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Guide to the Ambrose Bierce Papers, 1872-1913
Special Collections M080  
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Ambrose Bierce Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1872-1913
    Collection number: Special Collections M080
    Creator: Bierce, Ambrose, 1842-1914?
    Extent: 2 linear ft.
    Repository: Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Access Restrictions:


    Publication Rights:

    Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.


    Purchase 1942 and 1974; gift of Stanford Library Association, 1949.

    Preferred Citation:

    [Identification of item] Ambrose Bierce Papers, M080, Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, Calif.


    Ambrose Gwinett Bierce was born in Meigs County, Ohio on June 24, 1842, the son of Marcus Aurelius and Laura Sherwood Bierce. Little is known of his childhood; he became a printer's apprentice in Kosciusko County, Indiana, before entering the Kentucky Military Institute in 1859.
    Shortly before entering the Union Army after the outbreak of the Civil War, Bierce was a laborer and waiter in Elkhart, Indiana. In the war, he served with the 9th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. Bierce progressed in rank from private to lieutenant and became the acting typographical engineer on Gen. W. B. Hazen's staff. At the battle of Kenesaw Mountain, Bierce sustained a near-fatal head wound from which it took months to recover.
    Following the war, Bierce became an aid to Treasury Department agents collecting abandoned Southern property. He joined Hazen's surveying expedition to the Far West in 1866 and stayed on in San Francisco working for the U. S. Mint.
    In San Francisco Bierce began to pursue his literary interests. In 1868, he succeeded his friend James T. Watkins as the editor of News-Letter. Bierce married Mary Ellen Day on Christmas Day, 1871, and eventually had three children, Day, Leigh, and Helen.
    From 1872-74, Bierce was in England writing for Tom Hood's Fun and James Mortimer's Figaro. He returned to San Francisco in September of 1875. He edited several magazines for the next years, including Argonaut and the Wasp; he also wrote his "Prattle" and The Dance of Death.
    Bierce became a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner in 1887 but continued to produce his own books and stories. He was sent in 1896 by the Examiner to Washington, D.C. to cover the Railroad Funding Bill controversy. He stayed on in Washington as a political reporter for many years, also publishing his own literary work.
    In late 1913, Bierce took a trip through the Southwest into Mexico where he mysteriously disappeared.


    The Ambrose Gwinett Bierce Papers consist primarily of correspondence to Bierce from 1872-1913. There are several letters by Bierce himself but of these, many are printed copies or carbons. Several of the photos in the collection have notations and inscriptions in Bierce's hand, as do many of the incoming letters. Correspondents include: Upton Sinclair, Joaquin Miller, Gertrude Atherton, H.L. Mencken, Edwin Markham, William Randolph Hearst, George Sterling, and Percival Pollard.
    The papers cover Bierce's journalistic career in England, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.; the publication of his works (see especially the letters to Bierce from his publisher Walter Neale); and commentaries on the political controversies and governmental policies of the day including the Spanish-American War, the question of annexation, and the treaty of Hawaii. The telegram correspondence to Bierce in 1896 details the Railroad Funding Bill controversy which Bierce covered in Washington, D.C. for William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. Other topics include women's suffrage and the Titanic.
    The collection also contains reminiscences and memorabilia of the Civil War, including the sketchbook Bierce kept while serving as a Union topographer with the staff of General W. B. Hazen.
    Of special note is the diary which records, (probably in his secretary's hand) Bierce's wanderings through the Southwest and into Mexico in late 1913 before his disappearance somewhere in Mexico. Several Bierce biographers have agreed that this diary was probably written by Carrie Christiansen from letters that Bierce sent her while on his journey (see note by Paul Fatout in Bierce collection file, April 1945).