Synopsis by Hal Erickson
One of the few TV western series of the 1980s, The Young Riders was set in 1860, the year of the formation of the mail service popularly known as the Pony Express. Anthony Zerbe headed the cast as Teaspoon Hunter, a grizzled old campaigner with an unsavory past who ran a prairie station of the Central Overland Express, which spanned a distance from Missouri to California. Located first in Sweetwater, Wyoming and later in Rock Creek, Nebraska, Hunter's outpost employed several very young and very-good looking riders, several of whom would go on to either fame or notoriety in the post-Civil War West. Ty Miller played the lead rider, a hothead known only as The Kid (it was not-so-subtly hinted that he was actually Billy the Kid). His coworkers included Stephen Baldwin as Billy Cody, who would in the future affix the designation "Buffalo" to his first name; Josh Brolin as Jimmy Hickok, a fast gun who would one day achieve prominence as "Wild Bill" Hickok; and, when the service moved to Rock Creek, Christopher Pettiet as a 14-year-old fugitive from justice named Jesse James (Reality check: Though Buffalo Bill Cody did indeed ride with the Pony Express, the others listed above did not). In its efforts to invest a 1980s sensibility into the 19th century proceedings, the series tackled such issues as racial tolerance and feminism, as embodied by the other "Young Riders". Yvonne Suhor was cast as Lou McCloud, a feisty young girl who disguised herself as a boy in order to qualify for the Pony Express; Gregg Rainwaiter played Buck Cross, a half-Kiowa Indian with a pronounced streak of mysticism; Don Franklin was seen as Noah Dixon, a freeborn black; and Travis Fine was Ike McSwain, who had been rendered mute after witnessing the massacre of his family by outlaws. Serving as cook and mother confessor to the station was Melissa Leo as Emma Shannon, later replaced by Claire Wren as Rachel Dunn. Also in the cast were Brett Cullen as Emma's off-and-on beau, Marshal Sam Cain, and Don Collier as storekeeper William Tompkins. Created by Ed Spielman, the weekly, 60-minute The Young Riders was seen over ABC from September 20, 1989 through July 23, 1992--a considerably longer run than the actual Pony Express, which went out of business after a mere seventeen months.