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Ned Buntline Dime Novels, Buntline Special Revolver, Wyatt Earp and much adventure

Updated on February 12, 2015

Ned Buntline by Sarony


Ned Buntline

Edward Zane Carroll Judson, (1823-1886), who used the penname Ned Buntline, was an adventurer, publisher, journalist, writer and publicist. I have thought of him as the inventor of the dime novel, especially those about the west and frontier heroes. He is also associated with the Buntline Special. a Colt revolver with an extra long barrel. This he had allegedly given to a number of western lawmen like Wyatt Earp.

 It turns out that he is a much more interesting figure than I had imagined. He was a bit of a hero, a bit of a scalawag, a reformer politician who founded the Know Nothing Party. Like Mark Twain he took his name from a nautical term—Buntline being a rope at the bottom of a square sail.

 He was born in Stamford, Delaware County, New York. After running away he went to sea at the age of thirteen as a cabin boy. He transferred a year later to  a Man of war. He received a midshipman’s commission from President Van Buren after he rescued the crew of a boat run down by a Fulton ferryboat. He was about fifteen years old.

While assigned to the “Levant” he fought seven duals with midshipmen who would not mess (share meals) with him because he had been a common sailor. He escaped those duals without a being wounded. I find account vary on some matters. Wikipedia states that he served in the Seminole wars but saw little combat. However, according to xphomestation. Com. In a review of the book The Great rascal: the Life and Adventures of Ned Buntline, he led a life of incredible adventures in the Seminole wars and later in the Northwest fur trade.” He resigned from the Navy after four years at sea. Likewise, in the Civil War wikipedidia he was Chief of scouts among the Indians and had the rank of Colonel.  The above mentioned book review says that he was a sergeant busted to private and afterwards claimed the title of Colonel undeservedly.

Amongst other misadventures he was hanged for murder in 1846. However he was cut down and brought back. This according to It did not say about his guilt or innocence.

Writing and publishing


In 1838 he did an adventure story in the Knickerbocker. Most of his early attempts at publishing newspapers and story papers in the East led to failures. An early success that did make him known was a serial story of The Bowery and Slums of New York City—The Mysteries and Miseries of New York.


He was highly opinionated and advocated such things as nativism and temperance. In 1848 he became editor of Ned Buntline’s Own, a weekly story paper. His writing and being associated with New York City’s notorious gangs of the early 1800’s led him to be an instigator of the Astor Place Riot in which 213 people died. In September of 1848 he was fined $250 and spent a year in prison. Later his involvement in a nativist riot in St. Louis would come back to haunt him.

More writing

 When he was released he wrote sensational stories for weekly newspapers and is reported to have earned $20,000 a year.

Ned Buntline

Public domain
Public domain | Source

Buffalo Bill and other frontier figures

 He traveled the country giving lectures on temperance, although reportedly often getting drunk afterward. However it was on one of these tours that he met Buffalo bill.

He had thoughts of writing about Wild Bill Hickok and approaches him in a saloon, a little too boisterously. Hickok threatened him with a pistol and told him to get out of town. Advice that Buntline took to heart.

He did write several dime novels about Buffalo Bill, according to the above-cited review. More interestingly, I think, is that Buntline helped launch Cody into a show business career. He persuaded Cody to take part in a stage play that he wrote and was called Scouts of the Prairie. It opened in Chicago in December 1872 starring Cody and Texas Jack Omohundro. Critics panned it but the audience loved it.

Buntline special


The Buntline Special


The Buntline special was brought to public attention in a 1931 biography of Wyatt Earp written by Stuart N. Lake. Buntline according to Lake presented the revolvers to Earp and four other western lawmen. It had a 12 in barrel as opposed to the standard colt 7.5in barrel. It also had a removable stock, which could ive it, the advantage to a rifle. Buntline supposedly commissioned the gun in 1876 but the Colt Company has no record of the order. The television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp popularized the gun.

In an article in the Kansas Collection: Kansas Historical Quarterly in 1976 author William B. Shillingberg wrote of Wyatt Earp and the Buntline Special” Myth.

He doubts the claims of buntline giving the gun as to thank and honor these men for supplying him material for his stories. Buntline didn’t write that much about the west He also cites that these lawmen were not that well known at the time. I personally think it is more likely that Buntline might have given the guns as a publicity stunt for himself rather than to honor these famous men.


Whether rogue, hero or just an adventurer Ned buntline was a colorful addition to our national lore.

For anyone wanting to know more I have provided links to my sources.


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