1 9 8 9 – 1 9 9 2 (USA)
68 x 60 minute episodes
A grizzled old plainsman named Teaspoon Hunter (Anthony Zerbe) emerges from his bath – in a horse trough – and addresses six raw recruits, none older than 18.
“This here pony express,” rasps the ex-Texas Ranger station master and all-around eccentric,” is 2000 miles from St. Joe, Missouri, all the way to Sacramento, California. That’s 190 way-stations and 500 of the best Injun ponies. You will ride 75 miles. One day. Flat out”.
The year is 1860, the place a prairie station near Sweetwater on the Central Overland Express line, and these kids don’t look like they’re cut out to be frontier mailmen.
Created to capitalise on the success of Young Guns (1988), The Young Riders presented a revisionist view of the Old West, which strove mightily to make Westerns palatable to the socially sensitive 1990s.
The Kid (Ty Miller) was a soft-spoken orphan with a blazing six-gun; Billy Cody (Stephen Baldwin) would grow up to be Buffalo Bill Cody, and Jimmy Hickok (Josh Brolin) was apparently the future Wild Bill Hickok.
Together, with bald, mute Ike (Travis Fine), half Kiowa Indian Little Buck (Gregg Rainwater) and crossdresser “Lou” (Yvonne Suhor) – a girl masquerading as a boy so she could be a Rider – these young guns faced such perils as Indians and outlaws.
The second season added Noah (Don Franklin), an educated, freeborn black, and the third eager, young Jesse James (Christopher Pettiet), age 14, who helped out around the station.
Emma (Melissa Leo) was the original cook and housemother, replaced by the more mysterious Rachel (Clare Wren) in the second season after Emma ran off with Marshal Cain (Brett Cullen).
The riders did deliver some mail from time to time in their ‘mochila’ pouch but 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 moralising on that subject.
In the third season, the entire crew moved to the larger town of Rock Creek, on the Nebraska-Kansas-Missouri border, to allow for the introduction of more urban concerns (perhaps AIDS, or a crack epidemic?) and Teaspoon became a US Marshal.
In the final episode, Noah was refused enlistment into the white man’s army (they were sorry), then was killed along with some soldiers in an ambush by a gang.
Lou and the Kid were married (he wouldn’t even give the preacher his real name!), and young Jesse ran off with his evil brother Frank after betraying his friends.
The real Pony Express was established in April 1860 and did use boys and small men as riders, but operated for only a year and a half.
Fourteen-year-old “Buffalo Bill” Cody was, in fact, a member, but he was probably galloping too fast to stop and right wrongs along the way. Indeed, given his later descriptions of his “expert scalping” of Indians, it is unlikely that he was terribly sensitive to Native American issues!
William F. (‘Billy’) Cody
James Butler (‘Jimmy’) Hickok
Little Buck Cross
Louise “Lou” McCloud
Marshal Sam Cain