Buffalo Bill and the Saga of His Dime Novels

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The SWC has a lot of books. Some of them are rare, some not so rare, and some incredibly entertaining. And as you may know by now, we love to share the latter most of all. These dime novels about Buffalo Bill are a prime example. According to the preliminary pages of the books, “they depict actual adventures…interwoven with fiction; historically the books are correct.” Is that true? Well, head on over to browse amongst them in our digital collections and find out. You could start with Buffalo Bill’s Determination, above, which having been published in 1910 is one of the earliest ones we possess.

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The Buffalo Bill dime novels were written by Prentiss Ingraham, a Mississippi-born author who served in the Confederate Army in 1861 where he was wounded twice working for the Texas cavalry. By 1884 he had met Buffalo Bill Cody, worked for his Wild West Show, and penned over six hundred dime novels, many of which concerned his employer. He swore up and down that they were based on actual events. Perhaps the above tale of Buffalo Bill’s Bold Play, or Tiger of the Hills–the story of Juniper Joe’s carefully guarded mine and the tragedies that befell him, the nearby town, and those who sought his fortune–was the truth. Who’s to say?

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But let’s back this story up for a second. What is a dime novel? Glad you asked. Typically published as pamphlets of about 100 pages, dime novels often spun yarns of the Wild West and figures such as Buffalo Bill (of course,) Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp. These heroes were cool customers, quick-drawing cowboys who were always on the lookout for maidens needing rescue from outlaws and Indians. Prentiss’ stories were among some of the most popular, and of course they only cost a dime (or, on a lucky day, a nickel.) By the 1920s, most of these publications were replaced by pulp magazines and, a little later, western novels of the Louis L’Amour variety. But in their day, audiences couldn’t get enough of them.

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Curious to read more about Buffalo Bill’s exploits? Then head on over to our digital collection of Ingraham’s stories. And if you’re interested in other rare books or our many archival holdings, browse around that site and see what you find. Finally, and as always, if you need to see something live and in person, our ever-diligent Reference Staff will get on top of that for you.

The Tarahumara Photograph Collection

3.l-54.80 female and baby in rebozo beside removable plank door- near village of Wawatzerare

The Tarahumara are a people who live in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Chihuahua, Mexico. Despite centuries of incessant attention by Spanish, French, and Mexican governments, they still hold on to many of their original cultural traditions. Basket weaving and maize cultivation, along with pastoral practices, for example, hearken back to their original ways.Their cave dwellings, some decorated with pictographs such as the ones below, attract the occasional anthropologist and tourist. The Tarahumara also happen to be some of the most excellent long-distance runners in the world. In short, they’re fascinating and the Southwest Collection is fortunate to have thousands of photographs of the Tarahumara–such as the one above of a woman near the village of Wawatzerare, holding her baby in a rebozo–captured by a local priest, Father Luis Verplancken, who worked closely with the Tarahumara for decades. And, as we often do, we intend to show them off right here!

14.d.2-07.48 Tarahumara pictographs- near village of Cusarare

(Tarahumara pictographs near the village of Cusarare.)

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Although their current population now numbers in the scant tens of thousands, the Tarahumara (or Rarámuri, their traditional name, i.e. the one not given to them by the Spanish) numbered many more throughout Chihuahua in the 16th century. The arrival of the Spanish began to change this, as their interest in mining speckled the Sierras with mines, prompting the Tarahumara to move to more remote, mountainous areas. Sadly, they also enslaved some Tarahumara in order to obtain mine labor. This, in between sometimes-successful proselytizing by Christian missionaries over the next several decades, led to armed conflict in the 1670s and 90s; encounters that the Tarahumara ultimately lost. A side effect of this cultural clash was the creation of beautiful missions such as the one above, Batopilas. It was established by conquistadors in 1632, for religious (but mostly mining) purposes, and remains a well-preserved example of that architecture to this day.

3.b.2-09.71 cave dwelling interior with family preparing corn tortillas over a fire- near village of Basiwari

(Cave dwelling with a family preparing corn tortillas over a fire near the village of Basiwari.)

As we mentioned, these photos were taken by Father Luis Verplancken, but he was far more than just a photographer interested in documenting Tarahumara culture. Born in 1926 in Guadalajara, Mexico, Verplancken became a Jesuit missionary in 1943. A few years later he was assigned to Creel, Chihuahua, where he immediately devoted his life to aiding its residents. He arranged to have water piped into area towns, oversaw the digging of more than 50 wells, and even partnered with the nearby community of Arareko to create an artificial lake that remains a popular tourist destination to this day.

13.e.5-57.18 young males in contemporary attire in their dorm rooms at a boarding school- village of Gonogochi

(The boarding school at Gonogochi.)

Such infrastructure was perhaps the hallmark of his career. He also installed electricity wherever he could, and opened a medical clinic that saved hundreds of childrens’ lives every year. Along with this, he trained locals to provide medical aid at locations far from the clinic. Education was another focus, resulting in the founding of two boarding schools that taught in both the local dialect and Spanish, a photo from which can be seen above.He translated the Bible into Raramuri, built a museum dedicated to sacred art (both native and Christian,) and made a host of other contributions. And all the while he documented Tarahumara daily life in pictures, from ritual and religion to simple tasks such as basketweaving; from herding and farming to trap setting, as in the photo below.

6.c-09.305 male setting trap- near village of Basiwari

(Setting a trap near the village of Basiwari.)

A selection of photographs from this collection of nearly 25,000 are available among our digital collections. Of course, if you’d like to see any of the others, our Reference Staff is always happy to get them into your hands.