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.

Malcolm

Isaac Mizrahi on a Love of Old Things, and Surviving the Nightmare of the Present 

“When I look back at my life, I think about what a wonderful, happy, satisfying life I’ve had. It’s so funny. It’s like living through things is a nightmare. The present of things is a nightmare—the not being gratified by things in the moment is a nightmare. But then when you look back at the decades of your life, like in your twenties, or your thirties, or your forties, you go, “Wow, it was so great living through that and gosh I got so much out of that, and gosh this and gosh that.” And yet living through it is never as satisfying.”

Source: Isaac Mizrahi on a Love of Old Things, and Surviving the Nightmare of the Present | Literary Hub

I have often felt this way. At the time, life was just life. Fortune was always slinging it’s outrageous arrows. Guardian angels were slinging miracles like hash house oatmeal. Yet later, all these “gosh this” things turn into our stories and our inflated tall tales and remember whens.

Some people tell these stories to their children and whoever else risks visiting them on the front porch or the nursing home. Some people put put their stories into memoirs that read like (and probably are) fiction. And some people put their stories into fiction that read like (and just might be) a bit of truth wearing a mask to protect both the innocent and the guilty.

Click on the link for a few minutes of potent thought that will–depending on your age and current state of mind–remain with you only as long as you’re reading the article or for the rest of your life. (though you may not know that until later).

–Malcolm

Incidentally, if you live in the U.S. and hang out on the GoodReads site, you have a chance to win a paperback copy of my new novel Eulalie and Washerwoman in a November 6-14 give-away,

Stories where we live

from the archives. . .

“One of the best things about folklore and fairy tales is that the best fantasy is what you find right around the corner, in this world. That’s where the old stuff came from.” — Terri Windling

Ivan Bilibin's illustration of the Russian fairy tale about Vasilisa the Beautiful
Ivan Bilibin’s illustration of the Russian fairy tale about Vasilisa the Beautiful

For American audiences, the most famous fairy tales, including those brought to the screen by Disney and others, all came from somewhere else. Such is the power of books and film.

Of course, once upon a time, the more famous stories we know were once local yarns from real places. In fact, many places got their names from something that once happened there with people who were well known at the time. To those who knew the origin of the name, a river or forest or mountain pass was more than water, trees and rocks. It was all that, plus what happened–and, what might happen again.

Almost all places have stories associated with them. You can find some of the more notorious and/or most interesting by running Google searches with such phrases as “Florida ghost stories,” “Glacier Park legends,” and “Illinois haunted places.” The people who live in a town or county often grow up hearing multiple versions of these stories along with others that never get into books, newspapers or websites.

We tell stories to each other almost every day. Sometimes, this is pure gossip. At other times, it’s neighborhood news with a bit of opinion thrown into it.

Storytelling is a very natural pastime even without a front porch or a campfire. We share the good, the bad and the ugly with each other. When that which we’re sharing is larger than life, or stranger than normal, it begins turning into a legend associated with the place where we live.

When we camped pine forests, we told and re-told the tall tales about what happened there "years ago."
When we camped pine forests, we told and re-told the tall tales about what happened there “years ago.”

As a writer of contemporary fantasy, I always love weaving local ghost stories and legends into my work. For one thing, those stories are just as much a part of a place as are the rivers, mountains and towns. Also, they have a lot of flavor in them whether it’s pure local color or an amusing or frightening tale that could have happened anywhere.

Our stories are stronger, I think, when we consider the legends and tall tales connected to a place as part of our research. Almost every town has a haunted house, cemetery, or lover’s lane. If you live there, you know about it already. If you don’t, it’s not too hard to track down through ghost hunter and haunted websites.

Plus, for those of us who love blurring the line between fiction and reality, ghost stories about the places where we’ve set our short stories and novels add a nice touch of mystery.

Malcolm

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