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A Dime Western is a modern term for Western-themed dime novels, which spanned the era of the 1860s—1900s. Most would hardly be recognizable as a modern western, having more in common with James Fennimore Cooper's Leatherstocking saga, but many of the standard elements originated here: a cool detached hero, a frontiersman (later a cowboy), a fragile heroine in danger of the despicable outlaw, savage Indians, violence and gunplay, and the final outcome where Truth and Light wins over all. Often real characters — such as Buffalo Bill or the famous Kit Carson — were fictionalized, as were the exploits of notorious outlaws such as Billy the Kid and Jesse James. Buffalo Bill's literary incarnation provides the transition from the frontier tales to the cowboy story, as he straddles both of the genres.
There were several different formats. From 1860 to roughly 1880, the stories appeared in small pamphlets, generally about 100 pages each, and sold for ten to fifteen cents. These books were issued at irregular intervals, and they were kept in print for years, as well as being reprinted under different titles. Later, the weekly magazine format came to predominate. These libraries were 32 pages, and sold for a nickel or a dime. Both formats were printed on cheap acidic paper, and relatively few have survived the years, despite circulation measured in the tens of millions.
In 1919, Street & Smith canceled the last of their five-cent weeklies (New Buffalo Bill Weekly) and replaced it with the pulp Western Story Magazine, which brought the western into its modern form. The genre continued to evolve as new media came along, and mass market paperbacks and comic books maintained the western story's popularity well into the late twentieth century. Its popularity has waned somewhat in the ensuing years, but it is too soon to count out a resurgence.[according to whom?]
- Jennifer Vanasco, "Dime Westerns", University of Chicago Chronicle, Vol. 16, No. 15, April 17, 1997.
- Rosalie More, "Part IV: Dime Novels and Early Westerns", A Directory of Western Authors.
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