10 Classic Old Western TV Shows That Still Hold Up Today

With shows like Yellowstone and Lawman: Bass Reeves popularizing TV Westerns again, it's worth looking back at the classic shows that still hold up.

  • Many classic Western TV shows, such as Alias Smith and Jones , Wagon Train , and Rawhide , still entertain audiences today.
  •  These shows offer an engaging and enlightening portrayal of the Old West while remaining entertaining.
  •  The characters and storylines of shows like The Rifleman and Gunsmoke have made them iconic and enduring favorites.

Many classic Western TV shows still hold up when watched today. While the genre hit its peak on the small screen many decades ago, it has stood strong over the years, with shows such as JustifiedYellowstone, and Lawmen: Bass Reeves bringing it back into the spotlight. Looking back, though, some of the most iconic Westerns were the original shows that popularized the genre on television. The heart and humor they injected into the oftentimes harsh Old West setting drew audiences in and kept them there for many seasons.

Westerns can have a tough time holding up, as the genre’s ideals and cultural understandings have constantly been evolving. Some Western movies have become controversial due to changing times, and there are TV shows that could be added to that list. For a long time, particularly during the genre’s heyday, the American Old West was glorified in inaccurate, and occasionally harmful, ways. Still, there are a good number of great Western TV shows that showcase the Old West in an engaging and enlightening manner, while still being entertaining. These are the Westerns that can stand the test of time and remain iconic.

10, Alias Smith And Jones (1971-1973)

A show playing off the popularity of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Alias Smith and Jones ran for three seasons on ABC in the early 1970s. The show follows outlaw cousins Hannibal Heyes and Jedediah “Kid” Curry, who are attempting to reform themselves in an amnesty program, as they’re no longer able to keep up their criminal ways. The title refers to the false names that Heyes and Curry take up as they struggle to live the life of law-abiding citizens. The antics the cousins find themselves in and their methods of getting out of them are still entertaining today.

Alias Smith and Jones was canceled in 1973, as Westerns were beginning to fall out of fashion at the time. However, the show also faced a hit to viewership after the loss of Pete Duel, who played Heyes. His death in 1971 led to the character being recast, leading to a drop in viewership as the show continued.

The first three seasons of Alias Smith and Jones are available to purchase on DVD.

9, Wagon Train (1957-1965)

A classic tale of westward travel

With the 19th-century belief in “manifest Destiny,” the notion of traveling west across the American frontier was all the rage in the Old West. Wagon Train follows a group as they attempt to travel from Missouri to California in hopes of building a new life there. The episodes each focus on a different member of the wagon train with many famous actors taking part in the show. The anthology setup of the show is what makes it so stellar, even today. By focusing on different characters in each episode, Wagon Train ensured that it would never get boring. It worked, as the show ran for eight seasons.

8, Rawhide (1959-1965)

Clint Eastwood’s breakout Western

Rawhide is about cattle drivers working in the Old West. Called drovers, their job was to walk cattle across long distances to sell and ship them. What makes Rawhide stand the test of time is its realism. The show never skirts around the unfortunate truths of the 1860s, tackling topics such as the aftermath of the Civil War, racism, and the harshness of the Old West. Major characters, such as Clint Eastwood’s Rowdy Yates or trail boss Gil Favor, are not always portrayed in a good light, but the show allows them to prove themselves as good people. Decades after Rawhide was canceled, it remains a solid, entertaining Western series.

All eight seasons of Rawhide are available to stream on Pluto TV.

7, The Rifleman (1958-1963)

A show about a father and son trying to make a way for themselves

Chuck Connors stars as the titular rifleman, Lucas McCain, who, along with his young son, Mark, is trying to create a life as a homesteader following the death of his wife. The Rifleman is a heartwarming show, as one of its main themes is forgiveness. Characters are given second chances when they show themselves to be truly remorseful for their actions. The relationship between Lucas and his son is wonderful to watch as well, as shows featuring single parents were rare during this time, and single fathers were even rarer.

All five seasons of The Rifleman are available to stream on Peacock, Vudu, Tubi, Crackle, Pluto TV, Plex, Spectrum, The Roku Channel, and Fubo.

6, The Virginian (1962-1971)

A classic Western series about a ranch foreman trying to keep things in order

Taking place in Wyoming in the 1890s, The Virginian follows the foreman of Shiloh Ranch as he does his best to maintain order and peace. James Drury played the Virginian, whose real name is never revealed. The show went through a lot of changes during its nine-season run, with multiple members of the crew leaving the show. Only Drury and Doug McClure, who played the Virginian’s top hand, stayed for the whole show. Even though The Virginian

 went through a rocky patch in the middle, it’s still an iconic show due to its long runtime and engaging characters.

5, Have Gun-Will Travel (1957-1963)

A show about a gunfighter for hire who does good in the Old West

Similar to The VirginianHave Gun-Will Travel features a main character whose name is never revealed. Referred to simply as “Paladin,” the investigator, or gunfighter for hire, travels from town to town as people hire him to take care of their problems. Despite his constant attempts to solve issues without violence, Paladin is often forced to resort to it. Paladin’s desire to do good is what makes the show hold up, as he will charge those who can afford to pay him, but will help out those less fortunate for free. These heartwarming acts of kindness are why Have Gun-Will Travel is still as iconic now as it was when it first aired.

All six seasons of Have Gun-Will Travel are available to stream on Pluto TV.

4, Maverick (1957-1962)

An iconic tale of a poker-playing family making their living on the American frontier

Maverick follows a pair of brothers, Bret and Bart, as they make their way along the American frontier. They are both poker players, traveling from town to town by horseback, stagecoach, or steamboat, and their personalities make the show so enjoyable. Despite their insistence on only caring about money, the Maverick brothers often find themselves eschewing fortune in favor of morality. Their comedic scrapes and antics add humor and heart to the show, as the Maverick family entertains and uplifts.

The character of Bret was replaced in the fourth season by Beau Maverick, a cousin. James Garner, who played Bret Maverick, left the show after the third season due to a legal dispute. He did, however, return to the property decades later with a major role in the Maverick movie, which cast Mel Gibson as Bret and nobody as Bart or Beau.

All five seasons of Maverick are available to rent on Amazon, Apple TV, and Google Play.

3, Wanted Dead Or Alive (1958-1961)

A show about a morally upright bounty hunter traveling the American West

Wanted Dead or Alive starred Steve McQueen as Josh Randall, a bounty hunter who travels around taking jobs in the Old West. Although his job, as the title of the show implies, allows for his bounties to be brought in dead or alive, Randall tries to avoid unnecessary violence. He will often help out those who need it, even if they can’t afford to pay him for his troubles. Randall comes in contact with a variety of characters and situations, which kept Wanted Dead or Alive fresh throughout its three-season run. Randall’s heart of gold made him an endearing character to follow around the American West.

2, Bonanza (1959-1973)

A famous TV series with a bickering family that endeared themselves to each other and the audience

Bonanza‘s popularity and long run on television can be attributed to the fact that it did something different from many other popular Westerns at the time. Rather than focusing on frontier life itself, the show placed the spotlight on the familial troubles of the Cartwright family — Ben and his sons, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. Taking the emphasis off of the wide-sweeping West and narrowing it down to one family and their neighbors was a risk, but it paid off for Bonanza. It became the second-longest-running Western on NBC and is still relevant today for the social commentary contained within.

The first two seasons of Bonanza are available to stream on Tubi, Crackle, Plex, Shout! TV, Cineverse, and other ad-supported platforms.

1, Gunsmoke (1955-1975)

A show about a U.S. Marshal keeping order in Dodge City

The genre’s longest-running TV show with 20 seasons, Gunsmoke is one of the most iconic Westerns ever made. It began as a radio show that depicted a realistic, if sometimes brutal, depiction of the American West. When it transitioned into a TV show, Gunsmoke lost some of its darkness but held onto its engaging storylines. On both radio and TV, U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon works hard, along with his friends, to keep order in Dodge City, Kansas. Gunsmoke was a massive hit when it first aired and continues to prove itself as a good story today.


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