Ned Buntline

Ned Buntline

Ned Buntline
Born Edward Zane Carroll Judson
March 20, 1813(1813-03-20)
Stamford, New York, United States
Died July 18, 1886(1886-07-18) (aged 73)
Stamford, New York, United States
Occupation writer
Spouse Seberina Escudero, Annie Abigail Bennett, Marie Gardiner, Katharine Myers Aitchison, Lovanche L. Swart, Anna Fuller
Children Mary Carrolita Briggs, Irene Elizabeth Brush, Alexander McClintock, Edwardina McCormick, Irene A. Judson, Edward Z. C. Judson, Jr

Ned Buntline (March 20, c. 1813 – July 16, 1886), was a pseudonym of Edward Zane Carroll Judson (E. Z. C. Judson), an American publisher, journalist, writer and publicist best known for his dime novels and the Colt Buntline Special he is alleged to have commissioned from Colt's Manufacturing Company.


Naval and military experience

Edward Judson was born in Stamford, Delaware County, New York. When he was 11-years-old, Judson ran away to sea as a cabin-boy, and the next year shipped on board of a man-of-war. When he was 13-years-old, he rescued the crew of a boat that had been run down by a Fulton ferry boat, and received a commission as midshipman in the U.S. Navy from President Van Buren. On being assigned to the “Levant,” he challenged 13 midshipmen to duels who refused to mess with him because he had been a common sailor, and fought the seven who accepted, wounding four, while escaping without a wound himself.[1]

As a seaman, he fought in the Seminole Wars, though he saw little combat. After four years at sea, he resigned. During the Civil War, he served as an enlisted man in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles and rose to the ramk of sergeant before he was dishonorably discharged for drunkenness.[2]

Early literary efforts

Buntline's first literary efforts began with a story of adventure in the Knickerbocker in 1838. Buntline spent several years in the east starting up newspapers and story papers, only to have most of them fail. An early success that helped launch his fame was a gritty serial story of the Bowery and slums of New York City titled The Mysteries and Miseries of New York. An opinionated man, he strongly advocated nativism and temperance and became a leader in the Know-nothing movement. In 1844 he adopted the pen name "Ned Buntline". "Buntline" is a nautical term for a rope at the bottom of a square sail.[2]

In 1845, Buntline's Cincinatti, Ohio venture Western Literary Journal and Monthly Magazine was facing bankruptcy. Buntline fled his debtors in Ohio and in Eddyville, Kentucky, he collected a $600 bounty for single-handedly capturing two murders. He moved on to Nashville, Tennessee and used the money to start his own magazine: Ned Buntline's Own.[2]

Buntline had an affair with the teenaged wife of Robert Porterfield in Nashville in 1846. On March 14, 1846, Porterfield challenged Buntline to a duel in which Buntline killed him. At Buntline's murder trial, Porterfield's brother shot and wounded Buntline, allowing Buntline to escape in the chaos. He was subsequently captured by a lynch mob and hanged from an awning. He was rescued by friends and the Tennessee Grand Jury refused to indict him for murder. He moved Ned Buntline's Own to New York City in 1848.[2]

Through his writing in its columns and his association with New York City's notorious gangs of the early 19th century, he was one of the instigators of the Astor Place Riot which left 23 people dead. In September 1849, he was sentenced to a $250 fine and a year's imprisonment.[3] After his release he devoted himself to writing sensational stories for weekly newspapers, and his income from this source is said to have amounted to $20,000 a year. He was later involved in a nativist riot in St. Louis while he was a member of the "Know-nothing" party.

Although a heavy drinker, he traveled around the country giving lectures about temperance, and until the presidential canvass of 1884 was an ardent Republican politician. It was on one of his temperance lecture tours that he encountered Buffalo Bill.[2]

Wild Bill Hickok

While traveling through Nebraska, Buntline heard that Wild Bill Hickok was in Fort McPherson. Having read a popular article about the Wild West figure, Buntline hoped to interview Hickok with the desire to write a dime novel about him. Finding Hickok in a saloon, he rushed up to him saying "There's my man! I want you!". By this time in his life, Hickok had an aversion to surprises. He threatened Buntline with a gun and ordered him out of town in twenty-four hours. Buntline took him at his word and left the saloon. Still looking to get information on his subject, Buntline took to finding Hickock's friends. It is likely that this is how he first met "Buffalo Bill," whose real name was William Cody.[4]

Buffalo Bill

Ned Buntline, Bufalo Bill Cody, Giuseppina Morlacchi, Texas Jack Omohundro, 19th c.

Traveling with William Cody, Buntline became enamored with the gregarious man and would claim that he devised the nickname "Buffalo Bill" for the hero of his serial novel Buffalo Bill,the King of the Border Men, published in the New York Weekly beginning December 23, 1869.[5] Originally Buntline was going to cast Cody as a sidekick to "Wild Bill" Hickok, but found his character more interesting than Hickok's. Buntline presented Cody as a "compendium of cliches", however this did not stop New york Playwright Frank Meader from using Buntline's novel as the basis of a play about Cody's life in 1872. In that same year Buntline and James Gordon Bennett invited Cody to New York City, where Cody saw the play at the Bowery Theater. In December of that year, Buntline wrote a Buffalo Bill play of his own called Scouts of the Prarie starring Cody, himself, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Buntline.[6]

Cody at first was a reluctant actor, but then decided he enjoyed the spotlight. Scouts of the Prairie opened in Chicago in December 1872 and starred Cody and although panned by critics, the play was a success. It was performed to packed theaters across the country for years. Cody would perform his scouting duties for the cavalry and when the Indian wars broke for the winter, he would head to the stage. Buntline's play would serve as a training aid for Cody's later Wild West Show.[6]

Later work

Love at First Sight: or the Daguerreotype, a Romantic Story of Real Life by Ned Buntline (Lerow & Co., Washington St., Boston, ca.1847)

Buntline continued to write dime novels, though none was as successful as his earlier work. Later in life he embellished his military career, claiming to have been chief of scouts among the Indians, with the rank of colonel, and to have received twenty wounds in battle. He used the following pseudonyms as well: Captain Hal Decker, Scout Jack Ford, and Edward Minturn. He settled into his home in Stamford, New York, where he died of congestive heart failure in 1886. Although he was once one of the wealthiest authors in America, his wife had to sell his beloved home "The Eagle's Nest" to pay his debts.

The Buntline Special

According to Wyatt Earp's biographer, Stuart Lake, Wyatt Earp and four other well-known western lawmen - Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett and Neal Brown - each received a Colt Single Action Army revolver as a gift from Ned Buntline. The revolvers were chambered in .45 Colt, had 12 inches (30 cm) barrels, a removable shoulder stock, standard sights, wooden grips into which the name “Ned” was ornately carved and came to be known collectively as "The Buntline Special".

According to Lake, Earp kept his at the original 12" length but the four other recipients of the Buntline Specials cut their barrels down to 7½". Lake spent much effort trying to track these guns through the Colt company, Masterson and Earp's contacts in Alaska. Researchers have never found any record of an order received by the Colt company, and Buntline's alleged connections to Earp have been largely discredited.[7]

The revolver could have been specially ordered from the Colt factory in Hartford, Connecticut. Several such revolvers with 16-inch barrels were displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition and over-long barrels were available from Colt at a dollar an inch over 7.5 inches (190 mm). There are no company records for the Buntline Special nor a record of any orders from or sent to Ned Buntline. Yet, this does not absolutely preclude the historicity of the revolvers. Massad Ayoob writing for Guns Magazine cited notes by Josephine Earp in which she mentioned an extra-long revolver as a favorite of Wyatt Earp. He cited an order by Tombstone, Arizona, bartender Buckskin Frank Leslie for a revolver of near-identical description. This order predated the O.K. Corral fight by several months.[8]


  1. ^ Donaldson, Alfred Lee (1921). A history of the Adirondacks. 2. Century Co.. pp. 118-119. 
  2. ^ a b c d e McIver, Stuart B. (1998). "Hanging Mr Buntline". Dreamers, Schemers and Scalawags Volume 1 of Florida Chronicles. Pineapple Press Inc,. pp. 3-8. ISBN 9781561641550. 
  3. ^ Trager, James (2004). "1849". The New York Chronology: The Ultimate Compendium of Events, People, and Anecdotes from the Dutch to the Present. HarperCollins. p. 106. ISBN 9780060740627. 
  4. ^ Gidmark, Jill B. (2001). Encyclopedia of American literature of the sea and Great Lakes. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 222-223. ISBN 9780313301483. 
  5. ^ Tim DeForest (2004). Storytelling in the pulps, comics, and radio: how technology changed popular fiction in America. McFarland. p. 17. ISBN 9780786419029. 
  6. ^ a b Joy S. Kasson (2001). Macmillan. pp. 20-23. ISBN 9780809032440. 
  7. ^ Shillingberg, William B. (Summer 1976). "Wyatt Earp and the Buntline Special Myth". Kansas Historical Quarterly 42 (2): 113–154. 
  8. ^ Massad, Ayoob (May–June 2007). "One Policeman's Custom Revolver". Guns Magazine (San Diego CA: Von Rosen Publications). 

Further reading

External links

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