Fess Up: Did You Read Them Too?

ArizonaI’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?

30 Responses to “Fess Up: Did You Read Them Too?”

  1. LouiseAAR says:

    OMG!!! Yes! I read them all!! I loved them. I think that my favorite was probably the big finale. I don’t remember much, but didn’t it take place during the centennial celebration in Philly or something? Finally, Whip’s daughter.. no idea her name… hooked up with her mother’s adopted son. They were childhood sweethearts, but of course, no one in those books actually stays together. So he went off and had a bunch of mistresses, she had an unhappy marriage, and finally at the end of the series, they end up together where they belonged. I think those books were the birthplace of my pet peeve of the Big Misunderstanding. Each book had one. But in them, they usually went on for two or three books. I can’t believe they are still being published. I don’t think I could ever read them again. It would probably ruin them for me!!

  2. LeeB. says:

    I never read any of them. But your blog is very entertaining. Probably more so than the books. ;)

  3. Mo says:

    Totally read these, not all of them, but a lot of them. Those along with the girl’s name as the title of the books were almost like my gateway drug into romance. lol

  4. Cris says:

    Okay, was this the series where the guy several books in married the girl that was his distant second choice and something happened to her and she had a bad limp, but eventually got better by riding horses? For some reason, that scene, when he realizes that he’s completely ignored her and the fact that she was getting better has always stuck with me, but… get this… all these years, I thought this was a James Michener series! In my mind, it was written by the guy that wrote Centennial and South Pacific!

    Unless it’s not the same series and someone else who is not James Michener wrote a similar one :)

  5. Blythe says:

    Oh come on, Lee. Clearly you missed out. Did I mention there were prostitutes?

  6. Blythe says:

    No @Cris, you’re right. This is totally the bad limp series. That was Eulalia. She had a bad limp AND she was a prostitute for the Indian tribe that kidnapped her.

    @Mo – Sunfires! Read all those too (and I still have them all). I have mentioned several times throughout AAR’s history that I give Kathleen at least partial credit for my 5 on the AP US History test.

    • louiseaar says:

      OMG – I read the Sunfires too! I loved the one with the Kansas farmer’s daughter. She has a choice between a wild Indian and a nice Farmer and for the first time in my romance reading career – she picked the one I DIDN’T bank on. Ahh, such great memories today Blythe! Thanks!!!!

      BTW – Kathleen was the Irish servant in Boston who married the son of the people she worked for… right?

      Blythe: No @Cris, you’re right. This is totally the bad limp series. That was Eulalia. She had a bad limp AND she was a prostitute for the Indian tribe that kidnapped her.
      @Mo – Sunfires! Read all those too (and I still have them all). I have mentioned several times throughout AAR’s history that I give Kathleen at least partial credit for my 5 on the AP US History test.

  7. Cris says:

    I don’t remember her being a prostitute, but I do remember that she was kind of a bitca early on, but by the end I felt really bad for her being so in love with Whip while he openly pined away Cathy. I remember them talking about running away together in one of the books and it KILLED me that they both just went on with their lives without each other. I also thought Cathy was a right bitch for marrying Lee because Whip wasn’t good enough for her socially.

    Heh! Haven’t thought about that series this much in 25(?) years!

  8. Cris says:

    Just looked it up and the author is a man under a pseudonym, shoulda known since everyone was so miserable in their relationships.

    Okay, that was a sexist statement, women can write miserable relationships, too :)

    And it wasn’t 25 years ago I read these, it was 30+ – yikes!!

  9. maggie b. says:

    Maybe third time will be the charm. I keep trying to post this and it never comes through. I didn’t read these but I did read the White Indian series by Donald Clayton Porter – which sounds remarkbly similar to this sereis. It is about a white boy raised by the Seneca who blends near perfectly into both worlds. Lots of sex, violence, mayhem and star crossed lovers in that series as well.

  10. Fay says:

    Maggie,
    I just learned from “about the author” on Amazon that Donald Clayton Porter and Dana Fuller Ross are the SAME person, both are pseudonyms of Noel Bertram Gerson!

    • maggie b. says:

      Fay: Maggie,
      I just learned from “about the author” on Amazon that Donald Clayton Porter and Dana Fuller Ross are the SAME person, both are pseudonyms of Noel Bertram Gerson!

      That makes sense. :-) When Blythe described Wagons West I instantly thought of White Indian, it sounded virtually the same except for locations.

  11. Vol Fan says:

    Another reader here. I think I will see if I can find some of them at my UBS this weekend. Nice blast from the past. LOL

  12. Elizabeth says:

    I read them! The plots were created by Lyle Kenyon Engel ….who then commisioned ghost writers to do the leg-work. Lyle Kenyon Engel was the force behind a bunch of those great series books from the 70;s and 80′s. I blogged about it here: http://elizabethcamden.com/blog/where-have-the-great-romantic-sagas-gone

  13. Admin AAR says:

    @Louise: Yes on Kathleen. Jessica (the Kansas one) was one of my favorites. I also loved Susanna, Amanda, and Marilee.

    @Fay: So not surprising that Dana was a man. They just read that way.

  14. Kathy says:

    Wagons West! Sunfires! Oh, goodness yes, I read them all and absolutely adored them… like Mo, these two series were certainly my ‘gateway drug’ into romance. The history + romance combination totally hooked me. I still have my copies of every single Sunfire. Jessica was great, also loved Marilee and Caroline. Ah, memories!

  15. Hannah says:

    I was never interested in the Wagons West books though I noticed them among the other adult paperbacks in my small library when I was in late elem/early jr high school. I just stuck to the romances. I also loved the Sunfire books–my favorite was Emily.

    • louiseaar says:

      Which one was Emily?

      Hannah: I was never interested in the Wagons West books though I noticed them among the other adult paperbacks in my small library when I was in late elem/early jr high school. I just stuck to the romances. I also loved the Sunfire books–my favorite was Emily.

  16. louiseaar says:

    Oh yes, Jessica, that’s right! And Merilee was the one in Jamestown – I think that was the first tear jerker that I loved to reread! And Caroline dressed as a boy – but she was the only one NOT torn between two suitors. Wow, those had all the old standbys! There was a Revolutionary War Patriot in South Carolina and a poverty stricken aristocrat on the Titanic. Those Sunfires had them all! I should start collecting them now for my daughter (who is 5!)

    And yes, I always assumed Dana was a man – no way a woman write those books. The men were faithful to the loves of their lives for maybe a book – at most. No way a woman would write that and think it was romance! :)

  17. Leigh AAR says:

    I didn’t read this either Lee and Maggie. I suspect it has to do with that I have never been extremely fond of westerns.

  18. Blythe says:

    Emily was a rich New Yorker.

  19. Lisa says:

    I have collected all the Sunfires and stored them for my daughter! Is that crazy? I loved them, and I passed quite a number of history classes because they were all based around major US events. I loved Rachel, the one about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

  20. Colleen says:

    I’ve been a lurked here omen and off for ages (and long long ago wrote some reviews) but this blog entry finally smoked me back out! My mom was a big reader of historicals and while she didn’t approve of Romance Novels, let me read her books as she finished them, so I read not only Dana Fuller Ross but the John Jakes revolutionary war series (the first one in that series was called The Bastard, and I had to read that one at home only, because My mom was afraid I would get in trouble at my Catholic school and then I would admit I got it from her and then we’d both be in trouble!). It seems to me that the John Jakes books were earlier and the Ross books were an attempt to do the same thing but in the 19th century instead of the 18th. And before all of them was James Michener, I read Hawaii and The Source by the time I was 10, and read each new one as they came out. The love for historicals eventually led me to romance novels as my mom had a couple of Katherine Woodwiss books around (she never finished them, said they were junky) and they ultimately found their way to my room where they were read and re-read and eventually handed on to younger sisters. Great trip down memory lane! I would love to know what books younger readers growing up in the 90s and 00s sneaked out of their mom’s collections and passed around with their friends!

  21. Blythe says:

    Colleen, I totally read the John Jakes books too, although I liked the North and South trilogy better. I remember being shoked (shocked, I tell you) that The Bastard had the f word. I am harder to chiock these days.

    • pooks says:

      Blythe: Colleen, I totally read the JohnJakes books too, although I liked the North and South trilogy better. I remember being shoked (shocked, I tell you) that The Bastard had the f word. I am harder to chiock these days.

      LOL! I remember being shocked that THE BASTARD was titled THE BASTARD, but had totally forgotten about the f-word!

  22. Shauna says:

    I am so envious of those of you who still have your Sunfire books! I couldn’t find any of mine when I went looking for them a few years ago. So I am keeping an eye out for them for my daughter. She is just 3 so I have some time. Hopefully they will be reissued in ebook format by the time she will be ready. I read almost all of them and the variety of historical settings and portrayals of life from the perspective of a girl near my age gave me a better feeling for American history than my textbooks or assigned novels.

    My grandmother had the Wagons West books and I read through most of them while visiting. I remember loving the first couple and then getting less and less enthusiastic about them as the drama continued. I think I moved on Zane Grey after a while.

  23. Marie McWhirter says:

    I was introduced to the Wagons West series when I got the “Missouri” book from the hospital book cart while I was in for a 10 day stay in 1985. It sure helped me get through that hospital stay! does anyone remember that one with Millicent being given the “gypsy” tea that basically turned her into a sex slave?!? I went on to read that series and the While Indian series, also the John Jakes books. They were all so entertaining and fun to read. I miss those “over the top” romances. I got a kick out of reading in the earlier post that the author was a man who wrote the White Indian series also.

  24. Heather says:

    I did! I was introduced to them by my mother, who told me not to take what the characters did as good examples….I was all of 14 at the time! Aaahhh, memories!

  25. Joye says:

    Both my husband and I read this series. We really enjoyed them. We also read at that time a series called Stagecoach West that was also very interesting.

  26. Kathy R says:

    As a used bookstore owner we have continually had customers looking for the books. The publisher is reissuing come of these so we can order them new for our customers. The great thing is that there is a new series being issued. We sold out of the first book and look forward to the continuing series