Updated: Aug 16, 2019
Prentiss Ingraham, the man who wrote countless dime novels about Texas Jack, Buffalo Bill, and the Wild West, died 115 years ago, on August 16th, 1904 at Beauvoir, the former estate of Jefferson Davis, which by the time of Ingraham's death was functioning as a Confederate veteran's home.
Prentiss Ingraham was just as much an adventurer and lead just as exciting a life as the men he wrote about in his many dime novels. Prentiss was born near Natchez, Mississippi, the son of writer and Reverend Joseph Ingraham. Prentiss entered Medical College in Mobile, Alabama, but left his studies to join the Confederate Army, where he rose to the rank of Colonel in the Adacus Company Regiment before becoming chief of scouts in Lawrence Sullivan Ross' Brigade of the Texas Cavalry. After the Civil War, Prentiss travelled to Mexico to join Juarez in fighting the French, and later found his way to South America.
Ingraham next joined German General Carl Adolf Maximilian Hoffmann's staff during the Battle of Sadowa in Austria. In 1866, he fought first against the Turks in Crete and later in the army of Ismail the Magnificent, Khedive of Egypt. The end of the 1860s found him in London where he began his literary career, but he soon departed for the United States and then to Cuba, where he joined the rebellion against Spain. Here, he was a blockade runner on his ship The Hornet, making several successful runs before the ship was surrendered to the United States Navy. Ingraham rose to Colonel in the Cuban Army and to Captain in the Cuban Navy before being captured by the Spanish. After his capture he was tried and condemned to death by the Spanish military, but he managed to escape captivity just before his planned execution.
Ingraham determined to head West, where he met Buffalo Bill Cody and Texas Jack Omohundro, along with many of their Nebraska acquaintances. Ingraham likely assisted both men with their earliest literary efforts, and some scholars attribute many of Buffalo Bill's dime novels to Prentiss Ingraham's pen, as well as Texas Jack's dime novel "Ned Wylde, the Boy Scout."
Whatever the case, Ingraham was prolific, penning more than 600 dime novels, both under his own name and under his numerous aliases, including Dr. Noel Dunbar, Dangerfield Burr, Major Henry B. Stoddard, Colonel Leon Lafitte, Frank Powell, Harry Dennies Perry, Midshipman Tom W. Hall, and Lieut. Preston Graham. His influence on the perception of the west was so great that according to one scholar, "Ingraham helped start what was to become the most powerful and characteristic of American myths." That myth, the American cowboy, was founded on the life and legacy of Ingraham's friend Texas Jack, who would often visit Prentiss at his Gettysburg, Pennsylvania home.
In addition to his literary output, Ingraham was on the staff of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, serving as an advance agent under the watchful eye of John M. Burke. Like Burke, Ingraham fondly remembered Texas Jack long after the cowboy's death in 1880, and liked to include him as often as possible, both in material for Cody's Wild West Show, and in his dime novels. Often, Ingraham included Texas Jack in his stories about other western men, including Buffalo Bill Cody, Doc Carver, Arizona Joe Bruce, Buckskin Sam Hall, and Wild Bill Hickok. Ingraham passed away from kidney failure in 1904 at the age of 60 at Beauvoir, the former estate of Jefferson Davis, left by his family as a Confederate veterans home. Prentiss Ingraham's stories forever shaped the world's concept and perception of the American West.