Be Rootin’, Be Tootin’, Be Readin’: A Look Into Cowboys Across Special Collections

The Wild West has been a source for literary inspiration as long as people have lived and settled there. Special Collections and Archives hosts a variety of Wild West stories across popular mediums, including dime novels and small books.

First published in 1860, dime novels became a popular source of media for young audiences and adults alike (Cassidy, 2011). Dime novels provided cheap entertainment and were popular among Civil War soldiers as well as children, although there was quickly a rising moral panic about the contents of these inexpensive texts corrupting America’s youth. Filled with tales of cowboys, Native Americans, gold, and adventure, the dime novels were exciting and sometimes scandalous material churned out at an impressive rate. Margaret Cassidy cites an 1896 copycat train robbery by young men with a collection of “blood and thunder” dime novels stashed away in their den in her speech “Pernicious Stuff”. This robbery and other crimes like it pulled the same moral panic that video games inspired nearly a century later, as violent and dangerous media that confuses their parents and corrupts the youth.

Dime novels were often set in the heyday of Manifest Destiny, as the American government pushed settlements west, spearheaded by cavalry, wagon trains, and cowboys. Antagonists were created from individuals who stood as barriers this aim: train robbers, Native Americans. In this manner, dime novels seem to follow the narrow point of view of white men, however women are occasionally given the spotlight, as in “Fred Fearnot and the Ranch Girl Owner; And How She Held Her Own.” by Hal Standish, published in 1918.

Perusing these dime novels also allows readers to view ads and propaganda statements that reflected their times, including wartime rationing during World War I, as well as advertisements for other dime novels, as included in these 1918 dime novel advertisements. (For more information on the Dime Novels Collection, click this link.)

The Western remained to be a popular setting for stories for decades to come. The Robert M. Ervin Jr. Collection contains a wide variety of comic books, serials, and monograph that covers a multitude of genres including science fiction, fantasy, and Westerns. The Ervin Collection contains multiple Better Little Books, petite texts containing stories and illustrations involving popular characters, such as the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, and Gene Aughtry. These tiny tomes cost about fifteen cents and were popular with young readers.

References:
“Pernicious Stuff” Nineteenth Century Media, the Children Who Loved Them, and the Adults Who Worried about Them. (2011). ETC: A Review of General Semantics68(3), 304–315. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=hus&AN=64432725&site=eds-live&scope=site

Finding aid: https://archives.lib.fsu.edu/repositories/10/resources/1169

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