Wagon Train
Also known as
  • Major Adams, Trailmaster
  • Trailmaster
Theme music composer
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons8
No. of episodes284 (list of episodes)
Executive producers
  • Howard Christie
  • Richard Lewis
  • Howard Christie
  • Richard Lewis
  • Frederick Shorr
Running time
  • 60 minutes (1957–63; 1964–65)
  • 90 minutes (1963–64)
Production companies
Original release
  • NBC (1957–62)
  • ABC (1962–65)
ReleaseSeptember 18, 1957 (1957-09-18) –
May 2, 1965 (1965-05-02)

Wagon Train is an American Western television series that aired for eight seasons, first on the NBC television network (1957–1962) and then on ABC (1962–1965). Wagon Train debuted on September 18, 1957 and reached the top of the Nielsen ratings. It is the fictional adventure story of a large westbound wagon train through the American frontier from Missouri to California. Its format attracted famous guest stars for each episode appearing as travelers or residents of the settlements that the regular cast encountered.[1] The show initially starred supporting film actor Ward Bond as the wagon master (replaced after his death in 1960 by John McIntire) and Robert Horton as the scout (eventually replaced by Robert Fuller).

The series was inspired by the 1950 film Wagon Master[2] and the 1930 early widescreen film The Big Trail, both featuring Bond.

The series influenced the development of Star Trek, pitched as "Wagon Train to the stars" and launched in 1966.


Robert Horton and Ward Bond
Robert Horton as Flint McCullough
Robert Fuller as Cooper Smith
John McIntire as Chris Hale
1962 cast. Top: John McIntire, Terry Wilson. Bottom: Scott Miller, Frank McGrath.
Back row: Robert Fuller, John McIntire, Terry Wilson. Front row: Michael Burns, Frank McGrath.

The series chronicles the adventures of a wagon train from St. Joseph, Missouri, across the plains of the Midwestern United States and the Rocky Mountains to Sacramento, California. It features the trials of the series regulars, who conducted the train through the American West.

Episodes revolve around the stories of guest characters portraying members of the massive wagon train or encountered by it. Many starring roles were played by already famous actors such as Ernest Borgnine, Bette Davis, Jane Wyman, Ronald Reagan, Lee Marvin, and Joseph Cotten. Episode titles routinely emphasize the guest characters, such as "The Willy Moran Story" and "The Echo Pass Story".

As a favor to Ward Bond, film director John Ford joined the show to direct a 1960 segment titled "The Colter Craven Story", which includes many members of the "John Ford Stock Company", momentarily featuring John Wayne speaking from the shadows and billed in the credits as "Michael Morris".[3]


The regular cast includes:

In the first four seasons Ward Bond was billed above Robert Horton in the opening credits. In season five Horton rotated top billing with relative newcomer John McIntire, a practice which subsequently continued with McIntire and Robert Fuller rotating top billing from episode to episode when Fuller joined the series in the seventh season.

During the sixth season, Horton had left and Fuller had not yet replaced him, so McIntire carried the show with the supporting cast. Neither Bond nor McIntire, both veterans of dozens of supporting roles in movies, routinely had a leading role in theatrical films, although Bond did in at least one B-picture. Rivals Bond and Horton frequently quarreled on the set, an extensively publicized development at the time, while their characters disputed within the episodes.[5] According to Scott Eyman in his biography of John Wayne, Bond's jealousy of Horton was fueled by Horton receiving more fan mail. Eyman stated Bond would try to limit Horton's screen time and interfere with any good lines Horton might be given in the scripts. They eventually reconciled shortly before Bond's death.[5]

Guest stars

Guest stars Dan Duryea and Jane Wyman with John McIntire, 1962
Carolyn Jones in a 1961 appearance
Ann Sheridan in "The Mavis Grant Story", 1962
Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr. and Ward Bond in John Ford's feature film, Wagon Master (1950), one of the primary cinematic inspirations for the series. Ford dressed Bond identically to this, with the black hat and checkered shirt, in the Wagon Train episode that Ford later directed titled "The Coulter Craven Story" featuring many regulars from Ford films, including John Wayne.

Theme music

The first season theme "Wagon Train" was written by Henri René and Bob Russell, and lyrics were not used. The theme was conducted by Revue musical director Stanley Wilson. In the second season, a new more modern sounding theme was introduced. "(Roll Along) Wagon Train" was written by Sammy Fain and Jack Brooks and sung by Johnny O'Neill. About midway through the second season this was replaced with an instrumental version by Stanley Wilson. In the third season a more traditional sounding score was introduced. "Wagons Ho!" was written and conducted by Jerome Moross, who adapted it from a passage of music he had written for the 1959 film The Jayhawkers. This theme would last through the series' run and is the most remembered Wagon Train theme. Stanley Wilson re-recorded "Wagons Ho!" when the series went to color in 1963, then an abbreviated version of the 1963 re-recorded theme was used for the final season when it returned to black-and-white.[11]


Main article: List of Wagon Train episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast airedNetwork
139September 18, 1957 (1957-09-18)June 25, 1958 (1958-06-25)NBC2327.7
238October 1, 1958 (1958-10-01)June 24, 1959 (1959-06-24)236.1
337September 30, 1959 (1959-09-30)June 22, 1960 (1960-06-22)238.4
438September 28, 1960 (1960-09-28)June 21, 1961 (1961-06-21)234.2
537September 7, 1961 (1961-09-07)June 13, 1962 (1962-06-13)132.1
637September 19, 1962 (1962-09-19)June 5, 1963 (1963-06-05)ABC2522.0
732September 16, 1963 (1963-09-16)April 27, 1964 (1964-04-27)N/AN/A
826September 20, 1964 (1964-09-20)May 2, 1965 (1965-05-02)N/AN/A


Taking inspiration from John Ford's 1950 film Wagon Master, Revue Productions conceived of a semi-anthology series with an emphasis on strong storytelling and quality direction with weekly guest stars known for their work in motion pictures and other media but retaining a regular cast of characters to provide a touchstone for audiences.

At an initial budget of US$100,000 (equivalent to $1,085,000 in 2023) per segment, Wagon Train episodes cost over 40% more than most contemporary hour-long Westerns, allowing it to film on location in California's San Fernando Valley and afford its expensive guest stars.[12]


Original broadcast

The show ran for 284 episodes over 8 seasons: the first aired on September 18, 1957, and the final segment was broadcast on May 2, 1965.

The series aired for most of its run as hour-long episodes in black-and-white except for five episodes during the 1961-62 season which were produced and broadcast in color to promote NBC's parent company RCA's color television sets. After its move to ABC the show mirrored "The Virginian" on NBC by filming in color and expanding to 90 minutes. In its final and eighth season and due to declining ratings,the show returned to its hour format and was filmed in black and white.


When the original Ward Bond episodes were broadcast weekday afternoons on ABC beginning in 1963, a new series title "Seth Adams Trailmaster" was given to the episode to avoid viewer confusion because Wagon Train was still on the ABC evening schedule. A new theme song, the "Trailmaster Theme", written and conducted by Stanley Wilson, was used for these syndicated episodes. The later episodes from the John McIntire era were syndicated under the simpler title "Trailmaster." All episodes eventually reverted to their original titling after the series left the air. The 75-minute episodes were usually syndicated separately, sometimes shown on local stations as "movies."[citation needed]

One episode very seldom shown is "Princess of the Lost Tribe" (season 4 episode 6, shown 6 Nov 1960), in which Flint McCullough happens upon the hiding place of descendants of the Aztec Indians - now moved up from central Mexico to the vicinity of Arizona, with Raymond Massey playing their king, Montezuma IX, speaking English with flawless educated diction.

Home media

In 2004 Alpha Video released three episodes of Wagon Train on DVD. Four years later Timeless Media Group released a DVD selection consisting of 12 episodes on three discs. Also in 2008, it released The Complete Color Season, a 16 disc box set with season seven and 16 select episodes from the other seasons. From 2010 to 2013, Timeless Media Group released the series in eight box sets of one season each, and the seventh season lacks the bonus episodes.[13]: 89 

Cultural influences

Gene Roddenberry said he pitched Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the stars", referring to the concept of a recurring cast on a long journey with famous guest stars becoming the focus of various stories. In his March 11, 1964, initial pitch document, he wrote, "Star Trek is a Wagon Train concept—built around characters who travel to worlds 'similar' to our own."[14]


  1. ^ "TV Westerns - Wagon Train| FiftiesWeb". Fifties Web. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  2. ^ Aaker, Everett (2017). Television Western Players, 1960–1975: A Biographical Dictionary. McFarland. pp. 41–43. ISBN 9781476628561.
  3. ^ "Wagon Train". TV Guide. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  4. ^ "Chick Hannan". The Signal. Santa Clarita, California. 17 August 1980. p. 4. Retrieved 27 July 2022 – via Newspapers.com. Open access icon
  5. ^ a b Eyman, Scott (21 April 2015). John Wayne: The Life and Legend. Simon and Schuster. pp. 345–347. ISBN 978-1-4391-9959-6.
  6. ^ "The Cliff Grundy Story on Dan Duryea Central"
  7. ^ "TV Westerns - Wagon Train s4 Episodes- FiftiesWeb". fiftiesweb.com. 4 August 2003. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  8. ^ Mike Fitzgerald. "Olive Sturgess". westernclippings.com. Retrieved 5 September 2014.
  9. ^ McBride, Joseph,(2003) Searching for JOHN FORD, London, England: Faber and Faber
  10. ^ "TV Westerns - Wagon Train Episode Pictures- FiftiesWeb". fiftiesweb.com. 4 August 2003. Retrieved 28 March 2018.
  11. ^ Burlingame, Jon (2023). Music for Prime Time: A History of American Television Themes and Scoring. Oxford University Press. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-0-19-061830-8.
  12. ^ "The Museum of Broadcast Communications - Encyclopedia of Television - Wagon Train". www.museum.tv. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  13. ^ Rosin, James (2012). Wagon Train: the Television Series. Autumn Road Co. ISBN 978-0-9728684-7-1.
  14. ^ Whitfield, Stephen, and Roddenberry, Gene. The Making of Star Trek (New York: Del Rey Books), 1986. ISBN 978-0345340191