The Ambrose Bierce Site


Destination: Carcosa
Ambrose Bierce and the Empire of the Wheel

by Walter Bosley
Corvos/Lulu, no ISBN number

A Review

It is difficult to take to task a self-published book that an author with a spirited imagination like Walter Bosley took such pains to write. But task I shall.

Bosley's Destination: Carcosa, Ambrose Bierce and The Empire of the Wheel is apparently the third in a series about a purported secret German group, NYMZA (it is never revealed what the acronym is supposed to stand for), which was somehow involved in something called the Sonora Aero Club. This coterie, back in the day, is said to have spawned an interest in identifying mystery airships, much like our UFOs.

The airship sightings allegedly occurred in the years before and after the turn of the last century, particularly in San Francisco and San Bernardino, and reputedly dealt with breakaway civilizations, whatever they were.

These queer machinations seem to have had something to do with a German artist named Charles Dellschau who, around 1899, painted watercolors of various types of flying machines. Thus, a German connection that may have inspired the Sonora Aero Club. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure about any of this since the Sonora Aero Club isn't really explained -- nor is much else in this book.

What does all this have to do with Ambrose Bierce?


Although Bosley spends 296 pages hopelessly attempting to make a case.

Of course everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, right? So if you have a pliable mind and are a lover of would-be conspiracies, then this is the book for you.

Bosley's book gets off to an annoying start by asserting that Bierce "is probably most famous for his disappearance in 1913." In fact, his disappearance is a mere footnote to a long and voluminous literary life. But let that pass. Bosley then promotes discredited claims that Bierce hated his parents, as evidenced by his fiction. Were the life of every author assessed as fact simply by analyzing his fiction, then there would be no need for memoir or biography. Unfortunately, Bosley relies heavily on a biography by Roy E. Morris, Jr., whose book is one of the weakest of all of Bierce's biographies.

It is claimed by Bosley that Bierce was deeply proud of his service in the military and insisted that he be addressed as "Major Bierce" for the remainder of his life. Actually, in Write it Write, his little book of writing faults, Bierce says: "Colonel, Judge, Governor, etc. for Mister. Give a man a title only if it belongs to him, and only when it belongs to him." In the various collections of Bierce's letters he never once referred to himself as "Major," nor did he ask anyone to do so. (Bierce, who attained the rank of lieutenant, was breveted as a major, meaning an honor bestowed for military achievement.)

The primary contention in Bosley's book is that Bierce, as a Union topographical officer in the Civil War, was actually an intelligence agent for the government that extended for his entire life. It is true that topographers make decent spies because of their necessary proximity to enemy lines in order to draw maps, but it is not correct, as Bosley claims, that there are no existing details about Bierce's military duties. Christopher Kiernan Coleman's Ambrose Bierce and the Period of Honorable Strife (University of Tennessee Press) is a detailed and meticulous examination of Bierce's military activities virtually from week to week.

Bosley speculates that Bierce, after being wounded in the war, used his recuperation as a cover while he transformed from a military intelligence agent to a civilian one. I'm not sure how getting shot in the head is a cover for anything, but Bosley says, "I concede that I'm bucking mainstream historians and biographers but, from the perspective of my personal experience, Bierce's departures from Treasury duties look more like changes in assignments, especially of an agent who works classified matters."

What was Bierce spying on as a civilian? Apparently, those doggone, mysterious airships.

When he and his bride moved to England, it wasn't on an extended honeymoon, but he was sent there, as Bosley asserts, to collect NYMZA information from Germany. Why go to England instead of Germany? Simple. Bierce was able to make friends in England with folks who probably knew what was going on in the Fatherland about those pesky, elusive aircraft.

Bosley writes, "Bierce was in San Francisco throughout the legendary 1896-1897 airship mystery period [in this book it is not explained why those years were legendary or to whom] and didn't write a single story about it. I suspect that Bierce's silence is a clue that he indeed was somehow affiliated with the airship milieu." Really? Not writing about something is a clue that it happened?

Bosley says "airship lore" has William Randolph Hearst, Bierce's employer, as being a major investor in mysterious craft. Someone should have told Hearst's biographers. Bosley also claims that after Hearst declared himself an enthusiastic supporter of the Spanish-American War, Bierce suddenly failed to write another word about it. Patently false. Bierce's usual columns, many titled "War Topics," appeared in the Hearst papers regularly from 1898 through 1901 and were republished in Skepticism and Dissent, edited by Lawrence I. Bergrove (Delmus).

There are all sorts of digressions involving mystery characters, such as Etta Place and F. Lewis Clark -- don't ask -- as well as freemasonry, Knights Templars, faked suicides, relics in hidden vaults, HBO's True Detective, and various literary figures.

Not unexpectedly, Bosley really builds steam when he turns to Bierce's disappearance in Mexico. Ambrose, he suggests, was actually sent south of the border as a secret agent to spy on German efforts to collect information "on the lost technology of forgotten civilization." Ah, so that's why the Germans were in Mexico.

Bosley quotes voluminously from someone called Sibley S. Morrill who claimed Bierce was a secret agent who was drawn to British Honduras and was somehow involved in an ancient Mayan skull of doom, known as the Crystal Skull. This is so silly it's a waste of time to belabor here. Kind of like asserting that Bierce fought off vampires as he did in the movies.

In Bosley's world, Bierce didn't just die, he spent his last days at the ranch of bandit Butch Cassidy in Cholila, Argentina! You know, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid -- Newman and Redford.

But before he got there, he saw all the important sites in Mexico: a mystical devil cave in Ojinaga, the pyramids at Teotihuacan, the ancient site of El Tajin, the Yucatan, and on to Panama, Honduras, Brazil, and Argentina.

The old boy really got around.

One of Bosley's more outlandish theories is that Bierce was actually the author or co-author of B. Traven's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and other Traven books. Traven's novel was about three men prospecting for gold in the mountains, while Bierce once managed a gold mine in the Black Hills of the Dakotas. That's the link. Case closed. Traven's books were written in German, which Bierce didn't speak, but that can be explained. Bierce once had a co-writer named Adolphe de Castro who spoke German.

Bosley makes no apologies for his bizarre propositions. He writes: "Those who simply despise speculation may want to put the book down and read no further. It's just going to get worse for you. I am not responsible for the stick in anyone's ass from this point forward."

As I remove the stick from my ass, I might conclude that a reader could well approach this book in the spirit of, well, fun, if not lots of laughs.

Hippocampus Press published my book The Assassination of Ambrose Bierce: A Love Story in 2016. I, at least, plainly labeled my novel as fiction.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but Bosley's book, published by the vanity press Lulu, is laid out like a kid's Internet blog (such as this one), each paragraph separated by a space and no indents. Personally, I like books formatted like books. A little copyediting would have helped as well.

As it has no ISBN, Bosley's book apparently is not available through regular channels but from the Lulu website only.

--Don Swaim