The Young Riders

 

(left to right) Buck, Cody, Kid, Jimmy, Ike, and Lou

 

CAST:

Teaspoon Hunter:  Anthony Zerbe  
The Kid:  Ty Miller  
Cody:  Stephen Baldwin  
Jimmy Hickok:  Josh Brolin  
Buck Cross:  Gregg Rainwater  
Lou McCloud:  Yvonne Suhor  
William Tompkins:  Don Collier  
Ike McSwain:  Travis Fine (1989-91)  
Sam Cain:  Brett Cullen (1989-90)  
Emma Shannon:  Melissa Leo (1989-90)  
Noah Dixon:  Don Franklin (1990-92)  
Rachel Dunn:  Clare Wren (1990-92)  
Jesse James:  Christopher Pettiet (1991-92)

 

Text and photo courtesy of Sierra

 

Despite of its larger than average cast over the years, The Young Riders was a huge success. It first aired on ABC on Thursday evening, September 20, 1989, and it ran for three seasons, the last telecast being July 23, 1992…a total of 66 episodes being filmed. Set in the days just before the telegraph, preceding the outbreak of the Civil War, this series presented a highly fictionalized account of a Pony Express way-station located in Sweetwater, Wyoming Territory. Its focus was a group of young riders who would take the "mochilla," a specialized saddle-cover with pouches for telegrams and letters, hop on a horse, and ride like the gates of hell had opened behind them. About every ten or fifteen miles, the rider would change to a fresh mount at a small horse-exchange station, and race off once again. The total distance covered by a single rider averaged roughly seventy-five miles per day, and each rider would have a specific route. There were a total of 190 relay stations, and the riders delivered the mail despite assorted ambushes, Indian attacks, and bad guys with devious plans. Once their stretch of the route was finished, they were free to get drunk, get angry, and start treeing the town in typical Old West fashion.

In this series, the riders did deliver some mail from time to time, but they spent most of their time rescuing escaped slaves, protecting the innocent, and being nice to the Indians. Rumblings of the imminent Civil War allowed some moralizing on that issue, but always, they were righting any wrongs they encountered along the way.  In the third season, the entire crew moved to Rock Creek, on the Nebraska-Kansas-Missouri border, which allowed for the introduction of more urban concerns.

The show initially aired with five male riders and one female rider, who disguised herself as a boy so she could work for the Pony Express.  The setting was a ranch near Sweetwater on the Central Overland Express line, which stretched 2,000 miles from St. Joseph to Sacramento. The supervisor running the station was a grizzled, understanding, ex-Texas Ranger and all-around eccentric named Teaspoon Hunter. He initially came across as a bit rough on the riders, but as he grew attached to each one, he became a father figure to all of them. In the last season, he became a U. S. Marshal, and he performed the marriage ceremony between Kid and Lou.

The riders included an interesting group of characters. Kid was the most sensitive and the most puzzling to everyone, as nobody knew much about him, but he knew right from wrong and stuck to his morals.  Jimmy Hickok was quick to anger and even quicker with a gun, but he never wavered in his sense of loyalty to his friends. He rode on to fame as Wild Bill Hickok. Cody's future was told through the people who wove in and out of his life, and although he rarely showed a sensitive side, he was there to help a friend. His claim to fame was to become Buffalo Bill Cody. Ike McSwain was the mute rider who faced a lot of troubles because of his affliction. His best friend was Buck Cross, who, as the half-breed Kiowa warrior, suffered his own form of prejudices. Lou McCloud was the only girl rider, and she disguised herself as a boy to get the job. Kid was the only one who knew her secret, but as the series progressed, the other riders also found out. When Teaspoon found out, he had grown too attached to fire her.

Marshal Sam Cain was only a part of the show for the first season, but he cared a lot for the riders and worked hard to guide them in the right direction. Between the first and second season, Sam married Emma, who ran the way-station as mother hen to all the young riders. Emma was replaced by Rachel.  oah Dixon, the only black, joined the riders in the second season, and his first bout of trouble came from Kid, the Southerner. When Jesse James later came along, Noah and Kid became good friends, although Jesse nearly drove a wedge between the two men at the outset of the Civil War. Jesse, of course, later rode on to fame as the most notorious outlaw in history.

William Tompkins was the store owner. Without anyone telling him, he already knew Lou was a girl. He got to know all the riders as they rode into town to purchase supplies. As an indicator character, Tompkins was a key element to the series, as he showed the general temperament of the townspeople regarding the issues of the day. Although he was a civic leader with a bitter and lonely soul, he did have a kindly side to him. He generally got along with all the riders, except Buck, who was always on the receiving end of his wrath. We find out later that Tompkins' entire family had been taken by the Indians, and this is probably why he was not always tolerant of Buck. When the riders moved to Rock Creek, Tompkins followed to expand his store.

The real Pony Express was established in April 1860, and it did use boys and small men as riders. It only operated for 1-1/2 years, and 14-year-old Buffalo Bill Cody was, in fact, a member. There has always been the story that Wild Bill Hickok was also a rider, but he usually maintained that he was employed by the way-station and not a rider, although there are reports that it was his gun which saved the way-station and the lives of the people trapped therein.  Jesse James was never a rider, but the addition of his character to the series was a nice twist. In the end, he rode off with his evil brother Frank after betraying his friends.

The Young Riders was 60 minutes long, ran on ABC on Thursday nights from Sept 1989-Sept 1990, where it was always in the top ten of the ratings, before ABC had the brainchild of moving it to the “death pit” Saturday night timeslot from Sept 1990-Aug 1991. With falling ratings, ABC then changed hours on Saturday night from Sept 1991-Jan 1992, but without any real success. In a desperate attempt to revive the show, ABC once again reverted back to Thursday nights from May 1992-July 1992. It was too late.  By moving it all around in the ABC lineup, executives succeeded in “killing” it.  

There are many fine web sites for The Young Riders.  We recommend starting with: 

The Express Station

 

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