Show Type: Western
First Telecast: September 18, 1957
Last Telecast: September 5, 1965
Major Seth Adams (1957-1961)..... Ward Bond
Flint McCullough (1957-1962)..... Robert Horton
Bill Hawks..... Terry Wilson
Charlie Wooster..... Frank McGrath
Duke Shannon (1961-1964)..... Scott Miller
Christopher Hale (1961-1965)..... John McIntire
Barnaby West (1963-1965)..... Michael Burns
Cooper Smith (1963-1965)..... Robert Fuller
Wagon Train was one of the most popular Western series during the hayday - the late 50's and early 60's - of TV Westerns. It was big in territory (the whole American West), big in cast (several top name guests) and big in format (60 minutes most seasons, 90 minutes in one).
The setting was a California-bound wagon train in the post-Civil War days, starting out each season from "St. Joe" - St. Joseph, Missouri, and making its way west until reaching California in the spring. In between there were endless adventures on the Indian-controlled Great Plains, the endless deserts and the towering passes of the Rocky Mountains. But what made Wagon Train work were the characters who passed in and out of its episodes. The program was actually a series of character studies, each week revolving around a different member of the party or a different person encountered by the train along the way. Some were young adventurers, some were scoundrels and some were God-fearin' settlers. The regulars in the cast, or the wagon trains' "staff," were seen in co-starring or secondary roles most of the time.
Wagon Train had only two wagonmasters in its 8-year run. The first was fatherly Major Adams. When Ward Bond died the previous November in the middle of shooting the 1960-61 season's episodes, he was replaced in the spring of 1961 by Chris Hale. Flint McCullough was the original frontier scout who rode out ahead to clear the way and make peace with often unfriendly Indians. When Robert Horton left the show because he was "fed up" with Westerns, McCullough was replaced by Duke Shannon and young Cooper Smith. Bill Hawks stayed for the entire series run as the assistant wagonmaster and lead wagon driver, as did grizzled old Charlie Wooster as the cook. Barnaby West joined the regular cast during the last couple of seasons as a 13-year-old orphaned boy found heading west along the trail on his own.
Those were the continuing cast members, but the regular infusion of guest stars and the focus on different personalities in each episode made Wagon Train seem more like a new Western film every week than a TV show. During its second year, it was in the top ten. After three years of placing a close second to Gunsmoke, it became the number one program on television in the 1961-1962 season.
Reruns of the episodes featuring Ward Bond aired as part of the ABC weekday daytime lineup under the title Major Adams - Trailmaster from September 1963 to September 1965 and on Sunday afternoons from January 1963 to May 1964.