ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Ambrose Bierce, the Cynic Who Disappeared

Updated on March 28, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history, and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

The famous "Last Known Address": 18 Logan Circle (right hand entrance); Washington DC. Where did the famous author go?
The famous "Last Known Address": 18 Logan Circle (right hand entrance); Washington DC. Where did the famous author go? | Source

Earth is Missing a Cynic

Ambrose Bierce of Ohio was certainly a cynic after writing a series of short stories about the bloody American Civil War. He wrote supernatural tales as well, often compared to those of Edgar Allen Poe. Considering these two facts, it may be no wonder that Bierce one day simply disappeared.

Nothing Matters

— Ambrose Bierce, nicknamed "Bitter Bierce"
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Andrew Bierce in the Union Army's 9th Indiana Regiment.Edgar Allan Poe
Andrew Bierce in the Union Army's 9th Indiana Regiment.
Andrew Bierce in the Union Army's 9th Indiana Regiment. | Source
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe | Source

During the summer of 1861, Bierce deserted from his Confederate Army unit, and joined the Union troops.

Who Was Ambrose Bierce?

The man was an author famous among his fan group, but known among the rest of the public primarily for only one or two of his many works.Most popular of these is The Devil's Dictionary, one named The Cynic’s Word Book.

People unacquainted with Bierce are often surprised at the range and magnitude of his body of work. Many have never heard of him.

Two questions from readers that know little about the writer are

  1. What did he write?
  2. How did he spend his life?

Born in Meigs County, Ohio in 1842, Ambrose Bierce's last trace was a letter he posted on Boxing Day in 1913, a year before World War I began.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Having fought in the Union Army and survived the Civil War, the cynic developed a long and full career as both writer, 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 that.

In the mysterious month of 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.

18 Logan Circle, Washington DC:
18 Logan Circle Northwest, Washington, D.C., DC 20005, USA

get directions

No one knows why the writer went to Mexico, but 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.

The supposed sources assert that he left DC specifically to move into Mexico and fight with Pancho Villa, rather than to tour old battlefields in the American South. Some say that he was an "observer" of Villa, probably much like an embedded journalist with armed forces of modern times.

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

Ambrose suffered a head wound in battle that caused dizziness and blackouts that ruled out his continuing to serve the Union Army after 1865. Perhaps he suffered a blackout in 1914.

Bierce's Getaway Path.

Logan Circle, Washington DC:
Logan Circle, Washington, DC, USA

get directions

Chickamauga Creek, Tennessee, USA

get directions

Battle of Shiloh:
Shiloh National Military Park, 1055 Pittsburg Landing Rd, Shiloh, TN 38376, USA

get directions


get directions

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

Both Ambrose Bierce (1842 - 1914 [alleged]) 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?

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? Did he suffer from PTSD?

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.

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 farm in Walnut Creek, Wayne Township Indiana:
Walnut Creek, Wayne, IN 46580, USA

get directions

518 West Franklin Street, Elkhart, Indiana 46516:
518 West Franklin Street, Elkhart, IN 46516, USA

get directions

Marker officially placed in 1998 by the Indiana Historical Bureau, Elkhart County Historical Society, and Elkhart County Community Foundation.  ID# : 20.1998.2
Marker officially placed in 1998 by the Indiana Historical Bureau, Elkhart County Historical Society, and Elkhart County Community Foundation. ID# : 20.1998.2 | Source

Controversies in Ohio

A controversy existed for some time in Ohio History circles. One amateur historian was determined to prove that Bierce was born in Akron, 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, but the researcher did not attend the unveiling ceremony. Other researchers found 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.

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

Bierce Sightings In Mexico

Chihauhua City:
Chihuahua, Mexico

get directions

Sierra Mojada:
Sierra Mojada, Coahuila, Mexico

get directions

A grave marker was placed here for Ambrose Bierce.

El Passo Mexico:
El Paso, Coahuila, Mexico

get directions

Tierra Blanca Mexico:
Battle of Tierra Blanca, Mexico

get directions

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.

The End of A Writer

What Happened To Ambrose Bierce?

See results

Selected Horror and Fantasy Tales

Most of these titles and stories suggest horrific events, violence, and gore. They lend insight into the author's life and suggest possible causes for his disappearance.

  • Ambrose Bierce: Masters of the Weird Tale by Ambrose Bierce, S.T. Joshi and Jason Eckhardt (May 28, 2013)
  • 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. Some even appeared in Fun magazine in the UK.


  • Bibiliography of Ambrose Bierce. / Retrieved November 14, 2013.

  • Ohio History Central: Andrew G. Bierce.,_Ambrose_G. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
  • The Ambrose Bierce Project at Penn State. Retrieved November 14, 2013.

© 2013 Patty Inglish MS


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)