Obscurity of the Day: Big Scalper

In the laundry list of racist stereotypes that filled our Sunday sections back in the early days of the 20th century, the Native American made surprisingly few appearances. However, when Myer Marcus set his sites on an ‘Injun’ strip, he sure made up for any lost opportunities elsewhere in the funnies. His character, Big Scalper, is a completely out of control ignorant and violent man-child, an embarrassment that at least reminds us how far we’ve come in a century.

Though stereotypes can be funny in spite of themselves, that’s certainly not the case with Big Scalper. Marcus’s poetry is excruciatingly bad (rhyming “o’er” with “before”? — yech!), and the gags are barely worthy of the name. That’s probably why the Philadelphia Inquirer treated Big Scalper as an extra strip that rarely made it into their Sunday section. It was distributed in the syndicated version of their section, though, and ran much more often in out of town versions. Between its first appearance in the Inquirer on June 6 1906 and its last on June 20 1909* it appeared there no more than 3-4 times per year. I’ve never indexed its appearances in a syndication paper, but it must have been available quite often if certainly not every week. I even have a November 25 1906 section from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat where they ran two Big Scalper episodes in a single section!

* Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

One comment on “Obscurity of the Day: Big Scalper

  1. The Inquirer's erratic syndication methods are sometimes hard to figure out. In the Inquirer itself, they often bumped one feature so they could run their apparently local only geography puzzle, where the reader would suss out names from rebus-like one panel clues. They had names like "TOWNS IN ALABAMA" or "RIVERS IN FLORIDA". The bumped features seem very unimportant if you only saw the Inky, as they would make to the section so infrequently. Big Scalper was one, another was about a Carnegie hero medal seeker. But it would seem they were much more substantial in the syndicate's client papers, as we see in the Globe-Democrat, who didn't carry the puzzle. (it also had a prize involved, and maybe only the Inky wanted to offer one.) Another problem with getting the syndicate's items in line is that the clients were somewhat unconcerned with running the strips on time. Another client paper, the Los Angeles Herald is a perfect example. The 25 November 1906 date you mention is pretty much the exact likeness of the Inquirer of 28 October, a month stale. Except that it has a Big Scalper where the annoying puzzle would be. But the Herald doesn't play it straight, just four weeks off, by 23 December, they run two pages from the 18 November section, one from the 25 November section (making a big deal about Thanksgiving!) and a page that never ran at all in the Inquirer featuring Doubtful Tom and a Mr. George misadventure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *