A proper man as one shall see
in a summer's day.
Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I, scene 2
In the early numbers of the Boy's Library there are given biographies, part fact, part fiction, of a number of Beadle authors, and among them is a life of Thomas Hoyer Monstery.(1) It has been said that Monstery was simply a pen name of Frederick Whittaker. Monstery, however, was a real person. Whether he wrote the novels credited to him, or whether Whittaker was ghost-writing for him, is unknown, but because the events related in the biographies published by Beadle fit Monstery's life so well, it would seem that he either wrote them himself, or related them to Whittaker. I am inclined to believe that he is actually responsible for at least some of those signed with his name.(2)
Thomas Hoyer Monstery was born April 21, 1824, in Baltimore, of Danish parents. His father, an officer in the Danish army who bore the name of Munster, was appointed Governor of the Danish island of St. Croix, and there died. His mother, whose maiden name was Bergitha Christina Nilsson, was a daughter of a famous Swedish beauty, and was still living in California in 1884. In 1836 Thomas became a cadet in the Danish navy and led a life much like the lives of some of Captain Marryat's midshipmen, with officers looking down, and sailors not looking up to them. The cruise lasted the usual three years, after which Thomas went to Russia, England, and Portugal before the mast. Returning to his ship, he was in an explosion which nearly ruined his eyesight, and he retired from the navy. He finally regained his sight and entered the Military College at Copenhagen and spent a year learning fencing and swimming. He went to England to learn boxing, but was unfortunate in the choice of an instructor. He then entered the Central Institute of Physical Culture in Stockholm, and continued his studies in fencing. (By this time he should have been as skillful as the boy in the German tale who could go out in a heavy rain storm and swing his sword so deftly that he was as dry beneath it as though he were under an umbrella.)
From Sweden he went to Hamburg where he found a master of boxing, a Mr. Liedersdorff, who taught him his system. Traveling afterwards to Spain and Italy to see if he could find anyone to teach him more, he made the discovery that he was more proficient than his teachers. He was in Paris in 1844, and found no one there who could teach him anything. After this he traveled to Vienna, Berlin and St. Petersburg. He was exiled from Russia on account of an intrigue with a lady of the court, and then went to Copenhagen to visit his mother. After having killed a Danish nobleman in a duel over a woman, he fled to Hamburg and in 1846 came to the United States with an uncle, Christopher Munster. The war with Mexico had broken out, and Thomas hoped to get a commission to teach the soldiers to fight with sword and bayonet. He was disappointed, however, so enlisted on the gunboat Vixen, which was ordered to the Gulf of Mexico, and took part in the landing of Scott's troops at Vera Cruz. He was wounded severely and was taken to the Naval Hospital at Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
After his recovery, Monstery worked for a year for a cigar maker in Baltimore, learning the trade and receiving his board and lodging, and then went into business for himself. Later he was in the same business in Philadelphia, and in 1851 he married a Spanish girl now only remembered by her first name, Carmelita.(3) In the autumn of the same year he returned to Baltimore, where he set up a small cigar store and remained there for some years, averaging about twenty dollars a day, making good cigars which sold for five cents each. Moving into a larger store in the Baltimore Patriot building, he hired a large room upstairs, and opened a Fencing and Boxing Academy.
He remained in Baltimore until 1855, when he sold out and went on a trip to Europe, then accepted an offer to teach bayonet fencing in Cuba for $200 a month. He caught the yellow fever and lost his job. Soon afterwards he took part in a revolution in Nicaragua, and was severely wounded. In 1858 he went to Honduras and was given the post of Instructor-at-Arms to the army, with the rank of Colonel. Came a revolution and he had to leave. He then taught fencing in San Salvador, and was known as El Rubio Bravo. Gradually he worked his way northward and in 1859 reached Chiapas, Mexico. In 1860, on going from Tabasco to Mexico City, he was robbed of about $50,000 (!), almost his entire savings. In the autumn of 1860 he went to the West Indies to meet his wife, and then to California with about $7,000, all he had left. Reaching San Francisco early in 1861, he went into the cigar business, and at the same time helped found the Pioneer Gymnasium and taught there until about 1865. He then went east, then to Cuba and again to Mexico, where he remained until 1868, then back to California, back to South America, and finally reached New York in 1870. Here he taught fencing(4) at 55 Bleecker Street and later at 18 Clinton Place, until 1874. He then continued to teach fencing and boxing, and also ran a shooting gallery at 619 Sixth Avenue. From 1875 to 1880 the city directories list him at the same address, but in 1880-81 he was at 811 Sixth Avenue, and had added liquors to sparring, fencing, and swimming, and at the same address his son Emil was listed as teaching shooting. The latter's name appears only in 1880-81. In the Directory for 1881-82, Monstery was still at the same address, but his business seems now to have been in liquors only. Early in the 1880's he went to Chicago and had his fencing studio at various addresses on Randolph Street, including the Old Auditorium and the Schiller Theatre Building. From 1884 to 1891 he was listed in the Chicago Directories as having a gymnasium, and from 1892 to 1897 (with the exception of 1896 when it was listed as a school of boxing) as a school at arms.
Prentiss Ingraham said that Monstery looked like Don Quixote, with a long pointed mustache and chin beard, although he was blond and had pale blue eyes. Among Colonel Monstery's fencing pupils were many actors, including Junius Booth, Edwin Forrest, Francis Wilson, and McKee Rankin. Said Francis Wilson, "He had great facility in tongue wagging. He loved to wind his tongue up, and loved to hear it go." In his later years he developed cataract, and had to retire from fencing. He died in Chicago, January 2, 1902, at the age of 78.
If this isn't the life of a dime-novel writer, it ought to be!
† In the Spirit of the Times, Col. Monstery had a series of articles with the title "Physical Education for Gentlemen," beginning in Vol. 94, December 22, 1877, and ending May 18, 1878. In September, 1878, the same periodical advertised a booklet by Monstery entitled "The Art of Swimming," which sold for fifty cents, and was an excerpt of about six chapters from the serial. In 1880—83 it was again advertised at twenty-five cents. No copy has been seen by me.
REFERENCES: Frederick Whittaker, "The Sword Prince. The Romantic Life of Colonel Monstery," Boy's Library, octavo edition No. 28, 1884; T. H. Monstery, "El Rubio Bravo," Dime Library No. 150 (This gives further incidents in Monstery's life under the fictitious name of Olat Svenson. Incidents related of Monstery in Boy's Library (octavo edition), no. 28, are related of Svenson in this.); Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia, XLII, 1902, 462; Chicago City Directories, 1884 to 1897; Francis Wilson's Life of Himself, Boston, 192,. 46, with portrait.
Saturday Journal. No. 484
Dime Library. Nos. 82, 126, 143, 150, 157, 169, 236, 262, 332, 986, 995
Half-Dime Library. No. 376
Pocket Library. No. 351
SPECIMEN OF THOMAS HOYER MONSTERY'S STYLE
"El Rubio Bravo, King of the Swordsmen; or, The Terrible Brothers of Tabasco." Dime Library No.150, pp.14-15.
Involuntarily both halted and listened.
"There!" cried the Dane suddenly. "Now do you believe?"
Ramirez bowed his head.
He also had heard the faint, distant, but unmistakable crow of a cock.
"We are near the Lost City," he said gravely; "but where is the other passage?"
Olaf pointed down the pass, not a hundred feet from them, where a slight projection of the wall could be seen.
"It must be behind that shoulder, general."
The general moved his horse forward.
"Let us explore it," he said.
They came up and rode round the little projection, when, to their wonder and alarm, they beheld, not only a branch canyon at right angles to their own, ending in a lofty natural tunnel, but saw in the midst of it a crowd of people coming toward them.
They instantly drew back; but the question remained: had they been seen?
They could not be certain; but of one thing they were convinced, that it was not safe to remain where they were.
Back they rode to the angle of the canyon, hid themselves behind it, and then Olaf dismounted, stuck his lance into the sand, hurriedly tied his horse to it, and said with compressed lips:
"I will defend the pass till you bring back the men, general. My rifle and pistols are sufficient."
"For what do you take me? I am no run-away. If you are in danger, it is my place to share it. But I prefer the lance, after all."
The Dane shrugged his shoulders.
"Two men cannot hold this place. We must have help. One must go back."
"Neither need do it," returned Ramirez, a little sullenly. "To tell the truth, I ordered Robaldo to follow us at the interval of a mile. As soon as he hears shots, he will hurry up."
The Dane looked immensely relieved.
"You are a better soldier than I. Be it so. But at least get off your horse and try a little shooting with me."
"I have no objection to that," was the reply.
Just as the Mexican general joined Olaf, they saw several horsemen ride into the pass, with their backs to them.
"They have not seen us," whispered Don Jose to his companion.
Olaf nodded and they watched, crouching behind pillars of the black basalt of which the canyon was composed.
The new-comers were mounted on small, beautifully shaped horses, and sat in high peaked saddles of the old Spanish style, with heavy stirrups of metal.
"The same saddles Cortez used," muttered Ramirez. "They have copied everything like children. And their dress. See, it is the very same Bernal Diaz described. The wooden casques, the armor of cotton and feather-work. What would not some of our antiquaries give to see them!"
The horsemen they saw carried long lances of cane, with bright copper points, and rode along at an easy amble toward the distant palm-tree.
Olaf found himself trembling with excitement. He was at last on the threshold of the Lost City, and its inhabitants were actually under his very eyes.
Presently out came more horsemen, then a few warriors on foot, and finally came a regular body of spearmen, in uniform dresses of padded cotton, marching in unison, as if they had been well drilled.
"They have learned that too," whispered Dos Jose. "Those fellows are no fools."
As he spoke he heard the clank of weapons in the valley behind him, with the distant neigh of horses.
"Go back," he whispered to Olaf. "It is Robaldo. He will ruin all."
The Dane, full of anxiety, ran back to the edge of the valley and waved his hands frantically to Robaldo to hall.
The Mexican obeyed, and Olaf came back, satisfied that his support was within a few hundred yards.
When he reached Ramirez the last of the spearmen were still coming out, and they heard the sound of singing, with the deep "bum! bum!" of a drum, from the valley of the palm tree.
The leading horsemen were already going down into it.
The spearmen were in a solid body, marching away down the pass, and they began to think the procession was over, when another group of horsemen came out, closely followed by a string of laden mules, conducted by Indians on foot.
Ramirez uttered a low ejaculation.
"Prisoners! I'm sure of it. Probably white people are coming. It is good for us to be here! Santa Maria! we may be able to make a rescue. Call up Robaldo."
Olaf stole away, mounted his horse, and rode off to summon Robaldo, who came up at a walk, his men nervous and excited.
It was indeed a strange position to be in.
They found Ramirez mounted and sitting on his horse in plain view, had any one in the Indian column turned round to look.
He had his lance ready for instant use, and his handsome face was very stern.
The Dane came up beside him and saw a sight he never forgot.
Two old white men, stripped, and bound wrist to wrist, but bedecked with long garlands of flowers, were led in the midst of a procession of Indians, who had the ends of other garlands in their hands, and were dancing and singing as they went.
The Dane understood nothing of the words of the song, but he guessed the truth.
The bound men were victims going to the altar; the song a hymn to the gods.
But the procession was not over yet.
Presently came another little gap; then a mule's head came out, and then—
Olaf uttered a deep Danish curse in his excitement at what he saw.
Carmelita Ximenes and Pepita Garcia, scantily clad in short tunics of featherwork, crowned with flowers and bedecked with garlands were being led along on foot by two old Indians in long black robes, riding on mules.
Their black hair was floating down behind them, their heads were bowed with shame as they walked; but he knew them in a moment.
So did Charley Brown, who was close behind them, and in a moment the hot-headed young Briton had whipped out his two long navy revolvers, and was crying out:
"Forward, for God's sake, and cut those red devils to pieces!"
It was difficult to say how the wild scene of confusion that followed originated.
The three Rubios, headed by Olaf, went off at a tearing gallop down the pass, with shouts of rage, Charley Brown firing off his revolvers; and in a moment the whole Indian escort, seized with a panic, let go their prisoners and fled down the pass, after the backs of the spearmen.
Then Olaf turned his horse, swept up to Carmelita and called to her:
"Up! up! There is no time to lose!"
The girl understood him in a moment, caught his hand, and, setting her toot on his in the stirrup, climbed upon the horse, while big Charley Brown took up Pepita behind him almost at the same moment.
The lancers were spearing and shooting the Indian fugitives with as much zest as had the Spaniards some centuries before, and the whole pass was full of noise and confusion, when Olaf shouted to Ramirez:
"We must get back. This will not last."
In fact, he saw the tops of a forest of spears at the end of the pass, and saw that his own men were beginning to come back, as if they were getting frightened.
They looked down the narrow passage whence the Indian army had come, and saw that it was empty, but still hesitated to enter it.
Suddenly came the loud blast of a trumpet high over their heads, and a great rock, weighing over a thousand pounds, fell from the top of the canyon and crushed Captain Robaldo, horse and all, into a bloody mass.
Ramirez glanced up, and saw the top of the canyon lined with plumed heads.
"Into the caverns. It is our only chance," he shouted, and rode away down the narrow canyon, still unexplored, which ended in the tall arch of a cavern.
Before they could gain this shelter, a regular shower of rocks came down, and three more of the lancers were crushed to death, while the Indian spearmen at the end of the pass raised a hideous yell and came rushing after them.
Then ensued a wild and strange running contest, in which the elements of darkness and uncertainty were added to the perils of armed enemies.
Compelled to proceed slowly, with only the knowledge that horsemen had been there before them, they rode on through winding caverns, not knowing at what moment they might come on some impassable abyss.
Luckily for them, the caverns of the hill were not totally dark, and occasionally took the form of narrow canyons, while the floor was uniformly smooth, and they could see that they were on a regularly used track of some sort.
But although their passage might have been easy enough when alone, it was by no means so when they were followed and harassed by an active and vindicative enemy.
The first panic over among the followers of the procession, the regular force of spearmen came running back, and made fierce and persistent attacks on the rear of the body of Mexican lancers.
In vain did the horsemen try to drive off their foes by volleys of carbine shots; these men did not seem to fear gunpowder.
Before they cleared the caverns they had lost more than half their numbers, and the two old men, Don Ramon and Don Carlos, had been recovered from their grasp and carried away.
When they at last rode out of the cave onto the great plateau which hung like an eagle's nest over the plains of Chiapas, it was in a wild, confused mob of horsemen, and to confront a steady, determined-looking body of men, who stood waiting to receive them.
No undisciplined Indians were these, but a body of spearmen, ranged in just such a phalanx as they had learned from their Spanish foes three centuries before.
The men of Iximaya, in their lonely retreat, had not changed in all those years.
Coming out as did the Mexican horsemen in confusion, their ammunition nigh spent, the sight of this new body of foes, and the cries of the men behind them, completed their demoralization.
They scattered and rode hither and thither in a mob, and the spearmen made a wild charge, butchering them almost without resistance.
Olaf, who had retained his pistols to the last, saw that all was over when Ramirez went down, struck by a stone from a sling, and he dashed away to the edge of the plateau, still carrying the girl behind him, shot down an Indian who tried to intercept him, and the next moment was flying down the steep hill into the plain below, followed by showers of stones.
How he got to the bottom, or what was the next thing that happened, passed like a dream over his mind.
When he came to his full senses, he was riding at a slow amble over an open savanna, his horse white with foam; but he was safe from pursuit, and the arms of Carmelita were round him.
† Correction made as per Volume 3.
|1||In Appleton's Annual Cyclopedia, XLII, 1902, 462, there is a biography which is even less exact, as may be proved by various City Directories, than is that in the Beadle publications. Monstery's year of birth is given as 1814.|
|2||There is a suggestion that Whittaker wrote under the name Monstery in the fact that Half-Dime Library No. 376, by Monstery, has for its sequel No. 395, whose author is given as Whittaker.|
|3||Possibly Carmelita †Ximenes, the heroine of "El Rubio Bravo," Dime Library, no. 150.|
|4||New York City Directories, 1871 to 1882.|