buntline book
(A Tale of Murder, Betrayal and the Creation of Buffalo Bill)
By Julia Bricklin
Reviewed by Charles Johnson
180 pages
ISBN 978-4930-4735-6
Published by TWODOT Books
Genre: Biographical, US HISTORY
Julia Bricklin takes us into the world behind the pen name of Ned Buntline, who is considered the creator of the dime novel. Our real person is Edward Zane Carroll Judson. Mr. Judson was a cad, a scoundrel, a womanizer, a storyteller, a walking contradiction. In the well written 180 pages, Ms. Bricklin introduces the reader to a man who takes his attitudes of life to ludicrous and warped dimensions. Did I say scoundrel? See also liar, cheat, charlatan and then add in manipulator. In short, Judson made P.T. Barnum look like a stuffy Wall Street banker. It makes a book reviewer want to write the review like a circus poster.
Ms. Bricklin has discovered that Judson’s life was one escapade after another – eight marriages, some at the same time. Military experience in the Seminole Wars in Florida and in the Civil War where the term AWOL was common for him. His womanizing started early and lasted all his life, including marrying in an instant the young lady in the bar – or the 18-year-old when he was 50 years old himself. Some of the ceremonies were suspect, so bigamy doubled back on itself for Judson, culminating in the form of a battle of several of his wives challenging his will. As good as he was with words on the page (having written hundreds of those dime novels) he became a powerful orator of burning rhetoric for the cause of temperance. No problem, you say? Wait. He’d finish his speeches and then go out and get totally soused in a drinking binge that you would think single-handedly kept the booze companies in business.
As if this wasn’t enough, Judson “discovered” Buffalo Bill Cody. Judson included Cody in some of his dime novels, but eventually the two connected, resulting in a play written by Judson all about the adventures of the buffalo slayer Cody. The play became wildly successful as it barnstormed its way across America.
And still within the framework of the theatrical arts, Mr. Judson caused a riot or two in his time – most notably at a theatre on Astor Place in New York, where Judson’s penchant against immigration provoked a riot because an Englishman, instead of an American, was playing a part in a Shakespearean play.
How did he make this all work? His writings earned him a good deal of money, so his travel expenses across the country were covered. He founded several newspapers of his own to foster his opinions (the horrors of Irish immigration, for one) and to bring about the “KNOW NOTHING” political party of the mid-1800s.
In all this, researching his life must have been difficult. Ms. Bricklin followed the trail all over the United States to find corroboration of the Judson tales. Those tales were so fluid, so slippery, that even she needed to concede at times that some of the issues in Judson’s life were so bizarre that it was hard to say with any concrete evidence that they occurred. Trying to track down the facts of his life was like being blindfolded, having your hands tied behind your back, and flying a kite during a hurricane while trying to keep a candle lit.
The good news is Ms. Bricklin’s research and writing reflect a spectacular, professional job in every way. THE NOTORIOUS LIFE OF NED BUNTLINE offers a concise, informative story that is a multi-dimensional thrill-ride through the middle of the nineteenth century of America.