Rare Wild West Autograph of Controversial Showman and Doctor Richard “Diamond Dick” Tanner

Signed by Richard Tanner

Item: 19548
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TANNER, RICHARD. (1869-1943). Legendary Wild West figure, sharpshooter and medicine man. APCS. (“Dr. Richard Tanner”). 1p. 12mo. Norfolk, Nebraska, December 27, 1933. To notable Civil War scholar and autograph collector ARNOLD F. GATES (1914-1993). A post office printed and stamped postcard with Tanner’s signature identified underneath as Diamond Dick,’ in a calligraphic script.

Richard “Diamond Dick” Tanner

Tanner first gained prominence for his long-distance, roundtrip horseback ride from Lincoln, Nebraska to New York City in 1893. Capitalizing on his fame, he appeared in sideshows as a marksman, using the stage names of Denver Dick and, later, Diamond Dick, a character in scores of dime novels of the era. His career as a sideshow marksman flourished between 1894 and 1905, and even led him to form a traveling show. He later claimed to have appeared in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, though there is no evidence to support this assertion. Retiring from show business in 1905, he attended medical school and, in 1910, opened a practice in Norfolk, Nebraska, turning his talent for showmanship into promoting medical lectures and the sale of herbal remedies. Tanner resurrected his Diamond Dick stage persona in 1925, sparking a dispute with the supporters of another medicine man, George B. “Dr. Diamond Dick” McClellan of Leavenworth, Kansas who had gone by that name from the 1880s to 1911. Tanner’s reemergence as “the original Diamond Dick” also prompted press coverage in True Western Stories and the Winchester Herald. During this time, Tanner sought to enhance his Wild West credentials, muddying the water of his true origin and publishing fictional first-hand accounts of meetings with Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, Sitting Bull, and others. Regardless of his true history, Tanner remains a notable figure for helping “perpetuate the image of the American West as a place of romance and adventure, history and legend,” (Nebraska State Historical Society exhibition Nebraska’s Wild West, quoted in “The Variegated Life of Norfolk’s Diamond Dick,” Nebraska History, Finch).

Gates, a well-respected amateur historian of the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln, devoted 50 years to researching those subjects, reviewing books for the Lincoln Herald and contributing to such works as the anthology Lincoln for the Ages. He was an avid letter writer and “friend and unofficial agent of many a noted author,” (“Autographica Curiosa: How Not to Impress Emily Post,” Autograph Magazine, Butts). Near fine and rare.

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