First Book on Wild Bill Hickok
13. BUEL, J[ames] W[illiam]. Life and Marvelous Adventures of Wild Bill, the Scout. Being a True and Exact History of All the Sanguinary Combats and Hair-Breadth Escapes of the Most Famous Scout and Spy America Ever Produced. By J. W. Buel, of the St. Louis Press. Illustrated. St. Louis: W. S. Bryan, Publisher, 1880 [copyrighted 1879 by W. S. Bryan]. 92 pp., 2 wood-engraved plates (Hickok and his grave), text illustrations (some full page). 8vo, original light green pictorial wrappers, with illustration of Hickok (original spine perished, sympathetically rebacked in matching paper). Upper wrapper moderately chipped and stained, interior has light foxing and browning, some professional repairs to corners of a few leaves, scattered pencil notes in blank margins, tiny hole in frontispiece (affecting image). Preserved in green cloth clamshell case with dark green gilt-lettered calf label.
First edition, known by only a few copies, with the imprint of W. S. Bryan, rather than the usually cited Belford, Clarke & Co. imprint. For citation to the Chicago edition put out by Belford, Clarke & Co. in 1880, see: Adams, One-Fifty 21. Adams, Six-Guns 316. Graff 468. Howes B935. Streeter Sale 4285. Wright III:761. The author, according to the title and wrapper, was employed in the publishing business in St. Louis. It makes better sense therefore that the book would have first appeared there rather than Chicago. The plates are also signed by Riches & Company, a St. Louis engraving firm. Belford, Clarke & Co., who were in business in Chicago (1875-1892), are usually credited with the only 1880 edition of this work, the present edition being totally overlooked. At the time of this publication Belford, Clarke & Co. had developed quite a reputation as plagiarizers, having been sued by both Estes & Lauriat and Mark Twain. Adams describes the Chicago edition as “perhaps the first and rarest book written about Wild Bill Hickok”; if that is so, this edition is even rarer. OCLC and RLIN locate the Bryan imprint only in the Yale copy. Publisher W. S. Bryan issued many works from the serious to the spectacular, such as Helper’s proposal to build a railroad through South America and Dacus’ Life and Adventures of Jesse James, which came out this same year.
Buel (1849-1920), a professional writer on incredibly diverse subjects, was responsible for numerous works published in St. Louis. Buel claimed to have known Wild Bill and to have had access to his diary. Buel is not admired for his factual accuracy, and is said to have worked from the premise: “Si non e vero, e buon trovato.” Buel insists in his introduction "that which is herewith given is absolutely true in every particular, without a single shading of fiction or extravagance." As is the case in many such works relating to legendary Western figures, the truth and the fiction embodied herein have never been satisfactorily separated. The work nevertheless is generally conceded to be the first biography of the illustrious Wild Bill.
Included is Hickok’s sojourn as marshal of Abilene, Kansas (“The Gomorrah of the West”), when the town was the primary point for shipping cattle east. Abilene is described thus: “Gamblers and bad women, drunken cut-throats and pimps, overshadowed all other society, and the carnival of iniquity never ceased” (p. 53). ($1,500-2,500)
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