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.

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Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball!

cowboy xmas paul coverLast year, we told you about the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball, a musical tradition held every December in Anson, Texas (in Jones County, roughly 25 miles northwest of Abilene). Because this year they’re celebrating the Ball’s 80th reenactment (and because we at the SWC enjoy it so much!), we’ve decided to tell y’all about it one more time. The event began at Anson’s Star Hotel in 1885 at a grand ball held in honor of the cattlemen of the region. William Lawrence “Larry” Chittenden attended that night and was so impressed by the festivities that he immortalized them in poetry. His “The Cowboys’ Christmas Ball” was first published in the Anson Texas Western in 1890 and subsequently in his Ranch Verses of 1893.that livelygaitedsworrayChittenden’s poem was dedicated “To the Ranchmen of Texas,” and paints a vivid picture of a holiday celebration. The hotel was “togged out gorgeous” and decorated with candles, mistletoe, and “shawls” (which many have interpreted as blankets placed at the windows to insulate the hotel better). Lead by “Windy Billy,” who sang and called the dances, the crowded Star Hotel saw a very “lively gaited sworray” that evening. Chittenden even describes the original instrumentation: bass viol, fiddle, guitar, and tambourine.Image 0003.B+WAnson, Texas would continue to see some Christmas celebrations similar to the ball held irregularly in the early 20th century, but it wasn’t until 1934 that the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball was reborn when an Anson schoolteacher and local folklorist named Leonora Barrett helped stage the first re-enactment in the school’s gymnasium. Barrett insisted that the reincarnation of the ball retain the original dances, music, and customs of its predecessors, such as men removing their hats on the dance floor and women only allowed to wear skirts. Each year a newly-wed couple leads the ball’s opening grand march, one of eight dances that are traditionally performed there including the Paul Jones, the Virginia Reel, a polka, Schottische, two step, waltz, and ‘put your little foot.’pg002-3smallFrom the 1940s until the 1990s, few records exist of the ball. We know that it was a successful event based on newspaper articles, as well as the few surviving photographs, film reels, and one amazing ledger. The Southwest Collection is proud to house the original ledger (seen above,) started by Leonora Barrett in 1934 on the occasion of the first re-enactment. Each year she noted guests, hosts, broadcasts made by radio stations, the leaders of the grand march, and other pertinent details. The ledger was kept updated until 1994 and is one document that allows scholars to see the completely unbroken tradition.murphThe Cowboys’ Christmas Ball was reborn in a sense in the early 1990s, when Michael Martin Murphey began performing as its annual headliner. In 2010, Murphey began donating his materials to the Southwest Collection’s Crossroads Music Archive, as well as putting the archive in touch with the Ball’s organizers. That led to the recent publication of Texas Tech professor emeritus Paul Carlson’s book on the Ball, Dancin’ in Anson, the cover of which headlines this article.

Though the music has been electrified and grown beyond four instruments, and historical dress is not required, attending the ball is still a festive step back into an older tradition. Each year, the ball is held on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday prior to Christmas. If you would like to attend this year’s event, you can do it on December 18th, 19th, and 20th. For information on tickets, times, and directions, visit the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball website.

– Elissa Stroman & Robet Weaver

When the Matador Ranch Came to the Southwest Collection

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The Matador Ranch was established in 1879 by Alfred Britton, Henry Campbell, and their associates. It covered one and a half million acres in Motley, Cottle, Floyd, and Dickens counties of Texas. In 1882 the founders sold their cattle and range rights to a syndicate based in Dundee, Scotland. And it is there that the story of one of the Southwest Collection’s first and greatest collections begins.

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With rare exceptions, such as during periods of drought, Matador stockholders received substantial dividends. In 1951, however, they sold their shares to Lazard Brothers and Company. Many of the ranch records that were now no longer needed were quickly given into the care of the Southwest Collection. The Matador Land Book, pages of which can be seen above and below (and here!) was one such item. Another was a Payroll Ledger that names every cowboy in the employment of the ranch. These are only 2 among thousands of treasures that were donated.

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But one thing continued to plague Dr. Seymour V. Connor, the director of the SWC when the records arrived. Although many items of interest to researchers–such as the map of Matador lands provided to the Texas Pacific Railroad (below)–were now housed at Texas Tech, the remaining records remained in Dundee, Scotland, home of the ranch’s international administrators. As long as these documents lay overseas, they remained out of the hands of eager researchers. And so Dr. Connor set out to bring them back to Texas. Years of heartfelt, patient negotiations with past and present Matador investors and their families paid off in 1957 when, at long last, boxes full of Dundee records rejoined their brothers in our archive.

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Some at the time hailed the now-complete Matador Records as “one of the most valuable collections ever received by a college in Texas.” Its contents back up this assertion: reams of legal documents, payroll records, herd books, range diaries, and international correspondence can be found alongside mile-by-mile accounts of herds driven north. Detailed outlines of time-tested methods used by ranch superintendents to manage herds are also present. How much money would a top hand (or significantly lesser hands) receive in wages? The Records can tell you. They even noted the location of lands set aside for community projects, such as the Lee County School Lands shown below. As the news program “Texas in Review” declared, the Southwest Collection could now boast “a complete portrait of one of the most fascinating ranch stories in history.” We may be a little biased, but it’s hard not to agree!

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Folks interested in the Matador Ranch’s history should contact our Reference Staff who are always eager to help get these items into curious hands. Also, The Handbook of Texas has published more in-depth online biographies of the Matador Ranch and the Matador Land and Cattle Company.

Cook Bookery!

Cook Bookery!

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Junior Welfare League of Amarillo. Junior Welfare League Recipe Book. Amarillo, Tex.: Russell Stationary Co., 1942. (Published for the benefit of the Junior Welfare League, Free Clinic for Children).

The Southwest Collection contains a lot of books. Thousands, in fact, collected over several decades. They range in topic from ranching to the JFK assassination to sports history, with generous helpings of Texas, western, and United States history thrown in. A portion of that library contains over 800 cookbooks! That may sound a little surprising at first, but upon closer examination it makes archival sense.

SWC’s cookbook collecting began as a supplement to the history portion of the archive. There was, at that time, no real historical information about many of the organizations that produced cookbooks. Why did the group start? Who were its members, and why? The answers lay within. Many of our cookbooks come also come from small communities that used to be much larger, or which in some cases no longer exist. These contain not only recipes (which unfailingly sound delicious,) but also often relate stories about the community. Some tell of the founding of the town, while others contain recipes passed down through families. This might bring to light otherwise undocumented genealogical information such as a family’s roots in other parts of the country, or even the world. As a result the publications were collected more for their historical value than for the recipes inside. Now, while we still collect the cookbooks of many organizations, the SWC also acquires the more traditional, professionally published cookbooks.

The cookbook above was an early publication of the organization now known as the Junior League of Amarillo. As indicated in its bibliographic information, the sale of the cookbook helped to support the Junior Welfare League’s Free Clinic for Children in 1942. It also contained some historical information about the League. Perhaps most interesting are the illustrations that accompany each recipe. Many are humorous, while others simply depict an interesting aspect of its corresponding recipe. There were many contributing illustrators to this publication listed in the back of the book.

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Baptist Workers’ Band of the First Baptist Church, Bay City, Texas, eds. Baptist Ladies Cook Book. Bay City, Tex.: Excello Printing Co., 1911.

This particular book was donated to the Southwest Collection, and we are always grateful for such gifts. This rare and out of print item is owned by only three libraries in the United States. If not for the generosity of the donor, this item would not be available to researchers at the archive. It was authored by the First Baptist Church in Bay City, Texas, in 1911. The book contains recipes submitted by members of the church, but the book also serves as a historical reminder of past church members. Genealogists and researchers alike may see a relative’s name next to one of the many recipes. It is truly a source of both food recipes as well as a historical resource.

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National Guard Auxiliary of Austin. Ready to Serve: A Texas Cookbook. Austin: The Auxiliary, 1984.

This cookbook was compiled by the National Guard Auxiliary of Austin. Once again, it gives a short history of the group along with excellent recipes. Much like the First Baptist Church cookbook above, its recipes come from the National Guard’s members. The purpose of this cookbook is to ‘reflect the diversity of the state’s heritage’ as well as the heritage of the Texas National Guard. The cover of the book is particularly interesting because it illustrates a soldier going off to serve even as his wife and child offer him a final home-cooked treat.

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Barbour, Judy. Cowboy Chow. Bay City, Tex.: Barbour Books, 1988.

Some of our books have been acquired simply for the charm of the book itself, such as Cowboy Chow, which was produced in the shape of a cowboy boot and serves as a tribute to the American cowboys of the past and present. The cookbook contains many typical food and drink recipes that cowboys used such as beans, sour dough bread, and strong, hot coffee; just a few among many foods available at the chuckwagon. The cookbook shows that while the foods that cowboys ate were not fancy or complicated, they were always there to keep trail drivers going during the rough days that they often encountered.

These cookbooks are just a sample of the hundreds at the SWC. For a peek at these, or any of our other books (which can be searched for here or here), please contact our Reference Department.

By Freedonia Paschall & Austin Allison, Southwest Collection Cataloging Department