Updated: Feb 20, 2020
Julia Bricklin's new book, The Notorious Life of Ned Buntline: A Tale of Murder, Betrayal, and the Creation of Buffalo Bill, comes out on June 1, 2020 from TwoDot Press . You can pre-order a copy from Amazon here, or talk to your local independent bookstore and tell them you want a copy on release day. I read a pre-publication copy, and this is my review:
Ned Buntline. Edward Zane Carroll Judson. He is remembered now as "the creator" of Buffalo Bill, but in his day he was indeed notorious. He incited riots and married multiple women (often at the same time) and murdered jealous husbands of the women he wooed and was as widely read as Mark Twain or any other writer alive at the time.
I'm very glad that Julia Bricklin wrote this book. By that, I don't just mean that I'm glad someone researched and wrote a modern biography of Ned Buntline, but that I'm glad that it was Julia who chose to focus her keen eye on Mr. Judson as a subject. Most western writers/biographers (read: men) would have mishandled the human part of dealing with his misdeeds, which were many and often quite unique. Bricklin provides the cultural context to soften the blow, but without excusing the man solely because he created something lasting and important in the western and in his frontier heroes Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack.
Reading The Notorious Ned Buntline, I found myself in equal parts abhorring Buntline while kind of pulling for him too. Bricklin's words paint him as an awful and awfully endearing man, one capable of treating his loved ones terribly in one moment and in the next acting with tenderness and care. The way the author weaves Buntline's wives in and out is really fascinating, and I felt like they each had a personality and a place in the story beyond just "one of Buntline's women."
This is a story of a man whose duality and hypocrisy rise to heights that seem almost unbelievable. A man whose life was as uniquely full of adventure as any of the subjects of his many dime novels. With incredible clarity and narrative drive, this book takes that life and shows why it was both repellent and relevant. If you want to understand the American West, read this book about the man that wrote it wild.