Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce, 1842-1913

Ambrose Bierce, a western American, writer and a participant in the American Civil War wrote, in 1900;

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast
Can not be found in all the West;
Good reason, it is speeding here
To stretch McKinley on his bier.

Goebel was the Governor of Kentucky, assassinated before his term could transpire, but elected amid an extreme amount of controversy. Siding with Goebel, and decidedly against McKinley, who he probably saw as just a Republican pick of the corporate monopolies of the age, he also was a lightening rod for criticism from the Hearst newspapers, that backed Republicans. Since his poem preceded McKinley’s assassination, once it unfolded he seemed to have foreshadowed the national crime.

But Bierce was a complicated man. Bierce enlisted in the 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment and received attention for rescuing a wounded compatriot, while under fire, in the Battle of Rich Mountain. He suffered a serious head wound at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain in 1864. His participation in the Union cause is evidence of his convictions. He recovered enough to partake in General Hazen’s quest to inspect western military outposts and arrived in San Francisco, California in December of 1866. He became a writer and contributor to newspapers and noted for his stories on crime and defended women’s suffrage, i.e. voting rights. He also wrote humorous columns including the “Grizzly Papers.”

Ambrose Bierce wrote with a biting satire, skillful and relentless in attacking accepted contemporary thought. Bierce even evoked a following as far as England, although by 1900 many regarded him as a crank. The heady days of his writing around 1870 also included the roots of the Bohemian Club, now known as the mysterious Bohemian Grove, and in the early days included noted western writer John Muir, known as the “Father of the National Park System.”

Another noted work of Bierce was the “Devil’s Dictionary,” which provided an alternate meaning for many words. While many meanings were lengthy, his definition for the word impunity was simply “wealth.’ A perfect example of his deep cynicism.

Late in 1913 at the age of 71, Bierce had penned a letter to a friend stating “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination,” and promptly disappeared. Bierce’s works include film adaptations of “An Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge,” “Eyes of the Panther,” and “The Damned Thing.” While the latter seemed to deal with man and beast, human frailty, panic and social anxieties, Bierce also dabbled in the supernatural in his writing.

Bierce was last seen in Chihuahua, Mexico.