I set in. The Grebes fall behind in their mortgage and Wendell threatens foreclosure. Dust storms kill the Grebe's son causing an emotionally distraught Alice to go insane and stab several of her remaining children to death. Enraged, Earl kills Alice then kills himself.
The shrinking of the prairie and the closing of the open range leave Venneford Ranch a shadow of its former glory. Still, the ranch is large and successful and Charlotte uses her wealth and clout to defend Hispanic victims of local bigotry. Beeley Garrett (Alan Vint), Messmore’s son, marries Jim and Charlotte Lloyd’s daughter and takes over control of the Venneford when Jim dies.
The Scream of Eagles
By the 1970s, the two leading citizens in town are Paul Garrett (David Janssen), the current owner of Venneford Ranch, and Morgan Wendell (Robert Vaughn). Both men are in their 50s, but any similarity ends there. Garrett is thoughtful, introspective, and interested in preserving the natural beauty of Colorado for future generations. He is Beeley Garrett's son as well as Charlotte and Jim Lloyd's grandson. He is also a descendant of the Garretts, Levi Zendt, Pasquinel, and Lame Beaver. Morgan is Philip's son who has inherited the family real estate empire as well as their propensity for self-interest. He is a naked opportunist looking to advance his own personal and financial interests at any cost.
Professor Lew Vernor (Andy Griffith) and writer Sidney Enderman (Sharon Gless) arrive in town to do research on the history of Centennial. Vernor goes to Paul Garrett to learn the history of the region. Later while exploring the town Vernor discovers a washed-out cave with human remains on the Wendells' property. Morgan, recognizing the scene from his father's tales, orders Vernor out and hides the evidence of the century-old murder that made his family wealthy.
Wendell is a candidate for the new statewide office of Commissioner of Resources, an elected office that will balance economic growth with environmental and historical preservation. Wendell is running on a platform that emphasizes economic growth. Paul Garrett and other civic leaders hope for a more balanced approach that preserves the traditional Colorado way of life. While telling Vernor and Enderman the history of Centennial (Garrett's voice narrates the miniseries), he is persuaded to run against Wendell in the election.
During the election, Wendell runs a dirty campaign and smears Garrett by any means possible. He plays the race card, pointing out the widower Garrett plans to marry a young Hispanic woman. In the end, Garrett appears to win the election, though the final outcome is never actually revealed.
Location and filming
The novel places the town at the junction of the South Platte River and the Cache la Poudre River, which would place it roughly halfway between the Colorado towns of Greeley and Kersey. This is consistent with Michener's description of the town's location;  no real town exists in this area, however. This location would place the spot of the fictional town in central Weld County on the High Plains about 25 miles (40 km) east of the base of the Rockies. Author James A. Michener lived in Greeley during the late 1930s and was familiar with the area. Michener used a variety of source material for his fictional town taken from various areas in eastern Colorado, and Centennial is not meant to represent a single settlement. There is a city called Centennial, Colorado, but it did not exist until 2001 and its location and history are not at all similar in any way to the town described in either the book or miniseries.
Principal filming occurred in 1978. There were numerous filming locations in several parts of the United States. Colorado filming locations included Greeley , the Pawnee National Grasslands, Denver, Central City, Orchard, Bent's Old Fort National Monument and the Rocky Mountain National Park. Several of the mountain men era scenes were filmed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The scenes representing St. Louis in the late 18th and early 19th century were filmed in Bracken County, Kentucky. The White Hall State Historic Site in Richmond, Kentucky served as the Bockweiss mansion. Scenes representing the Zendt farm and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, were filmed in and around Coshocton, Ohio.
The ranch house and surrounding buildings used for the Venneford Ranch house was the Highlands Ranch Mansion (pictured) in Highlands Ranch, which ironically is located near the real town of Centennial, Colorado. Years later the surrounding property was developed for housing; one of the streets in the development was named Venneford Ranch Road (by the Mission Viejo Company).
Nominated for several awards, including a Best Actor Golden Globe for Chamberlain and Best Television Series Golden Globe Drama in 1979.
The Pasquinel character bears similarities to Jacques LaRamee, a French-Canadian, courier de bois, fur trapper who explored the region, of the North Platte River, in southern Wyoming, in the early 19th century. During the episode "The Yellow Apron", Pasquinel tells his son Jake that he was named after his good friend and early trapping partner, "Jacques LaRamee". The characters, Jacques and Michel, the renegade, "Pasquinel brothers", the sons, of Pasquinel and Clay Basket, are loosely-based, on the four, half-breed sons, of trader, William Bent, of Old Bent's Fort, near present-day La Junta, Colorado.
The character of Indian hater and religious fanatic Colonel Frank Skimmerhorn appears to be loosely based on John Chivington, a disgraced ex-Methodist minister who led the infamous Sand Creek massacre in Kiowa County, Colorado in 1864. Skimmerhorn's remark during the massacre, "nits make lice," is a direct quote by Chivington. The miniseries however seems to imply that the Skimmerhorn character is a Mormon since he refers to the Arapaho as "Lamanites", a term found in Mormon theology, to refer to Indians, but not in Protestant or Roman Catholic doctrine. Captain John McIntosh's (Major Mercy in the novel) role in the incident and subsequent trial appears to be loosely based on Silas Soule.
The range war depicted in the series is similar in many respects to the 1892 Johnson County War in Wyoming. The scene where Nate Person, Bufe Coker, and Fat Laura are murdered by hired killers, the Pettis brothers, bears similarity to the lynching of Ellen "Cattle Kate" Watson with the Oliver Seccombe character taking a role similar to that of Albert John Bothwell. The character of Hans "Potato" Brumbaugh appears to be loosely based on the Colorado historical figure Rufus "Potato" Clark, a failed gold prospector who turned to agriculture and became a pioneer in irrigation. Like the character in Centennial, Clark grew wealthy by growing potatoes near Littleton, eventually switching to sugar beets and controlling more than 20,000 acres (80 km2).
Despite the name and location, the city of Centennial, Colorado was founded in 2001 and is not based on the novel.
Differences between the book and miniseries
Although Michener began his novel in prehistory, the series itself begins with elements from Chapter 4 of the book, "The Many Coups of Lame Beaver." The novel devotes an entire section to Kurt Brumbaugh's development of Central Beet company; the miniseries, however, makes only passing reference to it. The Wendells use the badger game to blackmail the town pastor out of his house in the miniseries, but in the book they get the house from a local businessman. In the miniseries, Morgan Wendell tries to cover up his family's shady history, but in the book he speaks openly about the murder and his father's admiration of the sheriff to the author- who in turn agrees to publish the facts of the killing after the election. Paul Garrett is in his 50s and is Jim and Charlotte Lloyd's grandson in the miniseries, but he is in his early 40s in the novel and is Jim and Charlotte's great-grandson. The miniseries skips a generation for the sake of simplicity. This skipped generation would have revealed that Paul Garrett is also a descendant of Maxwell & Lisette Mercy, Levi & Lucinda Zendt, and John Skimmerhorn (son of Colonel Skimmerhorn).
There is no election pitting Paul Garrett against Morgan Wendell in the novel. Wendell is elected Commissioner of Resources, and Garrett reluctantly accepts his offer to be his principal deputy. The novel also portrays Morgan Wendell as a more reasonable and balanced man than what is depicted in the miniseries. It is he, not Paul Garrett, who makes the reference to Warren G. Harding as the anti-standard by which all politicians should be judged.