16 June 2009 | bkoganbing
The 19th Century Greatest Generation
What do MASH and The Young Riders have in common? It's an interesting answer and you'd guess it immediately if you know your history. Both television series lasted longer than the historical event they were set in. MASH which ran over ten years was longer than the three years of the actual Korean War.
The Young Riders lasted for 3 seasons and in real life The Pony Express was started in 1860 and lasted until the beginning of the Civil War. Technology replaced horses, the telegraph invented almost 20 years earlier finally spanned the continent.
Still for its brief time, The Pony Express which was run under government contract by the famous western freighting firm of Russell, Majors&Waddell certainly earned its colorful place in our history. In doing the television show the producers went back into what used to be done in Hollywood westerns, take some frontier legends and weave plots around the names that had nothing to do with real life.
According to this show Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok and Jesse James all rode for the Pony Express. Of the group only Cody did in real life and he was all of 14 at the time. Stephen Baldwin was a bit older than the real Cody during his Pony Express period. Of course in the film Pony Express the mature Charlton Heston played Cody and Baldwin was certainly closer than him.
In that same film Forrest Tucker played Wild Bill Hickok. Hickok would have been in his early twenties as Josh Brolin was at the time of the series and he did work for Russell,Majors&Waddell at the time. But he was a teamster, he drove their freight wagons. He was too old to be a Young Rider. In fact that was what the Pony Express looked for, young riders, teenage boys looking for a little adventure and a chance to make a decent wage. To those farm and ranch kids trying to make a living off the land, this was a great opportunity.
A third western legend, a child actually at this time also joined The Pony Express. Young Christopher Pettiet played Jesse James who never had any connection at all with the Pony Express joined the cast in the third and final season. He was a fine young player and his death from a drug overdose in 2000 was a tragic end to a promising career.
The rest of the cast reflected some of the issues of the times. There was a southern kid simply called The Kid who was played by Ty Miller. Gregg Rainwater played an American Indian young rider, Travis Fine was a mute young rider, Don Franklin joined the cast as a runaway slave escaped to the free west in the third season as a young rider.
The most interesting gimmick was Yvonne Suhor who was going in incognito drag. I don't think the rules of The Pony Express expressly forbade women in its employ, but they sure didn't provide any separate accommodations in those relay stations. For about half the first season, no one knew she was a women. Then it finally came out, though at first only relay station manager Anthony Zerbe knew.
Zerbe played a colorful western type character who must have felt like he was running a summer camp. But these kids were there to work and their work created a legend that's come down to us today. If the young people of the World War II era are the Greatest Generation of the last century, than those who were in the Pony Express who joined the Union and Confederate Armies of the time in an awful Civil War, were the 19th Century Greatest Generation. The awful tragedy is that this generation was busy killing each other in that the USA be preserved and free for all.
When The Young Riders ended its run, the various cast members left the disbanded Pony Express to whatever destiny their consciences told them where to go. It was a moving finale to the series and something played out across the United States of America and the Confederate States of America in thousands of homes.
Despite some really bad historical inaccuracies, The Young Riders was a fine series and I wish it lasted a bit longer.