The Ambrose Bierce Site

“...I consider anybody a twerp who hasn’t read the greatest American short story, which is ‘Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,’ by Ambrose Bierce. It isn’t remotely political. It is a flawless example of American genius, like ‘Sophisticated Lady’ by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove.” (Kurt Vonnegut — 2005)


The field was too small for his genius. —Gertrude Atherton

Cogito ergo cogito sum
I think; therefore, I think I am.

—Ambrose Bierce

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The Ambrose Bierce Site invites original articles, fiction, poetry, art
related to the mind and myth of Ambrose Bierce.
Email editor Don Swaim:

Ambrose Bierce


Don Swaim's exhaustive interview with S.T. Joshi, world's leading authority on Lovecraft, Bierce, sci-fi, horror, and weird fiction in general.

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Alas and alack. Social media has prevailed. Our years-old Bravenet message board, with its annoying ads, has essentially been replaced by Facebook. If you have questions or comments about Bierce, simply join our new Bierce Facebook page. It's an open group. Just click to join. Our old message board will soon vanish -- although not as mysteriously as Bierce. It'll remain up for a while if you want to read old postings -- or even post.

Old Message Board Archive
dates to 2001

portrait by Tom Redman

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In the Arts


Kathryn Landis watercolors


Kathryn Landis
Tom Redman

  • Jack Matthews &
    Don Swaim Debate Bierce

    Listen HERE

  • St. Ambrose
  • Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
  • Mocking Bird
  • Difficulty of Crossing a Field

    Includes first book,
    A Fiend's Delight (1872)

    Gregory Peck as Bierce

    by Bierce Site contributors

    The Last Dream
    (For Ambrose Bierce)

    Poetry by Leigh Blackmore

    Occurrence at Ojinaga
    Fiction by Ron Hefner

    And As to Drink
    Fiction by K. A. di'Gaetano

    My Hunt for Ambrose Bierce
    Article by Leon Day

    Bierce is Buried Here
    Account by James Leinert

    Ohio Honors Native Son
    Report by Don Swaim

    Rob Holmes as Bierce

    Finding Bierce's Birthplace
    Article by Margaret Parker

    Bullet,Grave, Memory
    Bierce meets Billy the Kid
    Fiction by Wayne MacDonald

    Ambrose Bierce and the Joy of Outrage
    Essay by Jack Matthews

    The Poetry of Ambrose Bierce
    Essay by Jack Matthews

    Almighty God Bierce
    Two-act play by Ed Scutt

    The Last Stand
    of Ambrose Bierce

    Two-act play by Rob Foster

    Ambrose & Gertrude
    Bierce vs. Gertrude Atherton;
    One-act play by Don Swaim

    by Don Swaim

    The Joshi Q&A
    Exclusive interview with S.T. Joshi, world's leading authority on Bierce & the weird tale

    Stephen Vincent Benét, Ambrose Bierce, and Me
    Two Fabulists

    The Blasphemer Robert G. Ingersoll
    Why He Mattered to Bierce

    Ambrose & Henry
    H.L Mencken's debt to Bierce

    Edwin Markham: The Man Who Irked Bierce
    (and wrote about zombies)

    Bierce's Typewriter

    Ambrose Bierce Alley

    Bierce Assails Politicos

    Bierce on Terrorism

    Bierce on the Notion of God

    Bierce vs Jack London

    Bierce & Pancho Villa

    The Wickedest Man in
    San Francisco


    Love and Kisses:
    Bierce & Oscar Wilde


    Bierce Duels with
    H.L. Mencken



    The Ambrose Bierce Site invites original articles, fiction, poetry, art
    related to the mind and myth of Ambrose Bierce.
    Email editor Don Swaim:

    PC Magazine's BEST OF THE INTERNET cites Don Swaim's Wired for Books. Nov. 20, 2007 issue

    WCBS Newsradio 88
    Appreciation Site

  • BOOK BEAT: The Podcast

  • Bucks County Writers Workshop

  • The Online Literary Magazine

  • Radio Days: A Broadcaster's Memoir

  • Steinbeck & Kaufman at Cherchez La Farm

  • Don Swaim's Interviews the World's Best Writers

  • Bucks County Sunsets
    A personal page about, yes, sunsets over Pennsylvania.

  • Fighting the Hun in W.W. I
    Pictorial Essay

  • DON'S HOUSES: Where I've Lived: click

  • Growing Up in WW2

  • High School Days

  • The Swaim in History

  • The Swaim in America

  • The Swimsuit Issue

    Don Swaim, founder of the Ambrose Bierce Site, won first prize for his short story, "Dearest Friend, Annie," which focuses on the relationship between Walt Whitman and Anne Gilchrist.

    Three others placed in the youth division. Swaim [above] is shown accepting the award under a portrait of Pearl S. Buck at the historic Buck house on April 10, 2011.

    Buck, author of The Good Earth, won the Nobel Prize for literature, and her Pennsylvania, home is a National Historic Landmark.
    Pearl S. Buck International

    “Camels and Christians accept their burdens kneeling.” —Ambrose Bierce

    Bierce as adapted from the artist Sanjin Masic of Sarajevo and used with his permission.
    More of Sanjin's art

    The weird Ambrose Bierce, Charles Fort, Fredric Brown Connection


    June 24, 1842
    "The Brief and Bitter Encounters of Ambrose Bierce" by artist Jason Novak, summer issue, Paris Review

    drawing by Jason Novak


    Latest Bierce NEWS: here

    Bierce Resources, Scholarship,
         Works Online: here

    Bierce Biography: here

    Bierce Disappearance: here

    Civil War Bierce: here

    Literary Bierce: here

    Bierce in the Arts: here

    Bierce in Film: here

    WHY NOT?

    think about it


    June 24, 1842 to – ?

    by Leon Day

    Once upon a time, there was a brave soldier. His specialty was going in front of the Union armies with small units and making maps and sketches of the tricky spots on the proposed route, under fire. But he is not famous for this.

    Then he went West, exploring, and made the first maps of the Black Hills that were useful. He taught himself to write by reading the classics at a boring job at the San Francisco Mint, and broke into newspaper work. He became the top columnist in San Francisco in a time when the writer stood behind his work with a gun, not a lawyer. He married rich, went to England, learned a lot from the writers there, and taught some tricks himself. But this is just a footnote.

    He wrote the first Civil War fiction that included the terror and put the glory in its place. It was so good that a whole generation of professional officers became abject fans. And every time the press fomented a war fever, he wrote on military subjects with a stark clarity that never forgot that the final result would be flowing blood and shattered bone. But this is poorly remembered.

    He wrote fine poetry, often to a deadline, and trained a generation of poets -- became a sort of literary cult leader. But this is a matter for English professors.

    And he was funny politically, too, always opposed to demagogy and privilege alike, showing no faith that the common man could command politics, or the rich man transcend his greed. Split the difference between George Orwell and Herbert Spencer and you might approach the ideas of this writer who reached millions through the Hearst press. But this interests very few.

    Thus, Ambrose Bierce is best remembered today because nobody knows what happened to him. He went into the whirlpool of the Mexican Revolution in December 1913, and never popped up. He was good at writing spooky stories, and four or five have been hitched to his star.

    San Francisco Bulletin, March 24, 1920

    Leon Day
    About Leon Day

    This amateur historian sought to locate Bierce's remains in the Mexican desert -- and published his findings on The Ambrose Bierce Site. Unfortunately, he came up short. The colorful, eccentric Day -- whose coffee cup was often filled with more than coffee -- died in 2011 without proving his theory.

    His obituary in the Austin, Texas, Statesman HERE

    Read Day's well thought-out, six-part exposition on Bierce's disappearance HERE

    click to read



    Bierce & the Thanksgiving Tradition
    "The Glutton," painting by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
    It's not certain what Ambrose Bierce felt about this holiday, since he would not have known to whom or what to give thanks. But he would have recognized it as a day of eating. He defined "eat" this way: "To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication [chewing], humectation [moistening], and deglutition [swallowing]."


    The Many Deaths of Ambrose Bierce
    Forrest Gander in The Paris Review of Oct. 17, 2014, writes of the innumerable theories about Bierce's mysterious death. "According to witnesses, Bierce died over and over again, all over Mexico..." Read HERE
  • Ambrose Bierce and the David Lang Hoax
    In 1880, an Alabama farmer mysteriously disappears -- allegedly in full view of his family and neighbors. Was it a hoax? Did Ambrose Bierce base his famous story "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field" on the tale of the vanishing farmer? Read: HERE [scroll down]
  • "Collecting Ambroses"
    Unintended whimsy by
  • The Oxoxoco Bottle
    Author Gerald Kersh came up with a yarn in the 1950s about Bierce being fattened up by cannibals in Mexico. It appeared in Kersh's story collection Men Without Bones and was republished in The Saturday Evening Post. Details HERE [scroll down] .

    This new site created the University of Cincinnati's Archives and Rare Books Library, directed by Kevin Grace, focuses on fifty-nine letters sent by Bierce between 1895 and 1911 to Myles Walsh, whose sister was a protégé of Bierce. The letters have been transcribed for all to read. The site also offers a short biography, bibliography, photos, and links. Connect HERE

    Bierce's Favorite Song
    Bierce once defined a "fiddle" as: "An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse's tail on the entrails of a cat." The following violin piece was said to be Bierce's favorite song. Do you know what it is?

    **scroll to bottom of page for answer

    Superstitious ignorance and mysticism? Bierce nails it.


    Alas, he'd be a REPUBLICAN!

    The following Bierce doggerel may not be what it seems:

    Here lies the body of the Republican Party;
    Corrupt, and generally speaking, hearty.

    —Ambrose Bierce

    In Bierce's day, the Republican Party was the "good" party. It ended slavery, preserved the union, created national parks, bolstered consumer protection, and manifested reforms against vested interests that favored the rich over the poor. To his credit, Bierce fought in the Civil War on the winning side, that of the Republicans. It was the party of Lincoln and, later, both Roosevelts, after all. By the late twentieth century, Republicans and Democrats reversed their values by 180 degrees, and the concept of today's Republicans as being the "good" party is laughable.

    The majority of Americans, as Pulitizer Prize-winning columnist Timothy Egan wrote in The New York Times, oppose nearly everything the G.O.P. stands for. But that just might, if anything, be an incentive for Bierce to be one of them—although he might reconsider were he to learn, as a poll showed in 2013, that one in five Republicans believe President Obama is the anti-Christ, and that two-thirds of Republicans think people can be possessed by demons.

    Aside from the supersitious and religious ignorance tainting wide numbers of Republicans, Bierce would be considered, in current parlance, a libertarian.

    However, if his amusing cynicism can be taken seriously, he was skeptical of newness and change, including the telephone, the camera, the phonograph, modern novels, and most music—although he embraced the typewriter. He was convinced man would never fly, and might have even swallowed the tenuous notion that climate change is a hoax, as do a majority of Republicans (the "science-denial party," as Egan put it).

    Bierce opposed Prohibition and women's suffrage. A progressive he was not, although, unlike most of today's Republicans (and a smaller majority of Democrats), he would never accept the dubious notion of an unfathomable Almighty.

    After Edwin Markham's famous poem "The Man with the Hoe" was published in 1899, Bierce launched a campaign of vituperation and vilification against the mild-mannered Markham that was excessive even by Bierce's standards. Bierce was enraged by Markham's poem, which was sympathetic to the plight of the laboring class. Bierce attacked it as advocating demagoguery and anarchy, and spreading the gospel of hate known as "industrial brotherhood." Bierce, in other words, despised unions. Sound like today's Republicans?

    Would he have supported George W. Bush's ruinous invasion of Iraq, as many otherwise intelligent people did? Hard to say, but Bierce would have loved the fight. Unlike his jingoistic employer, William Randolph Hearst, Bierce's support of the Spanish-American War was muted, and he did not help to light, as he put it, "patriotism's altar fires." And, a century later, would he have embraced a disastrous, incompetent presidency like George W. Bush's that would wreck the U.S. economy for generations? Personally, I would like to think that even Bierce would have said enough's enough.

    Bierce was facile and superficial regarding politics. He preferred to outrage rather than inform. He reported on enough corruption by the early railroad interests—"the railrogues"—that he actually suggested nationalizing the rails. No one will ever know what he truly believed. Perhaps he never knew himself.

    Unfortunately, his libertarian instincts would make Bierce more likely to be a Republican than a Democrat today, even though the current Republican Party is not one sympathetic to intellectuals, academics, historians, scientists, and the artistic and literary community. Still, despite his pig-headed notions, Bierce was an equal-opportunity cynic and his moral compass was often in the right direction—even if his politics were anomalous. —DS


    Some recent Bierce magazine covers. Click HERE

    “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”
    “The covers of this book are too far apart.”

    The geography quote attributed to Ambrose Bierce has been knocking around the Internet for years. [Google shows 860,000 entries for it.] I’ve never found the origin for “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography,” nor has David E. Schultz, who along with S.T. Joshi, has created a voluminous database of Bierce’s works. Schultz told The Ambrose Bierce Site: “I’ve looked high and low through my electronic archive of Bierce’s writings (c. 4.5 million words) and have never come across this. I’ve found numerous attributions to Bierce on the Web, but believe that Paul Rodriguez [Mexican-born stand-up comedian] is probably the originator.” It’s one of those quotes that sounds like Bierce but isn’t.

    Nor do I believe Bierce ever said, "The covers of this book are too far apart." If he did, I've never found the source, nor the name of the book to which he allegedly referred. The line is often repeated as though it's a given that Bierce authored that devastating put-down, but even if he didn't it's almost too good a line not to award it to him.

    That said, I found an excellent site called QUOTE INVESTIGATOR that goes into super detail about Bierce's alleged book covers quote. Essentially, it says, the quote is second-hand by the humorist Irvin S. Cobb in 1923 — long after Bierce's death. Many others picked it up. This is the best debunking I've seen of the Bierce quote, which has also been attributed to Mark Twain and, yes, even to Jack Benny. —DS


    Don Swaim interviews S. T. Joshi, the world's leading authority
    on Ambrose Bierce -- and the weird tale.

    Stephen Vincent Benét, Ambrose Bierce, and Me

    Composite illustration by K.A. Silva pictures Don Swaim, who edits The Ambrose Bierce Site, and Ambrose Bierce in the library of William Randolph Hearst's Castle, San Simeon, California. Note the incongruity of the ornate cross behind Bierce. click to enlarge


    Drawing of Ambrose Bierce © Matthew & Eve Levine 2012.
    Limited edition prints and licensing opportunities available through D. Levine Ink

    Don Swaim's definitive article, "Ambrose & Henry," is in the spring 2011 edition of the online scholarly publication Menckeniana, all about H.L. Mencken, published by the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore. To read the actual issue go to: Menckeniana. Courtesy Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore.



    1. Bierce is NOT best known as the author of A Fiend's Delight.

    2. Bierce did NOT "establish his reputation" with A Fiend's Delight and Cobwebs from an Empty Skull.

    3. A Fiend's Delight and Cobwebs from an Empty Skull are NOT novels.

    4. Bierce did NOT work "off and on" for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. He was employed steadily by Hearst from 1887 through 1908.

    5. Bierce was NOT known for his "legendary carousing" with Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken. He is thought to have had, at the most, two personal meetings with Twain, one known (perhaps a few others) with Mencken.

    Who supplies the wrong answers at —DS



    The Ambrose Bierce Site invites original articles, fiction, poetry, art
    related to the mind and myth of Ambrose Bierce.

    **Bierce's favorite song: Antonin Dvorâk's "Humoresque Number 7,"
    composed in 1894. It's widely available in both classical and popular forms,
    as well as a bawdy vocal version sung by Oscar Brand.

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