How The West Was Won

Between 1908 and 1909 a Beadle’s Frontier series of novelettes was published weekly for America’s impressionable, literate youth at news dealers and by subscription. The books each ranged from 80 to 100 pages with adventure stories set in the Western United States where the good, the bad and the ugly were in abundance.

 

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Some of the texts were rooted in literature. In “Big Hearted Joe and Indian Tale” Shakespeare is liberally quoted, along with Byron and Forsyth. And other than by today’s standards, offensive vernacular the text was more than competently written: “His dusky face declared the man an Indian and there was a scowl upon his features which might have been construed as an evidence of hatred or solicitude. ”

 

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There were stirring titles of steamy characters, like Brimstone Jake, Deadwood Dick’s Dozen, Gunpowder Jim, Navajo Nick, Eagle Eyed Zeke and Scar-Cheek, the Wild Half-Breed. The stories focus on the often-violent conflicts between “Whites and Indians” and sold for a dime (thus the genre was known as “dime novels”), although Beadle’s also had “half-dime” novels as well.

The conflicts had some basis in truth but mostly were exploitative fantasies aimed at piquing passion and growing sales. Innocent though they were, they were also fodder for racist exceptionalism, they kind of misconceptions that have long hindered racial and ethnic harmony in the big melting pot.

Arguably, these dime novels were the root of prejudice but also a mirror of it. They’re quaint by today’s measure, yet cannot be overlooked as integral to America’s layered racial history.

 

penny dreadfuls002 penny dreadfuls004 penny dreadfuls005These and much more graphic art and design ephemera are available at the Big Summer Sale Part Deux.

 

 

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