QUAINT #12 Lady Jaguar, the Robber Queen by William H. Manning

Vintage print of a Mexican cowgirl

Lady Jaguar was created by William H. Manning and appeared in “Lady Jaguar, the Robber Queen. A Romance of the Black Chaparral” (Beadle’s New York Dime Library v14 n176, 8 March 1882). Manning (1852-1929) was a Bostonian author of frontier stories and dime novels.

Doña Luisa Villena, a Mexican noblewoman, is drugged and forced to marry Don Manuel, the leader of a local group of bandits. The marriage is a fraud and the “priest” is one of the Don Manuel’s bandits dressed up in ministerial garb, but Doña Luisa does not know that, and she flees in shame and anger when she recovers from the drugs. (The marriage is never consummated, but just the idea of the marriage is bad enough). She goes for help to her beloved uncle, Juan Villena. Juan already bears a grudge against Don Manuel, because through his schemes Juan’s brother Leon, Doña Luisa’s father, was killed. So Doña Luisa and Juan become “Lady Jaguar” and “El Alacran” (“the scorpion”), the leaders of a gang of bandits whose headquarters is the tall, thick, unbroken mesquite that makes up the “black chaparral” of northern Mexico. Together they prey on travelers while searching for the means by which they can avenge themselves on Don Manuel. Juan maintains his alternate identity as a wealthy Mexican landowner, and a local crazy woman, Barbara, moves herself into Juan’s villa and claims to be Doña Luisa. Juan tolerates her presence there because it helps support the alibi of the real Doña Luisa.

Into this situation stumbles Edgar Lewis, an American who is robbed by El Alacran’s bandits while he is traveling around Mexico. The usual hijinks ensue, including a mistaken identity love triangle (Edgar mistakes Barbara for Doña Luisa and falls in love with her, while Doña Luisa falls for Edgar) and the appearance of someone claiming to be the Wandering Jew, with Sue’s novel, The Wandering Jew mentioned by name. All is made well in the end; Juan finds evidence that Doña Luisa’s marriage wasn’t legal, Edgar and Doña Luisa marry, and Juan avenges himself on Don Manuel.

“Lady Jaguar” is a more entertaining version of the standard dime novel lady heroine story. The plot of “Lady Jaguar” is surprisingly complicated. There are several mysteries and plot twists, and the final revelations do not appear until the story’s end. “Lady Jaguar” makes use of the cross-dressing Mexican heroine theme of an earlier generation of dime novels, such as Charles Averill’s The Mexican Ranchero. But the story portrays a more modern (and less politically topical) cowboy heroine and allows her limited freedom and rebellion against social restrictions, only to strip them of their freedom through the use of the marriage plot at the story’s end.

Lady Jaguar is the “queen” of the bandit gang and is supposedly the most merciless of the group. She turns out to be rather nice, “a friend to all in trouble,” just as El Alacran is really just a gentleman bandit. Lady Jaguar’s name comes from her spotted mustang, which is similar to the jaguar in color. Lady Jaguar is beautiful and has long blonde hair. She is “clad in a plain but becoming costume, while a mask of unusual size (conceals) her whole face except the dark, handsome eyes.” She is a good rider and a good shot.

About the Quest for Unusual & Adventurous International Notations & Tales (QUAINT).

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One response to “QUAINT #12 Lady Jaguar, the Robber Queen by William H. Manning

  1. chelseagirl

    I’d be interested in knowing about dime novels of that subgenre that *didn’t* confine the heroine in marriage at the end of the story; in my readings of 19th century texts, it is general practice that the way an author can get away with an independent heroine is by bowing to convention and containing her within the marriage plot at the end of the novel.