The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
"Rosebud Rob; or, Nuggest Ned, The Knight of the Gulch" (1879)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
“Rosebud Rob; or, Nugget Ned, the Knight of the Gulch” was written by Edward L. Wheeler and appeared in “Rosebud Rob; or, Nugget Ned, the Knight of the Gulch” (Beadle's Half Dime Library #80, February 4, 1879). Edward L. Wheeler (1854/5-1885/6) was short-lived and only wrote for eight years, but during that time he produced around 100 dime novels, introduced the cowgirl heroine character, and created Deadwood Dick (see: The Deadwood Dick Adventures).
Rosebud Rob is a standard dime novel cowboy hero. Of much more interest is the character of Bel Helene. Bel Helene is actually Nelly Austin, formerly a demure, sweet, and modest young flower of the prairies who had the misfortune to meet up with a “bold, handsome devil in man's shape.”1 He seduced her (or raped her, the text is ambiguous on this point) and then killed her father and took her inheritance. For this Nelly swears vengeance: “I have daily sworn before my God to kill him,” she tells her old school friend, Jessie Mapleton, “and I only live to keep my oath. I shall find him even though he be in the deepest disguise.”2
Nelly trains herself to fight, arms herself with a pair of revolvers and “a knife of the truest steel,”3 and goes hunting as the shootist “Bel Helene, the Pistol Queen.” Across the wide open spaces of the West she hunts her man, losing him, finding him, then losing him again. Over the course of several years she hunts him, until she runs him to ground in Deadwood City. Unfortunately, when she confronts him, late one night, he outdraws her and guns her down. But she has a letter on her body which identifies her target as a foul murderer and seducer, and Nelly’s friend Nugget Ned finds the letter and brings Nelly’s enemy to hemp justice at last.
Bel Helene is one of the first cowgirl heroines. She is in the same format as Wheeler’s other cowgirl heroines, and is similar to Baltimore Bess, who appears in the same story as Bel. But Bel Helene is a more conventional and less transgressive figure than Baltimore Bess. Bel suffered the same fate as Bess and most other cowgirl heroines (see: The Baltimore Bess Adventures), but her desexing was less drastic and was comparable to Calamity Jane. Like Bess, Bel Helene dressed like a man, acted like a man, and assumed the man’s prerogative on the frontier—strapping on guns and killing. But unlike Baltimore Bess she does not assume a masculine persona and does not refer to herself as a man. Bel Helene has a feminine personality and speaks in a feminine way, but attempts to live a masculine lifestyle, and is killed for it.
Print: Edward L. Wheeler, “Rosebud Rob; or, Nugget Ned, the Knight of the Gulch,” Deadwood Dick Library no. 35, 1908.
1 Edward L. Wheeler, “Rosebud Rob; or, Nugget Ned, the Knight of the Gulch,” Deadwood Dick Library 2, no. 17 (July 5, 1899): 8.
2 Wheeler, “Rosebud Rob,” 9.
3 Wheeler, “Rosebud Rob,” 9.