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Ambrose Bierce, The Disappearing Ohio Author

Updated on December 7, 2014

Last Known Address

18 Logan Circle (right hand entrance); Washington DC. Where did the famous author go?
18 Logan Circle (right hand entrance); Washington DC. Where did the famous author go? | Source

Nothing Matters

- The motto of Ambrose Bierce, nicknamed "Bitter Bierce"

18 Logan Circle

A marker18 Logan Circle, Washington DC -
18 Logan Circle Northwest, Washington, D.C., DC 20005, USA
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Who Was Ambrose Bierce?

Ambrose Bierce is an author from Ohio and Indiana that is famous among his fan group, but known among the rest of the public primarily for only one or two of his many works. Those unacquainted with the Bierce bibliography are often surprised at its range and magnitude. Many people have nveer heard of him and many more know only of one of his works: The Devil's Dictionary. Two questions readers that know lttle about the writer are 1) What did he write? and 2) How did he spend his life?

Born in Meigs County, Ohio in1842, the last trace of Ambrose Bierce was seen in a letter he posted on Boxing Day in 1913. Having fought in the Union Army and survived in the American Civil War, Bierce developed a long and full career as writer and editor, journalist and satirist. His work even ran to fantasy, horror, and science fiction, although few other than his most dedicated fans are aware of his full bibliography.

In the mysterious month of Halloween's October at the age of 71, Bierce announced to friends that he was going on a tour of the old Civil War battlefields of his youth. He set off from his last known address in Washington DC (1899 - 1913), toured Southern battlefields, but then took a left turn and entered Mexico.

No one knows why he did this, for he vanished there. A Mexican revolution was afoot at the time and investigations into his disappearance came up empty. Some sources state that Bierce had grown unhappy with life in the United States, choosing the excitement of life in Mexico during an uprising. These sources assert that he left DC just before WWI in order to move into Mexico and fight with Pancho Villa, rather than to tour old battlefields in the US. Some say that he was an "observer" of Villa, probably much like an embedded journalist with armed forces during wartie is today.

Interestingly, Bierce had written a series of short stories about missing persons. Perhaps he was acting out another one.

Did Ambrose Bierce Know James Reavis, The Baron of Arizona?

Both Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914 [?]) and James Reavis (1843 - 1914) were hired by William Randolph Hearst to write for the San Francisco Examiner. They apparently worked at the newspaper during some of the same years circa 1887 - 1899 in San Francisco.

Bierce wrote against the major railroads of era at the SF Examiner and went to Washington to work against their attempts at avoiding repayment of government loans. At the same time, these same railroads were helping to fund James Reavis's false land claims, perhaps with money from these selfsame loans. Bierce's work was successful.

Considering that the men likely knew each other, did Bierce know that Revis was committing an elaborate fraud in his land claims on much of the Arizona Territory? Did he know that Raevis was the uncredited writer of columns supporting those land claims in the San Francisco Examiner? If he knew either or both facts, then his life becomes even more interesting to examine. After their years at the SF newspaper, did these men ever see each other again?

See: The Baron of Arizona.

Another Interesting Relationship

Near the end of his life, at a camp on the Russian River in California in 1910, Ambrose Bierce met the much younger writer Jack London and the two proceded to argue. London had also worked for William Randolph Hearst. The two men argued and drank until both became drunk and fell asleep in the grass. Reference: A Blackout to Remember.

Ambrose Bierce Birthplace In Southern Ohio

A markerHorse Cave Creek -
Horse Cave Creek, Chester, OH 45771, USA
get directions

There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don’t know.

— Ambrose Bierce

Biography and Historical Records

Speculists may wonder if he was simply killed in the chaos of revolution in a dangerous land he decided to visit. Others wonder if he was not acting as a secret agent in Mexico for our new US President, Woodrow Wilson. Several theories exist about the disppearance of a writer still much respected in the 21st Century.

Did Ambrose Bierce wander off in senility, a complication of head wounds received in wartime? Could he have committed suicide?

An extensive history of Bierce exists in Ohio among historical societies, geneaologists, and amateur historians; despite the fact that he spent only four years in Meigs County. He is an object of fascination in the Buckeye State to those who appreciate his work. Yet, the large amounts of research into his life and death bring forward additional questions about his disappearance, rather than answers.

Bierce's Second Homes

show route and directions
A markerA farm in Walnut Creek, Wayne Township Indiana -
Walnut Creek, Wayne, IN 46580, USA
get directions

B marker518 West Franklin Street, Elkhart, Indiana 46516 -
518 West Franklin Street, Elkhart, IN 46516, USA
get directions

KMI was founded in 1845 by Colonel Robert Thomas Pitcairn Allen and was closed in 1971, taken over by the Kentucky Country Day School.
KMI was founded in 1845 by Colonel Robert Thomas Pitcairn Allen and was closed in 1971, taken over by the Kentucky Country Day School. | Source

Indiana Homes

Steve Block is the current owner of the land near Warsaw, Indiana where Ambrose Bierce lived as a child and youth. Block would like the property to placed on the National Register of Historic Places. He is featured at The Ambrose Bierce Site.

An individual owner of the Elkhardt IN home listed it for sale in 2003.

A Life In Books

Bierce's parents moved their family from Horse Cave Creek, Ohio to Indiana and bore 13 children, of which Ambrose was Number Ten. Rather ignored in the crowd, this child found a life for himself in enjoying his father's amassing book collection. It was from here that he grew a love of reading and writing. At age 15, he left home to become a printing apprentice or "printer's devil", as it was called at the time in 1857 pre-Civil War days. His work of one year was at an abolitionist newspaper. Later, he joined the Union Army to fight in the war.

A controversy existed for some time in Ohio History circles. One amateur historian was determined to prove that Ambrose Bierce was born in Akron, Ohio - far to the north of Meigs County. What she eventually found was a stack of receipts and other artifacts proving his birth and life in and around Horse Cave Creek. A historical marker was planted there in his honor (see end of article for image), but the researcher in question did not attend the unveiling ceremony. Other researchers found that fact that Bierce lived with his father's brother in Akron for a short period. From there he attended school in Kentucky at Kentucky Military Institute for one year, leaving again at age 17 or 18 to wander the country.

Perhaps he left Washington DC at age 71, because he was still a wanderer by nature.

Ambrose Bierce's Civil War

Ambrose Bierce's Civil War
Ambrose Bierce's Civil War

This book is filled with astounding and sometimes gorey true stories of the Civil War, all experienced by th author.


Rating Recommendation

5 stars for Ambrose Bierce's Civil War

Civil War Experiences

Ambrose Bierce joined the Ninth Indiana Infantry Regiment for four years and fought throughout hs south as he made maps of the lands. Later, he put his experiences into book form as Tales of Soldiers and Civilians in 1891. It was republished as Ambrose Bierce's Civil War in 1996, 105 years later and still popular.

The stories within his war book are sometimes described by reviewers as a joining of Edgar Alan Poe chills and O. Henry twists.

An Occurrence At Owl Creek may be the most well known story from this book, filmed later as a short and winning the Short Subject award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1962. What I Saw at Shiloh from the book speaks to all the horrors of war - shattered bodies, brains slipping from opened heads, dismembered limbs.

Some of the battles Bierce saw, according to his stories, included:

  • Western Virginia Campaign - 1861
  • Battle of Phillipi WV
  • Battle of Rich Mountain
  • Battle of Corrick's Ford
  • Battle of Kessler's Cross Lanes
  • Battle of Carnifex Ferry
  • Battle of Cheat Mountain
  • Battle of Greenbrier River
  • Battle of Shiloh
  • Battle of Kennesaw Mountain - It was here that Bierce suffered a bullet wound to the head.
  • Picketts’s Mill
  • Chickamunga
  • Resaca

Ambrose suffered a head wound in battle that caused dizziness and blackouts that ruled out his continuing to serve the Union Army after 1865. This is the reason for thoughts that Bierce may have disappeared, because of a blackout in 1914, just as sone of our senior citizens disappear today. He likely would have liked to have left by a more exciting exit, however.

The Last Letter of Ambrose Bierce

An examination of the last letter of Bierce, from Boxing Day on December 26,1913 might yield clues to his subsequent whereabouts and demise, if the letter could be found. It may be in a private collection.

Several "Bierce sightings" were made in Mexico after his disappearance, but any or all of them might be mistaken. Some sources, particularly Alan Gullette, state that the last letter was posted from Chihuahua in Mexico.

Before the last letter was written, Bierce pulled together a large amount of his writing to produce a tribute to himself - a dozen-book set called his Collected Works. His friend Walter Neale published the set in leather bindings.

The last line of the last Bierce letter is reportedly:

As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.

The last letter is not included in The Letters of Ambrose Bierce (2011) on the Gutenberg website. However, several last letters in the autumn of 1913 to his niece Lora speak of Mexico and South America.

The Ambrose Bierce Letters Project in Cincinnati, Ohio works to gather all the correspondence extant to and from Bierce, either originals or copies. The project is under way at the University of Cincinnati Libraries. They have 240 pages of letters. UC-Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA all have additional letters and a few other facilities have smaller collections.

Bierce Sightings In Mexico

show route and directions
A markerChihauhua City -
Chihuahua, Mexico
get directions

B markerSierra Mojada -
Sierra Mojada, Coahuila, Mexico
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A grave marker was placed here for Ambrose Bierce.

C markerEl Passo Mexico -
El Paso, Coahuila, Mexico
get directions

D markerTierra Blanca Mexico -
Battle of Tierra Blanca, Mexico
get directions

Bibiliography of Ambrose Bierce

While Bierce is known by many primarily as the author of the Cynic's Word Book (The Devil's Dictionary), the author is unknown to many others. Those of his works most surprising to me are his fantasy, horror, and science fiction titles, listed in the first section below. Many of his short stories are included in anthologies available online.

For a complete listing of his individual written works and additional interesting works about Bierce, visit the Poetry Foundation at

Ambrose Bierce

Bierce with a favorite human skull. It is said that he kept one on his writing desk.
Bierce with a favorite human skull. It is said that he kept one on his writing desk. | Source

Selected Horror and Fantasy Tales

  • Ambrose Bierce: Masters of the Weird Tale by Ambrose Bierce, S.T. Joshi and Jason Eckhardt (May 28, 2013) -- New edition!
  • A Fiend's Delight by Dod Grile (pen name)
  • Cobwebs From an Empty Skull - Collection of horror, 1874.
  • Fantastic Fables (1899) - Short story collection, much like the pulp magazines to emerge in a few years: Fantastic, Weird Tales, Black Mask, Analog, and others.
  • Oil of Dog, from The Parenticide Club (1911) - Hideous! A couple runs an oil factory, but aborted babies find their way into the oil, then neighbors, then the couple themselves (in a murder-suicide).
  • Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories - Hanging is a "missing persons" tale: A peddler stops by the house of old man Baker in Iowa. Planning to spend the night, the peddler disappears. Is it a case of murder or dark forces? Seven years later, an apparition appears on a bridge near the Baker farm.
  • Terror By Night
  • The Difficulty of Crossing a Field - Filmed as a Twilight Zone episode. A man attepts to walk across a field and disappears.
  • The Haunted Valley - first short story, published in 1870.
  • The Spook House

Ambrose Bierce wrote nearly 100 short stories in all, many about the macabre.


Various columns in

  • The San Francisco News-Letter - Bierce also did some crime reporting here.
  • The Argonaut
  • The Californian
  • The Wasp
  • Cosmopolitan
  • Overland Monthly

Prattle column in

  • San Francisco Examiner

Short stories in

  • Fun magazine, England


  • A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography by Ambrose Bierce, S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (Sep 1998)
  • The Letters of Ambrose Bierce by Ambrose Bierce, Bertha Clarke Pope and George Sterling (1922); re-released under another edit by The Ohio State University Press in May 2003 as A Much Misunderstood Man: Selected Letters of Ambrose Bierce by S.T. Joshi and David E. Shultz.
  • Write It Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults


  • Black Beetles In Amber - collection
  • The Poems of Ambrose Bierce by Ambrose Bierce and M. E. Grenander (Dec 28, 1995)


  • The Cynic's Word Book, 1906 (The Devil's Dictionary)
  • The Fall of the Republic and Other Political Satires by Ambrose Bierce, David Schultz and S.T. Joshi (Jan 10, 2001)

The End of A Writer

What Happened To Ambrose Bierce?

See results

Roadside makers at some of the dwellings of Ambrose Bierce, mentioned above.

38900 State Route 7 Reedsville, OH 45772 Meigs County
38900 State Route 7 Reedsville, OH 45772 Meigs County | Source
Officially places in 1998 by the Indiana Historical Bureau, Elkhart County Historical Society, and Elkhart County Community Foundation.  ID# : 20.1998.2
Officially places in 1998 by the Indiana Historical Bureau, Elkhart County Historical Society, and Elkhart County Community Foundation. ID# : 20.1998.2 | Source


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    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      Bone chilling all the way around!

    • MJennifer profile image

      Marcy J. Miller 4 years ago from Arizona

      Oh, that gives me a great visual, Patty -- the Dos Equis dude, but for real -- the most cynical guy in the world. "I don't always have Civil War flashbacks, but when I do, I see brains sliding out of opened skulls." "I don't always go missing, but when I do, I don't come back." And ... "I don't always write a dictionary, but when I do, the devil made me do it."

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      He'd be on all the talk shows today, wouldn't he - if he'd consent to go on the shows?

    • MJennifer profile image

      Marcy J. Miller 4 years ago from Arizona

      I've had a long-time fascination with Bierce, thanks to his multi-faceted personality, cynicism, wit, and life of adventure. My copy of "The Devil's Dictionary" is dog-eared and worn. It was a treat running across this interesting overview of his life. His last line of correspondence would make for an excellent epitaph, had there been an actual grave to mark it with!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      drbj - Thanks for visiting! I also like his book on how to write - seems sarcastic and helpful at the same time.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      agapsikap - Bierce seemed miserable and seemed to hate mankind - at least, he thought we were all stupid, except for his niece Lora and her family. He probably suffered night terrors from the Civil War.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      I did not think of that, but I hope he had fun too! He was pretty miserable in life, sounds like. Fighting with Pacho Villa's troops would have ben a good ending.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 4 years ago from south Florida

      Bierce's eventual demise is as mysterious as many of his works. A very talented but somewhat strange writer. His Devil's Dictionary is one of my favorites. Thank you, Patty, for reminding me.

    • agapsikap profile image

      agapsikap 4 years ago from Philippines

      Interesting history. Though I never heard the name Ambrose Bierce before and I wasn't so sure if I have ever read any of his works. Isn't it that a person who often have nightmares and shows interest in horror stories were told to be a very lonely person inside and had a negative perspective in life. That they have a high suicidal tendency since they created a world of their own full of anxiety and pressure.

    • mylindaelliott profile image

      mylindaelliott 4 years ago from Louisiana

      Interesting man, I just hope he went missing having a great time.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 4 years ago from North America

      I think his Devil's Dictionary is mentioned often in history and literature reviews, so his name pops up at times. But horror stories he wrote are really ghastly and I just read a few for the first time recently. Bierce must have had a lot of nightmares.

    • wetnosedogs profile image

      wetnosedogs 4 years ago from Alabama

      I don't know why Bierce's name sounds familiar to me. I doubt I ever read any of his works. Somewhere along the line in history, maybe? Anyway, this is quite interesting.