that Ned Buntline rascal

“Ned Buntline is the only American novelist who was lynched by an angry mob and lived to tell the tale, although he preferred telling fictitous tales that made him seem heroic.” – Peter Carlson in “Tall Tale Teller,”American History Magazine April 2022.

It all started when he killed the husband of the young lady he was romancing. Her husband started a gunfight but didn’t live to tell the tale, at which point the husband’s friends became an angry mob.

Buntline began his life as Edward Zane Carroll Judson in 1821 and since he survived being lynched by that Nashville mob in 1846 when somebody cut the rope, lived until 1886 turning out newspapers (most of which failed) and dime novels (which made him the bestselling author of his day). A buntline is one of many ropes used to furl a sale on a square rigged ship. Judson started using the pseudonym when writing about his seafairing exploits on merchant and naval vessels.

His sucess was probably due to the fact that he, as Carlson notes, “never let truth get in the way of a ripping good story, ad when he made a dime-novel of his pal William Cody.”

Julia Bricklin, the author of The Notorious Life of Ned Buntline: A Tale of Murder, Betrayal, and the Creation of Buffalo Bill, suggests that Buntline wrote between 400 and 600 novels. Carlson quotes him as saying, “I once wrote a book of 610 pages is 62 hours.”

When he wasn’t writing, he supported the Know Nothing Party. When he wasn’t drunk, he gave lectures on temperance. During the Civil War, he fought for the Union until he was kicked out of the army for being drunk.

He was married, but his wife Annie Bennett (one of six) divorced him when he went to jail for a year when one of his anti-immigrant articles led to a melee in which 21 people were killed. He was famous and infamous, a winning combination in those days.

Bricklin writes that then he died of heart failure, 800 people attended his funeral and that special trains were required to bring all the mourners. She quotes the London American Register as saying, “It is evident from the numerous widows that have appeared that E. S. C. Judson was a Buntline which had frequently been spliced.”

As to his style, you can read Wild Bill’s Last Trail at project Gutenberg. It begins like this:

“Bill! Wild Bill! Is this you, or your ghost? What, in great Creation’s name, are you doing here?”

“Gettin’ toward sunset, old pard–gettin’ toward sunset, before I pass in my checks!”

The first speaker was an old scout and plainsman, Sam Chichester by name, and he spoke to a passenger who had just left the west-ward-bound express train at Laramie, on the U.P.R.R.

That passenger was none other than J. B. Hickok, or “Wild Bill,” one of the most noted shots, and certainly the most desperate man of his age and day west of the Mississippi River.

“What do you mean, Bill, when you talk of passing in your checks? You’re in the very prime of life, man, and—”

“Hush! Talk low! There are listening ears everywhere, Sam! I don’t know why, but there is a chill at my heart, and I know my time has about run out. I’ve been on East with Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack, trying to show people what our plains life is. But I wasn’t at home there. There were crowds on crowds that came to see us, and I couldn’t stir on the streets of their big cities without having an army at my heels, and I got sick of it. But that wasn’t all. There was a woman that fell in love with me, and made up her mind to marry me. I told her that I was no sort of a man to tie to–that I was likely to be wiped out any day ‘twixt sunrise and sunset, for I had more enemies than a candidate for President; but she wouldn’t listen to sense, and so–we buckled! Thank Heaven, I’ve coaxed her to stay East with friends while I’ve come out here; for, Sam, she’ll be a widow inside of six weeks!”

“Bill, you’ve been hitting benzine heavy of late haven’t you?”

He made the west what we thought it was in books, movies, and TV series. Even now, we’re still trying to untangle the tall tales from the reality.