Windwagon Smith: The Disney version.

THE SAGA OF WINDWAGON SMITH

Original Medium: Folklore
Adapted to cartoons by: Disney
First Appeared: inapplicable
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Like Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan, Windwagon Smith is part of the folklore of the American frontier. And like them, he's been animated by Walt Disney's studio — Bill as part of the 1948 compilation feature Make Mine Music (like Johnny Appleseed and Little Toot) and Paul as a stand-alone featurette (like The Truth About Mother Goose and Goliath II) in 1958. The Saga of Windwagon Smith, released …

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… March 16, 1961, was also a featurette, about as long as two of the cartoon shorts that starred the likes of Chip'n'Dale and Figaro the Cat.

Windwagon's legend wasn't as well-established as Bill's or Paul's. In fact, the Disney version is more famous today than any of Windy's (no relation) prior aspects, and the Disney version is pretty obscure. But there's an authentic legend about a guy who goes by that name, sailing around the prairie in a wind-driven Conestoga wagon, even if it isn't a very widely-told one.

The cartoon is about Windy, formerly a seafaring man, sailing into Westport, Kansas back when the wagon trains started in that landlocked town and decades before its 1897 incorporation into Kansas City, and dropping anchor right on Main Street. He gets into conversation with a few locals and fills their heads with visions of a mighty fleet of wind-powered wagons hauling passengers and freight westward.

Recognizing the commercial possibilities of such a fleet, the townspeople build a large prototype of a prairie sailing ship, while Windy puts the moves on Mayor Crum's lovely daughter, Molly. Comes the day of the launch, a tornado, or "prairie twister" strikes, leaving not a trace of the enterprise.

But if you look very carefully in the direction of the setting Sun, you can still see that ship, plying the waves of the Kansas wheat fields, and it would be rude to interrupt the story right at the end by pointing out that if you gaze into the Sun long enough, you're liable to see just about anything.

The story was narrated by singing cowboy Rex Allen, who, tho known for narrating Disney films, has done very little cartoon voice work, other than minor roles in Charlotte's Web. Allen also did the title character's voice. The townspeople were voiced by the country/western singing group "Sons of the Pioneers". It was directed by C. August Nichols, who, usually styling his name as Charles A. Nichols, later directed Speed Buggy, Jabberjaw and Heathcliff.

Maybe Windwagon Smith isn't as big a star as Mickey or Donald. But he's every bit as much a Disney character as Humphrey Bear, Lambert the Sheepish Lion or José Carioca.

— DDM

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Text ©2009-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © The Walt Disney Co.