Monday, October 24, 2011

Ned Buntline (c.1823-1886)

In 1844 Frederick Gleason, of Boston, Mass., started the United States Publishing House. With distribution in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Cincinnati and San Francisco, and taking advantage of the new steam presses, Gleason and his partner, Maturin Murray Ballou, of Boston, drowned the U.S. and Canada in a sea of sensational reading material. Ballou wrote melodramatic novels of piracy and adventure under the name “Lieutenant Murray.” He wrote Fanny Campbell; or, The Female Pirate Captain, and Red Rupert; or, The American Buccaneer. Gleason published Joseph Holt Ingraham, father of dime novel author Colonel Prentiss Ingraham, and author of Lafitte, or, The Pirate of the Gulf (1836.)

Gleason’s Flag of our Union story paper published Ned Buntline’s The Red Revenger; or, the Pirate King of the Floridas in 1844. The cover of The Red Revenger; or, The Pirate King of the Floridas showed a man in an iron suit, his flag said “War With The Whole World-- Rinard the Red Revenger” Buntline’s The Black Avenger of the Spanish Main; or, The Fiend of Blood was written in 1847 and mentioned in Tom Sawyer;

“Who goes there?”

“Tom Sawyer, the Black Avenger of the Spanish Main. Name your names.”

“Huck Finn, the Red-Handed, and Joe Harper, the Terror of the Seas.”

Much like a later western hero, Tom Mix, Buntline (real name Edward Zane Carroll Judson) suffered a lot of physical pain in his life.

“Ned Buntline probably carried more wounds in his body than any other living American. He had in his right knee a bullet received in Virginia and had twelve other wounds inflicted by sword, shell and gun, seven of which were got in battle.”

According to one writer a Dr. Marable related to him how Buntline was hung three times in the forties (“Hung Three Times,” Fulton Times 6 Sept 1882).

“Buntline, the sensational writer, you know, whose real name is Judson, or some such name, had a row with a prominent man named Porterfield, about the latter’s’ wife. Porterfield shot at Judson three times and was about to fire again when Judson said “If you do that again I’ll put a bullet through your head.” Porterfield paid no attention to his remark, but fired the fourth time, the last bullet like the others going wide of the mark. Judson raised his elbow to a level with his face, and resting his pistol upon it, took good aim and fired. The ball penetrated Porterfield’s brain and he fell dead to the ground.

Then somebody found Porterfield’s brother, put a pistol in his hand, and told him to avenge the murder. He shot at Judson twenty times while the latter was running up the capitol steps and missed every shot. The mob finally caught Judson and resolved to hang him. Taking him to a house close by, which was in process of construction, they threw a rope over one of the rafters and strung him up. Thrice he was strung up in succession and cut down under the impression that he was dead. His leg was broken by the last fall and he was unconscious. The mob left him for dead, and kind friends took him and succeeded in restoring life. I saw him afterward at Louisville, Kentucky, sometime in 1849, and had a long talk with him about the affair.

He told me that the few moments he hung each time were among the most deliriously delightful of his whole life. Beautiful lights danced before his eyes, of all hues and shades, many of them like those produced by chemical burning of watch-springs. The most gorgeous panoramas passed in review before him, each more entrancingly beautiful and distinct than the last. Exquisite landscapes, snow-capped mountains, green-clad valleys and spouting springs of sparkling water filled him with ecstasy. His whole soul was enthralled with rapture by the beauties he had spread out before his gaze. So wrapped up was he in contemplating these scenes that he hated the moment when the rope was severed and the sweet delusion dispelled. The pain came afterward when his throat purpled from the effects of the rope and he was unable to swallow.”

Newspaperman Leon Mead, whose father was a friend of the famous writer, wrote in the Binghampton Press in 1929:

“In 1853 Judson organized the “Know Nothing” or “Native American” cult, in reality a secret political order which rapidly grew into a formidable political party. It was the prototype, without the hooded mask and disguise, of the present day Ku Klux Klan, the founders of which must have borrowed many of their ideas from the Know Nothing organization, whose secret name is said to have been “Sons of ’76,” and the prescribed reply of whose members “I don’t know,” was given to all inquiries regarding their political movements.

After some notable successes at the polls the Know Nothing party went to pieces, having first split into “North Americans” and “South Americans” over the slavery question, and entirely disappeared from national politics in 1860.”

During his early career Buntline was often referred to as the successor to James Fenimore Cooper. On 23 December 1869 Buntline wrote the first Buffalo Bill dime novel, Buffalo Bill: the King of Bordermen, for Street and Smith’s New York Weekly. The Buffalo Bill stories made Cody a household name and Buntline became a rich man, reportedly making $20,000 a year from Street & Smith. Buntline and Cody became equal partners in a stage play but the venture ended in San Francisco in a violent disagreement which led to a parting of the ways between author and star.

Leon Mead met Buffalo Bill Cody many times, usually at the Hoffman House in New York.

“One afternoon I visited him while the Wild West Show was exhibiting in South Brooklyn -- and again had a meal with him in the mess tent. During the substantial repast I asked him if he did not feel at all grateful to Ned Buntline for what the latter had done with his pen in making him (Cody) a popular hero. His answer was derogatory to Buntline, against whom, it was apparent; he still carried a rather bitter brand of grudge. So far from showing that he had any sense of obligation to the dead fictioneer, Cody contended that Buntline had done him more harm than good, had placed him in a false light as a ruthless wholesale murderer of Indians which was crassly untrue, and had made many other wild statements about him that were misleading and injurious to his reputation.”

Buffalo Bill later made many early silent film westerns using real Native Americans, some of whom had been in the battle of the Little Big Horn, as actors.

Ned Buntline penned “Scouts of the Prairie,” and on 2 April 1873 during a country-wide tour, the show opened at Niblo’s Theatre on Wall Street. The play featured Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack Omohundro, and “five Injuns from Utah and five Injuns from Houston Street,” after which Ned Buntline “preached a twenty minutes’ temperance lecture and then died to slow music.”

“On examining the stage after the play, we find four hundred and eighty-two shots were fired, and that thirty-nine Houston street and Utah Injuns and four men in the orchestra have been killed. There is a great deal of talk about scal-loping, but only seven men are actually scal-loped. The play excels any play I ever saw -- excels them in stupidity. It draws well. Last night several hundred people left the house, and they said that rather than listen to the play again they would leave the city.

Texas Jack later claimed that during one touring performance, Buffalo Bill, instead of using a folding knife, stabbed him with a real knife on stage and then deserted him out west. It seems Bill Cody had been jealous of his acting abilities. The Spirit of the Times had “A Chat with Texas Jack,” accompanied by his wife Signora Morlacchi in 1877. Texas Jack was born to the name John B. Omohundro, of a French mother and a Powhattan Indian father. The legendary heroine Pocahontas was also a Powhattan.

Leon Mead described Buntline’s method of writing.

“His favorite posture while writing was on his stomach, with a rug or animal skin under him, leaning his head in one hand, and with the other, clutching a stub of lead pencil, he would dash off his fast running thoughts all day long and often far into the night. When out of any better stationary he would use light-brown wrapping paper from the grocers, his lines taking a sharp slant to the right as he wrote. He seldom revised his copy or read it over. His fecund fancy was equal to all occasions. A finer extempore speaker never walked the earth. He was so congenial a companion that the present scribe cherishes pleasant memories of numerous chats with him in different places.”

The New York World added:

“His first story, “The Captain’s Pig,” was published in the Knickerbocker Magazine under the pseudonym Ned Buntline, in 1838, when in his fifteenth year. This sketch brought notoriety to the young writer and fighter, who subsequently received as high as $60,000 a year for the product of his brain and pen. For many years his income as a story-writer brought him in $20,000 annually. He once earned $12,500 in six weeks, and at another time, under pressure, wrote a book of 610 pages in sixty-two hours, scarcely eating or sleeping in that time. He usually received $3000 for a story running through twelve weeks in the Ledger and other story papers for which he wrote. He did not know exactly how many stories he had written but estimated them at between three and four hundred, each long enough for a book.”

Buntline spent his last days on his farm at Stamford, New York where he lived with his fourth wife and family. He died there 16 July 1886. Buntline had kept a cabin on Blue Mountain Lake, in the Andironacks, which he christened “Eagle’s Nest,” where he turned out serials for the Weekly and others. After his death a stone monument to his memory was erected on the spot of his old cabin. In 1906 the spot was buried under a large club and golf-course. One of his last productions was a poem, “My Home,” written for the Journal and Republican in the summer of 1885 at Blue Mountain Lake. The last verse was

Where no step intrudes in the dense north woods,

Where no song is heard but the breeze and bird,

Where the world’s foul scum never can come,

Where friends are so few that they all are true,

There is my home --

My wildwood home!

*”The accompanying portrait of Ned Buntline, hitherto unpublished, was taken at Fredericks’ Knickerbocker Family Portrait Gallery, New York, and bears a strong resemblance to him. It is from the only photograph I have ever seen of him. He presented it to me long, long ago, and it has been in my possession ever since.” -- Leon Mead, Binghampton Press, 25th Anniversary edition, 1929.

* Thanks to Joe Rainone for the image of the New York Weekly's first Buffalo Bill serial, Buffalo Bill: the King of Bordermen, 1869.

*See also The Know-Nothing Press HERE

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