I’m talking about Dana Fuller Ross’s Wagons West books. I did. All twenty-four of them, and then some of The Holts: An American Dynasty too. When I was a teenager, I was initially afraid of what people would think if I looked in the actual romance section (I’m not sure who I was afraid of, but that’s a question for another day). Because of that, I ate up historical novels. I’d comb through my favorite octagon-shaped B. Dalton on El Toro Road, looking for anything that looked a) historical and b) romantic but was c) not actually a romance. Of course I found Wagons West sooner rather than later, and devoured them all during my high school years.
The Wagons West books had everything. No literally, everything. Wagon trains, gunfights, sex, prostitutes, good Indians and bad Indians (no one was a Native American; it was 1840-something). Love triangles galore. Eventually, gold and silver mining, civilization, saloons (with more prostitutes), and railroads.
The initial premise was that a wagon train was going to Oregon, picking up groups of people along the way. It actually took them four books to get there, which seems impossible now, but there was a lot of sex and violence to accomplish along the way. Plus secret agents from three different countries (or was it four? I forget) were trying to sabotage the American wagon train so they could bolster their own claims to Oregon. Mostly I remember Cathy (whose sister Claudia marries Sam, the original leader of the wagon train). Cathy always had a thing with the dashing Whip Holt, but ends up marrying Lee Blake, the army guy. Whip marries Eulalia, ex-Southern belle captured by Indians and turned into a prostitute (and then saved!). Eventually Whip and Cathy die holding hands in an avalanche, and Eulalia hooks up with Lee. You couldn’t make this stuff up, but of course someone did.
As I recall, the first six books were money. In fact, I still have them, though I haven’t re-read them. I’m sort of afraid that they’ll lose their luster. After they get to Oregon, they take a little tour of every state in the west, start focusing on Whip’s less interesting son Toby, and eventually head back east. I remember thinking, “Tennessee!? Really?” Sure, that used to be the frontier, but not by the time Toby Holt got there. At least they cut bait before they hit Connecticut! Eventually even the Southern states ran out, and Dana Fuller Ross just started writing about the Holts. I was in college by that time, and I think I finally called it quits.
While looking up the books, though, it seems there are more. A new one just last month, in fact. New westerners, back in Texas (Wagons West Texas Freedom!) I guess it’s been awhile since I even noticed them in the bookstore. I’m almost tempted to relive the heady days of my youth and give it a try.
So fess up: Who else read them too? It can’t be just me. Did you have a favorite? Have you ever gone back and read them again?