What Happened to the ‘Wagon Train’ (1957-65) Stars?

Image result for wagon train tv series

From 1957 until 1965 the prairie schooners of TV’s Wagon Train series rolled over 284 episodes. Throughout those eight seasons only eight actors (no actresses) appeared in fifty or more episodes. A minor actress named Kay Stewart popped up in eleven episodes from 1958 to 1964, playing eleven different women. Her career would span 40 years and 99 screen credits, mostly TV spots. Kay was an uncredited telephone operator in the Bob Hope Hit The Ghost Breakers (1940) and a slave girl (also uncredited) in Spartacus in 1960. In short, she was one of those hundreds of bit players who made a living on both big and small screen, but whose careers never amounted to much.

There were eight actors who were more or less ‘regulars’ in Wagon Train. I shall look at them in ‘episode total’ order, highest to lowest. Only two are alive today. One of these survivors is Michael Burns who ‘evolved’ into a regular after appearing in an early episode as a boy stricken speechless by the murder of his father. I actually watched that episode yesterday, unaware until today’s research that he must have struck a chord with the producers, for he would continue in the series for another 50 episodes. The other survivor is Robert Fuller, but more of them both later.

Image result for wagon train tv series frank mcgrath   Charlie Wooster

Frank McGrath (1903-67)                271 episodes (1957-65)

Missouri-born Frank played the series’ comic relief character Charlie Wooster, the wagon train’s irascible cook, and would grace all but 13 of the 284 episodes shot over eight seasons. A former stunt man and rodeo performer, he was notoriously fond of a drink, a weakness that often gave him the Dutch courage to pick fights which he invariably lost. The next time you watch either Fort Apache (1948) or She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), you might notice Frank as the bugler in both of these John Ford/ John Wayne westerns. He is right there alongside or just nearby the Duke in almost every scene. Two years after the Wagon Train series ended, Frank succumbed to a heart attack at 64.

Image result for wagon train tv series frank mcgrath   Bill Hawks

Terry Wilson (1923-99)                     267 episodes (1957-65)

Californian Terry Wilson played trail hand Bill Hawks in 267 episodes. He was a former US Marine who served in the Second World War, a football star and a stunt man/rodeo rider. In fact he was a life-long friend of Frank McGrath and the two men performed together on the rodeo circuit and at prison rodeos before finding their way into the movies. It was the original wagon master Ward Bond who insisted on Warner Bros signing on both Terry and Frank for the show. It fell to Terry to inform John Wayne of Bond’s sudden death in 1960. ‘Hold on’, he said to Wayne over the telephone. ‘Ward just dropped dead.’ The two men wept at either end of the phone. Terry died in 1999 at the age of 75. He left a wife and three children.

Image result for wagon train tv series robert horton   Flint McCullough    Image result for barbara ruick

Robert Horton (1924-2016)              189 episodes (1957-65)                     Barbara Ruick

Horton played the scout Flint McCullough in 189 episodes and was my favourite TV star when I was a boy until James Garner came bobbing down the bunny-trail as Brett Maverick! Horton was a class act who really should have gone on to bigger things. His relationship with Ward Bond was not a happy one on the set, however, apparently due to Bond constantly spreading rumours about Horton’s sexuality! Perhaps, this stemmed from Bob’s long association with musicals. He was also a nightclub singer and a recording artist. His three marriages included one to the delightful Barbara Ruick. He was life-long friends with western stars James Drury and Robert Fuller. He passed away in 2016 at the age of 91. At his own request there was no funeral and his remains were quietly cremated.

Image result for wagon train tv series john mcintyre   Christopher Hale      Image result for wagon train tv series john mcintyre and jeanette nolan

John McIntyre (1907-91)                  152 episodes (1959-65)          John & his wife Jeanette Nolan

John was chosen to replace the iconic Ward Bond as wagon-master following Bond’s death in 1960. It was a tough spot to fill because Bond had been the heart and soul of the series. However, McIntyre did such a good job as Christopher Hale, the new wagon train boss, that he would later be earmarked to succeed the late Charles Bickford as the patriarch in another popular series The Virginian. In 1935 McIntyre married actress Jeanette Nolan and the couple would appear together in scores of western movies and TV shows, usually as husband and wife. Their marriage lasted 56 years until John’s demise in 1991 from emphysema. Jeanette followed him seven years later.

Image result for wagon train tv series ward bond   Major Seth Adams

Ward Bond (1903-60)                       134 episodes (1957-61)

Millions of Americans tuned in every week to watch Major Seth Adams guide his wagon train across the west, despite the fact that it never reached its destination even though it was on the trail for eight long years. Nobody cared. Ward Bond was a well-known face to movie-goers. Although he would not see his 58th birthday, he managed to chalk up 273 screen appearances, many of them in some of the cinema’s greatest movies. These included Gone with the Wind and Drums Along the Mohawk in 1939, The Grapes of Wrath and The Mortal Storm in 1940, The Maltese Falcon (1941), Gentleman Jim (1942), The Searchers (1956), plus many more major features. He and John Wayne were USC room-mates as young men and it was the Duke who convinced him to go into acting. During his career Bond appeared in no fewer than 26 John Ford films! He passed away from a massive heart attack in a hotel room in Dallas after attending a football game.

Image result for wagon train denny miller   Duke Shannon

Denny Miller (1934 – 2014)              106 episodes (1961-64)

Denny portrayed Duke Shannon, the scout who replaced Flint McCullough, in 106 episodes from 1961 until 1964. At 6 feet 4 inches tall (1.93m), he was the first blonde Tarzan when he starred in Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959). Other than this movie he was almost exclusively a television actor for nearly 50 years. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis took him at 80.

Image result for robert fuller in wagon train   Cooper Smith    Image result for robert fuller in gentlemen prefer blondes

Robert Fuller (1933 – )                      60 episodes (1959-65)     Fuller (arrowed) in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Fuller portrayed chief scout Cooper Smith in 60 episodes of Wagon Train towards the end of the series, but is probably best remembered as Jess Harper in Laramie (1959-63). As a young man he served 15 months in Korea during the conflict there. On his return to the states he enrolled in acting classes under Richard Boone and renewed his earlier interest in acting, although he was really a dancer. In Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), he was in the male chorus line and danced with Marilyn Monroe. He is now (2018) in his 85th year and still appearing at western nostalgia outings attended by his still strong fan base.

Image result for michael burns as barnaby west    Barnaby West

Michael Burns (1947 – )                    51 episodes (1960-65)

Michael played Barnaby West in 46 episodes of the series, although he actually appeared in 51. His first five roles were as five separate characters before someone at Warners decided he should become a ‘regular’. He abandoned acting to pursue an academic career at Yale University where he earned a PhD in 1977. Later, he taught Modern European History at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. He retired from teaching in 2002 and he and his wife moved to Kentucky and now raise thoroughbred horses.


  1. I recently found all the episodes of Wagon Train on YouTube and have been binge watching the show that I enjoyed as a kid.
    Robert Horton is still my favorite actor on the series. He was always a class act. I was surprised to see how short Robert Fuller was in scenes with the other male cast members. Thought he was bigger than life from his other series. I got a laugh at one mistake that stood out to me: the bad guy took a punch and his hat flew off exposing his balding head and in the next shot he is lying on the ground with the hat securly on his head. Had to replay that one a few times to make sure what I saw.

  2. So, Ward Bond’s last episode as Major Adams was Season 4 Episode 22? I am currently watching Season 4 on ME TV, and my wife and I are huge fans. We both have wondered why there was closure story for Major Adams, but the last episode he did would have been perfect for it. He could have left the train to be with Beth Pearson. His death was a great loss to the show, but John McIntire stepped in admirably. The last episode I just saw this past Friday was “The Christopher Hale Story” Thanks for your knowledge!

  3. Alan, I grew up on “Wagon Train” and still enjoy the reruns at my current age of 72! I still remember that day in our 9th grade class “Washington State History,” when our teacher chuckled about the TV show, saying “NOBODY who survived that trip ever made it twice!” We were all stunned to learn that Major Adams & Co. didn’t actually go back and forth every year!!

    • I,too, grew up on ‘Wagon Train’, Katharine. Unlike you, I thought they were always on the same trip and I was forever wondering when they would reach their destination. If ever. I have since learned from comments on this site that they did eventually arrive somewhere – but I forget where. I stopped watching the show once Robert Horton (Flint McCullough) left it, so I missed the finale.

  4. I am currently working my way through all eight seasons on DVD. I am watching season 6 at the moment. But I disagree that they never reached their destination. Each season covers a trek from St Joe or St Louis to California/Oregon. If you are lucky enough to watch them in order, the first episode is usually organizing the train and starting out and the last episode is disbanding in San Francisco. The most powerful episode I have seen so far is S4 E19 The Prairie Story. If you want to know what it was like on the prairie watch this.

    • I stand corrected on this issue, AGAIN, Cindy. I never watched every episode in its entirety. Evidently, they did arrive at their destinations occasionally. I stopped watching when Ward Bond died and Robert Horton left the series. I was only a kid then but I simply cannot recall the train ever arriving at its destination in those early years. Maybe I was wrong. Thankyou for your note.

    • Same here! I thought Prairie Story is so profound. I record the series on MeTV, and I saved that episode. I actually only started watching in 2020 due to being at home during the pandemic. I’d never heard of it before and started watching it and The Rifleman because they follow Gunsmoke and Bonanza. Delightful! Loved Ward Bond’s character’s crankiness. Lol

    • I actually watched The Prairie Story earlier today for the first time ever; it was extremely moving. It has a totally different feel from any other Wagon Train episode that I have watched so far. We are watching the replaying of the series by the INSP channel. After watching, I wondered if the mood and what appeared to be an honest attempt to show the pain and suffering wasn’t somehow brought on by the unexpected death of Ward Bond. It was almost as if the whole wagon train was mourning. . . and the music, it was so different. It had upbeat moments and then it had an almost eerie feel like a musical scoring for a horror theme. I was born in 1966 so I don’t have any ‘real-time’ memories of Wagon Train but I am a huge history buff in both the reality of history AND the portrayal of history like the ‘behind the scenes’ info on the making of shows such as Wagon Train, Laramie, Death Valley Days, Wanted Dead or Alive, the Rifleman, etc. I love watching details and noticing things like the set of Laramie and of Wagin Train are often the same. The house on Laramie is often disguised by additional plants or other things. In the McAbee Story, there is a hammock but the Mrs faints at the corner of the ‘Laramie’ house. That same house front is disguised as the business of ‘the Princess’ when McCullough goes to visit on his way to a fort and, it is also the place where the elderly woman is shot and left for dead by the barn when McCullough finds her. In the much later episode with Robert Fuller about the man and his three sons that rob and steal in revenge if the late wife and mother, that same house front is where the crooked trader’s shop is. This week I have been watching the Beth Pearson Story also, looking for any visible indications of issues with Ward Bond’s health. In doing so, I noticed that there is a noticeable weight loss in Ward Bond and that he had started wearing black pants, vest and hat instead if his usual light colored attire. Does anyone know if that was because of weight loss or just a coincidence? Also, I noticed that McCullough began wearing dark pants and jacket about the same time as Ward Bond’s death.. Was his wearing black in anyway connected to the death of Ward Bond? Inquisitive mind . . . What can I say? Thank you for this discussion.

  5. Just checked out your site, glad I found it. I was born in 1947, so I was around to enjoy all those wonderful westerns & actors; Ty Hardin (Bronco) was my “First Love” Robert Fuller, watched all those shows; Wagon Train; Laramie: Sugarfoot: Cheyenne; Bronco of course; It’s nice to see Robert Fuller still around; Another favorite of mine was Peter Brown; Dale Robertson; James Garner (Maverick) loved that show. They were certainly great years to grow up in. Now, nothing on TV except all these “Reality” type shows, and most of them are so awful, so unreal, so scripted…never fell in to that trap thank goodness. I’ll have to see if we have that TV station here in Ontario, Canada I’d love to watch a few of those oldies. I also have to mention Perry Mason, I know this is mostly “Cowboy Shows” but I think he warrants a mention here. Thank you, I enjoyed catching up on all these stars.

    • Lovely to hear from you, Lorraine. I was born in March 1947 so we share the same birth year. Like you, I grew up with all those shows (except ‘Bronco’) and they were part of the reason why I fell in love with TV and movies. Growing up with my grandparents, I was subjected to my Nana’s crush on Raymond Burr. Mum felt equally strongly about Jim Garner. As for me, I had a crush the size of Jupiter on Annette from the Mickey Mouse Club. I was quite pathetic about it. Today, I flatly refuse to watch ANY reality show. Utter rubbish.

  6. Took a much-needed break to do some fun research. The Hitchcock with Horton episodes are (season/episode): 1/37; 2/9,13,19; 3/27; 4/18; 5/38. Glad to find for your site – I’ll check in again!

  7. Just searched “alfred hitchcock presents episodes with robert horton”, and seven titles came up. Watch for them on MeTV and enjoy!

  8. Robert Horton did at least five episodes of Alfred Hithcock (also on MeTV; two of them in the last few weeks). Great to see him as different characters and appreciate his smooth, easy style. Be sure to look for them!

  9. Great article! I have a few questions though as I’m just binge watching this series. Why after season 7 was in color is the following season in B&W? And why was Denny Miller not in it?

    • ‘Wagon Train’ went to colour briefly in the fifth season (1961-2) in order to promote RCA’s (the parent company)colour TV sets. It reverted to black and white next season, but then went to full colour when the episodes were lengthened to 90 minutes. When they reverted to 60 minutes it went back to black and white. It was all to do with the cost per episode (colour was very expensive) and the show’s ratings which began to wane. Denny Miller was Duke Shannon in the series from 1964-7 (seasons five through seven), but in 1965 he landed the role of Juliet Prowse’s husband in the sitcom ‘Mona McCluskey’ and left ‘Wagon Train’ to play it. Hope this answers your questions, Tony. Good to hear from you.

  10. Alan, I came across your blog after watching “The Story of Captain Sam” today on METV. I enjoy music and i am curious whether Robert Santon as Johnny actually sang the sea chantys. Do you know? Also, Captain Sam sang as she was looking at the boat lost in the desert. Did the actress actually sing? I often surprised to learn that actors or actresses sing well. (Notice I’m just a few years older than you so they are still “actresses”) For singing actors my favorite is Le Miserables. I was so surprised at the powerful voices of Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe (in particular). Thank you!

    • Hi, Kent. There is very little info about Robert Santon, I’m afraid. He only made a few appearances on TV in a career that did not amount to much. Cathy Lewis, however, the actress who played Captain Sam Stewart, almost certainly did her own singing, having started her career as a lead singer for Kay Kyser and his Orchestra while she was in her mid-teens, so she must have been a most promising prospect at such an early age. Sadly, she died in 1968 aged just 51. Cancer. As for Santon, I would imagine he was dubbed, although that is only a guess. Nice to hear from you, mate.

  11. I disagree with your statement that Robert Fuller is most known for his role in Laramie. I would say a more accurate statement is that Robert Fuller is most know for his role in Laramie and his role at Dr. Bracken in Emergency! Both were equally important roles for him.

    • Thankyou for your comment. When I wrote this I was envisioning Fuller as one of the poker-playing ‘old’ TV legends in the 1994 spoof ‘Maverick’ starring Mel Gibson. Clearly, Fuller was well-known as Dr Brackett in ‘Emergency’, but I beg to differ on how he might be remembered. To me he will always be the star of ‘Laramie’. Simply a matter of opinion I guess.

    • Fuller was the best “cowboy” actor during the 1950s-60s because of the little things he did such as how to handle a horse and gun. There is a scene in Laramie (forget the episode) where his handling of a gun is perfect and you can tell it was muscle memory not acting.
      I wish he had been in more “Wagon Train” episodes and frankly I have never seen “Emergency” but I have seen all of the “Wagon Train” and ” Laramie” episodes.

  12. On the first episode of wagon train Bill Hawks and his wife were going to California. He wore a wedding ring until Chris Hale took over as wagon master. On a recent episode he told a kid on the show he had never been married. Go figure

    • A continuity problem not uncommon, Linda. Married men donning and removing wedding rings during multiple takes was one of the things continuity was supposed to keep an eye on.

    • I do not want to disagree with Alan but I thing Hawks marital status changed because at the beginning of the series, he was a minor character who the writers gave little thought to his backstory. At that point, no one knew the show would be a massive hit and when it was and Hawks because a regular the little item about being married in season one was swept under the table. Actually, season 1 has a few references to Hawks being married.

    • I must say that I remember those early days of TV with great affection, Stephen. Tiny black and white TVs, fuzzie pictures, but who cared? It was all so magical for a kid.

    • You made me laugh. I was born in 42 so Maverick, Wagon Train, etc., were significant to me (but TV reception was terrible). And while we’re sharing tales about those days I was a photographer, late 60s, of numerous celebrities, once spending several days with Sammy Davis in Reno. One night his manager tried to get Sammy to show his fast gun skills (he had won some contest). For once, Sammy didn’t take the bait (he loved to show off). But I got to see his bit recently when watching an old run of The Rifleman where Sammy played “a dude” who was an incredible shot when it was actually O’Connors doing the shooting from the alley (PS: The Rifleman’s skill was pure fiction; I was a state champion, on 3 different rifle teams, and the best trick shooters I knew, well, you get the idea. Hollywood has to entertain us).

      • Thankyou for your fascinating comments, Jim. Like a great many Aussies of my age bracket (I was born in 1947), I share a love of old American movies and early TV, so it is always a thrill when I hear from someone who actually knew some of my heroes and heroines of those bygone days. Sammy actually visited Perth, Western Australia on more than one occasion to promote a charity-raising enterprise (Telethon) several decades ago. Obviously, there is a lot of trick photography and the use of illusion, editing and substitution in the picture business, but the end result nearly always is worth the subterfuge. I believe it is first and foremost an industry that entertains, so that suits an elderly fan like me right down to the ground. Nice to hear from you, Jim.

    • Robert Fuller was and is a GREAT actor no matter what he is remembered as. Personally, as a 48 year old, I remember him most as Dr. Brackett on Emergency but I am also enjoying seeing him on Wagon Train, a show I recently started watching on MeTV. Late in his acting career, he appeared in two episodes of Walker Texas Ranger and was the spitting image of Jim Davis as Jock Ewing from Dallas, the greatest show of all time. Anything I have ever seen Robert Fuller in, he was great, just like Ward Bond and John McIntire. And btw, who do you all like better as Wagon Master? I suspect most will say Ward Bond just because he was the original WM. And yes, he was great but so was McIntire. I can’t pick a favorite between the two but if I absolutely had to, I’d go with McIntire.

  13. I’m 42 & I have never been much of a TV “buff”, but I watched. A few years ago I became bored with (modern) TV shows. Everything seemed to be oriented around crime, or hospitals & emergencies, such as CSI, Grey’s Anatomy, etc. While surfing to find something different, I came across a channel (MeTV) dedicated to just running older shows. I only intended to check it out while I was eating dinner. Wagon Train was on & unexpectedly 3 hours later I was programming the DVR for it. Although my favorites revolved around Flint Mccullough’s “adventures”, I also realized how great an actor Ward Bond was. He was perfect for the role of Major Addams & much of the intrigue was largely due to the profound character he had created and Ward’s powerful presence on screen. I didn’t realize how significant he really was until the season in which he had simply disappeared. Even if you didn’t grow up watching these shows, you will still enjoy them. My hope is that the younger generation might take an interest in them, rather than Jersey Shore or The Kardashians. If they don’t gain any appreciation or interest in nostalgia, it’s sure to be absent in the future.

    • Thankyou for your comments, Scott. I am 73, so I was a youngster when the western era of TV shows was in full swing – especially at Warner Bros. As well as ‘Wagon Train’ there was’Maverick’, ‘Cheyenne’, ‘Sugarfoot’, ‘Rawhide’, and heaps more. Come to think of it, Warners shaped my entire childhood – ’77 Sunset Strip’, ‘Surfside Six’, ‘Hawaiian Eye’, you name it, that studio dominated TV for a couple of decades. I,too, thought Flint McCullough was the real star of ‘Wagon Train’, and she show lost its magic when he left and Ward Bond died.

        • I don’t think that I missed many episodes, while I was growing up. Also, while I was eating, in the Boca Mall, in a Mexican restaurant, I saw and said hello, to either Fuller or Horton,can’t remember which one. This was in Boca Raton, Florida in 1983 or 84.

          • I’m guessing it might of been Robert Fuller In Florida, who was/is a sport fisherman. I believe Bob Fuller had his own or was on some sport fishing shows about 20 year ago.

  14. You stated that they never reached their destination, but they did. They ended up in San Francisco where Seth, Bill, and Charlie were shanghaied. There was also an episode where they started another trip in St. Louis.

    • Thankyou for your comment, Susan. Of course, you are right, and it is my own fault for not being a little clearer with my criticism. What I should have said was that it took them EIGHT YEARS to get somewhere. I never saw the final episodes. Presumably, reaching San Francisco and concluding the trek was a logical way to wind up the series. My mistake. I stand corrected.

  15. Terry Wilson played assistant wagonmaster Bill Hawks for the last four seasons of Wagon Train subsequent to Ward Bond’s death. He never was a rodeo rider, but did personal appearances at rodeos as you correctly observed where he showed off his excellent horsemanship and shooting skills.

  16. Watched every week with my father. Great memories. Saw McIntyre and his wife, in a diner, in kalispell, Montana, in the early 70″s. They were both so nice great people.

      • Just now read your reply. Was born and reared in Ft. Lauderdale, however I lived, several years, in Kalispell, Mt. My current brother-in-law, who now resides in Utah, and is about 87, was born and reared, in I believe, Eureka, Mt. and new McIntyre well because he also was from there. I only met them that one time but they could not have been nicer. Interesting enough, that other great, male actor, from Montana, can not recall his name but I am sure you will know who I mean, was on a cruise ship, with my father, from N.Y. to London, in 1959. My father said that he was also very down to earth and nice. I guess Montanans are just that way.

        • Wow, small world! In the 80’si worked for FDIC and we closed a failed bank on Kalispell. Beautiful area. I remember a bar that had money stuck to the ceiling and the fact you could walk the streets with a cocktail. I still have a silk jacket that says “Poker on the front, Liquor in the rear” ❤️

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