Young Wild West. Young Wild West was created by “An Old Scout,” the pseudonym of Cornelius Shea, and appeared in 644 stories in Wild West Weekly from 1902 to 1915 and 29 stories in Young Wild West’s Weird West Weekly from 1915 to 1916, beginning with “Young Wild West, the Prince of the Saddle” (Wild West Weekly #1, Oct 24, 1902). In his first dime novel incarnation, in Wild West Weekly, Young Wild West is the “Prince of the Saddle” and the “Champion Deadshot of the West.” As a boy he was orphaned in Southern Kansas by the Comanche and was adopted by William West, a hunter passing by the site. West names the child “Young Wild West” because the boy is young and because the area he was found in is particularly wild and frontier-like. Young Wild West’s mission in life is to do good and to avenge his biological family’s death, and he does both, wandering from the Missouri River to the mouth of the Rio Grande. He eventually settles down in Wyoming along with his horse Spitfire and his friends: Arietta Murdock, the ridin’, shootin’, blonde Wyomingan who is West’s love interest; Charlie Watson, a Cheyenne who was formerly a scout for the Government and an Indian fighter; Jim Dart, the quiet teetotaler; and Hop Wah and Wing Wah, West’s two Chinese servants. West is the best shootist, horseman, rider, scout, and roper in the West, capable of taking down a dozen bandits, rustlers, and owlhoots without much trouble. Early in his career West strikes it rich, and he buys the Buckhorn Ranch in Wyoming, which becomes his home. In 1914 and 1915, during World War One, West takes on German spies.
Young Wild West’s second dime novel incarnation, in Young Wild West’s Weird West Weekly (hereafter YWWWWW), was considerably…odder. In 1915 dime novels were still the dominant medium for cheap popular entertainment–but only just: there were 30 dime novel titles published in 1915 and 25 pulp magazine titles. The dime novel medium was well into its decline, with 30 titles being the fewest published in that medium since 1886. (By comparison, in 1916 26 dime novels were published, in 1918 22 dime novels were published, and in 1920 20 dime novels were published; the medium was in a slow but irrevocable decline). As is often the way with media in decline, publishers were experimental during the end-times, trying out quick-fixes and radical new innovations as possible ways to make a buck. One example, from 1916, is Street & Smith’s Picture Play Library (33 issues, 1916-1917), which consisted mainly of photoplay editions (large photos with a small amount of text accompanying each, strung together to make a coherent narrative) of contemporary silent films. Another example is YWWWWW. (Westerns were among the most popular of the dime novels, with the final Western dime novel New Buffalo Bill Weekly, lasting until 1919).
It must be understood that “weird,” in the context of 1915, is not weird as we currently understand it. In 1915, in literature, “weird” had a meaning of what we might call for lack of a better phrase “non-standard genres.” Neither fantasy nor science fiction had been given their names as distinct genres, although there was a consensus consciousness that something like science fiction existed. Fantasy, science fiction, dark fantasy, and even horror were lumped together as “weird” stories. (Hence the later designation of the first pulp of the fantastic as Weird Tales). There had been science fiction dime novels: The Frank Reade Library of the 1890s, Motor Stories of 1909. But a dime novel which was multi-genre in the fantastic was something new.
And new YWWWWW was, in its approach if not its content. Wild West Weekly had been typical for its era. Written after the frontier had been settled, Wild West Weekly romanticized the frontier. With all potential threats to the white conquest of the frontier gone, Manifest Destiny no longer needed to be justified, and Indians and Mexicans–no longer active threats–could safely be portrayed as sidekicks to the hero or easily defeated enemies. With dime novel publishers having acted years before to remove troubling reminders of class and labor discontent, the dime novel cowboy figure became completely detached from the historical reality it was based on and became sentimentalized and romanticized.
YWWWWW took a much different approach. Young Wild West is now a young man in his twenties, rather than a teenager, and is considerably more hard-bitten and weathered than he was in Young Wild West. He still has his Wyoming home but wanders widely around the West. His supporting cast is occasionally mentioned but they rarely appear, and even Arietta Murdock is mostly absent from the stories, being mentioned by name far more often than appearing in flesh.
The greatest change, though, is in the depiction of the frontier. The innocence of Young Wild West and the sentimentalization and romanticization–alternatively, the infantilization–of the frontier are gone. What replaces them is a harder-edged Western frontier (in this case reaching from the Yukon to Central America) filled with more dangerous opponents and creatures and real threats to Young Wild West. (The influence of the Nick Carter stories of these years, with their increasing hard-boiled atmosphere, is marked. Carter was also published by Street & Smith). Many of the stories are pure dime novel and pulp, but others, such as “Young Wild West and the Ghosts of the Mississippi” and “The Angel of Mons,” successfully create an ominous atmosphere more fitting for the mainstream magazines than the dime novels. Whichever authors were writing YWWWWW–the given byline was “An Old Scout,” the traditional Street & Smith pseudonym for Cornelius Shea, Kenneth Lowery, Justin Davis, and other writers–were clearly trying to achieve something greater than just dime novel frontier fiction.
As with many hero dime novels, most famously including the Nick Carter series, most of the excitement (and for the modern reader the enjoyment) of YWWWWW comes from the villains, rather than the comparatively one-dimensional Young Wild West himself. In YWWWWW Young Wild West’s Rogues Gallery was colorful and on par with that of Nick Carter, Sexton Blake, and the other dime novel and story paper giants. There are the bullet-proof Sioux and their bullet-proof Chinese allies in “The Ghost Dance and the Boxers.” There is “The Nemo of the Mississippi.” There is “The Black Beast of the Brazos,” a monstrous werewolf attacking entire towns. There are the Aztec zombies of “The Tomb of Montezuma.” There is “The Mechanical Gorilla,” “The Vampires of the Sierra Sangre,” “The Worm of the Lost Plateau,” and “The Ape-Men of Allagash Valley.”
YWWWWW was surprisingly friendly to science fiction. Jules Verne’s Robur makes an appearance in “Young Wild West and the Sky Pirates,” at once a crossover with Verne and an attempt to exploit the “airship scares” of the 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s. “The Town That Walked” is a steam-powered mobile town of bandits and bad guys that Young Wild West takes on. An Edisonade–a boy inventor active on the frontier–appears in “The Marvelous Landrover,” an obvious attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Edward Stratemeyer’s Tom Swift novels, as well as the Edisonade characters of the 1880s and 1890s, like Luis Senarens Frank Reade, Jr. (It seems clear to me that Kevin Church, the boy inventor of “The Marvelous Landrover,” was trotted out in this story to test the waters for a possible Kevin Church Edisonade dime novel. But clearly the popular reaction was insufficient for Street & Smith to follow up “The Marvelous Landrover” with a whole series of Kevin Church stories. 1915 was not a good time to be bringing out hero-oriented science fictional dime novels; the medium was trending more toward romance, frontier, and detective stories rather than science fiction). (Although it must be said that American audiences were not wholly hostile to science fiction in 1915–the number of science fiction stories and films was surprisingly large that year and in 1916).
Naturally, YWWWWW, like the Nick Carter and Sexton Blake series, featured notable villains. In the distastefully reactionary “The Red Napoleon,” a labor organizer similar to Joe Hill (1879-1915) is in the pay of international communists. In “Young Wild West and the Black Forest Sorcerer,” Adam Kriegfels, the “Kaiser’s Sheriff” and a mesmerist of supernatural ability, clashes with Young Wild West. In “Young Wild West and The Yellow Peril” Andoru Shiro, a Japanese gunslinger, attempts to terrorize a Mexican town into allowing a Japanese army to invade the US through the town. And in “Young Wild West and the Female General” Robin LeBlanc, widow of a Confederate general, brings together Confederate veterans as “General LeBlanc” and tries to establish a Confederate state in the American Southwest. LeBlanc is a femme fatale and has a “loving enemy” relationship with Young Wild West not unlike that of Sexton Blake and Mademoiselle Yvonne.
Lastly, there were “Lost Race” stories. “Young Wild West and the Lost Colony,” featuring a city of Viking descendants in the Yukon, was apparently received enthusiastically by YWWWWW’s readers, because “An Old Scout” wrote two informal sequels: “Young Wild West and the Lost Valley,” in which Young Wild West, in a secluded Mexican valley, encounters a city of Aztec descendants who have enslaved dinosaurs and use them as mounts and beasts of burden; and “Young Wild West and the Lost Island,” in which Young Wild West, off the coast of Baja California, finds an island inhabited by the descendants of Chinese sailors who had discovered the Hollow Earth.