Today In Western History: Edward Zane Carroll Judson Is Born

March 20 —

Edward Zane Carroll Judson is born today, in 1823, in Stamford, New York.  He didn’t become well known until 1845, when he founded a sensationalistic magazine in Nashville, Tennesee, called Ned Buntline’s Own. 

Edward Zane Carroll "Ned Buntline" Judson
Edward Zane Carroll “Ned Buntline” Judson

Ned Buntline became the best known of several pseudonyms he used during his exciting career. Buntline’s goal in life was very simple. He wanted to make as much money as possible writing stories that the public would pay to read. He filled the pages of Ned Buntline’s Own with a variety of fantastic and outrageous stories, although he tended to favor nautical adventures. A compulsive womanizer (he was married an incredible seven times), he ended up killing a jealous husband who suspected him of seducing his wife in 1846.  Even though Buntline was only defending himself, some of the townspeople sympathetic to the dead man decided to hang Buntline from an awning post in the town square, but luckily for him, and for history, Buntline’s friends cut the rope before he strangled and he was spirited out of town.  Buntline relocated to New York, where he began publishing his magazine once more. Al-though he had once desired to become a serious writer, he was desperate to make a living so he began to write more for a mass audience. Buntline’s popular adventures were successful beyond his expect-ations, and he penned dozens of melodramatic “shocking” stories over the course of only a few years. By the time he was in his late 20s, Buntline had earned the title “King of the Dime Novels” and was making an excellent living.

After traveling to San Francisco in 1869, Buntline realized he could easily adapt his stock adventure plots to a setting in the American West.  At about the same time he met a handsome young scout and buffalo hunter named William Frederick Cody. Buntline claimed to have given Cody the nickname

William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody, Frontiersman, creator of the Rodeo
William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Frontiersman, creator of the Rodeo

“Buffalo Bill,” but Cody later said he earned the name years before as a hunter for the railroads.  It was Buntline’s decision to write a dime novel starring Buffalo Bill Cody made the relatively unknown scout into a national media star. Buntline’s book The Scout of the Plains grossly exaggerated Cody’s western adventures, even making up the entire story and flagrantly manufacturing the details to sup-port the story, but the Eastern public loved the thrilling tales.  Always the promoter, Buntline turned the novel into a play that he staged in Chicago. In 1872, Buntline convinced Cody himself to travel to the city and play himself in the production. Cody was a poor actor, but his participation brought in people and money.  Cody broke with Buntline after a year, but the national fame he had acquired as a result of Buntline’s endless energy and boundless imagination eventually allowed “Buffalo Bill” to create his famous Wild West show. Buntline churned out other western dime novels, and he eventually became the nation’s top literary money earner, surpassing the income of serious authors such as Samuel Langhorne Clemons (“Mark Twain“) and Walt Whitman.  Buntline prized his wealth, but he always remained scornful of his own work. “I found that to make a living I must write ‘trash’ for the masses, for he who endeavors to write for the critical few, and do his genius justice, will go hungry if he has no other means of support.”

One of the other famous legends that was attributed to him was about a set of special guns that he sup-posedly presented to a group of famous lawmen.  The guns were a variation of the famous Colt Peace-maker, but with an extra-long barrel.  This legend was started by Stuart N. Lake in his HIGHLY fiction-

Stuart N. Lake, creator of the legend of Wyatt Earp
Stuart N. Lake, creator of the legend of Wyatt Earp

alized biography of Wyatt Earp in 1931.  The only problem with this enduring legend is that neither  Colt, nor any of the other firearm manufacturers, ever made the extra-long barrel in that time period, and none of the researchers have ever found any proof that the real Wyatt Earp ever owned such a fanciful weapon.  Certainly a 12” barrel would have created some logistical problems for a quick draw, no matter how fast the gun artist was.

Perhaps more than any single writer, Ned Buntline was responsible for creating a highly romantic-cized and somewhat misleading image of the American West as the setting for great adventure and excitement. Buntline died at his home in Stamford, New York, in 1886. He was 63 years old and had written more than 400 novels and countless other short stories and articles.


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