The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Fresh of Frisco Adventures (1879-1894)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The thirteen Fresh of Frisco Adventures were written by Albert W. Aiken and began with “The Fresh of Frisco; or, The Heiress of Buenaventura. A Story of Southern California” (Saturday Journal 460, Jan 4, 1879). Aiken (1846-1894) was an actor, playwright, and author of dime novel stories about cowboys and detectives.
“The Fresh of Frisco” was originally simple Jackson Blake, a twenty-five-year-old bank clerk, but a friend of Blake robbed his bank and he took the blame for the robbery for his friend. Blake took to the road and went to the western frontier. He gains the nickname “Fresh of Frisco” because he is “too fresh–too eager to back other men's quarrels when (he thinks) that they have the right on their side and are being imposed upon.”1 He is seen by most people as a “gambler, black leg, card sharp, desperado, road agent, mail robber, murderer, horse thief, everything that's bad.”2 What he really is, though, is a “reckless, daring, keen eyed sharp–equally a man of honor, a genteel ruffian and an irrepressible road agent.”3 He wanders the West and the South, gaining a reputation so bad that people will duck simply on hearing his name or seeing him. He marries several woman who subsequently die from murder and disease, but in his last story there is a hint that he has at last found the right woman and will be able to live happily ever after.
The Fresh of Frisco stories are representative of the after-effects of the crackdown on dime novels following the Deadwood Dick Adventures. The first Fresh of Frisco story was published in 1879, but all the rest were published between 1888 and 1894, years after the 1883 cancellation of Wide Awake Library and its Frank and Jesse James stories (see: The James Brothers Adventures). The independence and pro-outlaw spirit of the Deadwood Dick and Frank and Jesse James stories disappeared, and what took their place were a set of stories about heroic outlaws who did not challenge the status quo implicitly or explicitly. These outlaw heroes—and Fresh of Frisco is among their number—do not take explicit or implicit political stances, are not associated with one community whose interests they defend against outsiders, and are generally shown to suffer more than enjoy their lives as outlaws. All of these were radical changes from the outlaw heroes published during the heydays of Deadwood Dick and Frank and Jesse James. The Fresh of Frisco, though an honorable enough man, is shown as an outlaw who regrets his lifestyle and suffers because of it. His relationships are cursed because of his lifestyle, as well. The Fresh of Frisco stories, in other words, are heroic outlaw stories with the fangs removed, and of historic interest only because of that.
1 Qtd in Cox, Dime Novel Companion, 110.
2 Aiken, “The Fresh of Frisco; or, The Heiress of Buenaventura. A Story of Southern California,” Beadle’s New York Dime Library 6, no. 77 (Sept. 24, 1879): 2.
3 Qtd in Cox, Dime Novel Companion, 110.