‘Wagon Train’: The Show’s Three Theme Songs and How They Evolved

by Matthew Wilson
Photo credit: NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

Every great TV show needs a great theme song. The western “Wagon Train” ended up with three pretty good tunes during its run on the air. Production on the show just couldn’t find a song that they liked.

As a result despite being on the air for eight years, the show went through three different theme songs during that period. Most of the TV show’s musical experimentation happened during the early seasons of the show. The first theme for “Wagon Train” was titled simply after the show. Songwriters Henri Rene and Bob Russell wrote the instrumental, a sweeping score that captured the visages of the Wild West.

That theme song last for all of a season.

For Season Two, production decided on a new theme and did away with the orchestra performance. The new tune “(Roll Along) Wagon Train” featured vocals during the credits. Songwriters Sammy Fain and Jack Brooks wrote the tune, and Johnny O’Neill lent his voice. O’Neill’s performance was a little more uptempo and catchy than the show’s original tune. But after only half a season, the show got rid of O’Neill’s vocals on the song.

For the show’s final theme, “Wagon Train” returned to an instrumental arrangement. “Wagons Ho!” lasted for the rest of the series time on the air.

‘Wagon Train’ Loses Its Lead Actor

Of course, the theme song wasn’t the only thing that changed during the show’s time on the air. “Wagon Train” lost its lead actor halfway through its run. Western veteran Ward Bond played wagon master, Major Seth Adams, for three and half seasons on the show. But midway through Season Four, Bond had a heart attack while staying in a Dallas hotel and passed away.

Rather than try to deal with the complexities of losing their main star during the show, production opted to simply replace Bond’s character. The show replaced Major Adams with John McIntire as Christopher Hale between episodes. Audiences never learn what happened to Adams or why his character suddenly disappears, leaving it up to their imagination.

Under McIntire, the show ran for three and half more seasons. After Season Five, Robert Horton, who played scout Flint McCullough, opted to leave the show as well. But “Wagon Train” survived the cast shake ups.