The High Chaparral
Sam Butler


Whoever it was who coined the phrase "salt of the Earth" must have had High Chaparral foreman, Sam Butler, in mind: honest, forthright and loyal, Sam is a man with firm convictions and a very solid sense of his own self worth. He lives his life according to moral code and a strong work ethic that includes commitment both to the job he has been hired to do, and to the man who has hired him to do it. Respectful, almost self-effacing at times, and soft-spoken, Sam is nonetheless a natural leader with no fuss about him. He is deliberate in thought and reasonable in action, and he runs the Chaparral crew with an almost innate efficiency; intolerant of slackers or trouble makers, but obviously respectful of good men and their abilities. Men follow him, it seems, as much out of trust and respect for these qualities as because he carries the title of foreman. From the moment Buck Cannon meets the soon-to-be-Chaparral-ranch hands in that Tucson saloon, it is apparent that Sam Butler is the man to whom they all look as their leader, a condition that only grows stronger as Sam goes on to become John Cannon's "left arm" and "the left arm of the High Chaparral."

Sam's backstory contains some element of mystery. We do know certain things about his early years: we know that he and his brother, Joe, were orphaned as children and raised by a man named Ben Lynch in a town called San Felipe, "ten miles the other side of the territorial line." (In California?) As a young man, Sam married a Mexican girl named Trinidad and fathered a daughter named Pilar, a union that so angered Lynch that he threw Sam out of his family. The dissension between Lynch and Trinidad's father eventually drove Trini to run away from the marriage, taking their daughter with her, whom Sam never saw again. He only sees his wife one more time, years later, but it is obvious that he still loves her deeply, despite her desertion. He has returned to San Felipe, however, not for her, alone, but to avenge his daughter's murder at the hands of Ben Lynch's son, an episode during which Trinidad, herself, is killed by the same man. We know little else about Sam's life before he came to the High Chaparral, although there are hints that those years might have been spent, at least in part, on the fringes of the law, running with desperadoes like Jelks, and a gang led by a man named Keogh whose killer son once challenges Blue Cannon to a duel.

Most of what we know about Sam Butler is what we see. He is a big man, tall, broad- shouldered and powerful, slow to anger, but not afraid of a good fight, whether in the name of honor or of fun. He is rugged and handsome, with a face as open as the sky and blue eyes that laugh often, but can also ice dangerously when provoked. Highly skilled and capable, he is direct in his expectations, plain in his speech, and perhaps most importantly, genuinely honest in his emotions. His heart is not something he readily hands out, but when Sam Butler does give his heart, or his loyalty, one feels the gift is given fully. It is this quality that lets him continue to love the wife who left him, and to withhold judgment from the man for whom he works, even when that man's actions seem open to question. He honors and respects John Cannon and Cannon's family, and he loves and values his brother and his friends. He is thoughtful about life, and treats it seriously, but this is not to say that Sam does not know how to have a good time. On the contrary, he plays as hard as he works, perhaps even rivaling Buck Cannon, his frequent companion, in his capacity for whiskey and fighting when the work is done.

With his brother, Joe, Sam seems to have a particularly close relationship, springing, perhaps, from the fact that they were orphaned at an early age and thrown back on each other for emotional support. While very much the elder brother, and in many ways the more dominant personality, there is little doubt that Sam considers Joe his equal, and generally turns to him, first of all his companions, for affirmation and support. We rarely see the Butlers disagree, and never seriously.  Their accord seems the product of an almost intuitive understanding of each other and a willingness to talk things out alone together before they face the world.

Sam's relationship with the Cannons also lends insight into his character. While he is most likely to clown with Buck, or let his hair down drinking and carousing in the younger Cannon brother's company, with Blue Cannon, Sam plays a role more like a mentor, patiently offering John's son his advice and guidance, and running interference, when he can, between Blue and Big John. For his part, Blue looks to Sam almost the way he would look to an older brother. With Victoria, Sam is the picture of chivalry, polite and deferential in the best cowboy style, but warm, too, with genuine liking. He respects her as John Cannon's wife, but he also admires her for herself, as a woman of grit and substance. He is protective of her, in danger, but he will not hesitate to hand her a gun, either, trusting her, without hesitation, to keep her head and hold up her end.

But it is with John Cannon where Sam's true colors show best. There is little doubt that Sam's loyalty toward John goes well beyond payday. Sam's relationship with John is born of deep admiration and trust. Sam is always respectful and subordinate - he has a keen sense of his proper place - but he is not afraid to push back, respectfully, on those occasions when John Cannon truly oversteps. The fact that John generally lets him only shows the degree to which Cannon also respects Sam.  Sam Butler seems to be one of the few people who rarely lets John Cannon's bluster get under his skin, preferring to just hunker down and let Cannon blow himself out, as Sam understands he will. John Cannon's faith in, and reliance upon, Sam Butler goes far beyond that of employer/employee.  When Sam draws his pay intending to quit the ranch in "Follow Your Heart", John tells him that he will always have a place at the High Chaparral whenever he might decide to return.   ( By Sheryl Clay)

From "Follow Your Heart"

See the Guide to Character Weight to determine in which episodes Sam Butler had major or minor roles.

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