Please welcome guest author Andrea Downing to the Cafe!

I like to think I came into this world to the sound of Gene Autry (‘50-‘56[1]) yodeling, but the likelihood is not great, knowing my mother.  We lived in the suburbs of New York, and the West was about as exotic as one could imagine.  Eventually, I could imagine.  Gene’s mount, Champion the Wonder Horse, was certainly a wonder to me, and it was probably he who started my life-long love affair with horses.  That said, it was surely the beautiful Trigger, Roy Roger’s ( ’51-’57) magnificent palomino, who caused me to daydream about being left by the side of the parkway to gallop away into the wild west.

It’s strange now to think that the Emmy Awards actually had a category of ‘Best Western or Adventure series,’ so important was this genre.  The Lone Ranger (’49-’57) had been riding with Tonto for some time now, shouting, “Hi Ho Silver, Awayyyy” or at least that’s what I thought I heard.  I definitely heard Tonto’s “Keemosabe,” an expression that has stayed with generations of fans as the characters have passed into film. It may have been my affinity for the faithful Tonto that prompted me to do a school project on the Reckawacky Indians, the tribe that had once held the land where I lived.

James Garner as MaverickThose were innocent years.  In Gunsmoke (’55-’75!) the good marshal ‘never hung his hat up at Kitty’s place’ as Toby Keith sings in “I Should’ve Been a Cowboy.”  I can still hear my father’s voice imitating Dennis Weaver as Chester, limping along and whining out, “Marshal Dillllllon”.  Gunsmoke was probably the last of the westerns that made the transition from radio to TV, and the westerns slowly became more complex in their storylines.  There were Wagon Train (’57-’65), and Maverick (’57-’62) with a favorite of mine, James Garner.  Rawhide (’59-’65) gave the world Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates.  Looking back, I note that the hairdo I wore to my ‘Sweet Sixteen’ party was eerily similar to the ladies’ hairdos in some of these series:  an up-do sprayed to plastic perfection!

James Drury as The VirginianBut while Clint and Jim certainly had me interested, no one made my heart flutter quite so much as James Drury in The Virginian (’62-’71)  Television was maturing now and The Virginian, based on the Owen Wister book, was the first western to run a full 90- minutes.  Sheer Bliss!  While Henry Darrow as Manolito in The High Chaparral and Robert Conrad as James T. West in The Wild Wild West were contenders against Drury, The Virginian had the benefit of its Wyoming setting.  My love affair with that state had begun.   I wanted to find Medicine Bow and live there.

However, that was not to be.  Unsure of what to do after college graduation, I headed off to England to do an M.A.   I’d say I made the mistake of getting married there, but I have the most wonderful daughter as a result.  “Back at the ranch,” the westerns were fading from popularity.  Alias Smith and Jones  (’71-’73) had great appeal but was cancelled after the death of Pete Duel,  one of its two main leads.  Westerns were giving way to police and medical dramas, and while mini-series like Centennial (’78-’79) and Lonesome Dove (’89) made appearances, it wasn’t until Dr. Quinn:  Medicine Woman (’93-’98) came along that my daughter and I sat down to religiously watch each week. Whether it was that or just a feeling to return to my “roots” that prompted it, I don’t know, but years of vacations on western ranches began.  To date, we’ve clocked up more than 24 in states throughout the West.

When Deadwood (2004-2006) came out, I thought perhaps the western was making a come-back.  But it’s gritty reality—you could almost smell the body odor off the men—didn’t appeal to me.  By the time I returned to live in the US in 2008, my daughter already graduated from college and ensconced in NYC, the West was beginning to have its pull again, and I began writing western romance.  Hell on Wheels (2011-) took a bit of getting used to, as did living in New York, but Longmire (2012-), possibly the first contemporary western I’ve watched since Sky King (’51-’59), balances that out.  And it is set in my beloved Wyoming.

If you think westerns have only American appeal, I can tell you that one evening I was out to dinner in Bogota with my daughter’s boyfriend’s parents.  They are Colombian, and Daniel’s father, Hernando, does not speak English.  But when I started talking about what I write and my love for TV westerns, it transpired Hernando had watched them all as well.  Just the mention of Palladin on Have Gun Will Travel (’57-’63) had him twirling his imaginary moustache.

The rest of that evening I had the theme song playing endlessly in my head.  As with so many of the others, the melodies if not all the words have stayed with me over the years.


I’m sorry if I haven’t mentioned your favorite western.  Others that I’ve watched and enjoyed were Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (’51-‘58),  Death Valley Days (’52-’70), Cheyenne (’55-’63), The Rifleman (’58-’63), The Big Valley (’65-’69),  King Fu (’72-’75) and, of course, Little House on the Prairie (’74-’83).

[1] All dates are years of the television program

~  ~  ~

Dances of the Heart Cover

Dances of the Heart

Successful, workaholic author Carrie Bennett lives through her writing, but can’t succeed at writing a man into her life. Furthermore, her equally successful but cynical daughter, Paige, proves inconsolable after the death of her fiancé.

Hard-drinking rancher Ray Ryder can find humor in just about anything—except the loss of his oldest son. His younger son, Jake, recently returned from Iraq, now keeps a secret that could shatter his deceased brother’s good name.

On one sultry night in Texas, relationships blossom when the four meet, starting a series of events that move from the dancehalls of Hill Country to the beach parties of East Hampton, and from the penthouses of New York to the backstreets of a Mexican border town. But the hurts of the past are hard to leave behind, especially when old adversaries threaten the fragile ties that bind family to family…and lover to lover.

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Andrea Downing likes to say that when she decided to do a Masters Degree, she made the mistake of turning left out of New York, where she was born, instead of right to the west, and ended up in the UK.   She eventually married there, raising a beautiful daughter and staying for longer than she cares to admit.  Teaching, editing a poetry magazine, writing travel articles, and a short stint in Nigeria filled those years until in 2008 she returned to NYC.  She now divides her time between the city and the shore, and often trades the canyons of New York for the wide open spaces of Wyoming.  Family vacations are often out west and, to date, she and her daughter have been to some 24 ranches throughout the west.

Loveland, Andrea’s first book, was a finalist for Best American Historical at the 2013 RONE Awards.  Lawless Love, a short story, part of The Wild Rose Press ‘Lawmen and Outlaws’ series, was a finalist for Best Historical Novella at the RONE Awards and placed in the 2014 International Digital Awards Historical Short contest.   Dearest Darling, a novella, is part of The Wild Rose Press Love Letters series, and came out Oct. 8th, 2014.  It won ‘Favorite Hero’ along with Honorable Mentions for Favorite Heroine, Short Story and Novel in the Maple Leaf Awards. Dances of the Heart, her first contemporary novel, came out in February, 2015.


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Twitter:  @andidowning








  1. The Westerns channel is my husband’s favorite. Right now he’s watching a lot of “Bat Masterson.” I always liked “Lawman,” too, but it wasn’t until recent years that I started favoring John Russell over the so-cute Peter Brown. There were so many of the shows–and my dad was attached to each and every one–that for a long time, I wouldn’t watch any. Now, however, they’re fun again. And, yes, I still lust over young James Drury, too.

    • If you’re of a certain age, tv westerns are certainly a part of your childhood I think. I remember Bat Masterson so well with Gene Barry in that bowler hat ([probably why I never really fancied him–Stetsons preferred!). That’s another theme song that can run through my head: ‘His name was Bat, Bat Masterson…’

  2. My all time favorite was Bonanza. Loved Little House and Dr. Quinn. Started watching Longmire, because it’s filmed around here, but I really wish Katie would button her work shirt. The hot guy, too (can’t remember his name) because it takes away from the credibility, realism.

  3. I watched them all. My favorites were the houses full of handsome bachelors on Bonanza and Big Valley. Longmire is my current favorite.

  4. I grew up watching reruns of The Big Valley and The Long Ranger.

    As a child the only show that came close was Little House of the Prairie. But, by my early twenties I was lucky to have The Young Riders (the fan fiction I wrote started my writing career).

    It wasn’t until I was pregnant and finally subscribed to cable that I got introduced to Bonanza, High Chaparral, The Rifleman, The Man from Snowy River and Bordertown. And, to my delight, I also had the opportunity to watch reruns of The Young Riders. I spent every Saturday watching westerns with my son, until the Family Channel changed their line-up.

    Recently, I started subscribing to cable again. This time I was introduced to The Virginian, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and The Wagon Train. Now that the price has gone down, I might purchase the first season of Deadwood. Over the years, I’ve also collected the DVDs of The Young Riders (surprise, surprise), Lonesome Dove The Series, Lonesome Dove The Outlaw Years, Legacy (this was edited and a disappointment), and The Magnificent Seven.

    At this moment I flipping between the Insp Channel and MeTV. Both feature westerns on Saturday.

    • I hate to admit I don’t know The Young Riders. Maybe it was on while I was living in Britain and it never came over there. There is a dent in my western watching due to being in the UK. Certain things, like Alias Smith and Jones and Centennial, made it over, others not. Hope you continue to enjoy watching these programs, Ursula.

  5. Just an FYI, Alias Smith and Jones ran a couple of seasons after the untimely death of Pete Duel. Roger Davis joined the show to replace Duel. I watched “The Deputy” which had Henry Fonda and “Branded” the Chuck Connors vehicle, after “The Rifleman”. Oh so many others. Many memories, lots of hours dreaming. Doris

    • Actually, Doris, Davis only lasted one year/17 episodes before the show was taken off. He had been narrator as well of course. I don’t remember The Deputy I have to admit, but Chuck Connors was certainly a name to be reckoned with on the western circuit.

  6. Omygosh! I was raised on westerns. My dad was a huge fan of Gunsmoke and Bonanza, so we all watched it. As an adult, many of my Saturday afternoons were spent watching a full run of serial westerns – High Chaparral, The Virginian, Wagon Train, Big Valley, and two episodes of The Rifleman. I still watch them today when I can find them on one of the nostalgia channels. Yes, it is all melodrama, but it always has a happy ending, and I think that’s what I like about them. Always a happy ending and only the bad guy ends up dead or in jail.

  7. It would have to be Maverick, followed by Bonanza. Hoss, in that series, came from about 30 miles from where I grew up. He died too young.

    Longmire is the only modern TV western I enjoyed when I could get it. I think it’s on again, but not on a channel we subscribe to.

    Good luck with “Dances with Horses.” Great title. And by the way, I love almost all old western movies, and go back to your mother’s time, I suspect.

    • Ummm, not sure whether that was a joke on the cover or not–title actually is Dances of the Heart. But I am laughing trying to envisage Dances with Horses—sort of the sequel to Dances with Wolves? So if I had a native name maybe it would be Dances with Horses!

  8. Oh, my, lots of memories here. My dad enjoyed the old TV Westerns, too, and my husband and I had fun watching the reruns of some. But growing up, I did like James Garner’s Maverick and Rawhide. I actually preferred Sugarfoot to Cheyenne Clint Walker.(I have no idea who played Sugarfoot, or even when it was on, but I kind of recall that he was blond?) As for Longmire, I never have been able to get into that one. I did like Hell on Wheels, though. It would be great to see a return of more Westerns. (Did anyone watch The Bridge? I suppose it can’t be considered a modern Western, but it did have elements.)

  9. My favorite was How the West Was Won, a 70s miniseries and then series. I was so in love with Bruce Boxleitner for a while there!

    Great post and your book sounds like good summer reading! Adding it to my TBR list.

  10. The Cisco Kid and Hopalong Cassidy were two more that I enjoyed. Maverick was a definite no miss. And I’ve decided Wild Wild West was a precursor to steam punk thanks to Artemis Gordon’s inventions! Enjoyed the post.

  11. Congrats on the book, Andrea! I love this topic… My fave classic western is Bonanza with The Big Valley a close second…today I absolutely love Hell on Wheels. Longmire is next up. Wonderful post. Cullen Bohannon is a terrifically edgy hero IMO.

  12. What a great post Andrea. Although I write ‘romantic space opera’ (really cowboys in space :0) I’ve always loved the stories of the Old West – so much so that I learnt to ride western and traded in my English saddles for Western ones. (and swapped my riding hat for a special safety Stetson) Riding around the country lanes in Wales, in a checked shirt and cowboy boots may have raised a few eyebrows from the ‘English’ riding fraternity but I reckoned that was their problem not mine!

    I think you’re right about the UK losing out on some of the Westerns – as far as I know series like ‘The Young Riders’ never did make it over here. As a youngster though, I loved series such as Bonanza, The High Chaparral, Rawhide, Tenderfoot, Laramie,(ooh, Robert Fuller!) The Virginian,The Little House on The Prairie and my all-time favourite, Bronco Layen I fell madly in love with Bronco (Ty Hardin) and fantasised about him for years.

    I agree about the ‘gritty realism’ in modern westerns. Give me the good old fashioned ‘romance’ of the old westerns any day.

    On the big screen I was captivated by Shane, The Big Country and The magnificent 7. As the saying goes, they don’t make Westerns like that any more.

    • I don’t think I ever watched Bronco, though Ty Hardin was in a few westerns and he was certainly good looking. BTW, I tried one of those Stetson safety helmets years back. If they’re still made the same way, I would watch it, Lyn. I had to give mine up after one trial run: if you do fall, they are so stiff, you are liable to break your neck while saving your head. The other problem for me was riding in Arizona where the temperatures are so high—those hats were just too damn hot!

      • Thanks for the warning Andrea – although I think mine may have been a bit different to yours – it was basically like an English ‘skull’ with a lightweight synthetic straw stetson over it. It’s actually quite comfortable although thankfully I haven’t had cause to test its effectiveness, but although most Western riders over here show in an ordinary stetson, we tend to have the ‘safety helmet’ so ingrained we wouldn’t ride on the road without one – and I know when I rode English my riding hat certainly saved my life on one occasion when the horse bucked me off as I was trying to mount and I hit my head hard on the ground. The helmet split but I just suffered some cuts and bruises.

        • Yup, your Stetson/helmet is definitely different to the ones my daughter and I had. Ours had very stiff wool (I presume, might’ve been buffalo or something, doubt it was beaver) stetsons over–unbendable, ungiving, very hot. I have to say, having learned English riding in the UK, I do find it worrisome to ride without a proper helmet, and nowadays you do see, even out west, riders with helmets. But I no longer own a horse or ride regularly, and most western rides, if they are trail rides, won’t let you go faster than a trot due to insurance regulations., When we stay on working ranches you just plum feel like an idiot in anything but a stetson and, anyway, the horses are far better. Always the chance of putting a foot in a gopher hole of course…

  13. This is a great post, Andi! Growing up I watched a lot of westerns — my Dad’s only favorite thing to watch on TV. I loved them all, too, and it’s not easy to choose a favorite. But now that the Western Channel re-runs all the series fives days a week, I’ve become interested in Steve McQueen’s “Wanted: Dead or Alive.” His character, Josh Randall, is an interesting enigma for me. He sure gets out of a lot of scrapes but always brings in his man/woman. And who could forget Sky King, riding in his helicopter to save the day!! Nowadays I’ll watch any old or new western, whether I’ve seen them once or six times! But Longmire is at the top of my list :)

    • Ah, Alice, I was waiting for you to mention Longmire 😉 Sky King actually flew a piper cub or maybe a Cessna 310; I don’t recall him having a helicopter as well, but I’m glad someone else besides me remembers him!

      • A Senior Moment, for sure. I had a feeling when I typed “helicopter” that something wasn’t right. Sky King’s mode of transport was a Cessna 310…

        • Ah, the good old days Alice…that little plane served well on a number of ranches, I should think. It might have been in the last episode of Centennial as well–or maybe that was the Piper Cub.

  14. Great post, Andi, and thanks for the reminder of all the great Westerns on TV. I grew up watching them and loving them too. Being from rural Colorado, it was no great stretch for me. Some of my favorites have been mentioned… and for the same reason I loved them–Sugarfoot for Will Hutchins, Wagon Train for Robert Horton, Bonanza for Michael Landon and I loved Manolito in High Chaparral too. But Lee Majors in The Big Valley! Now that I still watch in reruns.

    • Goodness, Rebecca, what a bunch of romantics we all are! And there I thought if you lived out west growing up you’d have your fill of handsome cowpunchers! Just goes to show…

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