Gunsmoke's Doc actually grew up in an authentic tiny Old Western town in Kansas
Milburn Stone's authentic upbringing helped set the tone for Gunsmoke.
The actor Milburn Stone is best known for playing Doc Adams on Gunsmoke. He appeared throughout the entire series run, a hefty brag in TV history, but many viewers likely don't know that Stone was born in 1904 in a small town in Kansas much like Dodge City.
Today, the population in Burrton, Kansas, Stone's hometown, is just over 1,000 people, but a census from 1910 shows when Stone was a young boy, there were fewer than 700 folks total in his whole town.
On set, James Arness remembers Stone talking about his hometown and that this casual talk actually evolved to have a positive impact on the authenticity of the show. Arness said in an interview with the Archive of American Television,
"I remember [Stone] telling us that when he was a boy that he and his pals would be playing around in the streets of this little town and these old-timers would be sitting up on the boardwalk, whittling away and all and talking about the very times when Dodge City and other frontier towns were operating in. So he had that in his mind, and boy, he wasn’t going to let anything get through that he didn’t feel was authentic."
In that way, Arness credits Stone for setting the tone on Gunsmoke early on. The older actor's true Western roots helped translate the hit radio drama for TV, and he became an informal consultant based on his life experience growing up in an old Western town in Kansas. Arness said, "He didn’t hesitate to speak up and say, ‘Well that wouldn’t work because it’s not the way it would actually have been.’ Turned out to be a great help. A major contribution to the early formative years.”
But that wasn't the only way Milburn Stone molded Gunsmoke right from the start. Arness credits Stone as an inspiration for Stone's dedication to the show, "He was a guy that had a whole lot to do with getting us off to a good start because No. 1, he was a very dedicated actor, serious about his work and all. And No. 2, he had been born and raised in a little town in Western Kansas, back in the early part of the century." In that way, you could say Stone showed Arness what it meant to truly commit to Gunsmoke's high quality, which is likely part of the reason why the show famously remained on air for 20 seasons.
On Gunsmoke, the character of Doc is a fan favorite for his vital role, as well as his mild-mannered barbs exchanged with Festus and Chester and his dependable moral compass. That's why an early episode "Doc's Revenge" was a shock to the system for many viewers. In it, a stranger comes to town and Doc, who's normally the one dressing the wounds, went straight for his gun instead. Fortunately, Marshal Matt Dillon talks him down before the shootout can conclude. Arness described his character's underlying motive throughout the series: “He hated violence, particularly shooting. He hated to kill a man.” It was this aspect of Dillon's nature that stopped Doc from pulling the trigger.
Then later in the episode, the same man turns up with a bullet in his shoulder by the episode's end, it throws in question everything we knew about Doc up until then, but fortunately the Doc we know and love comes around in the end. Stone delivers this line as a salve at the end of the thrilling episode, a quote that sums up Doc's Old West mantra: "I carried hate in my heart for him, all these years. And that’s just not good for a man."
So whether it's the actor consulting on the ways of the actual Old West or the character reacting to events in an episode, Gunsmoke taught us that you can always count on Doc for a healthy read on things. Every time. Thanks, Doc!