Greg Kofford Books has been gradually publishing a series of books out of a (literally) disappearing genre of literature: nineteenth-century novels with Mormon villains. The dime novel industry of mostly Western adventure had a Mormon component, largely constructed from formulae borrowed from the broader cheap imprint world of American literature. The otherevening I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ardis E. Parshall (researcher extraordinaire and producer of all things Keepapitchinin) and our own Michael Austin while they talked about some of their experiences in finding these now fragile and rapidly deteriorating archival treasures.
Some of you may be familiar with J. B. Haws’s The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, 2013), Christine Talbot’s A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852-1890 (UI Press, 2013), or Spencer Fluhman’s “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (UNC Press, 2012), each of which takes a look at Mormonism through the lens of the American press/media and to some degree the feedback loops that existed with Mormon defenders.
Ardis and Michael have focused their considerable talents on giving us a neglected literature that helped create that Mormon Image in the nineteenth century. These dime novel tomes became a part of American culture, informed much of American attitudes about Mormons and served as the ghosts of American perceptions in the world of the twentieth century. Many of the legends in the backs of our neighbor’s minds consist of those ghastly tentacles from works like, The Mormoness or The Trials of Mary Maverick or Boadicea: The Mormon Wife or The Doomed Dozen: or, Dolores the Danite’s Daughter–you can now buy this alliteration. You get some of the common themes here: polygamy, Danites.
Aside from just the fun of reading these works of strange art built off a common template and produced at a dizzying rate in the day, you get some feeling for why they were so easily assimilated in the American psyche. Their spiritual cousins appear inZane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage–ironically Grey was a polygamist himself–without the benefit of ceremony—and of course— Doyle’s, A Study in Scarlet which Conan Doyle always maintained was based on historical fact. But enough of that.
Kofford has done a remarkable job in reproduction here from the original art to historic typefaces. The editors provide helpful introductions to the now forgotten age of this piece-work for hire. They are just fun to read.
Ever been asked if you have horns? I have. There you go.
Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall
Dime Novel Mormons (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2017).
For the whole series so far, see, Greg Kofford Books.
 I have fond memories of my father’s bedtime reading of Grey’s The Trail Driver. The shadowy Panhandle Smith was my favorate character.