Dime Novels

A few determined fans have dug into the ancient archives and found this post from 2009 on the old Andi blog. However, Mrs. M has updated it and added links and excerpts so you can read a dime novel for yourself. Have fun!

Read more journal entries in Andi’s Attic >>

From Thick as Thieves:

Winter 1882

Andi spotted a worn copy of Mitch’s latest dime novel and picked it up. The cover showed a lurid picture of a “wild Indian” crouched over a helpless settler, tomahawk raised to scalp him. She couldn’t help thinking she was in much the same position–a hair’s breadth away from being “scalped” over her poor performance in school the past month.

Later, when Andi is recovering from her sprained ankle, Mitch generously lends her a couple of his brand-new editions: Crack Skull Bob and King of the Swordsmen.

I love dime novels! For one thing, they are full of excitement, Indians, captured settlers, adventurers, pirates, outlaws, and all-around colorful places. The trouble is, most teachers and parents (like my mother) think dime novels are trashy. They don’t contribute at all to kids’ literary skills, so it’s hard to get away with reading one. (Even though I tried to tell Mother that all sorts of adults and famous people read dime novels, like President Lincoln).

Mostly, my mother would prefer I read books like Robinson Crusoe and Little Women. I don’t have anything against reading about a fellow marooned on a desert island, but he doesn’t have anybody to talk to until his man Friday comes along. Not a lot of opportunity for adventure if you’re all alone looking at the sea for days on end.

And I liked Little Women the first time I read it, but one time is definitely enough. I told Mother that Louisa May Alcott wrote dime novels, but I don’t think she believed me. But it’s true! Melinda found it. It’s called The Mysterious Key, and Louisa May Alcott wrote it in 1867. Read for free. Click the book or the link. THE MYSTERIOUS KEY >>

My friend Riley read me my first dime novel when I was about six years old. It was called The Indian Captive, and boy was it exciting! And scary. But I was hooked. When I learned to read well, I sweet-talked Mitch into letting me read Ralph the Slasher. When Mother saw me curled up on the settee lost in an adventure book, she just shook her head and sighed. I guess that means I can keep reading it. And a good thing, too! I was just getting to the part where the Indian was getting ready to scalp the settler, and I would have died if Mother had taken it away.

They call these thin paperback books “dime novels” because they cost a dime to buy. Mitch has a whole slew of them–he likes to read these kinds of books. Justin, he doesn’t read anything but his law books and the newspaper. And Chad? Well, I don’t think he likes to read at all. But Melinda and I? We both like dime novels. There are also half-dime novels, and they cost half a dime. Nearly everybody can afford them!

Mitch has warned me time and time again not to ever, ever take a dime novel to school. Here is a snippet from my journal:

If Mr. Foster catches anybody with a dime novel, he yanks it away and tears it up in front of the entire class. Cory and Jack have lost many books that way. I keep the novels Mitch lends me far away from schoolmasters and preachers. They don’t like them and don’t think children should put such worthless ideas in their heads. Mitch says dime novels are all in good fun. Thankfully, Mother finally agreed.

So, how did dime novels get started? Just before the War Between the States, two brothers named “Beadle,” published a small paper book called Maleaska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter. It was an immediate hit, selling over 65,000 copies in the first few months. The Beadles named their cheap paper books “dime novels.” Their series eventually included 312 titles. (wow!) It didn’t take long for other publishers to jump on this money-making band wagon.

Mrs. M will say something here. Those old dime novels were no different than what we watch and read today. Dime novels were paperback stories, comic books, and TV episodes all rolled up into farfetched tales of heroes, adventure, and danger. Sound familiar? Star Wars comes to mind. Instead of battling outer-space villains, dime-novel heroes fought Indians and pirates, found gold, and battled stagecoach robbers. Some went on incredible journeys inside the earth. Real-life explorers like Kit Carson were painted larger than life in dime-novel stories.

Dime novels never lost their popularity. They turned into paperback books and Ebooks. Andi would have no trouble recognizing them! The only trouble is . . . they don’t cost ten cents (or a nickel) any longer!

Read an Authentic Dime Novel

Want to read an authentic dime novel adventure? Click this link to California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman >> This title is from Beadle’s Boys’ Library of Sport, Story, and Adventure; Volume 3, #54. Summary: The strange adventures of an unknown man, whose real identity, like that of the Man of the Iron Mask, is still unsolved. 

Oooh! Don’t you just want to plunge in? t was published in 1882, and Andi read it. Before you read the whole thing, you can read chapter one right here. Notice that old books (dime novels too) were rather wordy. Enjoy and comment on what you think of this story. There are 24 chapters.

California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman – Chapter One

“Who was California Joe?”

Kind reader, that question I cannot answer more than can I the queries: “Who was the Man of the Iron Mask?” But from the time he entered upon the eventful career of a border boy, when he was in his seventeenth year, I can write of him, and many a thrilling tale of his adventures can be told. But go beyond that night when he first appeared to a wagon-train of emigrants and became their guide, and all is a mystery, as though a veil had been drawn between him and the years that had gone before, for of himself this strange man would never speak.

One night nearly half a century ago a [wagon] train, westward bound, was encamped just where the prairie met the woodland and hills. It consisted of a score of white-tilted wagons, drawn by oxen, half as many stoutly-built carryalls, to which were hitched serviceable horses, and the stock of the emigrants, comprising horses, cattle, sheep, and hogs.

Perhaps half a hundred souls were in the train, half of them being hardy, fearless men, and the remainder their wives and children, seeking homes in the border land. When the camp had been pitched for the night, an hour before sunset—for the train traveled slowly, retarded as it was with their stock—a few of the younger men took their rifles for a stroll through the woodland above, hoping to knock over a few wild turkeys and squirrels for the evening meal. They were quite successful, and lured on by the sport, they penetrated the hills for a couple of miles and only thought of returning when the evening shadows warned them that night was at hand.

“Heaven above! Look there!” The cry came from the lips of one of the party and all were thrilled with the sudden exclamation, which told of something more worthy of attention than a wild turkey or even a bear.

All glanced in the direction in which the one who had made some startling discovery was gazing, and every eye became riveted at once in a manner that proved the thrilling cry of their comrade had not been uncalled for. There, some hundred paces distant from where they stood, was what appeared to be a horse and rider. The animal was snow-white and stood as motionless as though carved from marble.

The rider was dressed in deep black from boots to hat and sat silent and still. Even in the gathering gloom his face, seemingly very pale, was visible, and it was beardless. Across his lap lay a rifle, also seemingly painted black, and a belt of arms of the same somber hue was about his waist.

The horse was saddle and bridle-less and stood with head erect, gazing upon the party. This much all of the young immigrants saw. But who was this strange being and his ghost-like horse? 


Published by Andi Carter

I'm the main character in the Circle C Adventures series. I live on a huge cattle ranch in 1880s California. These are my adventures.

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