Murder With Southern Hospitality:
An Exhibition of Mississippi Mysteries

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Early Mysteries by Mississippians

 
Colonel Prentiss Ingraham

The son of Joseph Holt Ingraham, Prentiss Ingraham was born in Adams County, Mississippi in 1843. At the conclusion of the Civil War, he was acting commander of Ross’s Brigade in the Texas Cavalry. Ingraham then embarked upon a career as a mercenary, fighting in the Mexican Revolution against Maximilian, the Austro-Prussian War, the conflict in Crete against the Turks, the khedive’s army in Egypt, and in Cuba’s revolt against Spain. In 1870, he followed in his father’s literary footsteps, writing tales of adventure and heroism. A prodigious author, his output includes at least 600 novels and 400 novelettes. An accurate total is difficult to ascertain because he published works under at least thirteen pseudonyms.

Most of his stories appeared as dime novels or in nickel weeklies. This form of mass market fiction began in 1860 and lasted until the rise of pulp magazines in the early twentieth century. Aimed at juvenile readers, heroes from the American West were the most popular subject matter of the period, and Ingraham became associated with the Buffalo Bill series for which he wrote over 200 titles. By the late nineteenth century, dime novels also featured mysteries, and Ingraham contributed to this genre with his Dick Doom series and other detective characters.

One of his most historically interesting protagonists appears in “Darkie Dan, the Colored Detective; or, The Mississippi Mystery” in an August 1902 edition of the The New York Dime Library. Beadle & Adams originally printed the story in 1881. Manumitted after saving his young mistress from a pack of wolves, Dan remains in faithful service to the Mississippi planter family, rescuing them from many trials involving the villainous criminal known as the “King of Diamonds.” Dan is one of the earliest African-American protagonists of the mystery genre, if not the first.

Ingraham died in 1904 while residing at the Beauvoir Confederate Soldiers’ Home on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. His stories remained in print for at least a decade after his death.

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