Originally Published in 1881
Author: Prentiss Ingraham
Curator: Cristiana Wilcoxon
Artist: James F. Lorigan
You may not realize it, but the reason you’ve heard of William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody in the first place is because of the dime novel. The real man was an American scout, Pony Express rider, and showman. It’s said that he earned his nickname in post-Civil War America after slaughtering over 4,000 bison to fulfill a contract for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. However, the true reason that “Buffalo Bill” became a household name still known today is because in 1869, Bill Cody stumbled upon the author Ned Bluntline, who subsequently wrote a novel about Cody’s (largely fictional) exploits that became immensely popular, which was followed up by a dime novel series authored by Prentiss Ingraham (the first of which you now hold in your hands). These works drove people to Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” shows, and he became a world-renowned celebrity, eventually touring in Europe with his friend and fellow showman “Wild Bill” Hickok. Buffalo Bill and his headliners—folks like Annie Oakley and Frank Butler—may have been America’s first “reality” stars, as they enjoyed the fame from their popularized adventures, both real and staged, while still alive. Were it not for the dime novel, they would not have become the legends they still are today, and the NFL’s Buffalo Bills would have no idea what to call themselves.
Before comics, pulp magazines, and television shows, 19th-century working-class America relied on dime novels to break the monotony of daily life. Spurred by accelerated printing processes, efficient rail shipping, and growing literacy rates, dime novels catering to fans of urban outlaws, detectives, working-girl heroines and romantic heroes were sold at newsstands and dry goods stores across the country.
Proceeds from our classic dime novels support 1888 education and literacy programs designed to engage readers, support writers, and inspire a cultural legacy for future generations.