Friday, March 24, 2017


It is a happy time of year, time for the 3rd Annual Favourite Television Episode Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote of A Shroud of Thoughts. Click HERE for the journey into the best of Classic TV.

My choice this year is the Wagon Train episode Little Girl Lost from that venerable series' final season. The program aired on Sunday, December 13, 1964.

Robert Fuller, John McIntire, Terry Wilson
Michael Burns, Frank McGrath

Wagon Train came into my life upside down and higgledy-piggledy through the television syndication market. The first episodes I watched were the colour, 90 minute programs of the 7th season (1963-1964). Jerome Moross' theme, originally used in the film The Jayhawkers (imagine my surprise when I saw that movie for the first time!) made its way straight to my heart where it lingers to this day. More surprises were in store when I learned there was an earlier theme that was fun to sing by Sammy Fain and Jack Brooks, recorded by Johnny O'Neill. Here's a version by series star Robert Horton.

Frank McGrath as cook Charlie Wooster and Terry Wilson as scout Bill Hawks were the only cast members in all eight seasons of Wagon Train from 1957 to 1965. Ward Bond as Major Seth Adams and Robert Horton as scout Flint McCullough originally led the westbound wagon train. With time came the passing of Ward Bond, the addition of John McIntire as wagon master Chris Hale and Denny Miller as scout Duke Shannon. Still later we would have Robert Fuller as scout Cooper Smith and Michael Burns as "adopted" youngster Barnaby West.

The series ran on NBC from 1957 to 1962 and was picked up by ABC through to 1965. ABC tinkered with the format switching to the popular expanded colour episodes and then back to the black and white 60 minute format before declining ratings saw the end of its prime time run.

284 episodes of Wagon Train were produced, written and directed by the best talent in the business including Howard Christie, Thomas Thompson and Tay Garnett. Impressive guest starts from Barbara Stanwyck to Sessue Hayakawa to Lou Costello performed in stories of high comedy, epic drama and intense character studies. And then there is Little Girl Lost written by Leonard Praskins and directed by Virgil W. Vogel.

Eileen Baral as Robin

Little Girl Lost is first distinguished by its title. The majority of titles for the episodes are The "Main Character or Location" Story. Secondly, every other episode is grounded in the reality of the show's setting while Little Girl Lost is a genuine ghost story. Robin Mercy Rossiter, played by Eileen Baral, is truly a lost soul. The six-year-old was a member of the doomed Donner party, a wagon train trapped by blizzards in a mountain pass in 1846.

Spirituality or faith is often a theme in westerns as characters believe or hope that a higher power will support them in their trials and endeavours. As James Whitmore remarked in The Gabe Carswell Story, "A man has to speak to God even if he's simply talking to himself".

Several nights have passed with members of the Chris Hale wagon train losing sleep due to a young girl crying. Assuming illness or sadness, the source of the sound has not been discovered. Scouts from another train have even approached asking if a child is missing because they have heard the crying as well.

Michael Burns, Frank McGrath

One evening camp cook Charlie Wooster sees a girl outside the circle up crying and asking for help. Charlie kindly offers help, but the child disappears. The girl was also seen by teenager Barnaby and both he and Charlie are startled by how cold it feels in the spot where they had seen the girl. The unusual circumstances convince Charlie that the sighting should be kept a secret. Often the butt of jokes, Charlie does not want to take the chance of being ridiculed.

John Doucette as Boone Gilla

During a further encounter, also witnessed by Barnaby, Charlie bonds with Robin and gains more details about her background. The names she mentioned meant nothing to Charlie so he asks about them among the crew and passengers. Boone Gilla, played by John Doucette, is a teller of tall tales who amuses the children. One true fact of his earlier years is that he survived the Donner tragedy. Boone is able to provide Charlie with the details about Robin's life, and her death.

Realizing that Robin does not understand that she is dead, Charlie feels an obligation to help her find her way. As the train nears the Donner Pass, Charlie rides ahead in a last ditch effort to free the wandering spirit.  He reaches the gravesite as described by Boone and finds Robin.

Frank McGrath, Eileen Baral

Charlie:  Robin, if you're mad at me please don't be. I only want to help.

Robin:  Mommy, Mommy. (sobbing)

Charlie:  Robin, dear.

Robin:  My Mommy is dead. Mrs. Glover said she - she didn't have enough to eat.

Charlie:  Why don't you go to her, dear?

Robin:  I do. Every day. Where they put her in the ground.

Charlie:  I mean join her where she is now.

Robin:  I can't. I told you. She's dead.

Charlie:  So are you, Robin.

Robin:  No!

Charlie:  You have been, honey, for a long, long time.

Robin:  You're a bad man to say that.

Charlie:  You died at the Glovers.

Robin:  I'm not dead. Being dead is awful.

Charlie:  Only for awful people, and maybe not not even for them. But surely not for a dear little girl like you. You were frightened. Maybe that's why you couldn't find your way. There's nothing to be afraid of and that's a good thing to know. Robin, honey, show me where they laid your mama to rest. Show me, dear.

Dying is a natural thing you know. Don't worry about it. It's like sleeping or growing. What's to be afraid of? Who's afraid of getting bigger or going to sleep. Sometimes I think being born is a kind of dying. You know, you die there and live here. When you're through here you go back there. I don't know whether these things are true or not. I'm an old man. Some people say I'm a little cracked in the head. But, Robin, I know one thing. There's a God in Heaven and He's not going to give his children a bad deal. He can't. He's our Father so He's got to love us.

Robin:  What are you looking for? Charlie is digging around the graves.

Charlie:  Well, you might say a sign - to show you the comfort you've missed all these years because you've been wanting to go.

Robin:  I'm cold. I'm going to the Glovers. I don't want to stay here with you.

Charlie:  Wait, Robin. Please. It's gotta be here somewhere. If Boone lied to me... Robin, dear, you said you could read.  Charlie finds the gravestone.

Robin:  Robin Mercy Rossiter. 1840 - 1846.  It's me.

Charlie:  Yes, darling. The comfort you've missed all this time is waiting for you.

A bright light envelopes the place where they are sitting.

Robin turns toward the light and smiles:  Mommy.

Little Girl Lost is a charming and unique Wagon Train episode and a lovely showcase for one of the show's two longest running stars, Frank McGrath.


  1. nicely done, Caftan Woman. A well written appreciation of the episode. While I've seen "Wagon Train" & definitely enjoy the series, I haven't caught this episode; it sounds intriguing. I'll have to track it down.

    1. When a favourite series goes "outside of the box" and gives us something unexpected, it is always a treat.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  2. This sounds like a really good episode and one I'll be checking out. A beautiful piece. I love how Wagon Train lasted so long that it made you feel as though you were on a wagon train yourself, spending years with these familiar and very dear faces. ( One small correction....God should be capitalized in your James Whitmore quote ).

    1. I may go a while without watching Wagon Train, but then I put it on and hear the theme (either) and I am transported.

      (Thanks. As I used to tell my boss, "I don't make corrections, I make amendments." LOL)

  3. This series looks like just your cup of tea - and mine, too! Yet I think it was only broadcast many years ago here in Brazil. I hope I can see some episodes of the show someday.
    Great post, as always.
    Thanks for the kind comment!

    1. Thanks so much. I do think you will enjoy Wagon Train. Sometimes there are episodes available on YouTube. You may be lucky.

  4. First, I love that you used the term "higgledy-piggledy". One doesn't come across it very much.

    I'm not familiar with "Wagon Train", so I left your post, found it on YouTube, started watching one of the episodes, then realized I should finish reading your post! So all that to say "Thank You" for introducing me to this series.

    I agree with a previous reader who commented on your review. It was nicely done.

    1. Thank you very much.So pleased you were tickled by "higgledy-piggledy" and just as pleased that you took the time to check out Wagon Train.

      There is much to enjoy over its run, from interesting stories (must-see The Sarah Drummond Story) to the fascinating array of guest stars.

  5. I remember watching WAGON TRAIN during its later years, to include the 90-minute episodes. I don't recall this episode, so I quite enjoyed your review. It was always a well-written TV series and the format, which focused more on the guest stars than the stars, always intrigued me.

    1. I don't think there is enough time for us to get caught up with all the classic (older) movies and television that is worth watching.

      Perhaps it was due to the hour format, but I really liked that the episode didn't waste a lot of time with people doubting Charlie's encounters. They did something different with something different.

  6. Thank you for taking part in the blogathon! I also didn't see Wagon Train quite straight through. As a kid I remember KOMU reran the hour-long Ward Bond and John McIntire episodes, but not the ninety minute episodes! I wouldn't see the 7th season as an adult. Anyway, "Little Girl Lost" is one of my favourite episodes from the later seasons. It is just so different from the typical Wagon Train episode (or indeed the typical episode of most TV Westerns).

    1. I am always happy to participate in this blogathon. I never watch a program now that it doesn't cross my mind as to whether it would be a good entry for "next year's". Thank you.

      The uniqueness of the episode is one thing, but the lovely execution makes it special.

  7. Nicely done. I need to get more familiar with the final season, as I've yet to see Little Girl Lost; sounds like I need to!

    1. We all have those little gaps in our classic TV viewing. And I'm thankful for that. Everything old is new again.

  8. I just this episode today and I’m crying too. A wonderfully written story, a great showcase for Charlie.

    1. Little Girl Lost is a moving and memorable story. I am so pleased you let me know of your viewing.

  9. just caught the last 15 minutes very well done sad and sweet at the same time

    1. The melancholy and, as you say, sweetness in the story makes it live in our hearts.



Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...