Saturday, December 29, 2018

Olga Moore, Sheridan Novelist, War Writer, and Journalist, Pt. 2

Last year, we introduced you to Johnson and Sheridan County writer, Mary Olga Moore; you can find our post here.

There is much more to tell, however. With our previous work as an overview, we now present to you some depth of Moore's story as she told it.

My faults are all large and practical: my virtue small, but well selected. Even my severest critics have never been able to deny I have a kind face.

Born on an "old time cattle ranch" near Lake DeSmet on January 1st, 1900, the future writer  grew up riding horses, "fixing fence, killing rattle snakes...all part of my charm."

Moore began writing and publishing when she was in elementary school. To 21st Century readers, such precocious literary endeavors sound like they had roots in a passion for the craft; in an interview with Hope Ridings Miller, Moore clarified, "I was virtually coerced, by my relatives, to select writing as my career. Eventually, I got used to the idea." Look at her writing and interviews, you see a subtle, droll sense of humor emerge. Perhaps this was Moore being playful? Whether she was "virtually coerced" into her career, it was an interesting one colored with travel and adventure. We certainly hope she loved every minute of it.

Moore as a young girl, perhaps trying to untangle the plot in one of her stories.
From the March 16, 1968 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.

At Sheridan High School, Moore turned to drama, debate, and public speaking, activities that no doubt helped hone her abilities as a writer--and to no one's surprise, she also worked on the school paper, the Ocksheperida. At the University of Wyoming, she majored in English, probably to no one's surprise.

An exemplary student, Moore wrote for the Sheridan Enterprise (what would become the Sheridan Press) on summer breaks, penning advice to lovelorn Sheridanites as Mrs. Nora Winship. Moore explained that her nom de plume came about because her "baby face did not inspire confidence in [her] worldly wisdom." That is, nobody was allowed to meet her until one Saturday night, where an especially frustrated cowpuncher "broke through the palace guard and came into the city room." Said cowpuncher had been with a widow but was afraid she was "two-timin'" him.

Moore shouted, "Give her up! She obviously is not interested." This had little effect upon the lovelorn cowboy: "But she has four thousand acres!"

Moore continued to write for the Enterprise, branching out to cover everything from "distinguished visitors" to city hall to sports. Of a wrestling match, Moore said "I fell in love with the loser and made him the hero of my story."

Covering various conventions, Moore implied the "seas of creamed chicken and mountains of combination salad" nearly swept her away. Quite possibly, there can be too much of a good thing.

The Delta Delta Delta sorority alum went on to even bigger and better things. After a stint writing for the Denver Post and a brief return to Wyoming to help her father canvass for governor Nellie Taylor Ross's reelection, she ended up back east first in Cambridge then Washington, writing for the Information Agency and "even a brief spell [as a] press agent for a motion picture.

During Christmastime in 1927, she married Carl Dean Arnold, whom she described as a "nice sort of bloke." Sadly, they were married only 13 years when Dean (who was an actual dean) died at the age of 46.

Shortly after her husband's death, Moore, who would keep her married name, "took a job with a food company" and lobbied "against the olomargarine tax and tour[ed] the country to interview legislators, editors, and organizations." With the onset of World War II, Mrs. Arnold worked for the Office of War Information.

The OWI sent Arnold to London, where she worked for the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force), then the Allied Press Operation.

Sounds like things got a little hairy on her overseas journey: "Our convoy was fired on by submarines just off the coast of Ireland, but we landed safely." Facing her fair share of close scrapes and less-than-ideal situations, Arnold cherished the experience: "I loved London in spite of the black-outs, the heatless houses and the rationed food, the bomb pits, the ruins."

So she was an adrenaline junkie then? Not at all, by all available accounts. It was Londoners themselves, as she explained, that she admired, "The people were so brave, meeting danger with poise and wit!"

After the war, Arnold went to work for the Information Agency, which she called "very challenging work." She interviewed "officers who returne[ed] from such exciting centers as Santo Domingo, the Congo, and Saigon."

Arnold continued her colorful career with America Illustrated, which partnered with publications in the Soviet Union in an effort to humanize each other's citizens during the Cold War. Arnold covered "success stories of little known Americans, customs, and traditions," preparing her articles for translation. She recounted one humorous translation blunder (anyone in international communication can share hundreds) in which she wrote about American train customs, referring to the smoking car, implying that the Russian translators took the term 'smoking car' literally, since there was no such term in Russian.

Sometime between graduating from UW and the aftermath of the war, Arnold was able to publish an array of short stories and articles, and two novels, Wind Swept and Meet Me in the Lobby. In her interview with Miller, she passed down some humble and sage words for up-and-coming writers. Discounting the usual nonsense about genius or latent talent, Moore stated simply that what successes she enjoyed as a writer came from "persistent effort...[the] tenacity of purpose and hard work." Hard work, yes. Persistence, yes. There was a time when her stories came back, rejected, with astonishing regularity. She wasn't much for arbitrary rules or 'slanting' to the latest market, either. She wrote for the pure joy of sharing what she had to say with the world.

Every author is eventually met with this perennial question: How do you come up with your ideas? For Mary Olga Moore Arnold, it involved dishes. That's right, dishes: "I like to write stories, especially by doing so I can get out of washing the breakfast dishes. I think my best plots when disgruntled dishes are stacked in the kitchen sink."

Undated photo of Olga Moore Arnold. From the Nov.-Dec. 1960
issue of Wyoming Alum News. Click to enlarge.

Arnold built her stories from her own experience and observations, preferring to rely on her own and nobody else's filters. She usually kept themes lean and clean, though, occasionally, she would light that dimmed candle that kept her alive and writing during World War II, working against" all the rules most editors observe." On one such story, she defied the advice of one of her "best critics"; the Saturday Evening Post published the piece.

To say Olga Moore Arnold's career was not static is an understatement. Fortunately, we have some of her writing at the Sheridan Fulmer Public Library and the Wyoming Room for your enjoyment.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Christmases of Sheridan Past

To celebrate the holiday season, here are some pictures of Christmases of yesteryear...

In 1902, the Commercial House put on quite the Christmas dinner.

From the Brockett Photo Collection. Click to enlarge.

In 1908, the New York Store sold little, tabletop Christmas trees.

From the AAUW Scrapbook. Click to enlarge.

1920: some picturesque scenes of houses on South Main

From the Byron Photo Collection. Click to enlarge.

From the Byron Photo Collection. Click to enlarge.

A Crescent Hotel Christmas postcard from the 1920s.

From the Cook Photo Collection. Click to Enlarge.

Skipping ahead to 1942, the Sheridan High School's Christmas Assembly.

From the Wyoming Room Photo Collection. Click to enlarge.

Finally, season's greetings from the 1945 Sheridan Press staff and paperboys.

From the Harris Photo Collection. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

1911: Forest Ranger Goes After Wolf With...Wait, What?

In late November, 1911, an unarmed US Forest Service Ranger R.D. McDonald was going about his duties in the Tongue River basin. Upon inspecting beaver traps, he discovered one was missing. But that wasn't all. He saw wolf tracks scattered across the snow and set off to find the culprit on skis.

After skiing for a mile, give or take, McDonald found the wolf, with the beaver trap "fast to his leg." The ranger took after the "immense animal" with only his ski pole a' la Liam Neeson in The Grey

The duel to the death ended with the wolf "stretched out in the snow as dead as he could ever be." McDonald put up the wolf's pelt at his cabin in Woodrock.

Though McDonald seemingly brushed off the incident, the Sheridan Post writer begged to differ, explaining "A timber wold at bay under ordinary circumstances is bad enough, but one enraged with pain and fighting for his life is an even worse proposition to tackle."

From the December 1, 1911 issue of the Sheridan Post.
Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving Football, 1921

Thanksgiving, 1921 found 1,400 cold Sheridanites gathered to watch Sheridan trounce Laramie 20-0 in the mud at City Park, what would become Central Field.

From the Cook Collection. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Putting Some Flesh On History's Bones: 1930s Fright Classics in Sheridan

At the Wyoming Room, the bulk of our work consists of helping patrons with the nitty gritty of family and local history.

Peruse our blog posts and you'll see mostly just that: the nitty gritty. But you'll also see a little lore and culture sprinkled throughout, such as our posts on the Bellevue Cemetery "Witches' Circle," the lore of the Lake DeSmet monster, Native American little people legends, and even a Wimpus.

Beyond mere entertainment, lore and culture, by extension, puts the flesh on history's bones, turning names and dates into characters and phenomena.

And cinema, especially horror cinema, can give us a sense of people's hopes, fears and anxieties from ages past. With this in mind, we present to you a snapshot of Americana and a little about Sheridan in the Great Depression and World War II during the 'Golden Age' of horror movies.

From the May 19 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.

In the almost century horror films have terrified and chilled American moviegoers, trends come and go, with hidden gems sadly overlooked while silly, half-hearted efforts enjoyed financial success. Beyond quality, there is something much deeper happening beneath the ebb and flow of trends in horror films. In the 1950s, the nasty du jour was atomic mutants. Slashers tore up screens in the 1980s, then faded into oblivion. Supernatural horror has been on and off with audiences since the 1960s (from Hammer Horror films to Poltergeist to The Conjuring).

Horror movies, like all art, are open to interpretation from many schools of thought. Whichever way you cut it, people, like horror films, are a product of a time and a place.

There are about as many who detest fright flicks as there who need them to help deal when the world around them turns upside down. In short, horror can help deal with overwhelming fear and anxiety caused by society-wide catastrophes.

Though the Folio's article on horror and cultural anxieties featuring Dr. Jason Wallin (whose scholarship covers media studies and horror films), concerns contemporary fare, his statements can shine a light on older films as well, as we will see: "[Horror is] not about the scare tactics so much as the unconscious fears....[it] is all about monsters, and those monsters are often the embodiment of social anxiety."

One of the all-time box office champs, 1973's acclaimed The Exorcist, confronted anxieties of a religious origin with its tale of supernatural evil. Reading between the lines a bit, you might see the film as American's way of dealing with the clash of traditional Christian values and the free love of the rebellious 1960s.

Similarly, the 1981 remake of The Thing, with a shapeshifting alien monster that could assume anyone's identity, perhaps helped allay American moviegoers' anxieties about AIDS. More recently, many movie critics interpret the 2015 indie hit, It Follows, as a commentary on sexually transmitted diseases. And The Walking Dead? Its immense popularity could reflect our widespread fear of other human beings in a post-911 atmosphere.

Most of us, whether we like horror movies or not, know the iconic stories and characters of our generations. It might be Bela Lugosi's magnetic, undead aristocrat; Linda Blair spewing split pea soup; Freddy Krueger and his hilariously sinister cackle; or creepy clowns (the less said about them the better).

Nowadays, the once-terrifying Frankenstein and Dracula strike a pretty tame note. In Sheridan in the 1930s and 1940s, audiences were still fresh to big screen abominations and the films they beheld thrilled, chilled, and, afterward, provided a measure of peace for many. Sheridanites were no exception.

Before the Golden Age of Horror in Sheridan came the 1920 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hydefollowed by Lon Chaney Sr.'s silent masterpiece, The Phantom of the Opera in 1925, and the now-lost 1927 film, London after Midnight.

From the December 26, 1925 and January 20, 1928 editions of
the Sheridan Post-Enterprise, respectively.
Click to enlarge.

Unlike horror films in the ensuing decade, defining Phantom and its ilk as products of uniquely American fears is a messier task, which makes sense if we're dealing with a decade marked by the extravagance and excess that precipitated the Great Depression. Alternately, look at German films from the same era, Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for example, as products of its First-World-War-ravaged economic and political troubles that had a stronger impact on the genre.

Enter the Great Depression. In this decade, American horror films entered their first heyday. As a nation marked by social anxieties of the ghastliest kind, folks sought brief reprieve in comedies and light dramas--and when the lighter stuff didn't pack a punch they needed, it was monster movies that saved the day.

Bela Lugosi in Dracula kicked things off on Valentine's Day 1931, though it wasn't until March that the film made its way to Sheridan. The Sheridan Press was hesitant about the film, distancing itself in its description, "a strange and weird motion picture." While the film is now regarded as a classic, it seems Sheridan moviegoers weren't quite sure what to do with it.

From the March 6th, 1931 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.

Like most movies in the early days of Sheridan cinema, Dracula played for only a few days, making only a light that would be felt again later and much stronger.

From the May 15th, 1932 edition of the Sheridan Press. 
Click to enlarge.

Unlike its fanged predecessor, Frankenstein drew crowds of Sheridan moviegoers. The Lotus warned "patrons whose nerves were supposed to be jumpy" to avoid the film, so they naturally went to it in droves. And this time around, the Press introduced the picture with greater enthusiasm, drumming it up as "packed to the brim with thrills, and called by experts the most original film ever to reach the screen."

By late 1931 and mid-1932, the Great Depression had kicked into full gear, seeing food riots, the worst drought in 300 years, trade wars, and exponentially growing unemployment and shrinking stock prices (which couldn't have seemed possible to Depression-ravaged folks). Considering world events in the 1930s, it's no shocker that horror movies enjoyed newfound life.

A surprising number of people were able to scrounge 35 cents (roughly $6 today) and 10 cents for the kids (~ $2) to catch a flick to catch a fright flick at the Lotus. A bag of popcorn ran you about 10 cents.

Impressive was Frankenstein'haul, roughly the equivalent of $220 million in 2018 dollars ($313 million worldwide, counting inflation)-- especially so, considering the depression. Unsurprisingly, it met with much fanfare when it finally arrived in Sheridan a good six months after its wide release.

From 1931 to 1933, three horror movies claimed the top box office spot, Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, and King Kong, respectively; it would be another 40 years until The Exorcist pulled off a similar feat.

Frankenstein was followed by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, another box office success. You wonder if its themes of duality appealed to crowds whose lives had so suddenly changed struggled with their own sense of identities in the wake of such economic and social disasters.

From the February 1st, 1932 edition of the Sheridan Press. 
Click to enlarge.

Hot on Jekyll's heels came the much maligned and controversial Freaks--now considered an important classic--also notable for its place in Sheridan history. Then Sheridan resident, Frances Belle O'Connor, acted and performed in the film.

From the February 26, 1932nd edition of the
Sheridan Press. Click to enlarge.

Reportedly, moviegoers across the nation walked out on Freaks, repulsed by the plot's appropriately strange twists; in Sheridan, however, we sadly know little of locals' reactions. Perhaps they were more forgiving due to fellow Sheridanite Frances O'Connor's presence in the film.

1932 and early 1933 brought three of Bela Lugosi's films, Murders in the Rue Morgue White Zombie, and Island of Lost Souls (an adaptation of H.G. Wells' The Island of Dr. Moreau) to town.

Each film deals with the immense power that knowledge--science or magic--can hold over run-of-the-mill human beings. As the world spun out of control, perhaps audiences found a measure of comfort in seeing people like themselves overcome such seemingly insurmountable odds.

From the October 12th edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.

From the January 13th, 1933 edition of the
Sheridan Press. Click to enlarge.

You might recognize the next film, Boris Karloff's The Mummy, which thrilled audiences with its spellbinding tale of curses and scientific exploration gone too far. 

From the April 5th edition
of the Sheridan Press. 
Click to enlarge.
In the summer of 1933,  King Kong smashed through Sheridan. Maybe the fantastic yarn of a gargantuan ape and exotic horrors provided Sheridanites with a modicum of control over an ever-growing sense of alienation from a world that probably seemed forever lost to them.

From the July 24th, 1933 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.
The pace of horror-thrillers slowed as the 1930s marched on; still, plenty of eventual classics made their way to Sheridan screens.

Claude Rains' The Invisible Man  flipped the script on the mad scientist narrative. The Press writer charged with the local market echoed language from Frankenstein pitches, sensationalizing the picture as presenting "the strangest character ever seen." Contrasted with the Press's efforts to distance itself from Dracula two years earlier, by 1934, strange was good.

From the May 2nd, 1934 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.

Karloff and Lugosi came to Sheridan in August of 1934 with the still-creepy The Black Cat (related to the Edgar Alan Poe story only in the nominal sense). Amid the rush of thrillers in the 1930s, Cat stood out from the pack in its portrayal of religiously-oriented scares, a subgenre that would not see resurgence until the Hammer Horror films of the 1960s and the next decade's Exorcist. 

In contrast to his previous venture, Karloff was seen a year later in the masterful Bride of Frankenstein, which gave Sheridanites a taste of the terrifying and whimsical, a blend rarely seen then or since.

From the June 7th, 1935
edition of the Sheridan
Click to enlarge.

Despite a case of sequelitis, Bride's take was a modest success,  demonstrating the power of Mary Shelley's monster in America's collective psyche.

Edgar Allan Poe was big in the 1930s. Another adaptation of his work landed in Sheridan in the late summer of 1935, reuniting Karloff and Lugosi in The Raven

From the September 12, 1935 edition of the
Sheridan Press. Click to enlarge.

As the 1940s and World War II approached, horror experienced a decline with studios growing less confidant, releasing mostly sequels such as Son of Frankenstein with the dependable duo of Karloff and Lugosi

From the February 9th edition of the Sheridan Press. 
Click to enlarge.

At the start of the new decade, Sheridan began to bring Frankenstein's monster and the gang into the Hallowe'en season, where in earlier years, the Lotus et al presented romantic comedies or dramas for Hallowe'en events. 

From the October 31st, 1940 edition of the Sheridan Press. 

Looking at the poster above, it seems likely that America and Sheridan now associated fright flicks with the kiddos, precipitating an almost Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde split in attitudes regarding horror pictures as the 1940s approached.

One of the most renowned Universal horror pictures, perhaps eclipsed only by Frankenstein, missed Sheridan until two years after its release. Lon Chaney Jr.'s The Wolf Man landed nationwide just two days after the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor;. Talk about unfortunate timing. When The Wolf Man did find Sheridan, it was obscured under a Hallowe'en double billing with Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.

By the 1940s, America had a sharper understanding of horror pictures. A decade of strife saw to that. Gone was the emphasis on softer descriptors such as 'thriller' and 'suspense'; you now saw stark, sometimes violent language preferred: 'horror,' 'kill,' 'shock'. And below, you can see language trying desperately to show that the new wave of horror pictures were edgier: "Frankenstein was a sissy." Perhaps it was desperate marketing. Perhaps horror pictures of the 1940s did have bite those from the 30s lacked.

From the November 13th, 1940 edition of the
Sheridan Press. 

War changed the formerly dominating economic woes from what could best be described as psychological and existential anxiety to constant fear stemming from a more immediate, physical threat. As such, monsters and the more visceral horror of the mid-to-late 30s fell out of favor with everyone but younger moviegoers. 

In the excellent history of Universal monster movies, Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films, the authors quote legendary screenwriter, Curt Siodmak, who wrote The Wolf Man, on historical context and its circular effect on audiences and horror films:

"When we made those pictures throughout the Second World War, we couldn't show an American with a machine gun mowing down 5000 Japanese. Nobody would have believed it; it wouldn't work. So we had the Gothic stories... When the war ended, the bottom fell out of the horror business. Then, when we began testing the atomic bomb, it all started again."

One such Gothic story was the Val Lewton production, Cat People. While the film has endured to become considered a classic, audiences greeted it with barely a meow upon its release (thank you for allowing us to indulge ourselves). Of the 1940s, it is the more mature Cat People and its ilk that people still take seriously today.

From the April 20th, 1943 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.

The old standbys of Lugosi, Chaney Jr., and Universal's monsters were seen as niche staple, sometimes a joke. Movie studios sank a lot of money in their fright flicks with decent returns, but, for the most part, nothing that screamed 1940s like Frankenstein or Kong screamed the 1930s.

Yet horror films maintained an active presence in Sheridan during World War II and the years immediately after. Hallowe'en shows persisted as well as occasional events like Jack Wyman's Asylum of Horrors.

From the May 30th edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.
That evening found Sheridanites thrilled and chilled by seances, floating ghosts, and a King-Kong-like uncaging and releasing of a Frankenstein's monster, which apparently got loose.

Even festivities that started as a means to allay youth vandalism, like Sheridan's First Annual Hallowe'en Parade and subsequent festivities, used things that go bump in the night as a distraction from real bogies across the oceans.

By the end of the '40s, monsters, when they did appear, had been relegated to the realm of adolescent angst or slapdash comedies. See the classic Abbott and Costello Meet the Monsters series of films. As America's post-war prosperity blossomed and technology exploded, aliens, UFOs, and mutant monsters calmed and claimed America's fears.

As this Halloween season approaches and you find yourself wanting to check out some viewing of the ooky variety, maybe combine a little history and a little culture with your chills and thrills by exploring some of these time-honored classics.

But that's not the point, not entirely. If we may be so bold: for the curious, we have a wealth of information in the Wyoming Room on Sheridan in the Great Depression and World War II--golden age horror movies are just the tip of the cultural iceberg.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sheridan's First Halloween Parade

In the late 1800s to the early 1930s, before trick-or-treating such as we know it found disguised kids chanting for strangers' sugary treats, costumed urchins went door to door on Thanksgiving, begging for vittles. They called it Ragamuffin Day. Around the same time, they spelled Hallowe'en funny. What's the deal? Where did contemporary Halloween traditions come from?

In the early 1930s, Hallowe'en held many more tricks than treats: the next morning, you might find your outhouse tipped over, ash cans scattered in the streets, windows soaped, or other manner of mayhem.

A writer for the Sheridan Press called Hallowe'en "an orgy of rowdyism and destruction," leaving communities "looking as though [they] had been struck by a hurricane." Suffice to say, both townsfolk and the constabulary across the Depression-ravaged country were at wits end.

From the October 29, 1933 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.

Adding to the urgency were scattered incidents in which miscreants' tricks went too far, such as a Hallowe'en in 1933 that ended with the death of a 31-year-old woman in Columbus, Montana.

Enter the Hallowe'en parade. While Anoka, Minnesota proudly claims the honor of hosting the nation's first such parade in 1920, judging from the parade's official website, it looks like the event arose more out of general sense of civic pride than the need to protect citizens and property.

Fifteen years on, Sheridan's civic pride had been accosted for several Hallowe'en nights. No outhouse or window was safe. The town of Sheridan decided enough was enough.

Starting in early October of 1935, townsfolk began planning Sheridan's first community-wide Hallowe'en party: a costume parade, stunts and contests, a grand Hallowe'en feed, a free show at the Orpheum for younger kids, and a dance at Central Middle School for older kids. The town bristled in anticipation of the ooky jamboree.

Wouldn't you know it, the forecast called for near-zero temperatures and snow. While the parade and stunts might be cancelled, determined Sheridanites would not cancel cider and doughnuts. You got it. Priorities.

From the October 18, 1935 edition of
the Sheridan Press. 

Turned out it was cold on that Thursday night in 1935, 13 degrees to be exact, but kids can be remarkably tough when the right incentive comes along. Just after 7pm, young paraders began their march at the back of city hall, proceeding west on Alger to Main until the Western Hotel, then doing a u-turn and head toward the Lotus Theater.

Kids competed in five costume categories, including historical and book characters, national costumes, western characters, clowns, and miscellaneous, consisting of cash and merchandise from local businesses. The top cash prizes were $5, $2, and $1, roughly $100, $40, and $20, in 2018 dollars, respectively.

The "weirdly-garbed procession" convened in front of the Lotus where the high school band played on the back of a big truck. The top costume prize went to a tie of two pairs, Julian Pearson and Patricia McWilliams as Ma and Seth Parker, and Joan Davis and Joyce Johnson as the Gold Dust Twins. The cash was split evenly, four ways. Other winning costumes included Little Red Riding Hood, Mickey Mouse, and a cowboy. And, indicative of the times, a fragment of that year's winners sported Native American garb, but not out of cultural sensitivity.

As the costumed participants finished their route, the action shifted to games and stunts. Competitors from third through sixth grade classes from Coffeen, Taylor, Holy Name, and Linden elementary schools raced against each other in sacks, on scooters, in a three-legged race, or deftly tried to outdo each other in an egg in a spoon (which replaced the jumbled shoe race due to the weather). Hill's, and Central's 7th and 8th graders waged a fierce competition against each other in sack races. Central and Linden seemed to take the lion's share of wins; some of the top prizes included a Boy Scout knife, a flashlight, tie clips, sweaters, silk vests, cap guns, pencils, and hose donated by local businesses--prizes that may sound dull by 21st Century standards, but to young folks growing up in the Great Depression, each prize won was probably treasured.

Reportedly, someone won a Tom Sawyer shirt but never claimed it.

Youngsters, their parents, and spectators convened at the Legion building where doughnuts--the City, Crystal, and Pollyanna bakeries and the Sheridan Bread Company provided 2000 of them--and hot cider lay in wait. You can imagine how welcome a piping mug of the stuff might be after trudging a half mile in 12-degree weather. Refreshments were followed by an apple-bobbing contest, which apparently flummoxed girls in the competition, so they, with hands behind their backs, went after hanging doughnuts instead.

To round out the fun-filled extravaganza, the high school lads and lasses danced the night away at Central while 3rd through 8th graders were treated to a free screening of Three Kids and a Queen at the Orpheum.

From the October 31, 1935 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.
Sheridan's first annual Hallowe'en proved a smash hit, drawing out hundreds of youngsters who minded their manners. Outhouses and ash cans rested peacefully that night.

From the November 1, 1935 edition of
the Sheridan Press. Click to enlarge.

George W. Messick, general chairman of that year's Community Hallowe'en Party Committee, enthusiastically praised the event, "I am very grateful to all who helped make the Hallowe'en party a success"; "We received 100 per cent cooperation from every side--and it was that fine community spirit on part of both young and old that made the party successful despite the weather." The kids appreciated it as well.

Linden School students wrote a letter of thanks to the chamber of commerce:

From the November 5, 1935 edition of
the Sheridan Press. Click to enlarge.

The event gained steam in coming years. In 1936, Sheridan Hallowe'en festivities fared even better under warmer skies, drawing out thousands of townsfolk.

Winners from the 1936 parade. From the
November 1, 1936 edition of the Sheridan
Click to enlarge.

One of the more collaborative costumes in 1936. From the
November 1, 1936 edition of the Sheridan
Click to enlarge

Here's a picture of the 1938 parade.

From the November 1, 1938 edition of the Sheridan Press. 
Click to enlarge.

And it seems Sheridan's festivities marched on undaunted through World War II--a time which saw several parade cancellations  across the country--providing a much-needed relief from the constant anxiety war foisted on both adults and children.

From the November 1, 1944 edition of the Sheridan Press. 
Click to enlarge.

So far as we can tell, Sheridan's annual Hallowe'en parade and festivities suffered no interruption since. As you ready your kids for this year's round of Halloween merriment or are packing up your chair and candy to go watch this year's Jaycee's Halloween parade, you'll be joining in a time-honored Sheridan tradition that has spanned more than eight decades.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Vampire Creature on Display in Sheridan, 1910

Yep. You read that right. In March of 1910, locals could stop by taxidermist Simon B. Clark's showroom on East Brundage to view "a specimen of a creature known as the vampire."

The Daily Enterprise claimed the creature was neither "bird [nor] beast," but a concoction of the two. About the size of a bat, the vampire "look[ed] something like that of a rat of gigantic size" with a four-foot wingspan.

From the March 14th, 1910 edition of the Daily Enterprise.
Click to enlarge.

Curtis procured the creature from a soldier who had caught it in the Philippines. Of the menacing fiend, the Daily Enterprise described its alleged method of slaughter, "creeping upon its sleeping victim, it lulls and sooths [sic] with a cooling breeze which comes from its slowly moving wings, while it fastens its fangs in the throat and sucks the life blood."

The article assured Sheridan readers the creature would not escape, so nobody would ever find out whether such legends were true, but said the creature was "sufficiently ferocious in appearance to make the story seem probable."

Whether reported with sensationalism or tongue-in-cheek snark, the incident marks a strange little moment in Sheridan history, all the more so because, of known bat species in the Philippines, the only one that could have a four-foot wingspan would have been a variety of flying fox. If you've never seen a flying fox, imagine a border collie's head on a bat's body. Kind of cute, in an Island-of-Dr.Moreau fashion. 

Fun fact: flying foxes subsist solely on fruit and vegetation, requiring nary a drop of blood. Looks like we might have another Wimpus on our hands.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Circus Performer and One-Time Actress Frances Belle O'Connor: Gone but Never Lost

On September 8, 1914, former Sheridanite Frances Belle O'Connor was born on her grand matriarch's farm in Renville County, Minnesota. Most people remember her as a circus performer and for her role in the landmark 1932 horror film, Freaks

Those who met her or saw her performances noted O'Connor's grace and poise--and astonishing dexterity.

Born without arms, O'Connor taught herself to eat, drink, write, and sew entirely with her feet. With her mother as her manager, she signed on with the bigtime big top at age 15 with the Ringling Brothers while living in Sheridan:

From the March 27, 1930 edition of the
Sheridan Post-Enterprise. Click to enlarge.

While the Ringling Brothers was probably the largest circus O'Connor joined, she found her start in the limelight right here in Wyoming, first with the Al G. Barnes Circus, and later finding work for the Sells-Floto and Cole Brothers Circuses, where she was often billed as "The Living Venus de Milo."

Click to enlarge.
O'Connor's act consisted of her doing mostly things spectators took for granted, such as quaffing a glass of wine or beer, having a steak, or crafting a letter. If you were lucky, you might catch the act in which she braced and aimed a rifle with her feet, pulling the trigger with her toes. And, of course, she'd light up a cigarette and give it a puff or two.

In 1932, O'Connor went on to play Frances, "The Armless Girl,"  in Tod Browning's notorious classic, Freaks (trailer)

From the February 28, 1932 edition of the Sheridan Press.
Click to enlarge.

While she didn't land a starring role in the ensemble film, she stands out among the company with her trademark grace and poise, which you can see in the clip found here.

Image from Read, Seen, Heard. Click to enlarge.

O'Connor returned to Sheridan for an indeterminate time after Freaks, living on Sheridan Avenue*. From there, she resumed her circus and sideshow career**, supporting both herself and her beloved mother.

By the few accounts left to us, Frances O'Connor had a pleasant demeanor and a sharp sense of humor. As her friend and fellow performer, Jeanie Bernice Tomaini, recalled of their dining excursions, O'Connor evaded yokels' gawking by wearing a cape to conceal her method of eating.

O'Connor was a hit with the gentlemen as well. Author Jeremy Tarcher points out in American Sideshow that O'Connor garnered more than her fair share of marriage proposals because her act allowed her "to show a little more leg than was decent at the time." Eat your heart out, Penelope.

Frances Belle O'Connor eventually retired, choosing to not marry, assuming herself too old to do so (or was she simply fed up with the idea of marriage after so many proposals?). She died in Long Beach, California in 1982, aged 67. While her story may exist only in a few scattered fragments, we're grateful for what we can gather of such a talented performer, intrepid personality, and devoted daughter.

From Click to enlarge.

*According to the Wyoming Room's city directories.

**Calling a sideshow or circus a "career" may sound strange to contemporary ears, but sideshows and circuses, warts and all, were often the only means to an independent life for people with deformities or disabilities in O'Connor's time. Warner Home Video's hour-long documentary on the performer-actors in Freaks highlights this attitude: you didn't feel sorry for yourself, you were grateful for your job, and you didn't think of yourself as "amazing" or "inspiring"--although you probably got sick and tired of the gawking and the slurs darn quickly.

Friday, August 17, 2018

1866: Fierce Ambrose Bierce Maps Wyoming

Folks in Sheridan County, almost to the littlest urchin, know of Ernest Hemingway's various stays in the Big Horns. Yet another author important to both American history and American literature spent time in Johnson, Sheridan, and other Wyoming counties in the summer of 1866.

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce lives on in the public consciousness from a handful of short stories, such as "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and"Chickamauga," and the satirical Devil's Dictionary. Few know his other war stories and tales of supernatural horror. Even fewer have read his reams of journalism--spicy editorials, reviews and even a little muckraking (before objectivity overtook journalism as the preferred voice).

Before he was an author, Bierce was a farm boy, a bricklayer, military academy cadet, printer's devil, and volunteer soldier in the Civil War who lived almost four years warfare.

In the summer of 1866, Bierce took part in a military inspection of Forts Reno, Kearny, C.F. Smith, and Benton, accompanying General William B. Hazen's expedition as a civilian cartographer. What follows is not just the account of Bierce's time in the Big Horns but a snapshot of his tumultuous and colorful life.

Bierce's most iconic portrait,  by John Herbert Evelyn Partington.
Bierce was noted for having a skull and cigar box
always on his desk. Click to enlarge.

To introduce Bierce is no easy task. His many dimensions included compassion, dedication to the underdog, idealism, fierce opponent of nonsense, nonconformity, as well as verbal brutality, misanthropy, and cynicism. He was a person so ferociously ahead of his time that his contemporaries struggled to classify him...politely.

With satire as piercing as his gray eyes and fiery as his auburn locks, Bierce ruffled more than his fair share of feathers in his day. In the biography Bitter Bierce, author C. Hartley Grattan describes the writer as "a perfectionist at a time when public morals were low and private morals were nine tenths hypocrisy." Accordingly, 'Bitter Bierce', a.k.a. the 'wickedest man in San Francisco', called things as he saw them, brooked no nonsense, and cared not a whit whom he razed to ashes with his verbal conflagrations--as long as they deserved it. 

One can trace the threads of Ambrose Bierce's nonconformity to his childhood. As childhoods in the mid 1800s went, his was rough but no rougher than many. In addition to losing three of his twelve siblings, his father, Marcus Aurelius Bierce, ruled the family with an iron hand. Marcus, well-read for his time and station, had a decent library, which laid the foundation for a love of learning in his most rebellious son. Such a dedication to improvement would only embolden the lad under his father's lash, as he later reflected, "Disobedience is the silver lining to the cloud of servitude."

Of Ambrose Bierce's family, his abolitionist uncle, Lucius Verus Bierce, had the most influence on the principled and angry young man. (Lucius was a militant abolitionist with connections to John Brown). 

At age 15, Bierce left home, seeing no reason to stay in hicksville with his family of squares, "I was one of those poor devils born to work as a peasant in the fields, but I found no difficulty in getting out." He tried the Kentucky Military institute, but dropped out at age 18, then becoming a printer's devil for an abolitionist newspaper in Warsaw, Indiana, until the outbreak of the Civil War. 

At just 19 years old, Ambrose Bierce answered President Lincoln's call for volunteers within a week of the Battle of Fort Sumter. 

The next four years would shape Bierce's humor and place in the world in ways he probably never fully grasped. The horrors he experienced and witnessed made an indelible mark on his psyche, causing a mix of what would now be called PTSD and a strangely affectionate longing for the glory days.

Early skirmishes finished quick and with relatively few casualties, lulling men on both sides into thinking the war would be over soon. How tragically wrong they were. As the battlefield is wont to do, it pushed soldiers to absolute honesty about their own courage and conviction. The first major Battle in which Bierce fought, the Battle of Rich Mountain, brought out heroics in the young soldier. Amid a barrage of Confederate bullets, Bierce dragged a gravely wounded comrade to safety, winning renown and a promotion to sergeant major.

Bierce later found himself at Shiloh where his platoon was met with a bloody ambush. In Bierce's fashion, he later immortalized the tragedy and carnage vividly in the short story, "The Coup de Grace," telling not just of slaughter but gory details such as pigs feasting on soldiers' corpses and the wounded being burned alive in brush fires.

Bierce at age 21. Photo from the 
Click to enlarge. 

Shiloh wasn't the end of it. After Bierce found himself at the Siege of Corinth aiding in evacuations, as well as several more battles--providing reconnaissance at two, fighting Southern guerrillas, his luck thinned. At the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, June 27, 1864, three days after his 22nd birthday, a Confederate sharpshooter's bullet struck him behind the left ear. Despite the initial appearance of death, Bierce miraculously survived only to be hauled on a jostling flatbed railcar for two days--almost three thousand minutes of skull-pounding agony--back to Warsaw. Union doctors were unable to remove all of the bullet; it caused Bierce migraines and blackouts the rest of his days.

Bierce's short short story, "The Other Lodgers," perhaps expresses his state of mind after being shot. The story blurs the lines between the living and the dead; biographer Roy Morris Jr. suggests Bierce, like so many near-death survivors, wasn't "convinced of his own survival." Case in point: the story's narrator, also suffering from a shot to the head, relates the story in a hazy fugue.

Beyond getting shot, 1864 proved a rough year for the future satirist. His engagement to Bernice Wright fizzled. Later in the year, Confederate troops captured Bierce after a breakneck chase through a corn field, despite Bierce spending the night in a tree. Luckily, his captors' hearts were just not in it, and he sneaked away in the night, dodging dogs and fences, avoiding Andersonville and a fate worse than death.

The following January, Bierce received the boon of a medical discharge. Having seen near constant combat for the better part of four years, he was ready for a respite. Despite his affectionate longing for what was perhaps the rush of war, those years haunted Bierce. Of the enthusiastic young soldier who entered the war, he later wrote "I am bound to answer that he is dead." 

Along with migraines and blackouts, the spectre of death haunted Bierce. American literary critic Edmund Wilson, who perhaps is missing the point of Bierce's use of death, supposes it was "Ambroce Bierce's only real character." As a man who beheld as much pointless slaughter, Mr. Bierce was justifiably fixated upon and perhaps perplexed by death, which can be seen in stories such as "Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" and "Chickamauga."

Amid the aftershock of the "grand holocaust of slaughter," Bierce's wicked sense of humor and orneriness emerged. As the war drew to a close, Bierce and some of his fellow soldiers decided to get even with a particularly annoying lieutenant. Lieutenant Haberton droned on about his exploits with women, arrogantly confident in his proclamations of rakishness. Bierce and his fellows  convinced a young orderly, one whose effeminate features fit the task, to deck himself in full female regalia and stalk the pompous Haberton. Things went according to plan until Haberton began to ply his wares, a Confederate shell exploded in the floor above. This sent the young orderly fleeing from the room, screaming "Jumping Jee-rusalem," and ditching his "girl-gear." Vexed, Haberton sported "the sickliest grin that ever libeled all smiling," reportedly squeaking "You can't fool me!" It was amazing anyone heard the lieutenant's words above the explosive laughter.

After Bierce's medical discharge from the Union army, he went straight to work for the Treasury Department. His job was to track down and confiscate cotton bales, valued at $500 apiece--roughly $7500 in contemporary dollars. The enterprise proved a rough and dangerous one, a cat and mouse game not entirely unlike that of Treasury agents and mobsters in the Prohibition era.

Exacerbating Bierce's peril was his integrity. The war may have killed the young man in Bierce, but the youth's steadfastness remained: Ambrose Bierce proved the rare Treasury agent who could not be bought. Such an attribute pitted him against all and sundry who benefited from the crooked enterprise of selling cotton bales to the highest bidder, as well as war-weary and Union-hostile residents of the postbellum South--and former Confederate soldiers returned from the war who looked on Lee's surrender as an ephemeral formality.

In April of 1865, Bierce relocated to Selma, Alabama, a veritable hellhole of corruption, thievery, and somewhat justified malice toward the North. Prior to Bierce's arrival, a Union cavalry brigade, under the command of Major General James Wilson, burned down most of the town, including military targets, local businesses, some homes, and the shipyard. Adding insult to injury, Wilson's boys rounded up hundreds of horses and mules, shot them dead, and left them to rot in the Alabama sun. 

Suffice to say, Bierce didn't much enjoy his time in Selma, finding as much scorn and hate sent his way as empathy with Selma's residents. Two marshals, found with their throats cut in the street, marked just the beginning of trouble in the area. The constant danger was such that Bierce and his superior, Captain Sherburne Eaton, would say something memorable to each other every night when they parted in case one was killed in the night. 

Thankfully, Bierce's time in postbellum Alabama had a ceiling. He received a letter from General William Hazen, whom he had served as acting topographical officer from 1863-1864, summoning Bierce to join an inspection tour of forts in the Powder River Territory. Bierce jumped at the chance with nary a second thought.

William Babcock Hazen was one of the precious few people Bierce admired and trusted, writing once that Hazen was "the best hated man I know." The general's soldierly directness and outspoken disdain for political BS impressed the younger soldier--disdain, biographer Richard O'Connor suspects, served as the means by which Hazen could be diverted from providing his particular brand of uncensored commentary on Grant's, Sherman's, and Sheridan's postwar political campaigns. To put it bluntly,  there were fears, probably, that Hazen had some dirt on the former-military-men-cum-politicians.

General William B. Hazen (1830-1887)
Photo from the US Army Center for Military History.
Click to enlarge.

Hazen, formally appointed as inspector general of the Department of the Platte, was tasked with providing reports on the state of the Mountain District, which included Forts Reno and Phil Kearny in Wyoming and C.F. Smith and Benton in Montana.

Bierce joined the Hazen expedition as a civilian cartographer, later writing of his position that "I was not a pilgrim, but an engineer attaché to an expedition through Dakota and Montana, to inspect some new military posts. My duty, as I was given to understand it, was to amuse the general and other large game, make myself as comfortable as possible without too much discomfort to others, and when in an unknown country survey and map our route for the benefit of those who might come after." A cook and teamster, as well as occasional cavalry escorts and guides, rounded out the merry band. Hazen, Bierce, and company set out from Omaha in July of 1866.

The first of many grand sights Bierce beheld--to also include Crazy Woman Flats, Clear Fork, the Black Hills and the Tongue, Platte, Little Bighorn, and Yellowstone Rivers-- was Nebraska's Courthouse Rock, a popular landmark for westward settlers. 

The unfolding journey made Bierce both apprehensive and, perhaps for the first time since the war, animated. One of the few highlights of Bierce's youth was reading about the adventures of Captain Mayne Reid, who explored "Indian Country." Of Courthouse Rock, Bierce, years later, fondly recalled the "crimson glories of the setting sun fringing its outlines, illuminating its western walls like the glow of Mammon's fires for the witches' revel in the Hartz, and flunk like banners from its crest." Longing for the pure, powerful wonder he felt when looking upon the landmark, Bierce added "I wish that anything in the heavens, on the earth, or in the waters under the earth would give me such an emotion as I experienced in the shadow of that 'great rock in a weary land.'" The western frontier impressed Bierce as a land of vast expanses, freedom incarnate. As that frontier shrank under the encroachment of westward expansion, Bierce grew ever more resentful of his fellow Americans.

In the first leg, Hazen's expedition met with little trouble as it turned north onto the Old Bozeman trail. The party did bear witness to macabre signposts, however: makeshift grave markers and bone piles, "not always those of animals," pointed the way. 

Arriving at Fort Reno on August 10, Bierce, Hazen, and company narrowly missed a string of Sioux attacks in the following days. Regardless, Hazen sallied forth with his meager band heading 67 miles northwest to Fort Phil Kearny.

Fort Phil Kearny today, a tiny fragment of the structure that stood before
Ambrose Bierce in 1866. The military abandoned the fort in 1868, turning
it over to the Cheynne, who burned down all but a corner of the wall.
Photo property of the Wyoming Room. Click to enlarge.

The Hazen expedition arrived at Fort Phil Kearny on August 27th and were "hospitably entertained" by the C.O. and other officers. Bierce missed meeting Captain William Fetterman, who fought in many of the same Civil War battles as the future author. In just a few months, Fetterman and others would meet their demise when the Lakota chief, Red Cloud, drew out the fort's soldiers into a massacre.

(Bierce wrote a disorienting tale set in the fort called "A Man with Two Lives.")

Setting out from Fort Kearny, the expedition was accompanied by a cavalry detail led by legendary mountain man and adopted Crow chief, 77-year-old Jim Beckwourth. Beckwourth served as a scout for the fort at that time.

James Pierson Beckworurth (1798-1866).
Photo from the Colorado Virtual Library.
Click to enlarge.

Deep in native country, Bierce felt constantly on edge, fearing an attack at any moment. He vividly describes the atmosphere of night on the open prairie: "...turn your back to the fire and walk a little way and you shall see the serrated summitline [sic] of snow-capped mountains, ghastly cold in the moonlight. They are in all directions; everywhere, they efface the great gold stars near the horizon, leaving the little green ones of the mid-heaven trembling viciously, as bleak as steel." In the passage above, perhaps we're seeing what could be described as the stirrings of cosmic dread, an aesthetic common to works of Weird fiction that Bierce's supernatural horror stories influenced. Appropriately, Bierce punctuates his description of that feeling of  helplessness in the face of a bleak, apathetic nature by recounting the eerie echoes of wolves howling and subsequent, nervous glances toward weapons and horses.

At that moment, General Hazen turned to Beckwourth and asked, "What would you do, Jim, if we were surrounded by Indians?" The seasoned mountain man replied, "I'd spit on that fire."

Hazen, Bierce and company arrived at Fort C.F. Smith safely, perhaps awed they made it all that way with their lives. However, there was another danger lying in wait at the fort.

As a teamster lay "dreaming of home with his long fair hair commingled with the toothsome grass," a grazing bison "half-scalped" the man, lifting him in the air by his fair locks. The teamster hollered a few choice words that "were neither wise nor sweet, but they made such a profound impression on the herd, which, arching its multitude of tails, absented itself to pastures new like an army with banners." Thankfully, this was the last hairy situation the expedition encountered.

The expedition set out from Fort C.F. Smith on its way to Fort Benton. On the way, the men swam the Yellowstone and beheld herds of elk and other wildlife more bountiful and varied than their wildest imaginings. Heading in to Benton as a "sorry-looking lot," the expedition got word it was to return to Washington via Utah, Nevada, California, and Panama--what Bierce derided as "a masterstroke of military humour." When Hazen and company passed through California, they camped on the very spot of the Donner Party's fated winter. Bierce, true to his ghoulish sensibilities, felt he must make comparisons about the meat sizzling over their campfire.

Indirectly, Bierce's time in the plains and Rocky Mountains turned him toward his career as a journalist and author. When in California, Bierce got some news. Previously, he had applied for a return to the military, expecting a captaincy. However, to his and Hazen's cantankerous astonishment, the rank offered was a mere second lieutenant. The incensed Bierce wrote back, declining the offer. Later reflecting upon this turning point in his life, Bierce supposed all turned out for the best: had he become a captain in the military, he suspected he would've eventually been killed or become a dotard.

In Sacramento, Bierce worked as a guard during the day and would pore over books from the library at night, giving himself the education he needed and desired. He would go on to write for William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, composing reams of reviews, opinion pieces, and diatribes; fail at both poetry and gold mining in the Black Hills, divorce after seeing two of his three children die before their mid-twenties, wage a personal war against the railroad, champion underdogs wherever he found them, and finally, meet a mysterious end God knows where and when--among many other mis/adventures.

Of the vibrant life and work of one of America's least appreciated and influential authors, it is a small handful of his prolific output that survives in the American mind today.

Yet without the various sources of wonder and horror in his life, we wouldn't have hidden gems like his treasure trove of biting wit and stories so far ahead of their time in their technique and delivery (not to mention their often disorienting or graphic content). 

Of Bierce's wit, much of his journalism exists in the 12 (yes, count'em, 12!) volumes of his Collected Works and more famously, his Devil's Dictionary, a collection of reworded definitions aimed at the hypocrisies of America's Gilded Age. Every reader is almost guaranteed to find something to delight and offend in equal measure. Try these on for size:

Conservative, n., A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Apologize, v.t., To lay the foundation for future offence.

Love n., A temporary insanity, curable by marriage.

And hundreds more, absolutely. 

Bierce's pen was a deadly--and often persuasive--weapon.
Picture from Edward M. Erdelac's blog. Click to enlarge.

Beyond Bierce's reams of scathing satire and skewering diatribes, his stories influenced American literature, history, and even 20th-21st Century pop culture. His stories have found their way into the original Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and recently, HBO's Masters of Horror ("The Damned Thing"). A handful of short films have also been based on Bierce's stories.

Considering the tall tales, war stories, and supernatural horror and Weird fiction he produced, Ambrose Gwinnett Beirce's own tale came to a probably tragic and fittingly enigmatic end. In 1913, at age 71, he left for Mexico. His exact motives, as stated in letters, were vague. Some speculated he wanted to cover Pancho Villa's revolution; others claimed he wanted to fight in it, desiring death on the battlefield--on his own terms. Still others speculate that Mr. Bierce is still with us, having discovered the fabled Fountain of Youth. The Paris Review presents an interesting variety of theories on the author's fate, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, of course.

The mystery of Ambrose Bierce even made its way onto the silver screen. The 1989 film, Old Gringo, based on Carlos Fuentes' novel of the same name, featured Gregory Peck as Bierce, providing dramatic speculation on the author's fate.

Bierce in his later years. Picture from Time. 
Click to enlarge.

Bierce's final correspondence took the form of a letter to his niece dated December 26, 1913. He appeared to have regained his former vigor, writing "Civilization be dinged! -- It is the mountains and desert for me." His fate remains one of the enduring mysteries in American history. Perhaps 'the wickedest man in San Francisco' proved too much for this weary old world. One could easily imagine him living well past 100 purely out of spite.

The Sheridan County Fulmer Library has the following books by or about Ambrose Bierce:

Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company, by Roy Morris Jr.

Ambrose Bierce's Civil War by William McCann

The Devil's Dictionary

The Sardonic Humour of Ambrose Bierce, edited by George Barkin