Disappearance of Ambrose Bierce
"As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination." December 26, 1913
In a letter before he disappeared, Ambrose Bierce’ last line is a curious exclamation point placed on his life, and his increasing devotion to the supernatural. More prominent just after the Civil War, a writer and contributor to the San Francisco literary scene, one of Bierce’ works was “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field” in which a farmer endeavors to cross his pasture, only to disappear into another dimension.
Published in 1888, his short work was set around Selma, Alabama. That fact alone, makes his short work of fiction a bit of a dimensional transportation to the 19th century a town that would gain fame of a different nature in another era.
And then, the fact of his mysterious loss to the world. 1913 was the time of Pancho Villa, just prior to World War 1, Woodrow Wilson had become president, following four years of Taft who had followed four years of Teddy Roosevelt, the rough rider. The Park System had become a part of the Federal fabrique, the independence of Cuba from Spain, and in 1910, almost a century after Mexico’s independence the Mexican Revolution began. Fed by an uprising against a plutocrat named Diaz, Villa joined forces with Madero to topple the elitist regime. Villa became a warlord of the northern Mexican lands, and a threat to American interests as he descended into a Marxist dictator, siezing private lands, raiding villages north and south of the border and promising free land for all (as long as he was dictator).
Bierce was interested in the revolution, a bit the sucker for the populist notions of Villa, and wrote that he wanted to journal the exploits of Villa’s army. Some evidence points to his joining the Villa forces as an observer and even witnessed the Battle of Tierra Blanca (White Lands). Southeast of Mexico City, the fighting occurred a month before the date of his mysterious letter, nonetheless it puts Bierce in Mexico with Villa’s army. 1914 was a less eventful year for the Mexican revolution, and Bierce may have lacked compelling subject matter to send home. 71 years old, following and attempting to hang on to Villa, he may well have just expired and been buried, with little regard, by a Mexican Army more interested in their revolution than the rantings and self importance of Bierce. An interesting man meeting a dull end has left some to invent more exciting theories.