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How the West Was Won is a ABC network western series loosely based on the 1962 Cinerama film of the same name.
The show's pilot episode "The Macahans" first aired on January 19, 1976, then it aired as a mini-series on February 6, 1977 and then as a regular TV series from February 12, 1978 to April 23, 1979.
The show was about Zebulon "Zeb" Macahan, a well known mountain man, trapper/trader and scout working for the U.S. Army in the Indian Territories. The Sioux and many other Indian tribes have given Zeb Macahan the name "White Eagle". The legend among the Indian tribes is that "a bullet has not been made that can kill him."
In the early 1860s, as the Civil War is beginning, he is reminded that he has family back in Manassas, Virginia that he has not seen in far too long. He journeys back there. When the war comes too close to home, Zeb's sister in law, Kate convinces her husband Tim, Zeb's brother, to pack up their family, including two sons (Luke and Josh (named Seth and Jed in the pilot episode)) and two daughters (Jessie and Laura) and make the move out west.
Once out west the family learns from an Army unit heading east that the first battle of the war is likely to occur at Bull Run, right near Zeb and Tim's parents' home. Tim argues that he, not Zeb, should go east to fetch their parents because Zeb knows the west and can care for his family while he is gone. Tim leaves to return to Virginia, while the family winters in the Indian Territories.
After that, Zeb builds a sod house for the family. Then Zeb is told by a fellow frontiersman that an Army Scout named Billy Joe, who was a close friend of Zeb's has been murdered by a renegade mountainman, named Dutton, who has escaped from an Army Guardhouse that Zeb originally helped put him in for murdering innocent Indians.
Zeb knows that Dutton swore vengeance on Zeb. Fearing for the safety of his family, Zeb leaves the family in order to intercept Dutton before he can reach the Macahan homestead. He intends to be gone for only a short time.
When he and Tim are gone too long, Luke goes back east as well to look for his father and grandparents. Luke returns home to find his grandparents were killed by artillery fire that struck their home during the First Battle of Bull Run.
Luke learns from a family friend that his father was involuntarily conscripted into the Union Army. He also learns that the Union Army unit that took his father was headed towards Tennessee. Luke arrives in Tennessee just as the Battle of Shiloh starts.
During the battle, Luke is unwillingly conscripted into the Union Army by a desperate officer whose unit has taken heavy losses during the Battle. Luke is wounded during the battle and is taken to a field aid station on the battle field. He finds his father, who has been mortally wounded, at the aid station.
After the brutal battle where all of Luke's platoon is killed Luke decides to head west to find his family. While traveling west through Missouri he finds an abandoned horse. He rides the horse until nightfall and then takes shelter in a barn. A local sheriff with two men find Luke sleeping in the barn.
They accuse him of being a horse thief. These men are southern sympathizers and because Luke is wearing Union army trousers they decide to try to lynch him. While escaping from the attempted lynching Luke grabs a pistol and he wounds the sheriff in the arm.
Meanwhile, Zeb tracks down Dutton in the wilderness and kills him in a gun battle. Luke and Zeb return to their family which has been temporarily homesteading near the Platte River in Western Nebraska.
Things are quiet for a time. But then a bounty hunter named Captain Grey arrives. Grey holds a commission as an Army Provost Marshal which empowers him to pursue, arrest and often kill Union soldiers accused of desertion. He arrives at the Macahan homestead to arrest Luke. Zeb threatens to kill Grey unless he leaves immediately.
Kate objects to violence on principle and ask Zeb to lower his rifle. Grey draws his pistol to try to arrest Luke. Zeb slashes Grey's arm with his Bowie knife. Luke restrains Zeb and begs him to stop. Kate orders Grey to leave. Grey mounts his horse by swears to return. Luke leaves to avoid Grey.
Grey pursues Luke for months. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government grants a general amnesty to all alleged deserters from the Army who left during the Civil War. But Grey resigns his Army commission and continues to track Luke because of a reward issued against Luke in Missouri over the incident where Luke wounded that southern sheriff. Grey breaks into the Macahan house to ambush Luke. Kate shoots him dead to protect her son.
The first season ends with the family leaving the homestead to travel west to Oregon as they had originally intended.
The second season starts with the matriarch of the family, Kate, dying in a barn fire. After that Kate's sister Molly Culhane (who is a wealthy widow) arrives from Chicago. She has journeyed west to reunite with her only remaining family.
Then the former southern sheriff, named Martin Stillman, is seeking vengeance and pursues Luke. This former sheriff is now a wealthy businessman. The arm where Luke wounded him is partially crippled. He is obsessed with avenging himself upon Luke. He hires gunmen who torture and nearly kill Luke's brother Josh while pursuing Luke. Eventually Stillman is killed by Zeb in a gunfight.
During his travels, Luke gains a reputation as skilled gunfighter. Luke is forced to spend most of the rest of the series fleeing pursuit (not being cleared of the charges until the final season).
The remainder of the series involves the rest of the family and their lives as they settle in and build up their farm and horse ranch, which is located in the Tetons region of Wyoming with Zeb as their patriarch.
- James Arness as Zebulon "Zeb" Macahan
- Eva Marie Saint as Katherine "Kate" Macahan
- Bruce Boxleitner as Luke Macahan
- Kathryn Holcomb as Laura Macahan
- William Kirby Cullen as Josh Macahan
- Vicki Schreck as Jessie Macahan