Guide to the Harry Leon Wilson Papers, ca. 1879-1939

Processed by The Bancroft Library staff, machine-readable finding aid created by Hernán Cortés
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The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.


Arts and Humanities --Literature History --History, California Geographical (By Place) --California

Guide to the Harry Leon Wilson Papers, [ca. 1879-1939]

Collection number: BANC MSS 71/17 c

The Bancroft Library

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, California

Contact Information:

Processed by:
The Bancroft Library staff
Date Completed:
ca. 1971
Encoded by:
Hernán Cortés
© 1997 The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.

Collection Summary

Collection Title: Harry Leon Wilson Papers,
Date (inclusive): [ca. 1879-1939]
Collection Number: BANC MSS 71/17 c
Creator: Wilson, Harry Leon, 1867-1939
Extent: Number of containers: 14 boxes, and 1 oversize folder
Repository: The Bancroft Library
Berkeley, California 94720-6000
Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
Abstract: Includes correspondence; materials re his work for Hubert Howe Bancroft; manuscripts of short stories, articles, novels and plays; notes; scenarios for some of his novels; clippings; photographs; papers relating to property in Mexico and to the settlement of his estate.

Also included: correspondence and papers of his children, Leon and Charis, relating mainly to the settlement of their father's estate.
Languages Represented: English

Information for Researchers


Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item], Harry Leon Wilson papers, BANC MSS 71/17 c, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Material Catalogued Separately

  • Photographs transferred to the Pictorial Collections of The Bancroft Library (Album classified as BANC PIC 1971.023--ALB; Stage settings and scenes for Harry Leon Wilson's Bohemian Grove play, entitled Life, classified as BANC PIC 1971.024.1-9--PIC)

Scope and Content

Born in Oregon, Illinois on May 1, 1867, Harry Leon Wilson, the famed American humorist and author, grew up in the small town where his father owned a newspaper, and at an early age learned to set type. He quit school when he was sixteen, having studied shorthand and acquired secretarial skills. In November 1884, Wilson served as stenographer first in the Omaha offices of the Union Pacific Railroad, and a year later in Denver. This position he left in December 1885 to become secretary to Edwin Fowler of the Bancroft History Company, working for over a year in Colorado, collecting reminiscences of pioneer settlers and drumming up subscriptions for the Bancroft histories.
During this period, Wilson wrote "The Elusive Dollar Bill", a story based on his attempts to obtain a dollar bill for a silver piece in Denver, which was accepted in December 1886 by Puck, one of the foremost humor magazines in America.
It was at this time, too, that Wilson first met a young girl named Wilbertine Nesselrode Teters whom he was to marry in 1899.
Wilson, still in the employ of the Bancroft Company, arrived in California in the early summer of 1887 to work on The Builders of the Commonwealth in San Francisco and later in Los Angeles.
By July of 1889, Wilson returned to Omaha, again as secretary to a Union Pacific Railroad official, Chief Engineer Virgil G. Brogue. In his spare time he wrote for Puck, assiduously studying the magazine's contents for style, especially the work of its prominent editor, Henry Cuyler Bunner, who, in 1892, offered him a position as assistant editor in New York. Wilson's duties consisted in selecting jokes and writing stories and editorials, under his own name as well as under pseudonyms or anonymously, until the death of Bunner, when he became the editor. Here he published his first collection of short stories, entitled Zigzag Tales in 1894.
However, his longing to leave New York and move to the West, led him to write his first novel, The Spenders. The two thousand dollar advance on the book enabled him to quit his job, marry Rose O'Neill who had illustrated it, and move to her sprawling fifteen room house, Bonniebrook, in the Ozarks, where he wrote his next three books. He traveled, however, to Colorado and to Salt Lake City to research his Lions of the Lord (1903), described as the first legitimate use of the Mormon adventure in fiction. It was followed by his controversial novel The Seeker (1904), and a nostalgic humorous evocation of a little midwestern town, The Boss of Little Arcady (1905).
Wilson first met Booth Tarkington in 1904. Both families sailed for Capri in September 1905, thus beginning the long association between the two writers. The draft of the first of many plays, The Man From Home, was completed in Paris in 1906. While in Europe, Wilson separated from Rose O'Neill, and published an unsuccessful novel, Ewing's Lady (1907).
Upon Wilson's return to America, he settled in California in the Carmel area. Here he met Helen Cooke whom he married in 1912, and by whom he had two children, Harry Leon Jr., and Helen Charis. Here he remained, with the exception of a visit to the South Seas in 1923, and a few years spent in Portland, Oregon after his separation from Helen. These were productive years, with short stories and serials appearing in the Saturday Evening Post from 1912, and many novels, beginning with Bunker Bean in 1913, and Ruggles of Red Gap in 1915. An offshoot of the Ruggles book were the stories centered around Mrs. Lysander John Pettengill, some of which were assembled and published under the title of Ma Pettengill in 1919, and were to continue to appear in the Post throughout his lifetime.
A stint in Hollywood provided the background for Merton of the Movies, which came out in 1922. While in Oregon, he wrote Lone Tree.
Upon his return to Carmel in 1929, he led a more or less solitary life. An automobile accident in June 1932 in Monterey affected his eyesight and sometimes his memory, and his last years were plagued by ill health. He continued to write, however. His last work, When in the Course, was refused by the Post. He continued to rework it until his death, and it was published posthumously by his children. He died quietly in his sleep in Carmel, on June 29, 1939.
His papers were a gift to the Library, August-December, 1970, from his children, Leon and Charis Wilson. The correspondence reflects his association with other authors, particularly Booth Tarkington. Also included in the collection are manuscripts and tear sheets of his articles and short stories; manuscripts of two of his novels, and of his plays; scenarios for dramatizations of some of his works; notes; clippings; some materials relating to his association with H. H. Bancroft; documents concerning the settlement of his estate; and photographs. There is also one box of papers of Leon and Charis Wilson, mainly relating to the settlement of their father's estate. Some printed items, including inscribed copies of The Boss of Little Arcady, Bunker Bean, Lone Tree and the Zigzag Tales, have been removed for separate cataloging. Many photographs have also been removed to the Portrait Collection.

Key to Arrangement

Box 1

Letters written by Wilson, 1879-1938, arranged chronologically.

Boxes 2-4

Letters to Wilson, arranged alphabetically by author or organization.

Additional Note

A partial list of correspondents follows the Key to Arrangement. Unlisted letters are arranged alphabetically in miscellanies.
Box 5

Correspondence and papers of Leon and Charis Wilson, mainly relating to the settlement of their father's estate. Included are outgoing letters of Charis Wilson, 1938-1950; outgoing letters of Leon Wilson, 1940-1954; letters received by them; correspondence and papers relating to Wilson vs. Metz, 1938-1950; correspondence and papers relating to property of Francis H. Wilson, 1911-1954; and notes by Leon and Charis Wilson relating to their father.

Box 6

Manuscripts and/or tear sheets of articles and short stories by Harry Leon Wilson, arranged alphabetically by title:




Adventures in Geography


An Amateur Santa Claus


The Artistic Temperament


Author of "Ruggles" Interviews Himself


Be Yourself


The Blessed Miracle of Celestine


The Bogie Men of Mulberry Bend




Cousin Egbert Laissez Faires


Dinner Is Now Served


Does Character Drawing or Plot Count More in Fiction?


Editorials for Puck


The Evils of Smoking


A Fabulous Fable


The Fate of a Christmas Doll




Flora and Fauna


Frowzy Soars and Flops


Gentle Annie


The Green Land


A Harrowing Dedication




Here's How!


An Interview--or Something


Ma Pettengill Arbitrates


Ma Pettengill Mixes


The Major's Lapse


Money, Money, Money!




My Country Right and Wrong


Naughty Boys!


Poor Old Euclid


The Prince Orlando


"The Professor's Love Story"


The Realists


The Resurrection of Little Pete


The Sage Hen's Samson


"Snake Taming"


Some Merits and Defects of the American Novel


Somebody's Grandmother




Sunny Crime Land


The Two Bad Men


Untitled manuscripts and fragments


Clippings from Puck

Box 7

The Boss of Little Arcady - holograph manuscript

Box 8

When in the Course - revised typescript

Box 9

Manuscripts of plays, some in collaboration with Booth Tarkington


The Antiquity Shop - alternate title: Tweedles (with Booth Tarkington)


George Washington Silver - final title: Up from Nowhere (with Booth Tarkington)


The Gibson Upright (with Booth Tarkington)


A Stranger from Stratford


Youth Will Be Served


Scenarios and dramatizations of works by Wilson


Bunker Bean, adapted by Lee Wilson Dodd


Ma Pettengill, adapted by Lilian Saunders


Merton of the Movies. (Lacks Act I)


Ruggles of Red Gap, adapted by Ralph Herz; another, by Harrison Rhodes and Mable Auldyn; another, mimeographed 1956?

Boxes 10-12

Unsorted notes - scraps of dialog, phrases, story plots, etc.

Box 13

Materials relating to H. L. Wilson's work for H. H. Bancroft, including revised typescripts of articles and dictations


The History and Study of History


The Historical Works of H. H. Bancroft (dictation of Mr. B. B. Barney)


Dictation of Judge D. M. Adams


Southern California


Biography of Judge R. M. Widney


Scrapbook re Merton of the Movies


Doubleday, Page & Co. - Memoranda of agreements with H. L. Wilson, 1904-1921


Papers relating to Harry Leon Wilson's property in the Hacienda de Palmito de Verde, Mexico. Include book of photographs; deed, 1917 (in Spanish and an English translation).


Documents relating to the settlement of the estate of Harry Leon Wilson, 1939-1942. Include copy of will made in 1929.


Miscellaneous snapshots of Capri, Italy and Africa, Nova Scotia, Oregon, Illinois; family portraits; unidentified material. Transferred to Picture Collection.

Box 14

Clippings, including reviews of Wilson's books, clippings about him, etc.


Accounts, 1898-1937


Bohemian Club


Calling cards


Compañía Minera Nuevo Mexico stock certificates, 1925


Membership cards and passes


Papers re trip to Orient, 1923


Pedigrees for dogs


Poems, not by Wilson


Publicity or materials re Wilson's books

oversize-portfolio Oversize portfolio

Blowups used in the Bancroft Library exhibit on Wilson (Booth Tarkington drawing, Booth Tarkington letter, cover of Ruggles)

Wilson Family Correspondence

Partial list of correspondents - Harry Leon Wilson


Adams, Andy, 1859-1935


Letter, Sept. 26, 1903.


Adams, Franklin Pierce, 1881-


Letter, Nov. 4, n.y., with clippings. Addressed to Mr. Booth.


Aug, Edna


5 letters, 1935-1937.


Beer, Thomas, 1849-1940


3 letters, 1922-1923.


Berkowitz, Walter J., 1892-


Letter, Nov. 25, 1936.


Blythe, Samuel George, 1868-


4 letters, 1917-1929.


Bobbs-Merrill Company


Letter, Dec. 23, 1904, by Ralph T. Hale.


Bouton, Stephen Miles, 1876-


Letter, June 13, 1933.


Bradford, George F.


Letter, Aug. 15, 1931, with annotation by Wilson.


Bucher, William Henry, 1874-1934


Letter, Mar. 29, 1933, addressed to Zilpha Riley.


Burton, Richard Eugene, 1861-


Letter, Sept. 16, [1935].


Clemens, Cyril, 1902-


2 letters, 1935-1938.


Clemens, Samuel Langhorn, 1835-1910


2 letters, 1902, re H. L. Wilson's The Spenders.


Connelly, Laurel Louise (Fletcher) Tarkington (Mrs. Willard Connelly)


2 letters, 1938. (The first Mrs. Booth Tarkington)


Croy, Homer, 1883-


2 letters, [1934].


Curran, Henry Hastings, 1877-


Letter, Mar. 13, [1937].


Curtis, Wardon Allan, 1867-1940


Letter, July 16, 1899, re Puck.


Curtis Brown, Ltd.


Letter, July 16, 1915, re British edition of Ruggles of Red Gap.


Dale, Mary


Letter, June 1, n.y., re H. L. Wilson, his first marriage and Rose O'Neill. Not addressed to H. L. Wilson.


Darrow, Whitney, 1881-

see Players


Doubleday, Russell, 1872-

see Doubleday, Doran and Company


Doubleday, Doran and Company


2 letters, 1904-1935. 1935 letter written by Russell Doubleday.


Duke, W. Dean, d. 1937


8 letters, 1915-1935. Longtime friend and cattle rancher, source of story material for H. L. Wilson. Also included, promissory note, Feb. 23, 1929 and 2 letters from his wife, Dita, 1936-1937.


Field, Walter Taylor, 1861-


Letter, July 16, 1938.


Fink, Albert


Letter, Mar. 7, 1919.


Ford, Hugh


Letter, June 23, 1935.


Ford, James Lauren, 1854-1928


Letter, n.d.


Furnas, Clifford Cook, 1900-


3 letters, 1937.


Garland, Hamlin, 1860-1940


Letter, Sept. 8, 1904, re H. L. Wilson's The Seeker.


Gaylord, Harriet


Letter, Dec. 30, n.y.


Gibson, William C.


4 letters, 1886-1905. 1886 letter written while editor of Puck.


Gregory, Warren Fenno, 1863-1936

see Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Company


Hale, Ralph Tracy, 1880-

see Bobbs-Merrill Company


Hereford, Frances (Reynolds) (Mrs. William Richard Hereford)


Letter, Jan. 7, 1930.


Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920


2 letters, 1902-1918.


Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899


Letter, Feb. 18, 1893.


Kinsey, H. C.


8 letters, 1930-1939. Agent and publisher.

See also 2 letters, 1940, to Leon Wilson in Box 5.


Klyce, Scudder


Letter, Aug. 30, 1923.


Knapp, Clarence Hollister, 1879-


Letter, May 26, 1934, with typescript of two of his ballads.


Knutsford, Sydney Holland, Viscount, 1855-


Letter, Feb. 14, 1929.


La Shelle, Kirke, 1862-1905


Letter, Dec. 1, 1903.


London, Jack, 1876-1916


Letter, Oct. 29, 1912.


Long, Ray, 1878-1935


Letter, n.d. Transcript, by Zilpha Riley.


Lorimer, George Horace, 1868-1937


Letter, n.d. Incomplete.


Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Company, Boston


3 letters, 1904-1905, by W. F. Gregory. Publishers of The Boss of Little Arcady.


McIntyre, Oscar Odd, 1884-


3 letters, 1935 and n.d.


Matthews, James Brander, 1852-1929


Letter, July 13, 1893.


Mencken, Henry Louis, 1880-1956


26 letters, 1911-1937, re Dreiser, Conrad and other writers, and re his editorship and association with Smart Set.

See also 2 letters, 1939-1942, to Leon Wilson in Box 5.


Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corporation


Letter, June 3, 1935, by Harry Rapf, enclosing copy of the studio's synopsis of "Ma Pettengill".


Milburn, George, 1906-1966


4 letters, 1934-1935. Letters, Apr. 30 and June 15, 1935 are incomplete.


Miller, Agnes May (Wilson), 1854-1944 (Mrs. Charles L. Miller)


22 letters, 1914-1939. H. L. Wilson's sister. Letter, Oct. 6, 1938, is incomplete.

See also letters to Charis & Leon Wilson in Box 5.


Moll, Grace (Mrs. Carl Moll)


6 letters, 1938-1939. Hospital nurse, source of hospital details in H. L. Wilson's Lone Tree.


Newell, Robert C.


Letter, Feb. 26, 1924.


O'Neill, Callista, d. 1946


Letter, Dec. 8, 1937, to Louis Tarkington, re Rose O'Neill.

See also 3 letters to Charis and Leon Wilson in Box 5.


O'Neill, Rose Cecil, 1874-1944


9 letters, 1935-1938. 1921 exhibit catalog and a sketchbook also included.

See also 3 letters to Charis and Leon Wilson in Box 5.


Parkhill, Forbes, 1892-


Letter, Dec. 9, 1937.


Pinkerton, Kathrene (Gedney) (Mrs. Robert E. Pinkerton)


10 letters, 1938-1939.


Pinkerton, Robert E, 1882-


2 letters, 1938-1939.




Letter, May 18, 1938, by Whitney Darrow. With this, card admitting Wilson to the Club for two weeks, Oct. 31, 1904.

See also 2 letters to Charis Wilson, 1938, in Box 5.


Quinn, John, 1870-1924


Letter, Feb. 4, 1919, to Otto Carmichael.


Riley, Zilpha, 1893- (Mrs. Erven Riley)


4 letters, 1931-1939.

See also letters to Charis and Leon Wilson in Box 5.


Roberts, Kenneth Lewis, 1885-


Postcard, Mar. 12, 1920 and letter, n.d.


Roosevelt, Theodore, Pres. U.S., 1858-1919


3 letters, 1895-1902. 1895 letters, while President, New York City Police Department; 1902 letter, while President of the United States.


Runyon, Damon, 1884-


Letter, Oct. 31, 1933.


Sabin, Edwin Legrand, 1870-


2 letters, 1937.


Saturday Evening Post


4 letters, 1937, by Wesley Winans Stout.


Smith, Irving G.


3 letters, 1916-1924, re Tahiti


Sothern, Edward Hugh, 1859-


Letter, July 18, 1916.


Sothern, Julia (Marlowe) (Mrs. Edward Hugh Sothern)


Letter, July 18, 1916.


Stevens, James Floyd, 1892-


7 letters, 1926-1931.

See also letter to George Kummer in Box 5.


Stout, Wesley Winans, 1890-

See Saturday Evening Post


Street, Julian, 1879-


11 letters, 1908-1939.


Strunk, William, 1869-


Postcard, [June 11, 1913]. Evidently one of several cards.


Sullivan, Frank, 1892-


3 letters, 1932-1937.


Tarkington, Booth, 1869-1946


115 letters, 1905-1939. Nov. 30, 1929 letter written for him by his wife, Susannah (Robinson) Tarkington. Three drawings by Tarkington, ca. 1906-1907, and undated account also included.

See also letters to Charis and Leon Wilson in Box 5.


Taylor, Bert Leston, 1866-


Letter, Nov. 30, 1904.


Treadwell, Sophie


Letter, May 14, 1935.


Tyler, George Crouse, 1867-


5 letters, 1923-1935.


Untermeyer, Louis, 1885-


Letter, Jan. 31, 1915.


Vaughan, George, 1873-


Letter, Dec. 10, 1937.


Weeks, Edward Augustus, 1898-


Letter, May 27, 1935.


Welch, Charles Buckley, 1883-


3 letters, 1929-1939.


Wells, Herbert George, 1866-1946


3 letters, 1904?-1913.


Wiley, Hugh, 1884-


4 letters, 1921-1922. Signed "Wildcat".


Wilson, Adeline Sheldon (Kidder), 1832-1914 (Mrs. Samuel Wilson)


Letter, Apr. 25, [1898]. H. L. Wilson's mother. Xerox copy of letter to her daughter, Agnes May (Wilson) Miller.


Wilson, J. C.


4 letters, 1926, re mining in Tonichi, Sonora, Mexico. Copies.


Wilson, Leon


Letter, n.d. His son.

See also letters written by Leon Wilson in Box 5.


Wilson, Leonard, 1869-


Letter, June 15, 1917.


Wilson, Lester Sheldon, 1856-1944


11 letters, 1907-1938. Brother of H. L. Wilson.


Wright, Ernest Hunter, 1882-


Letter, Nov. 6, 1936.

List of correspondents - Charis and Leon Wilson


Bennett, Raine


Letter, Mar. 5, 1953, re Carmel and H. L. Wilson.


Cooke, Grace (MacGowan), 1863-1944


3 letters, 1940, re revision of When in the Course.


Corle, Edwin, 1906-1956


Letter, Aug. 10, 1939


Curtis Publishing Company


Letter, May 23, 1938, by Walter C. Turner, re payments made by the Company to H. L. Wilson from 1925 to 1934.


Kinsey, H. C.


2 letters, 1940, re posthumous publication of When in the Course.


McCanse, Ralph Alan


3 letters, 1954, re his proposed biography of Rose O'Neill.


Mencken, Henry Louis, 1880-1956


2 letters, 1939-1942.


Mexico. Consulado, San Francisco


Letter, Apr. 16, 1938, by Héctor M. Escalona, re title to land in Mexico belonging to H. W. Wilson.


Miller, Agnes May (Wilson), 1854-1944


2 letters, 1939-1940. 1940 letter contains information re H. L. Wilson.


O'Neill, Callista, d. 1946


3 letters, 1939 and n.d., concerning the Frances Wilson property in Missouri.


O'Neill, Lottie


4 letters, 1947, relating to the Frances Wilson property and to Rose O'Neill and H. L. Wilson.


O'Neill, Paul E., 1900-


5 letters, 1946-1947, re the family and the Frances Wilson property. Nephew of Callista and Rose O'Neill.


O'Neill, Rose Cecil, 1874-1944


3 letters, 1938-1939. Letter, Apr. 13, 1938, includes snapshots of Rose O'Neill. Also included, photograph of Little Arcady, a cottage in Mountain View, New Jersey.




2 letters, 1938, by Whitney Darrow. With this, copy of the Players' Bulletin, Nov. 1, 1939, containing obituary for H. L. Wilson.


Riley, Zilpha, 1893- (Mrs. Erven Riley)


8 letters, 1941-1961. Contains information concerning H. L. Wilson. Enclosure to letter to George Kummer, May 13, 1957, transcripts of letters from Wilson to Mrs. Riley.


Stevens, James Floyd, 1892-


Letter, [1959]. Transcript of letter to George Kummer, re H. L. Wilson; presumably sent to Leon Wilson.


Street, Marguerite (Skibeness) (Mrs. Julian Street)


2 letters, 1950-1958. Contain copies of H. L. Wilson's letters to Julian Street.


Tarkington, Booth, 1869-1946


11 letters, 1936-1944. Letter, June 30, 1939, is a transcript.


U.S. Consulate, Mazatlán, Mexico


3 letters, 1938, by Rufus H. Lane, Jr., re H. L. Wilson's title to property in the Hacienda del Palmito de Verde.


U.S. Consulate, Nogales, Mexico


2 letters, 1938, by Thomas M. Powell, re H. L. Wilson's stock in the Compaqia Minera Nuevo Mixico.


Walker, Franklin Dickerson, 1900-


Letter, Aug. 2, 1955.


Wilson, Gertrude


Letter, May 30, 1947, re O'Neill and Wilson families.


Woodress, James Leslie, 1916-


Letter, July 9, 1954.