My Favorite Retro Cowboys

I’m late to the party, but I finally signed up for Facebook. Somewhere in my travels to Walls and Like buttons, I ended up on a Fan Page for my all-time favorite TV series. Did anyone else watch Paradise? It was also called Guns of Paradise. It starred Lee Horsley as Ethan Allen Cord, a gunfighter who becomes responsible for his sister’s four children, and Sigrid Thornton as Amelia Lawson, a lady banker with smarts and great clothes.

I’m a total sucker when it comes to redeemed outlaws, and Ethan was classic. He gets in plenty of trouble, but mostly because his past keeps catching up with him. He has no idea how to raise his orphaned niece and nephews, but he does his best. And the romance!  The sparks that fly between Ethan and Amelia nearly caught the TV on fire.  Without a doubt, Ethan Allen Cord is my favorite TV western hero.

No. 2 on the list would be Johnny Madrid from Lancer.  The show was set in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1870s. It’s definitely an oldie, but it sure caught my little-girl imagination. The premise of the show involved two brothers returning to their father’s ranch. Scott Lancer was blond, a Harvard graduate and a Boston gentleman. Johnny Madrid was a rebel, drifter and gunslinger.  The actor who played Johnny Madrid was James Stacy. His life changed dramatically in 1973 when he was struck by a drunk driver while on his motorcycle. Tragically he lost his left arm and leg and his girlfriend was killed. He continued to act and was twice nominated for Emmy awards.

My No. 3 TV cowboy is from High Chaparral. Manolito was played by Henry Darrow. He was the brother-in-law of John Cannon, the owner of a ranch called the High Chaparral. The series was set in Arizona Territory in the 1870s. What I remember most is that Manolito had a bit of rebel in him. I’m detecting a pattern here . . . my favorite TV cowboys are all bad boys, rebels, gunfighters, etc..

There’s a tie for the No. 4 slot on my list.  Does anyone remember The Quest with Kurt Russell and Tim Matheson as brothers looking for their sister? The series only ran for 15 episodes, but I didn’t miss a single one.  Kurt and Tim played Morgan and Quentin Beaudine.  Morgan had lived with the Cheyenne for eight years and was also called Two Persons. Quentin was a physician from San Francisco. Together they were searching for their sister. The series ended in part because interest in westerns faded in the 1970s, but it also had the bad luck to run opposite Charlie’s Angels.

I’m giving the No. 5 slot to . . . Decisions! Decisions!  My first thought was Little Joe Cartwright from Bonanza.  It just doesn’t seem right to leave him off the list, but my real choice is Tom Hart from Broken Trail.  He’s not as retro as the first four picks, which is one of the things that appeals to me.  Broken Trail proved that westerns are still relevant. Honor, independence, courage and loyalty never go out of style.

I can think of a lot of shows I didn’t mention. Dr. Quinn is at the top of the list.  Then there’s The Virginian and Gunsmoke and The Rifleman.  I also loved pioneer-themed shows like The Monroes.

What shows would you add to the list?  Which characters were your favorites?  Westerns may be more retro than trendy, but I will always love them.

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37 thoughts on “My Favorite Retro Cowboys”

  1. hi Vicki, my new FB friend! What a terrific post. I remember and love all the shows you mentioned…I haven’t thought of the Monroes and the Quest for years. I still catch Dr. Quinn on the Gospel Channel (?).

    And I love Sam Elliott (be still my heart!) and Tom Selleck as The Sacketts. oxox

  2. This was a great post Vicki!
    I agree with you Tanya, Sam and Tom still make my heart beat faster! 🙂 I also remember fondly watching the Rifleman and Bonanza while growing up.
    I thought that Kevin Costner in Dances with Wolves did a great job bringing some of the ‘old western’ cinema back to our time. I wish there were more westerns on TV and in the movies, I would definately watch for a change!

  3. Hi Tanya! Thank you for being my friend on FB! I’m still figuring out the bells and whistles, but it’s sure a fun way to run into people.

    I wonder if I can get “The Sacketts” on DVD. I missed it, and with Sam Elliot that borders on crazy!

  4. Howdy, Tammy! I’d watched westerns on TV too. I’m mighty tired of the current shows…In fact, I hardly watch anything these days except movies on AMC, TBS, etc., and we tend to use the DVR and On Demand more than anything.

    I remember watching “The Rifleman” after school. I had a crush on Johnny Crawford 🙂 and Bonanza was on Sunday nights at 9 p.m. I can still hear the theme song 🙂

  5. well, i remember none of the shows you mentioned (‘cept for dr quinn–which i LOVED)
    but i can see why you liked ethan…mmm 🙂
    the quest sounds like one i would have really enjoyed also

    what’s that show we talked about on here not long ago…the pony express one…young guns? no…i’m not sure…i’m sure someone will remember

    and what was that movie with emilio estevez…that was young guns–the story of billy the kid– i loved that in my youth…though i wonder if it would still be good now…i should check it out

  6. Historical Western Romance is my favorite genre. I love westerns of all kinds. Being a Southerner, I also love Civil War romances and stories set in the South. However, for me, nothing beats a western in its purest form. By that, I mean a stalwart cowboy and his lady, the land, and the life. When a cowboy truly loves, he loves with all his heart, forever. His woman is as cherished as his values, his “cowboy code of honor”. Not always in words, but in deep, deep feelings. Feelings as true as the blue of a Texas bluebonnet.

    I love, love, love my cowboys and men of the Old West! The love of my life is Sam Elliott : )Sam has no peer as a Western star. Also, his voice alone would make all the seams come loose in your clothes! One of my favorite words is “courtly”, which to me means respectful and mannerly. Who could resist a courtly cowboy, hat in hand, when he says “thank you, Ma’am”? A lady journalist who was once lucky enough to interview Sam Elliott described him as “courtly”. I knew that : )

    Robert Fuller & Robert Horton; James Drury & Doug Mcclure (from “The Virginian”); Peter Breck, Lee Majors, Richard Long (the Barkley brothers from “The Big Valley); The Cartwrights–especially Guy Williams as cousin Will Cartwright (he also had the title role as TV’s Zorro and Professor John Robinson in “Lost in Space”); James Garner as “Maverick” or just James Garner; James Arness, Ken Curtis, Dennis Weaver from “Gunsmoke”; Clint Walker as “Cheyenne”; Lee Horsley from “Paradise”. Robert Conrad in “The Wild, Wild West”–the original “steampunk”! I love them all, and there are just too many more to mention.

    However, one of the greatest TV Men of the West was Stuart Whitman as Marshal Jim Crown in “Cimarron Strip”. In my opinion, this is one of the best westerns ever put on the screen. The episodes which pitted Stuart Whitman against Richard Boone, whose character called Marshall Crown by the name “Tricky Jim” were outstanding! If you can ever find a sexier lawman than Stuart Whitman, please let me know! Those looks, those eyes, that strut and that voice!

    I also adore John Wayne. Not a perfect man, but my goodness, what a man! From what I’ve seen, read, and heard from his films, and articles and interviews, he was the real deal. I love his older, iconic cowboy image. The scence from True Grit where he takes the horses reins in his mouth, and charges forward, blasting away with two pistols is forever burned in my brain. If you watch John Wayne in his early films, you will see a very sexy, charming, “look ‘em in the eye” kind of guy. What a physique! If he focused his undivided attention on a woman, I think she would have been in big, big trouble! No wonder they called him “Duke” : )

    My favorite era is the American Old West of the mid to late 1800’s. I have always thought that women make better doctors. We are natural nurturers and healers. We also have to deal with menstrual discomforts and childbirth. Many women love cooking and recipes, so we would be quite adept at preparing medicines and herbal remedies.

    I have long admired the strength of pioneer and frontier women. Many of them had to leave their cherished keepsakes along the trail in order for the wagon loads to be lightened. There were also great personal losses along the way, and loved ones were buried where they died. The journey continued for the survivors, and people often had to band together and form new “families” in order to live from day to day.

    I loved the TV show “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman”. It’s one of my all-time favorites. I think that it did an excellent job of portraying the difficulties faced by woman physicians of the 19th century. Dr. Quinn incorporated many herbal medicines into her practice as a healer. She was continually learning from the Native Americans who became her friends as well as her teachers. One should never stop learning. We should always keep an open heart and a curious mind.

  7. Hi Tabitha, LOL! I knew I’d be showing my age with this post! I watched Dr. Quinn on reruns in the afternoons, because when it first ran, I was so busy with kids in the house I watched hardly any TV. I thought of it often when I wrote “Kansas Courtship” with the lady doc. Also, with books set in Colorado, I’ve researched the time frame and found details they used. Great show!

  8. Howdy, Virginia! You’re a walking “TV Cowboy” encyclopedia! What a great list! And you’re so right about Sam Elliot being courtly. He’s blog-worthy all on his own. Hmmm…. The Western Persona of Sam Ellot… Tombstone, Sacketts… What else? He’s got such presence.

    I’ve heard of Cimarron Strip but never saw it. I would be nice if “On Demand” did a western-themed channel with some of the classic shows.

    Thanks for visiting P&P today! Hugs!

  9. Ah, what a wonderful post! High Chaparral was my fave and they swear it will come out on DVD at some point. I too loved Manolito but I also loved his sister’s relationship with her much older husband! The whole wedding of convenience thing I think got started for me right there.

    And Big Valley, which Virginia brought up. Again, I was more attracted to Peter Breck’s character than Lee Major’s…he was rougher than Richard Long and I never did like the pretty boy look that Lee had. Again, the women in that show were great too.

    Does Here Comes the Brides count? Bobby Sherman was on my wall! It wasn’t a typical western but the whole bride thing has sure been the stuff of western romances.

    Thanks for a great trip down memory lane.

  10. Hello Julie! I loved “Here Come The Brides.” Jason, Joshua and Jeremy . . . I went for Jason, the older man! Did you know Bobby Sherman is an officer with LAPD? (Los Angeles Police Dept.) He left Hollywood and became an EMT, then moved into police work. Interesting switch!

  11. I’ve becomed truly obsessed with Bonanza over the past year, which is a good part of the reason I started reading western historicals to get even more of a fix. I also adore Dr Quinn.

    Why can’t they make shows like that anymore??? Sigh…

  12. I can remember seeing old reruns of the TV series Wagon Train. I didn’t see many episodes, but it only took one for me to fall in love with Robert Fuller as the train’s scout, “Coop”. Sigh. I’ve always had a things for dark-haired men. I preferred big brother Adam to Little Joe in the Cartwright family.

    There were a couple western series in the ’90s besides Dr. Quinn (another favorite of mine). The Young Riders was about a bunch of pony express riders, and there was a series based on The Magnificent Seven. Talk about a bunch of rugged, good-hearted yet roughened cowboys. Eric Close played Vin Tanner, but all the men had something about them that made we want to daydream my own plot lines with myself as the heroine. I adored watching that for the short time it was on.

    I agree that it’s past time for another great western series to hit the small screen. Bring it on!

  13. I love westerns both books, movies and TV shows!!! I loved all the westerns mentioned above but my favorite was Rawhide. It wasn’t Clint Eastwood who took my eye but Eric Fleming as Gil Favor. I never cared whether a man was good looking but only that he looked like a man! My favorite movie stars were John Wayne and Charleston Heston.

  14. Hi Karen, “Wagon Train” got by me… I love the name “Coop.” One of the fun aspects of writing westerns is finding names. They’re so colorful. Most of my heroes have dark hair, but every so often I throw in one who’s brown hair is sun-bleached 🙂

  15. Howdy, Goldie! You have great taste in cowboys! There’s a lot to being a great retro-cowboy than good looks. It’s attitude, and like you said, he has to be manly. John Wayne and Charlton Heston top that list!

  16. I would add to the list Robert Duvall in Lonesome Dove.
    I realy liked Heath in The Big Valley he was so good looking.
    I knew Ken Curtis from Gunsmoke-my mother went to high school with him and he was a visitor to our home many times. He was really funny, and a good singer.
    My all time favorite cowboy was John Wayne-don’t really know why but he epitomizes the old west for me.

  17. Hello Joye! Robert Duvall is such a great actor. Loved him in Lonesome Dove, and loved him even more in Broken Trail. He did Open Range in the middle of those two, a perfect trilogy.

  18. Hi Vicki and everybody, my firefighter hubby worked at a station near Sam Elliott’s beachfront ranch and often ran into him and Katharine Ross…said they are the nicest, most uneffected people ever. I always grumped because he’s never got me Sam’s autograph, grrrrrr.

    These posts do bring back more pleasant memories. I loved Nick Barkley and Coop…and the Young Riders. What a bunch of cuties they were

    And I agree, Robert Duvall is just king. He can say everything when he says nothing at all. Good discussions today, fillies and friends. xoxox

  19. Hi Tanya! Your beach story beats mine . . . I was six years old when my family was at the beach with friends, staying in an ocean front trailer near Oxnard. I met Sheriff John. He was host of a children’s show I watched every day. Sam Elliot beats Sheriff John hands down 🙂

  20. The first two that came to mind were WAGON TRAIN and RAWHIDE.
    THE VIRGINIAN, PALADIN, THE RIFLEMAN, and we can’t forget BONANZA. I think every girl had a crush on Little Joe. However, Hoss was sweet and lovable and deserved a good woman. Adam had his own appeal, sort of the good bad boy in an intellectual way. Does that make any sense? Our girls loved Dr. Quinn. I don’t think we missed an episode. Sully and Cloud Dancing were a big draw. Another favorite of our kids was YOUNG RIDERS.
    The only show and character you mentioned I recognized was HIGH CHAPARRAL and Manolito, but we didn’t watch it much.
    Two other Oldies I liked were BAT MASTERSON and WYATT EARP.

    Thanks for the walk down Memory Lane.

  21. Hello Patricia, Little Joe Cartwright is probably the #1 retro cowboy crush. He came to mind right away. One of my favorite Bonanza episodes had Hoss falling in love. It was just so sweet and tender. I like your description of Adam. Definitely an intellectual bent . . . Pernell Roberts went on to play Trapper John, MD and I thought he did a good job.

    Next to westerns, I like medical shows best.

  22. I’m showing my age here, but I remember every one of the shows y’all have mentioned. I’m glad someone thought of The Big Valley. Who couldn’t love young Lee Major as the outsider sibling and hot-headed Nick. I loved Guns of Paradise and Lee Horsely. Hmm…I’m seeing a “Lee” pattern here.

    One show nobody mentioned was Bordertown. It was about a town situated on the US/Canadian border and two lawmen shared an office-one was a US sheriff(or marshal) and the other was a Monty. It was kind of like The Odd Couple goes western.

    I grew up watching these shows, so it’s no wonder I love reading western romances and will always love cowboys–and their horses.

  23. Great, informative post! My hero in my story I’m writing at the moment is Ethan, but promise I didn’t get it from Paradise. I love a redeemable outlaw, too! Now I’ve got to see if I can find that series somewhere. Thanks, Vicki for another fantastic look back into history.

  24. Hi Vickie, I remember The Big Valley, mostly because Barbara Stanwyck’s charater–the mom–was named Victoria. Hot-headed outsiders always appeal to me. I think someone here mentioned Bordertown on another post awhile ago. Was it a comedy? The Odd Couple angle would be a hoot.

  25. Hi Phyliss, The hero of my second book is Ethan, and I fully admit to thinking of Paradise when I used it. There aren’t any other similarities, but I love that name. My neighbor at the time had just had her third little boy. He was named Ethan, too.

  26. I loved Guns of Paradise. I just LOVE it. I hurt when it went off the air.

    I’m a sucker for Maverick. I swear, a young James Garner was so beautiful it almost hurt your eyes to look at the man.

    He just glowed with gorgeousness. Add in funny and it was just perfect.

    I loved Little Joe. And Nick and Heath on Big Valley. Jarrod was okay but he was waaaay to civilized for a cowboy lover like me. 🙂

  27. Great post! Anyone remember ‘Big Valley’? Lee Majors was sigh-worthy as Heath. And Dr. Quinn is a favorite of mine – I own a couple of seasons on DVD. I agree, real cowboys never go out of style.

  28. Oooh Bordertown…the U.S. sheriff on one side of the parallel, the Canadian Mountie running the other side of the street. Rivals and best friends both. No known actors I can remember, but I loved the characters.

  29. Hi Mary! I’m with you on James Garner. I’ll watch anything he’s in just because he’s such fun. Loved Rockford Files. And what was the movie with Sally Field? Murphy’s Law or something?

    Hi Jennie, That’s what I love about westerns. Like you said, cowboys never go out of style.

  30. Wow! What memories you brought back for me. Thank you BTW for the wonderful picture of Lee Horsley…mmmmm! I loved all the same ones you listed Vicki but I also loved James Drury at The Virginian, Lee Majors as Heath Barkley in The Big Valley and I also love Peter Brown in The Lawman.

    Then there was Joe Lando as Sulley on Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman…and….Sam Elliott…who doesn’t love that wonderful rich deep awesome voice….yowza!!

    Thanks for letting me go down memory lane. I had a very enjoyable time.

    Ya’ll have a wonderful evening!

    Cindy W.


  31. Does any one remember The Lone Ranger with Tonto and his horse Silver? I remember seeing clips when I was a child.They played the William Tell Overture as he rode off into the sunset… he
    said “Hi Ho Silver away”. I believe he was a masked Texas Ranger.

    I also watched Sky King as a child, where a plane was used out West to catch criminals,find people. The young girl pilot was named Penny.

  32. I do remember Paradise, but the next three on your list are news to me. !

    I did watch Bonanza, Johnny Yuma, The Rebel, Bat Masterson and Sugarfoot. Oh, and the James Garner one – Maverick.

  33. Robert Conrad and Ross Martin as James West and Artemus Gordon from The Wild,Wild West. And on a very sad side note, as a teenager who watches old shows, it’s slightly disconcerting to see awesome guys on the show and then see what they look like NOW…

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