Thomas Mayne Reid

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Thomas Mayne Reid
Thomas Mayne Reid, c. 1850
Thomas Mayne Reid, c. 1850
Born4 April 1818 (1818-04-04)
Ballyroney, County Down, Ireland
Died22 October 1883 (1883-10-23) (aged 65)
London, England
Mr. and Mrs. Mayne Reid

Thomas Mayne Reid (4 April 1818 – 22 October 1883) was an Irish-American novelist, who fought in the American-Mexican War (1846–1848). His many works on American life describe colonial policy in the American colonies, the horrors of slave labour and the lives of American Indians. "Captain" Reid wrote adventure novels akin to those by Frederick Marryat and Robert Louis Stevenson, and set mainly in the American West, Mexico, South Africa, the Himalayas, and Jamaica. He was an admirer of Lord Byron.


Early years[edit]

Reid was born in Ballyroney, a hamlet near Katesbridge, County Down, in present day Northern Ireland, the son of Rev. Thomas Mayne Reid Sr., who was a senior clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. His father wanted him to become a Presbyterian minister, and in September 1834 he enrolled at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution. He stayed for four years, but he could not motivate himself enough to complete his studies and receive a degree. He headed back home to Ballyroney to teach at a school.

In December 1839 Reid boarded the Dumfriesshire, bound for New Orleans, Louisiana, arriving in January 1840. Shortly afterward he found a job as a clerk for a corn factor in the corn market. After six months in New Orleans, he is said to have left for refusing to whip slaves. Reid later used Louisiana as the setting of one of his successful books, an anti-slavery novel entitled The Quadroon.

Reid then travelled to Tennessee, where on a plantation near Nashville he tutored the children of Dr. Peyton Robertson. Some twenty years later, Reid would make mid-Tennessee the setting for his novel The Wild Huntress. After Dr. Robertson's death, Reid founded a short-lived school of his own in Nashville. In 1841 he found work as a clerk for a provision dealer in either Natchez, Mississippi, or Natchitoches, Louisiana (the latter seems more likely). Although Reid later claimed to have made several trips to the West during this period, on which he purportedly based some of his novels, the evidence for such journeys is sketchy and confusing at best.

Literary career[edit]

In late 1842 Reid arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he began his literary career writing prose and poetry for the Pittsburgh Morning Chronicle under the pen-name The Poor Scholar. He also apparently worked as a carrier for the paper. His earliest verifiable work is a series of epic poems called Scenes in the West Indies.

In early 1843, Reid moved to Philadelphia for three years, working as a journalist and from time to time having poetry published in Godey's Lady's Book, Graham's Magazine, the Ladies National Magazine and other publications, still using his Pittsburgh pseudonym. There he met Edgar Allan Poe, who became a drinking companion for a time.[1] Poe would later call Reid "a colossal but most picturesque liar. He fibs on a surprising scale but with the finish of an artist, and that is why I listen to him attentively."[2]

When the Mexican–American War began in the spring of 1846, Reid was working as a correspondent for the New York Herald in Newport, Rhode Island, which would likewise be the setting for a novel. At this time he began using the pen-name Ecolier, alongside The Poor Scholar.

On 23 November 1846, Reid joined the First New York Volunteer Infantry as a second lieutenant, and in January 1847 left New York with the regiment by ship. The New Yorkers camped for several weeks at Lobos Island before taking part in Major General Winfield Scott's invasion of Central Mexico, which began on 9 March at Vera Cruz. Reid as Ecolier was a correspondent for a New York newspaper, Spirit of the Times, which published his Sketches by a Skirmisher. On 13 September, at the Battle of Chapultepec, the young Irish-born officer received a severe thigh wound while leading a charge. He was afterward promoted to first lieutenant for bravery in battle. On 5 May 1848 he resigned his commission and in July he returned to New York with his regiment.

Love's Martyr, Reid's first play, was performed at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia for five nights in October 1848. He published War Life, an account of his army service, on 27 June 1849.

Learning of the Bavarian Revolution, Reid headed for England to volunteer, but after the Atlantic crossing he changed his mind and went home to Ireland instead. He soon moved to London and in 1850 published his first novel, The Rifle Rangers. This was followed by The Scalp Hunters (1851; dedicated to Commodore Edwin W. Moore, whom he met in 1841), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853). This last, set in Texas and Louisiana, was a "juvenile scientific travelogue". It would become a favorite with young Theodore Roosevelt, who became a huge Reid fan. That same year Reid married the 15-year-old Elizabeth Hyde, daughter of his publisher, G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat.

After some time off with his new bride, Reid returned to writing. He continued to base his novels on his adventures in America. Several more were successful: The White Chief (1855), The Quadroon (1856), Osceola (1858) and The Headless Horseman (1865).

He spent money freely, including building in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, a sprawling "Rancho": an elaborate reproduction of a Mexican hacienda that he had seen during the Mexican–American War, where he took to farming. This extravagant life led him to bankruptcy in November 1866, from which he was discharged in January 1867. The following October he left London for Newport, Rhode Island, hoping to recapture the success the U.S. had brought him earlier. He went back to New York in 1867 and founded the Onward Magazine there.[3]

Last years[edit]

Reid lectured at Steinway Hall in New York, and published the novel The Helpless Hand in 1868, but America proved less kind than earlier. The wound he had received at Chapultepec started to bother him and he was hospitalized for several months at St Luke in 1870. His wife hated America and after his hospital discharge they returned to England on 22 October 1870, to live at Ross on Wye, Herefordshire.

Reid continued to write short stories in England and reworked some of his earlier novels. "The Death Shot" was completed at this time and published in the Penny Illustrated Paper. In October 1874, an abscess formed on the knee of his wounded leg. Thereafter he was unable to walk without the aid of crutches. He was joint editor with John Latey of The Boys' Illustrated News for ten months from April 6, 1881, and wrote for it "The Lost Mountain; a Tale of Sonora." About this time Reid's invention began to flag and he became less popular, so that he turned his attention to farming near Ross in Herefordshire, although he also continued to write. His last novel, "No Quarter," a tale of the Parliamentary wars, and his last boys' book, "The Land of Fire," were published after his death on October 22, 1883.[4] He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. His tombstone epitaph bears a quotation from The Scalp Hunters: "This is 'weed prairie'; it is misnamed: It is the Garden of God."[5]

Influence and legacy[edit]

Capt. Mayne Reid, from an oil portrait, circa 1863

Books such as the Young Voyagers had great popularity, especially with boys. His tales of the American West were also popular with children across Europe and Russia. Many became popular in Polish or Russian translation, including The Rifle Rangers (1850), Scalp Hunters (1851), Boy Hunters (1853), War Trail (1851), Boy Tar (1859), and Headless Horseman (1865/6).[3] Vladimir Nabokov recalled The Headless Horseman as a favourite adventure novel of his childhood years – "which had given him a vision of the prairies and the great open spaces and the overarching sky."[6] At 11, Nabokov even translated The Headless Horseman into French alexandrines.[7] Alexander Bek mentions the well-read K. K. Rokossovky, future Marshal of the Soviet Union, referring to Reid's work in early 1942.[8] The Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz cites Russian translations of Reid as well-remembered early reading matter, which allowed him to learn Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet. A chapter on Reid appears in his essay collection Emperor of the Earth (1976). Anton Chekhov in Island, a Journey to Sakhalin (1893–94) mentions "Mayne Reid" in Chapter 10: "The morose, angry sea has spread itself boundlessly for thousands of versts. When a little boy has been reading Mayne Reid and his blanket falls off during the night, he starts shivering, and it is than that he dreams of such a sea."

United States President Teddy Roosevelt, in his autobiography, credits Reid with being a major early inspiration. The shy, asthmatic aristocrat, Theodore Roosevelt, would grow up to pursue naturalistic zoology and adventure travel. Russell Miller, in his biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, credits Reid as one of Conan Doyle's favourite childhood authors and a great influence on his writings.

Although Reid called himself and is listed often as Captain, Francis B. Heitman's definitive Historical Register and Dictionary of the U.S. Army only shows him as a lieutenant.


Reid wrote about 75 novels and many short stories and sketches.[9]

  • The Rifle Rangers; or, Adventures in Southern Mexico (1850)
  • The Scalp Hunters: A Romance of the Plain (1851)
  • The Desert Home: The Adventures of a Lost Family in the Wilderness (1851)
  • The Forest Exiles; or, The Perils of a Peruvian Family Amid the Wilds of the Amazon (1852)
  • The White Chief; A Legend of North Mexico (1855)
  • The Boy Hunters, or, Adventures in Search of a White Buffalo (1853)
  • The Hunter's Feast; or, Conversations Around the Camp-fire (1856)
  • The Bush Boys: History and Adventures of a Cape Farmer and His Family (1856)
  • The Quadroon: or, A Lover's Adventures in Louisiana: in 3 volumes (1856)
  • The War-trail: or, The Hunt of the Wild Horse; a Romance of the Prairie (1857)
  • The Young Yagers, or, A Narrative of Hunting Adventures in Southern Africa (1857)[10][11]
  • The Plant Hunters; or, Adventures Among the Himalaya Mountains (1858)
  • Osceola the Seminole, or, The Red Fawn of the Flower Land (1858)
  • Wild Life; or, Adventures on the Frontier (1859)
  • Odd People; or, Singular Races of Man (1860)
  • The Lone Ranch (1860)
  • The Scalp Hunters (1860)
  • Bruin: The Great Bear Hunt (1860)
  • The Lone Ranch: A Tale of the Staked Plain (1860)
  • The Wild Huntress; or, The Big Squatter's Vengeance (1861)
  • The Maroon: A Tale of Voodoo and Obeah (1862)
  • Croquet (1863)
  • The Cliff Climbers (1864)[12]
  • The Boy Slaves (1865)
  • The Ocean Waifs: A Story of Adventure on Land and Sea (Ticknor and Fields, 1865)[13]
  • The Headless Horseman (1866)
  • The Giraffe Hunters (1867)
  • Afloat in The Forest; or A Voyage Among the Tree-Tops (1867)
  • The White Squaw (1868)
  • The Headless Horseman: A Strange Story of Texas (1868)
  • The Helpless Hand: A Tale of Backwoods Retribution (1868)
  • The Planter Pirate: A Souvenir of Mississippi (1868)
  • "The Child Wife: A Tale of Two Worlds" (1869)
  • The Yellow Chief: A Romance of the Rocky Mountains (1869)
  • The Fatal Cord (1869)
  • The Castaways: A Story of Adventure in the Wilds of Borneo (1870)
  • The Vee-Boers: A Tale of Adventure in Southern Africa (1870)
  • The Finger of Fate (1872)
  • The Death Shot; or, Tracked to Death (1873)
  • The Cuban Patriot, or, The Beautiful Creole: An Episode of the Cuban Revolution (1873)
  • The Death Shot (1874)
  • The Giraffe Hunters (1876)
  • The Flag of Distress, or A Story of the South Sea (1876)
  • Gwen Wynn; A Romance of the Wye (1877)
  • The Man-Eaters (1878)
  • The Specter Barque: A Tale of the Pacific (1879)
  • The Captain of the Rifles; or, The Queen of the Lakes: A Romance of the Mexican Valley (1879)
  • The Land Pirates, or, The League of Devil's Island: A Tale of the Mississippi (1879)
  • The Ocean Hunters, or, The Chase of the Leviathan: A Romance of Perilous Adventure (1881)
  • Blue Dick, or, The Yellow Chief's Vengeance: A Romance of the Rocky Mountains (1883)
  • The Hunters' Feast (serial 1854, book 1883)
  • Gaspar, the Gaucho, or, Lost on the Pampas: A Tale of the Gran Chaco (1883)
  • The Island Pirate: A Tale of the Mississippi (1884)
  • The Land of Fire: A Tale of Adventure (1885)
  • The Lost Mountain: A Tale of Sonora (1885)
  • The Free Lances: A Romance of the Mexican Valley (1888)
  • The Tiger Hunter: A Hero in Spite of Himself (1889)
  • No Quarter! (1890)
  • The White Gauntlet (1892)
  • The Guerilla Chief and Other Tales
  • The Bandolero, A Marriage among the Mountains
  • The Boy Tar
  • The Child Wife
  • Ran Away to Sea (1857 : George Routledge and Sons)([14]
  • Wood Rangers: The Trappers of Sonora
  • The Young Voyageurs: Boy Hunters in the North (1854)


  1. ^ Meyers, Jeffrey. Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Legacy. Cooper Square Press, 1992. p. 142. ISBN 0-8154-1038-7
  2. ^ Howard Paul, Munsey's Magazine, August 1892, p. 555.
  3. ^ a b Open Source Books. Internet Archive. Accessed 14 July 2007.
  4. ^ 'Reid, Captain Mayne', Beadle and Adams Dime Novel Digitization Project, Northern Illinois University Libraries
  5. ^ Reid, Thomas Mayne (1818–1883), Thomas W. Cutrer, Texas State Historical Association
  6. ^ CLASSICS ON CASSETTE: 'SPEAK, MEMORY'. John Espey. Los Angeles Times Book Review, p. 8; Book Review Desk. 20 October 1991.
  7. ^ Artist as Precocious Young Man. Rutherford A. Sunday Herald 30 December 1990.
  8. ^ Quoted from Bek's Strikhi (Strokes) in Dr. Boris Sokolov, Marshal K. K. Rokossovsky, translated and edited by Stuart Britton, Helion & Co., Ltd., Solihull, UK, 2015, p. 167.
  9. ^ "Reid, Captain Mayne" Bio at the Northern Illinois University Libraries
  10. ^ "Reid, Mayne - the Young Yägers, or, A narrative of hunting adventures in Southern Africa / By Captain Mayne Reid ; with twelve illustrations by William Harvey".
  11. ^ "The Young Yägers, Or, A Narrative of Hunting Adventures in Southern Africa". Ticknor and Fields. 1857.
  12. ^ "The Cliff Climbers". 1864.
  13. ^ Reid, Mayne (1865). "The Ocean Waifs: A Story of Adventure on Land and Sea".
  14. ^ "Ran Away to Sea". 1857.

External links[edit]