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eBook available: Custer’s Last Shot

Custer's Last ShotToday’s Project Gutenberg eBook release, courtesy of Distributed Proofreaders and our Digital Library, is Custer’s Last Shot; or, The Boy Trailer of the Little Horn by Col. J. M. Travers (actually a pseudonym of St. George Rathborne). While the eBook edition is based on the Wide Awake Library reprint from 1883, the story was first serialized in Boys of New York starting on August 7, 1876, less than two months after the Battle of the Little Bighorn depicted in the tale, demonstrating just how quickly publishers were willing to exploit news of the day for sensational fiction.

Custer’s Last Shot weaves the story of the battle with that of a criminal conspiracy, and while historical figures are given a prominent role, the main protagonists are Pandy Ellis and Bolly Wherrit, aged but hard-fighting and apparently indestructible rangers (who also figure in other Rathborne tales), and the titular “Boy Trailer,” who seeks to rescue his kidnapped sister from a series of abductors.

The story is told in a conversational style, with frequent authorial tangents, and it combines historical detail with sensational invention, spiced with editorial opinions. One particularly astute observation is this critique of historians and journalists:

¬†We always find the affair termed a massacre when the Indians are victorious; but when the tables are turned it is “a splendid campaign,” “a hard-fought battle,” and “a glorious victory for the troops.”

Similar comments have been made by later authors for different reasons. While it would certainly have been interesting to find a dime novel of this nature expressing some sympathy toward Native Americans, that is not the case here; Rathborne (whose portrayal of “Indians” is uniformly demeaning) is instead suggesting that the word “massacre” is insulting to the fallen soldiers. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see the author attempting to stimulate the critical thinking of his action-hungry, juvenile audience.

This is not the only surprise to be found in the hastily-written and disposable, yet historically interesting, text. If you wish to discover more, the entire novel can be read online (or downloaded in eBook format) through Project Gutenberg.


Available for proofreading: Leslie’s Loyalty

Leslie's LoyaltyOur latest Distributed Proofreaders project is another romance by prolific British author Charles Garvice, entitled Leslie’s Loyalty. This is our third Garvice project, following Wild Margaret (which was released last year) and The Spider and the Fly (which is still in the final stages of processing but will likely be completed soon).

If you want to help create a new electronic edition of this vintage novel, please read this earlier blog post to learn how the process works, then join in the proofreading at the project page.


eBook available: Motor Matt’s Submarine

Motor Matt's SubmarineThe fifteenth issue of Motor Stories has just been released to Project Gutenberg thanks to the work of Distributed Proofreaders volunteers using images from our Digital Library.

Motor Matt’s Submarine; or, The Strange Cruise of the Grampus takes the series in a new direction, focusing on adventures at sea since Motor Matt’s air ship was destroyed in the previous adventure. As usual, there is plenty of action, with Matt and his friends facing such threats as sudden squalls and sea battles.

As usual for the series, there is also a filler story unrelated to the main adventure; in this case, it’s “The Chicken-hearted Tenderfoot,” a brief Western adventure which may have been reprinted from the British story paper Chums, though it is possible that this is an entirely different story that happens to share its title with the British tale.

The entire issue can be read online or downloaded in eBook format through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: More Stories of the Three Pigs

More Stories of the Three PigsOur latest completed project from Distributed Proofreaders is the second to come from the Instructor Literature Series, following Stories of Robin Hood. This title, More Stories of the Three Pigs, is aimed at a fairly young audience. The title is slightly misleading, as readers familiar with the original story will recall that two of the three original pigs were devoured by the Big Bad Wolf. This book resolves that problem by giving Mother Grunty (the original survivor) a pair of children.

While this story fully acknowledges the darker elements of the original tale (including the detail that Mother Grunty killed and ate the Big Bad Wolf at the end of it), it consists primarily of quiet stories about childhood activities (and mischief), creating a somewhat incongruous whole.

The entire illustrated book of stories can be read online or downloaded through Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: Laurel Vane

Laurel VaneThe latest release from Distributed Proofreaders built from images in our Digital Library is another Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller novel, Laurel Vane; or, The Girls’ Conspiracy. This is one of Mrs. Miller’s less over-the-top works, but that is not to say that it isn’t thoroughly melodramatic.

The Laurel Vane of the novel’s title is a young orphan whose life changes dramatically when she agrees to impersonate a wealthier girl in order to enable that girl’s elopement. In true story paper fashion, there’s a lot of angst and romance (and a bit of murder) before the tale is done.

The entire book may be read online (or downloaded in various electronic formats) at Project Gutenberg.


Available for proofreading: Custer’s Last Shot

Custer's Last ShotOur latest title to be made available to Distributed Proofreaders is Custer’s Last Shot; or, The Boy Trailer of the Little Horn, an adventure from Frank Tousey‘s Wide Awake Library. The dime novel tells the tale of the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, an event that was still well within living memory at the time of the book’s 1883 publication. It was an early fictional representation of George Armstrong Custer, and far from the last.

If you would like to help make this historically interesting title more readily available in eBook formats, a few minutes of your time can make a difference. Please read this earlier post to learn how the process works, then join in the proofreading at the project page.


Available for proofreading: More Stories of the Three Pigs

More Stories of the Three PigsThe latest title to enter the Distributed Proofreaders system is More Stories of the Three Pigs, a collection of follow-up stories to the well-known fable. This book comes from the Instructor Literature Series, a set of small booklets used for teaching elementary school students. Previously, we released an eBook of Stories of Robin Hood from this series.

If you are interested in helping to work on this project, you can read more about the process in this earlier post, and then you can join in the work at the project page.


eBook available: The Curse of Pocahontas

The Curse of PocahontasOur latest eBook release from Distributed Proofreaders is The Curse of Pocahontas, a 19th century story paper melodrama published by pseudonymous author Wenona Gilman. The story’s heroine is a descendant of Pocahontas who also happens to be half-Mexican, and the titular curse allegedly dooms her chances at a happy love affair. In typical story paper fashion, her path to eventual happiness is blocked by murder and conspiracy, but the book is surprisingly kind to her in spite of telling a story essentially rooted in the typical racism and sexism of its era.

Social commentary aside, the book’s most interesting characteristic may be its willingness to directly reference contemporary popular fiction. Early in the book, two characters have a fairly detailed discussion about Ships that Pass in the Night, a novel by Beatrice Harraden. Later, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes plays a role in the story. Similar to the references to scientific and medical advances used in some of Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller‘s works, this helps to demonstrate that story paper authors made an effort to incorporate subjects of immediate interest to their readers into their tales.

To read the whole story for yourself, you can visit Project Gutenberg, where the entire book can be viewed online or downloaded in several eBook formats.


eBook available: Countess Vera

Countess VeraFresh from Distributed Proofreaders comes another Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller novel in eBook form: Countess Vera; or, The Oath of Vengeance, a tale first serialized in the New York Family Story Paper in October, 1882 and later published as part of Lovell’s Library. Like the earlier The Rose and the Lily, this melodramatic story is written entirely in the present tense, and like many of Mrs. Miller’s novels, it deals with themes of premature burial and revenge (in addition to the perhaps more expected romance).

The Lovell’s Library edition used as the basis for the new eBook also includes a short story called “The Mysterious Beauty,” dealing with the misadventures of an Englishman who travels overseas with a niece in order to improve his health. This “filler” story is almost certainly not written by Mrs. Miller and most likely was taken from some British periodical. However, at this time, an earlier source has not yet been identified.

The entire book may be read online or downloaded at Project Gutenberg.


eBook available: The Scientific Tourist through Ireland

The Scientific Tourist through IrelandAfter several months of hard work at Distributed Proofreaders, another book from our digital collection has been released in a new electronic edition. The Scientific Tourist through Ireland, published in 1818, is a guidebook for readers planning to visit Ireland. After a general introduction to some of the types of sights to be seen, the bulk of the volume consists of a county-by-county breakdown of noteworthy sites. The “Scientific” aspect alluded to by the title is the fact that, in addition to historical and cultural destinations, the book also notes the locations of interesting plants and minerals across the island.

Not surprisingly, much of the volume is a fairly dry read, written in a terse, abbreviated style to cram the maximum amount of information into relatively few pages. However, the author does still find time for the occasional unexpected anecdote or aside, such as this one, in reference to a ruined Divinity School in the district of Fenaught:

The E. window is considered as a specimen of very curious workmanship; and the tourist must not fail to notice a line drawn across the middle of the eastern gable, with a figure on the N. side, about 12 feet from the ground, said to represent an evil spirit who was very troublesome to St. Cullin, the founder, during the period of its erection, this black gentleman acting the part of Penelope towards her suitors, and pulling down in the night what the Saint and his holy comrades had set up during the day. To check the troublesome intruder, the Saint blessed some ropes and drew them one night along the top of the building, when the Spirit, like a fly in a spider’s nest, got entangled in the ropes, and being unable to extricate himself, was caught by the monks in the morning, who gave him some sound correction for his offence, but set him loose again upon the public, as is too often done by our modern police, and pretty much, perhaps, for similar purposes.

For those wishing to learn more about what the early 19th century traveler could discover in Ireland, the entire text may be read or downloaded through Project Gutenberg.

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Last Modified: April 21, 2015