The Fractured History of the “Buntline Special”

It was never the favorite of Wyatt Earp and was named by a writer of tall tales. Still, one can get handed to you anyway.

by Chick Blood


Why is the name of the gun in quotes? “The Edward Zane Carroll Judson Special” wouldn’t fit on the page. Mr. Judson, the dime novel king to be, conjured up a nom de plume for himself stolen from old-time seamen when they referred to the rope at the bottom of a square sail and became Ned Buntline.

Ed had run off from home at 17 and gone to sea on windjammers. After a short stint of the seagoing life he returned to dry land and established a publication, a story paper title Ned Buntline’s Own, so his writings would be sure to get into print. Ned drank a lot while simultaneously publishing dozens of articles and making an equal number of fiery speeches promoting temperance. In his early twenties he killed a husband who suspected him of having an affair with his teenaged wife, was tried, convicted and lynched by an angry mob across the street from the courthouse, but was cut down by a friend before the noose could complete its job. Judson/Buntline wore Sergeant’s stripes in the Union Army, was busted to private, yet claimed the rank of Colonel after the war and stuck to the fable until his death in 1886.

Read more in our May2011 issue. Back issues are available.

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