Little Legends of Action Figure History




In the 1970's, western TV shows and films 
were going out of fashion and taken over by 
a love of modern country culture
with a glut of exploitation films about 
rednecks, truckers, and country singers.

 Even though the popularity of this genre was waning, luckily for us toy nerds there was a renaissance of Western toys in the 70's with the introduction of a new 
action figure scale,

4" articulated characters.





Hot off the heels of the larger scale 
Johnny West and Lone Ranger lines,
the now defunct toy company Excel 
made an 9 1/2" line of figures based on 
old Western legends from the 1800's.

Simply titled "Legends of the West,"

this line was a dime store alternative to the mass-market lines from Gabriel and Mattel.




They first released figures in 
a 9 ½” scale in 1973.

There were 11 figures and 4 scaled horses 
made for this line original line.

The cool fact about these is that they 
made 4 female figures:

Annie Oakley, Belle Starr, 
Calamity Jane, and Pocahontas.

These figures are high articulated like 
their Lone Ranger cousins and feature well made accessories and clothing.



If you are a diligent toy collector 
you should be able to track down most 
of the line fairly cheaply and easily.

The hardest figures to come across 
complete are the horses,
 the females and Deadwood Dick.




Sometime during the period of 
1973 to 1975 Excel decided against popular action figure opinion at the time and shrink their Western figures down to a 4” scale.
 I am not sure why they did this unless 
it was to save money on all of the fabric outfits and hats or so they could 
make a more varied line of horses, 
wagons, and playsets.
 


The 1st set of the now dubbed 
“Little Legends” from Excel hit the 
shelves in 1973 and continued till 1975.



The Excel versions of the Western heroes 
are the 1st articulated figures in the smaller action figure scale in the US
that would become popular with Star Wars 
and GI Joe a few years later.



The early figures featured articulated arms, heads,and waist, but the legs were static 
and pre-posed.



The molds and idea for the line were then
transferred to the Empire Toy Company,
a subsidiary of Carolina Enterprises Inc.

They articulated the legs and expanded the line to include wagons and a playset.


From 1975 – 1980 

Empire produced a wide range of 
figures and horses and accessories 
for their newly titled,

Legends of the West” 

line of 4” figures.



By the end of the line they produced: 

19 different figures

7 types of horses

5 wagons and 

a Frontier Town Playset.



There are many variations in the 
coloring of the figures.

Some figures were repainted and used
as an accessory for the Fire Wagon.




Here is a list of items for 
the line I know to exist:

Figures

Cowpoke

Arrowhead the Indian Squaw

Buffalo Bill Cody

Wild Bill Hickok

Davy Crocket

Cochise

General Custer 

Cavalry Scout

Geronimo

Bat Masterson

Billy the Kid

Jesse James

Wyatt Earp

General Santa Ana

Deadwood Dick

Annie Oakley

Fireman (3 Variants)

Horses

Indian Action Pony 
(White and Brown)

Peddler’s Wagon Horse 
(Grey and White with a Red Hat)

Fire Wagon Horse 
(All White or with light brown spots)

Other Wagon Horses 
(Brown and Tan)

Pinto Horse with Saddle (
Brown and Tan, Black and White)

There are slight variations in the articulation of the horses.

Some with jointed legs, some without.




Wagons

Buckboard

Covered Wagon

Fire Wagon

Peddler’s Wagon

Stage Coach

Each wagon comes with a million accessories.

They are all the same color depending on which wagon the came with.

There colors are tan, brown, dark blue, black, lime green, and yellow.

The Catalog






Frontier Town



For years this playset was only dreamed about
from pictures in the old toy catalogs.

I looked for one for years before finding it.

It is very difficult to find and I know of only a few to exist in private collections.



It is huge and makes an incredible 

display for the figures.



It is very impressive when displayed.



Packages

So far I have found 4 different 
versions of the figures carded.

2 by Excel and 2 by Empire.

From 1974 to 1980.






The horses also have different packaging depending if they are Excel or Empire.

There are also horse and rider sets that 
are tough to find in good condition. 


I also found 2 versions of the 
9" horse boxes. 

1 by Excel and 1 by Empire.

Excel 1973



Empire 1975



There are also 3 different versions of
the Firemen from the Fire Wagon.

They are variants of the Jesse James, 
Wyatt Earp, and Wild Bill Hickok figures.




There is a store display that floats 
around from collection to collection.

Would kill to have this amazing piece.
 

The last piece in the collection 
is a cheap HO Scale train with the 
LOTW logo thrown on it. 





Please let me know if you know any other info
about this line I haven't mentioned.

I love discovering new things about 
this old forgotten toy line.




The toughest figures to find are 
the ones from the end of the 
line stamped 1980. 

They are Cowpoke, Arrowhead the Indian Squaw, 
General Custer, Cavalry Scout, Geronimo, 
Bat Masterson, Billy the Kid, General Santa Ana, Deadwood Dick, and Annie Oakley.


These sat around in Dime Stores 
till the mid 80’s and you can find 
good MOC and Boxed examples 
of most of the figures.




So...in short....

One of the first smaller scale 
action figure lines in history

(along with Microman and Adventure People)

 are dime store Western figures with paint flaws and fragile rubber band construction.

But, I love them and so will you.

Get out there and start collecting 
these classic figures.

UPDATE:

New Excel figure 3 packs found!!!




These each come with a cardboard 
fold out display.



NEW BOX SET FOUND!



This looks to be a retailer exclusive set. 

My collection...




Comments

  1. I am impressed with the history lesson here. I collected the Empire line when I was little and still look for it at times today (in fact, I am always on the lookout). It wasn't until more recent years that I found out about the "Little Legends" line. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    Hugh Davis

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  2. Lots of great info on a classic underappreciated figure line! Good stuff man!

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  3. Great info, by the way! Nicely done.

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  4. I have Annie Oakley, Bat Masterson, Cochise, Cavalry Dude, several horses, lots of accessories, peddler's wagon, covered wagon. If truly interesting in purchasing any or all, please let me know at sarahcouso1@yahoo.com

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  5. Oh! I have Arrowhead the indian squaw and Davy Crockett, too.

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  6. I purchased a Little Legends fully jointed Horse & Riders Playset. It has three 4" figures- One Brown & Tan Pinto horse. Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody & Wyatt Earp by Excel Toy Corp. I can't find any info on this item. Can someone help?

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  7. reply to joan.loper@yahoo.com for little legends playset

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  8. I have a women action figure from the wild west. I've had her about 30 years. She is dressed in blue , short blonde hair , guns , spurs , the works. I do not remember who she is and I can't seem to find anything on her. Can you help?

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  9. help, i believe i have a buffalo bill cody on a sealed Wild Bill Hickok card. i cant seem to find any documentation on this its made by Empire toys amy help would be aprreciated and photos if needed are available reply to drmodel77@aol.com

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  10. Great writeup!! Ive been a big fan of these figures from day one but you just gave me alot of history that I didnt know!

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  11. Is there anywhere to purchase these figures besides EBay?

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    Replies
    1. Sadly not really. Ebay is your best bet.

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  12. A couple questions. The Billy the Kid figure, Did he come with 2 different shirt colors? Do you have any carded examples of the Cowpoke and Billy the Kid? I want to know if they come with the standard cowboy hat and if so, What colors? Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. Billy the Kid comes in yellow and blue shirts. You can see them in the loose collection above. The hats are different from the others. The Billy one is on my yellow shirt one above And the cow poke one can be seen in my carded collection above as well. It is a large hat with a huge brim. Deadwood Dick has a different hat as well.

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  13. Do you know of any good resources on how to fix a loose rubber band in these figures?

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    Replies
    1. There is no sure fire way I have figures out. Sorry.

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    2. There is no sure fire way I have figures out. Sorry.

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  14. Hello, can you give me an idea of the value of a loose Geronimo figure... checked ebay and there is none that have sold or listed. Talked to a fellow collector who let one go for $75 a few years back. Mine has the headdress but can't find his shield. I would say he's in good condition, nothing broken or chewed up.

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  15. I started a Facebook group for this hard to find line of toys. https://www.facebook.com/groups/502135749955009/ I did this so that those of us that collect this hard to find line of toys can share information and maybe trade pieces. If this isn't cool to advertise this here, feel free to delete it this post.

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  16. Awesome info! It's times like this that I love the Internet! I collect horse figurines & am holding a 4" cowboy in black. He's probably not Dead Eyed Dick, lol

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  18. were there any dogs in this line? I am trying to ID a dog made by Empire 1978. It is a Pitbull.

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  19. Thanks for this really good post! I had a long time looking for information on this, I would like to consult you about the current price of these toys, I have a covered wagon and a stage coach, complete with two horses each and all accessories, if any of you are interested please let me know, my email brazoctavio@gmail.com

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  20. Hey,

    There were no dogs in this line. Sorry!

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  21. Ebay is the best place to find the current prices of these figures.

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