Saturday, January 28, 2012

Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery (1824-1901)

The name of Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery “Champion-At-Arms of the Two Americas,” appeared in ten (see list at bottom of post) mostly sword and cape dime novels published in Beadle’s Dime Library between 1879 and 1882. There is the possibility that Monstery’s name was merely window-dressing, a celebrity ‘house-name’ that hid the identity of one or more ghost authors.
The most likely ghost would be Captain Frederick Whittaker who had some obvious connections to Monstery. Whittaker’s name appears as author to the sequel to Monstery’s novel California Joe’s FirstTrail (1884) and Whittaker authored TheSword Prince, the Romantic Life of Colonel Monstery in 1889. In addition Whittaker’s Ernest Darcourt, from The Young Folks Weekly Budget, Vol. 29, July 3 1886, published in London by James Henderson, and Monstery’s Mourad the Mameluke, from Beadle’s Dime New York Library, Oct 26 1881, share the same historical Mameluke background. Whittaker wrote The Russian spy: or, the Brothers of the Starry Cross in 1878 -- Monstery penned The Czar’s Spy; or, the Nihilist League for the same publisher in 1881.

 The hero of Iron Wrist, the Swordmaster was Danish Swordsman Olaf Swenson. He is eighteen in this story which takes place in St. Petersburg. Swenson reappears in El Rubio Bravo, a bit older, hacking and thrusting his way through Honduras, and in The Czar’s Spy he is 56 years old and back in St. Petersburg. You might call this a trilogy. In Whittaker’s Romantic Life of Colonel Monstery it is claimed that Monstery himself was “El Rubio Bravo” (the brave blonde.)

In most dime novel’s violence is depicted in a flat and unconvincing way, while the violence in Monstery is shocking and realistic. From Mourad, the Mameluke;
“The belated one drew his sword and aimed a blow at the Mameluke, who took it on his left arm with a clang that told he wore armour under his rich garments, and retaliated with a slash across the other’s face, made apparently with little effort. Lafangere, who had turned at the gate, uttered a cry of horror.
The Mameluke’s saber, with the sharp sickle edge, had sliced off the Frenchman’s head at the mouth as if it had been a carrot.”

 Edgar Rice Burroughs mentions Monstery in his swashbuckler The Mad King (1926) and one could speculate that Burroughs took a lot from the sword and cape dime novels of Colonel Monstery (or Frederick Whittaker) from the beginning of his career, starting with Under the Moons of Mars, serialized in All-Story in 1912. By merging the swashbuckler with the scientific romance he came up with something entirely original. All Burroughs greatest heroes used blades: John Carter, Carson Napier, and Tarzan. Burroughs was born 1 Sept 1875 which made him the right age (and right place: Chicago, where Monstery was a huge celebrity) to have been reading the Monstery sword and cape dime novels.

Probably a lot of Whittaker’s “Romantic Life” is exaggerated but there is some truth to his tales. Both his obituary in the Chicago Tribune, Col. Monstery is Dead, 2 Jan 1902 and A Famous Swordsman, Romantic Career of a visitor to the City of Mexico [From the Mexican Herald] Washington Times, 29 Jan 1901, tell some of the same story as appears on the Wikipedia entry on Monstery.

According to the newspaper accounts (which may also be exaggerated) Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery, “soldier of fortune, expert swordsman, and hero of hundreds of skirmishes and battlefields” was born in Baltimore, Maryland on 21 April 1824. In his early days his name was Tom Munster. Newspaper accounts say he was of Danish and Irish parentage. His Wikipedia entry claims otherwise -- both parents are Danish -- his mother was the daughter of the cousin of the assassin of King Gustav III of Sweden. 

 At twelve his parents took him to Copenhagen where he was enrolled in the Royal Academy. A series of duels brought him to the attention of the authorities and he fled to Russia where he was a fencing instructor in the Czar’s household. More dueling troubles followed and he fled again, back to America and San Francisco. He fought with the Walker expedition in Nicaragua and in the Cuban insurrection of 1851. He then went to Spain, Honduras, and service in the Mexican Army under Juarez.

 The Washington Times wrote:

He bears the honor of being the champion swordsman of the continent, and wears a medal awarded by the Mexican government on the first of March 1858, for having defeated the famous French captain Poupard, who was at that time instructor in fencing and foiling in the army of Mexico. On the same day he won laurels by defeating all the champions of the army with sabres, knives, knives against sabres and bayonets, that at the time were shining lights in the handling of the above weapons.

Captain Monstery entertained General Diaz at the Palmer House some sixteen years ago in Chicago, the only visit paid by the President of this Republic to the United States…

 In 1871 Monstery opened a fencing school in New York and a few years later moved operations to Chicago. He trained Junius Brutus Booth, the actor, (at Frank Wheeler’s San Francisco Gymnasium), Edwin Booth (for a staged “Hamlet”), and the actress and swordswoman Jaguarina.

 Jaguarina was Ella M. Hattan, born in 1864, a child actress and comedienne in John A. Ellsler’s Cleveland stock company. She started fencing at a young age and afterward studied under Monstery. Her swashbuckling career was summed up by the San Francisco Call 13 Aug 1905:

Under his instruction she became the greatest fencer in America, especially with the broadsword, both in foot or mounted contests. To-day she has the record of forty two broadsword contests with noted male fencers on foot and horseback, winning every contest.

In 1886 she challenged Duncan Ross in San Francisco to meet her with broadswords on horseback. Ross declined to accept her challenge and left the coast. Subsequently she defeated Sergeant Owen Davis of the Second Calvary, champion of the United States army, in Mechanic’s Pavilion, San Francisco, in a mounted contest, by a score of eleven pints to seven. Davis knocked her off her horse in the second attack, but, undaunted, she remounted and defeated him. Subsequently she defeated Captain E. C. Jennings, master-at-arms of the Olympic Athletic Club of San Francisco, in a mounted contest by a score of eleven to ten points. Both Davis and Jennings had previously defeated Ross, which shows she was not presumptuous in her belief that she could defeat the giant Scotch athlete.

Notwithstanding her hard training in athletics, Jaguarina is a splendidly preserved woman of striking beauty.

 Monstery died impoverished at the Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago on 31 Dec 1901. He was “practically without resources, but in Alexander B. Scully, President of the Scully Iron and Steel Company, and Thomas Moran, the liquor dealer, he found stanch and helpful friends.”

Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery Dime Novels:
Iron Wrist, the Sword-master; a Tale of Court and Camp, New York: Beadle & Adams, Dime Library No. 82, 3 Dec 1879. Originally published under title: Iron Wrist, the Swordmaster of Copenhagen in either the Saturday Journal or Banner Weekly  Beadle story papers. Reprinted 1897 in Dime Library No. 986.
The Demon Duelist; or, the League of Steel, a Story of German Student Life, Dime Library No. 126, 23 Mar 1881.
The Czar’s Spy; or, the Nihilist League, a sequel to “Iron Wrist the Swordmastter, Dime Library No. 143, 20 July 1881
El Rubio Bravo, King of the Swordsmen; or, the Terrible Brothers of Tabasco, a Story of Tropical Love and Adventure, Dime Library No. 150, 7 Sep 1881.
Mourad, the Mameluke: or, the Three Swordmasters, a Tale of the Grand Army Dime Library No. 157 26 Oct 1881
Corporal Cannon, the Man of Forty Duels, a True Story of the African Chasseurs, Dime Library No. 169, 18 Jan 1882
Champion Sam; or, The Monarchs of the Show, a Romance of the Circus and Prize-rings, Dime Library No. 236, 2 May 1883.

Fighting Tom, the Terror of the Toughs, a story of a very deceiving young man, Dime Library No. 262, 31 Oct 1883.

California Joe’s First Trail, a story of the destroying angels, Half-Dime Library No. 376, 7 Oct 1884.

Spring-Heel Jack; or, the Masked Mystery of the Tower, Dime Library No. 332, 4 Mar 1885.

Captain Frederick Whittaker titles in The Young Folks’ Weekly Budget, London: James Henderson:

 Covinda, the Tiger Tamer, by Captain Fred Whittaker, Volume 13, No. 396, 6 July 1878

White Rudolf and Red Ensign, Volume 18, 8 Jan1881.

Phil D’Arcy, Volume 19, 2 July 1881

 Round the World, Volume 20, 7 Jan 1882

Joe Manley’s Rise in Life, Volume 24, 5 Jan 1884

 Gentle Deeds; or, from Serfdom to Knighthood, Vol. 28, No. 783, 2 Jan 1886

 Ernest Darcourt, Vol. 29, 3 July 1886

 The Maid of Domrency, Vol. 32, No. 873, 7 Jan 1888

*Thanks to Welton Jones for the Chicago Tribune Obituary


  1. Awesome! Now where can I get hold of a copy of one of these?

  2. Could this perhaps be a pen name for Prentiss Ingraham?

  3. Captain Frederick Whittaker? No he was a real person and that was his real name. He wrote a well-known poem titled Custer.