Episodes 15-16 of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman highlight a recurring plot device: the phony prejudice that's replaced by equally phony tolerance after an hour.
Heroes (episode 15): Sully and Colleen visit the Cheyenne. Tantoo Cardinal appears as Cloud Dancing's wife Snow Bird. Colleen is practicing to be a doctor, and Snow Bird cheerily lets her treat a cut. In Dr. Quinn's happy land, Indians and whites love each other's ways (except when the plot calls for conflict).
Snow Bird notes their son, Walks on Cloud (Zahn McClarnon), who happens to be in love (thus "walking on clouds"). Yeah, that's a believable Indian name...not. Who are Snow Bird's other children: Cloud Nine and Walks on a Beach? If Walks on Cloud "gets lucky," will he change his name to Seventh Heaven?
Colleen spends a night in a mine shaft to entice Sully to rescue her. She gets frostbite in her hands but not in her face or toes. Again, there are no other ill effects. Who knew that the Rocky Mountains were so temperate at night?
Hank the saloon owner calls Grace the black restaurant owner "darkie witch" after he gets sick eating her food. He almost calls her "nigger" before Grace's sweetheart Robert E. punches him. Until that point, only Dr. Quinn makes a halfhearted effort to support Grace.
So the townspeople are tolerant enough to let Grace run her own business, one that they patronize wholeheartedly. But at the first sign of trouble, they abandon her cafe as if she's a leper. When the trouble's over, they return as if she's a five-star chef. The era of deeming her a dangerous "darkie witch" ends as quickly as it began.
The Operation (episode 16): Sully tells Dr. Quinn's boy Brian a Cheyenne legend about an eagle. Brian pretends he's flying, jumps from a tree, and suffers a blinding injury. Dr. Quinn momentarily blames Sully for filling Brian's head with Cheyenne "stories."
Meanwhile, the townspeople want to build a schoolhouse. Why not ask Robert E., the black blacksmith with construction experience, to help? He wouldn't be interested, the townspeople decide, because blacks stick to their own kind. "They" have their own church, which is really a shack, on the other side of town. When Dr. Quinn implies the townspeople are prejudiced, they react hotly, exclaiming, "We're all abolitionists."
Planning the schoolhouse goes badly and finally they call upon Robert E., who draws up workable plans. They raise the structure quickly while Dr. Quinn operates on Brian. He's cured in time to see the finished building.
The hour's up so everyone's happy again. But there's no word on whether the town will let black children attend the school.
For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.