Wagon Train’s “The Greenhorn Story”—Tribute to Western Pioneers
By Dorothy Kosich
The third-season Wagon Train episode “The Greenhorn Story” was prolific screenwriter Jean Holloway’s endearing tribute to the emigrant families who were part of the largest mass migration in U.S. history traveling along The California Trail.
Guest star Mickey Rooney plays newspaperman Samuel T. Evans, the archetypical “greenhorn,” representing the thousands of newcomers traveling in covered wagons from St. Louis, Missouri, to Sacramento, California—a 2,000-mile journey. “They’re in search of a future, the golden future of the Golden West,” Wagon Master Seth Adams (star Ward Bond) observes in his narration. “The first few weeks they are with us, they have one thing in common. They’re all greenhorns.”
Evans brings along his grandfather’s printing press in his covered wagon in order to publish a weekly newspaper in Sacramento. He ignores the Major’s warning not to buy too many supplies. “Somewhere midway between St. Joe and Fort Kearney is the greenhorn’s blackest moment, the moment where he must face the consequences of his own stubbornness,” Adams advises. “The trail will be littered for miles with things that have to be discarded.”
“The Greenhorn” gives viewers a rare glimpse of how much the new wagon train travelers have to learn within the first two weeks on the trail. They learn how to turn and circle the wagons, maintain the wagon and the horses or mules pulling it, and how to set up camp and cook over an open fire.
Sam’s attempts to break in a new team of six horses to wear harnesses is one of the funniest scenes in the episode. It takes him the entire day and into the night to accomplish the task of lining them up correctly to pull the wagon. Meanwhile, Chief Scout Flint McCullough (Robert Horton) introduces his appaloosa horse “Stormy Night.”
The greenhorns also cope with severe illness and death. Evans loves his fellow passenger and future wife, Melanie Pumphret (Daria Massey), who contracts cholera.
When fading box-office star Rooney, 39, filmed “The Greenhorn,” he looked too old to portray a young man. Notwithstanding, Rooney proved so popular in “The Greenhorn,” Wagon Train producers ordered a rare follow-up episode featuring the same character, as Evans continues to tell his story at the beginning of the fourth season’s “Wagons Ho!”.
Coincidentally, Mickey’s son, child actor Teddy Rooney was a co-star in the fourth season Wagon Train episode, “The Candy O’Hara Story.”
About Dorothy Kosich
Dorothy Kosich is a veteran broadcast, online, and print journalist, and editor. She is also a film/TV historian specializing in actor/stuntman Terry Wilson and the series Wagon Train and is writing Wilson’s biography which should be available later this year or early in 2023. Kosich is the creator, contributor, and administrator of The Terry Wilson / Wagon Train Historic Tribute | Facebook page, a members-only group dedicated to the life and career of Terry Wilson.