7 Essential TV Cowboys

Sunday, March 11 by Stu Moody

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Is there anything more quintessentially masculine than cowboys? We submit that there is not. Once upon a time, Hollywood was made up of almost nothing but cowboys and Western flicks. But TV came alone after their day had passed, and so great TV cowboys aren't as easy to come by. But they're out there, and if you want to know who's the most rootin'-tootin' roughneck of them all, check out this list of the seven essential TV cowboys!

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"Gunsmoke" ran on TV for roughly a billion years, only behind the heavyweight champion of episodic TV, "The Simpsons." It was full of gunslingers and rustlers and stuff, but no one was quite as memorable as Marshal Dillon, played by William Conrad. As the force of good, Marshal had to deal with a whole cadre of evil doers during his tenure, and he always did it ably. Sure, TV rules prevented too much violence, but Dillon was not a cowboy to be trifled with.

Lucas McCain, "The Rifleman"

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With an iron jaw and a steely gaze, former basketball player Chuck Connors took on the role of Lucas McCain in the original run of "The Rifleman." Connors even wrote some of the episodes himself, proving that there was a brain behind those hawk-like eyes of his. Playing a widowed war veteran and cattleman, Lucas was a true cowboy, in the literal sense. He was also an expert marksman, and more than once, his mettle was tested, and everyone who challenged him was always sorry.

Seth Bullock, "Deadwood"

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The encampment of Deadwood, South Dakota, represented the wild and sometimes lawless frontier of the old west. So what kind of tough cowboy could help tame this settlement? Seth Bullock, that's who. Based on the real-life first Sheriff of the real Deadwood town, Seth brings law to the lawless with a steady hand and a sharp delivery. Hell, this was the town where Wild Bill Hickok met his end, courtesy of a bullet to the back. Only a real cowboy could handle a place like that!

Paladin, "Have Gun-Will Travel"

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Like any good guy, Paladin, played by Richard Boone, didn't want to use violence to settle his disputes. He knew that a real tough guy has nothing to prove. But when push came to shove, Paladin's shooting skills were unmatched. "Have Gun-Will Travel" ran for about six years and did great in the ratings, thanks in large part to Richard Boone's sharp portrayal of the original "Man In Black."

Ben Cartwright, "Bonanza"

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The show "Bonanza," apart from spawning an incredibly iconic and catchy theme, was the quintessential "Cowboys and Indians" TV show. Of course, by Indians we mean Native Americans, right? Now that the PC stuff is out of the way, it bears pointing out the Ben Cartwright was engaged in a constant battle with the boys with the bows and arrows. He was also a three-time widower, so like any good cowboy it seems like he didn't give much quarter to the women-folk. Can't say we blame him.

Lash LaRue, "26 Men" and others

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Lash LaRue may have had a rough go of things in his later years, but for a while he was perhaps the best-known TV cowboy in America. He was one of those guys who made a career out of essentially playing himself in a variety of TV shows and movies, much like John Wayne did. He was a real cowboy, complete with bullwhip-cracking action. Perhaps his best known role was that of Sheriff Behan on ABC's "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," a role that would be re-cast in many other Earp films. But Lash's authentic cowboy presence could never be duplicated.

Roy Rogers, "The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show"

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"The Singing Cowboy" isn't a title reserved for naked guys in New York or Gene Autry.  No, Roy Rogers, the authentic cowboy himself, could croon along with the best of them. Famous for his "Happy Trails" song, Roy delighted audiences with his cheerful smile and his famous horse, Trigger. But don't let his happy demeanor fool you; Roy was a natural with a pistol, and his dusty upbringing likely made him as tough as saddle leather.