Thomas Mayne Reid was born April 4, 1818 in northern Ireland.
His father was a Presbyterian minister and a senior clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.
Mayne, following in his fathers footsteps, enrolled at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution in September of 1834.
He studied for four years, but could not motivate himself enough to complete his studies and receive a degree. So Mayne headed back home to teach school.
By 1839, Mayne made the decision to emigrate to America. In December he boarded a ship bound for New Orleans, Louisiana, arriving in January of 1840.
He found a job as a clerk for a corn market and decided after only sex months to leave New Orleans. It has been noted by historians that Mayne fled New Orleans for refusing to whip slaves.
Mayne arrived in Nashville, Tennessee and began to tutor the children of a local doctor. Following the doctors death, Mayne founded a short-lived private school in Nashville.
By 1841, he was forced to find work as a clerk for a provision dealer back in Louisiana.
In the fall of 1842, Mayne Reid arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he began his literary career writing both prose and poetry for the Pittsburgh Morning Chronicle under the pen-name The Poor Scholar. (He also apparently worked as a carrier for the paper.)
His earliest verifiable work was a series of epic poems called Scenes in the West Indies.
In the spring of 1843, Mayne moved to Philadelphia, where he remained for three years. During this time he worked as a journalist and from time to time had poetry published in Godey’s Lady’s Book, Graham’s Magazine, the Ladies National Magazine, and similar publications, using the same pseudonym he had employed in Pittsburgh.
It was in Philadelphia that he met Edgar Allan Poe and the two became drinking companions for a time.
Poe would later call Mayne Reid “a colossal but most picturesque liar. He fibs on a surprising scale but with the finish of an artist, and that is why I listen to him attentively.”
When the Mexican-American War began in the spring of 1846, Mayne was working as a correspondent for the New York Herald in Newport, Rhode Island.
At this time he began using the pen-name Ecolier, in addition to the Poor Scholar.
On November 23, 1846, Mayne Reid joined the First New York Volunteer Infantry as a second lieutenant.
In January 1847 the regiment left New York by ship.
The New Yorkers camped for several weeks at Lobos Island before taking part in Major General Winfield Scott’s invasion of Central Mexico, which began on March 9 at Vera Cruz.
Using the pseudonym “Ecolier”, Reid was a correspondent for the a New York newspaper, Spirit of the Times, which published his Sketches by a Skirmisher.
On September 13, 1847 at the Battle of Chapultepec, the young Irish-born officer received a severe thigh wound while leading a charge.
He was afterward promoted to the rank of first lieutenant for bravery in battle.
On May 5, 1848 Mayne Reid resigned his commission and returned to New York with his regiment.
Mayne Reid’s first play Love’s Martyr, played at the Walnut Street Theater in New York for five nights, in October of 1848.
He then published War Life, an account of his army service on June 27, 1849.
Learning of the Bavarian Revolution, Mayne headed to England as a volunteer. But, after the Atlantic crossing changed his mind, and instead headed home to northern Ireland. Thomas then moved to London, and in 1850 published his first novel, The Rifle Rangers.
This was followed by The Scalp Hunters (1851; dedicated to Commodore Edwin W. Moore, whom he met in 1841), The Desert Home (1852), and The Boy Hunters (1853).
This latter book, set in Texas and Louisiana, was a “juvenile scientific travelog”. It would become a favorite of young Theodore Roosevelt, who would become a huge Thomas Reid fan.
That same year Mayne married the daughter of his publisher G. W. Hyde, an English aristocrat, Elizabeth Hyde, a 15-year-old young lady.
After a short honeymoon and vacation to spend time with his new bride, he soon returned to writing.
Continuing to base his novels on his adventures in America, he turned out several more successful novels: The White Chief (1855), The Quadroon (1856), Oceola (1858), and The Headless Horseman (1865).
Mayne spent his money freely, including building the sprawling “Ranche”, an elaborate reproduction of a Mexican hacienda that he had seen during the Mexican-American War.
His extravagant living forced him to declare bankruptcy in November 1866.
The following October he moved to Newport, Rhode Island, hoping to recapture the success the U.S. had brought him earlier. However, he was forced back to New York in 1867 and founded the Onward Magazine.
Mayne lectured at Steinway Hall in New York, and published the novel The Helpless Hand in 1868.
But America was not as kind to Mayne Reid this time around. The wound he had received at Chapultepec started to bother him, and he was hospitalized for several months at St. Luke in June 1870.
Elizabeth hated America, and following his discharge from the hospital he and his wife returned to England on October 22, 1870, and lived at Ross on Wye, Herefordshire.
Suffering from acute melancholia, he was soon again hospitalized. He tried to write, but completed few projects. He lived mainly off his U.S. Army pension, which was not enough to cover his situation.
Thomas Mayne Reid died in London October 22, 1883, at the age of 65. He was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.
A quotation from The Scalp Hunters is on his grave marker:
“This is `weed prairie’; it is misnamed: It is the Garden of God.”
In his autobiography, United States President Teddy Roosevelt credits Mayne Reid with being a major inspiration. The shy, asthmatic aristocrat, would grow up to pursue naturalistic zoology and adventure travel. Reid’s adventure books for boys may have been the inspiration for our national park expansions which occurred under Roosevelt’s two terms in office.
Now WE know em