The Ambrose Bierce Site

the AMBROSE BIERCE site

My Hunt For Ambrose Bierce
by Leon Day


ONE
Beginning of the End

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.

Bierce left Washington, DC on October 2, 1913. On his way to Mexico, he visited the battlefields of his youth, hiking as much as fifteen miles a day though aged seventy-one. He was writing back regularly to his secretary, Carrie Christiansen, and occasional notes to other people confirm his movements. He was stalled by an asthma attack in New Orleans, and interviewed by the press. Then he went on to San Antonio, where the officers at Ft. Sam Houston treated him like royalty. Now pretty much recovered, he went to Laredo, where he was recognized by somebody named Crowell, an editor of the Mexico City Herald.

Laredo was a bad place to cross the border, for the other side was held by Huertistas who thought they could do without journalistic scrutiny. Bierce spent the time riding and hiking around Laredo, recovering his strength. When Pancho Villa seized Juarez by a brilliant end-run on 16 Nov. 1913, Bierce got a train to El Paso and press credentials from the more tolerant Constitutional forces. This put him about a week ahead of the conventional American press corps, who had been with the rebel leader Venustiano Carranza in Sonora.

At this time, the rebel forces of Pancho Villa held Torreon, about 500 miles south of El Paso on the Central Railway. They had for some months besieged Chihuahua City only 200 miles from the border, and the city was sustained only by rail from Juarez.

So by the time the other scribes rode north and east to reach what was now the real center of the revolution, Bierce had another battle in his belt -- Tierra Blanca. When Juarez was taken, Huerta's men in Chihuahua City had no choice but to go north and take it back. But they were confronted by a strong force of 6000 that Villa organized in Juarez. They met in the sand dunes flanking the Central Railway, on a six-mile front. When it was over, the Federals were in full retreat.

They couldn't stay in Chihuahua City, and they couldn't re-take Juarez either, so they took what forces they had left northeast to another border town, Ojinaga. There was no railway all the way to Ojinaga. The soldiers, and the richer classes of the city who followed them, faced an eighty-mile gap where Villa's cavalry could harass them. When they reached the border, they were cornered against it, and starving.

Villa didn't hurry to catch up. Only his best brigade, commanded by Torribio Ortega, followed to pin down the Federals at Ojinaga. Villa's main force paused in Chihuahua to establish order after the long siege, while General Mercado's force weakened. Then he took Ojinaga without much trouble on 11 Jan 1914. The Huertistas fled across the border, to be interned by the US Army.

Bierce's last letter to Carrie, 16 Dec 1913, said he would go to Ojinaga the next day. This led some biographers to assume he was killed there. That is what Carey McWilliams finally decided, with no proof either way. His first version was that Bierce died in the assault on Torreon, which happened a full three months later.

McWilliams is not the worst theorist of Bierce's fate.

He went to a lot of trouble to find the reporters, diplomats, and spies who might know something. But he was handicapped throughout by ignorance of what happened when, and where, in the Mexican Revolution. For example: McWilliams dutifully tracked down Felix Sommerfeld, Villa's purchasing agent and sometime German spy. Back in 1914, General Hugh L. Scott had asked Sommerfeld to trace Bierce after the disappearance hit the press. Sommerfeld reported to McWilliams in a letter of 12 May 1930, "Mr. Bierce left Chihuahua City some time in Jan 1914 for the South..." The letter is in McWilliams' papers in the UCLA Library Special Collections. Since you can't go south from Chihuahua City and get northeast to Ojinaga, this was really a clue that Bierce survived Ojinaga, re-entered Mexico, and moved toward the next logical battlefield -- Torreon, which had been retaken by Huerta when Villa turned his attention north.

But when that battle happened, it was smothered in gringo journalists -- none of whom later remembered meeting Bierce. Most hadn't even heard that he was in Mexico. One of them, Norman Walker, wrote to McWilliams on 7 Jun 1930: "My information was that Bierce was shot in Chihuahua or at some point south of there early in 1914. The story I recall was that he was supposed to have too much information about Villa's army and was shot for this reason." Walker didn't remember where he heard this, but we'll see that it has a certain resemblance to some more detailed accounts. Anyway, if Carey McWilliams had bothered to look at a map, this too, would have focused his search after Ojinaga, and much further south.

Ambrose Bierce was gone a full nine months before the fact hit the papers. When she had no letter for a couple of months, Carrie Christiansen wrote the US Consul in Chihuahua City, Marion Letcher. He assured her that he knew everything about every American who came to Chihuahua, so Ambrose couldn't have been there. That's all she got from Letcher. She began asking in March, and was discouraged more than somewhat when a reporter turned up hoping to talk with Bierce. He was Vincent Starrett. He had just returned from covering the Veracruz adventure, and had hoped his paper would send him to the new European War. But the Chicago News sent somebody else, shifting him to Washington to cover the State Department.

Starrett took it well, figuring this was a chance to meet Bierce, whom he admired. But when he called, only Carrie Christiansen was there. She finally decided to let him print the story. Prodded by publicity, the government made some extra efforts, but with no results. This wasn't surprising, since official policy then was that Americans in Mexico were on their own.

Starrett went on to write the first Bierce biography, and the first bibliography. He wrote to Carrie Christiansen for years, and debunked the first two Bierce-appearance stories with great common sense. Starting in journalism, he cut himself a distinguished place in American literature.

And who was Carrie Christiansen? She was born in Napa, California, in 1872, into a large family of Norwegian immigrants. When Bierce met her, she was a teenager teaching school in Angwin [where the Bierce family vacationed]. Basically, he adopted her. He took her home to his wife and kids, applied some cultural polish, and turned her into a proper literary companion. When he settled in Washington in 1901, he got her a job teaching there, which she held until her retirement in 1920. Until he left on his last trip, they traveled everywhere together, and she lived across the hall from him in a boarding house where they had the whole top floor.

This led some folks to suppose that something more than a secretarial relationship was at work. Bierce's nickname for Carrie was "Ugly Duckling," which sounds cruel until you remember the fairy tale, where the misfit turns out to be a swan. Miss Christiansen has been falsely described as plain and mousey by Bierce's daughter Helen, his publisher, Walter Neale, and those who want to believe them. But there are pictures in the Bierce Collection at Stanford University-- they show a fin-de-siecle knockout.

Of the life-writers who studied Bierce, only Walter Neale and Vincent Starrett were in touch with Carrie. Her correspondence with Neale was entirely hostile, as she kept asking where the royalties were from Bierce's works, while he kept coming up with reasons why there were none. Some letters from Starrett to Carrie survive at the Bancroft Library. They show a warmer tone, with Starrett looking into Bierce disappearance tales on Carrie's behalf. A full file of what he wrote, and what she wrote back would be a treasure.

But even Starrett never reported that Carrie Christiansen committed suicide in San Francisco on 14 Dec 1920, by swallowing Bichloride of Mercury tablets. This chemical -- also known as Corrosive Sublimate -- has about the same effect as lye or strong acid -- so her death lasted five days. Her sisters told the Coroner she had been despondent since arriving from Chicago in July. So on 13 Jan 1921, he declared the death a suicide.

On 14 Jan 1921, Helen Bierce Isgrigg wrote to Walter Neale stating that her father was dead, and that Carrie Christiansen had assigned to Helen all Bierce's literary rights. This satisfied almost exactly the legal requirement that someone must be missing seven years before their death can be legally assumed. But there was little monetary effect, for by now Walter Neale was nearly bankrupt, and producing no royalties for anyone. His publishing house was based mostly on Civil War memoirs, which after WWI seemed somewhat quaint, naive, and stale.

When you read the McWilliams bio of Bierce, you get an impression that Carrie is one of his sources -- but it can't be true, for she was dead four years before he even got interested in the subject. All he knew about Carrie came through others, primarily Helen Bierce, who seems to have gotten all her father's records after Carrie's death. When his life of Bierce was reprinted in 1967, McWilliams wrote a new preface detailing the difficulties of working with Helen -- an absolute bubble-head whom he had to indulge in every way to win the least access to her father's correspondence.

He was able to get around her reticence by writing to Bierce's associates and dropping her name to show that his book would be the authorized biography. That helped loosen up a lot of people, but Helen still wouldn't show her father's papers. She imagined - properly -- that Carey McWilliams might lose interest if he had a steamer trunk full of documents to work with. Finally, McWilliams managed to see them by arranging a sale to a private collector. He set it up so the $7500 was doled out over a two-year period, with himself as trustee. This ain't a normal arrangement between biographer and informant, but it did result in the first life of Bierce that had a skeleton of fact holding the rumors together.

The reports of other writers who tried to do as much, but gave up, are instructive. In the Stanford collection, we find a wonderful letter from Paul Jordan-Smith to the publishers Charles and Albert Boni, about why he gave up on his Bierce book.

Bierce's poetic disciple, George Sterling, was willing to deliver about 200 Bierce letters until he realized they were negotiable -- then they vanished before Jordan-Smith had a chance to bid, probably into the private collection of James Tufts. Jordan-Smith relates his adventures with Helen Bierce [Isgrigg]:

"The first glance at Mrs. Isgrigg's face is rather startling to one who is familiar with her father's portraits. Remove the moustache from (them) and you have a well nigh perfect likeness of the daughter. Colorful, virile -- yes virile! -- energetic, Mrs. Isgrigg's great eyes snap defiance in the authentic manner of Dod Grile [Bierce's pen name]. Perhaps her disposition is something the same.

"I am not sure that I am going to answer all, or indeed any, of your questions," she warned.

"The first thing I want to get done," I replied, "ought to be very easy for you. I merely want to verify these dates -- (spreading out my chronology before her) -- and account for your father's whereabouts during the years that are here unmarked."

"Of what use is that?" she inquired a bit scornfully. Why not confine yourself to a discussion of my father's books? All that is worthwhile can be dealt with there. His books are the better part of him, and they speak for themselves. The rest is nobody's business."

"But his travels, occupations, friends, experiences would throw light on the man's attitude; help to reveal the reason why he was a satirist and a pessimist," I insisted.

"That is nobody's business".

"I have encountered those words before," I replied, "and it seems to me rather strange. Your father's life was given to the public, and a not inconsiderable number of people are interested to know the important facts of his life. Now I am not hunting for scandal or for sly gossip, I just want to get reliable data for..."

"There wasn't any scandal in my father's life, and if you hint such a thing I will have you sued for libel!"

"But I just said that I don't want that!" I cried in consternation.

"There isn't any to want."

"I didn't suppose so," I once more insisted, "but let us turn to some of my questions: In 1872 your father left San Francisco for London. Would you mind telling me his reasons for going?"

"Pardon me, but it is none of your business!"

"But surely that is harmless?"

"It is of no importance to anyone, nobody's business."

"Well, of course it is impossible to continue in this way, a waste of your time and mine."

"I'm sorry, but it was my father's attitude, and these questions relate to personalities and not to principles: apart from my father's books, nothing of his life concerns the public."

It will be needless for me to go any further with the description of this futile meeting, other than to say that Mrs. Isgrigg, after long argument, did reveal some of the information I sought; to most of my requests her persistent "It is none of your business" sufficed to show her spiritual attitude to my awkward endeavors.

Concerning her father's trunk, which had been left in Laredo, Texas, when he left these states, she said that it had come into her possession, together with his manuscript on William Randolph Hearst, concerning which so many rumors have been set afloat. This latter, she declared, was not to be published. She said that she and Mrs. Hearst were great friends.

Further, Mrs. Isgrigg disclaimed any intention of writing her father's biography; but she did say that she was interested in a company to put Bierce's stories in motion pictures.

"What about the unhappy endings?" I inquired.

"We will alter those," she said.

This account by Paul Jordan-Smith shows that it was a fine accomplishment when Carey McWilliams got anything at all from Helen Bierce -- whatever his tactics. Of course, Jordan-Smith's nightmare interview happened sometime in 1921. McWilliams didn't find Helen until late 1925, and by that time she may have realized that Daddy's stuff didn't fit the romance of silent movies. But the interview illuminates some other Bierce mysteries -- if he left a trunk in Laredo, how did Helen get it? If it held a biography of Hearst, what happened to that?

A first biography of William Randolph Hearst by the boss American social critic who had worked for him for twenty years would be of historical interest -- if we could get it. Did the Hearst folks burn it? Or did they preserve it out of vanity?

A nice question, but I'm only working on the disappearance of Bierce himself. His daughter pointed toward the resting place of his last work, and other folks can chase it.

The interview with Jordan-Smith directly contradicts Helen's article, "Ambrose Bierce at Home," American Mercury, Dec 1933. She wrote:

From Juarez came another line shortly after he had crossed the border. In that last letter he told me about a trunk, with the manuscript in it, that he had left at a hotel in Laredo to await his retrn. ... He was never heard of again. Shortly after that his trunk disappeared, too, and was never heard of again."

Of course, the story that the manuscript was lost is simpler than any explanation of why she gave it to Hearst.

In 1909, Bierce spotted her [his daughter's]talent for marrying rich men, and made a will leaving everything to Carrie Christiansen. A photocopy survives at UCLA. It gives Carrie all his property and absolute discretion over his papers. Everything Helen got -- including the Laredo trunk, if there was one -- she got from Carrie.

When Bierce crossed the border, Americans had been watching the Mexican Revolution for three years -- some with enthusiasm and others with alarm. In 1910, Porfirio Diaz had been President of Mexico for thirty-four years. He was an authentic hero of the fight against the French Intervention, and he had presided over the modernization of his country -- financed largely by selling big chunks of it to foreign mining, ranching, and lumber companies. He had been criticized in the American press for shooting strikers and killing any peasants rash enough to complain about their condition. He had been defended by American publishers like William Randolph Hearst and Harrison Gray Otis, who had substantial personal empires in Mexican ranching, mining, and timber -- all bought cheap.

Because of some misguided chivalrous impulse, Diaz actually permitted an opposition candidate in the election of 1910.

This was Francisco I. Madero, a wealthy landowner from Coahuila. He ran on the ticket of the Anti-Reelection Party. Nobody knows if the contest that year was fair, but we do know that by polling time 60,000 of Madero's supporters were in jail. Luckily the PAR was a movement of the rich, so jail was the worst you could do to them. Madero himself escaped to Texas, where he organized an armed revolution. Lots of folks signed up with Madero who had more radical ambitions than he -- labor organizers, anarchists, and general purpose reds. By June 1911, almost in spite of himself, Madero was President. Diaz fled to Spain when he realized that his army was about 1/3 its official size. In those days, Mexican generals got a cash grant for feeding, outfitting and housing their troops. If somebody deserted, that was a little more money in the commander's pocket. He only had to ignore the fact. There was no standard uniform in the Mexican Army -- soldiers wore whatever clothes their Jefe had thought a bargain on his last trip to Europe.

When Madero took office he was obligated to a lot of people who had very different hopes of what the revolution would do -- the rich who had first backed him only wanted access to the national bureaucracy, previously the province of Diaz and a small circle of friends. But the commoners who had risked blood and bone wanted much more -- like legal trade unions, free education, clean water and sanitary sewers. With some time, Madero might have pleased everybody. But there was none. The peasants of Morelos, fighting under Zapata, would not give in. And the landowners of Chihuahua found that Pascual Orozco, the best of the guerilla revolutionary leaders, was for rent. Like Villa and some others, he was awarded 5,000 pesos for his service against Diaz. Unlike them, he considered this amount an insult. In the spring of 1912 he took to the field with a fine revolutionary program and lots of reactionary money.

Against Orozco, Madero sent the loyal forces of Pancho Villa and the Federal Army commanded by General Victoriano Huerta. These two did not get along. Huerta was a highly competent drunk. Folks said he hated all foreigners, except Hennessy and Martell. The bandit -- idealist Villa did not drink at all -- like Robert E. Lee, he did not trust himself to drink. By June 1912, Huerta was about to execute Villa for insubordination in a dispute over who owned a horse -- a thin pretense, for Mexican forces of all types were in the habit of taking any livestock and vehicles they needed. Villa had already tipped the firing squad when a telegram arrived from Madero ordering him back to Mexico City for trial.

Villa used his time in prison well,improving his reading and trying to learn to write. There was a lot of talent in that prison. For example, Gildardo Magana, one of Zapata's land-reform brain-thrusters, and General Bernardo Reyes, who was planning a coup against Madero that Villa was invited to join. But Pancho Villa was still loyal to Madero -- he escaped from prison and reached El Paso. From this exile he wrote letters to the governor of Chihuahua, Abraham Gonzales, reporting the plots he had heard. He prepared to fight again.

In February 1913, General Huerta seized power in a nasty coup that included the murder of Francisco Madero and his brother. Some said the American ambassador, Henry Lane Wilson, knew all about it -- and encouraged it. perhaps.

In early March, Villa and eight men crossed the border.By the end of the year, those nine had organized a modern army that could beat anything in the Western Hemisphere. It was called the Division of the North. This was the military miracle Bierce wanted to see. In later years, after Villa became unpopular in America, some of Bierce's friends thought they had to defend him from any suggestion that he might have been impressed with this work. But when Bierce crossed, the top officers in the US Army already thought Villa an organizational genius and an honest man. That's what Bierce would have heard in the Army-Navy Club in Washington. When he stopped at Ft. Sam Houston, he would have heard more of the same -- from Frederick Funston, Hugh Scott, or Black Jack Pershing. At this point in the Mexican struggle, Villa had not been double-crossed a couple of times by Woodrow Wilson.

He hadn't committed any pointless atrocities against Americans. He was the US Army's golden boy.

The worst example of the efforts to clear Bierce of any sympathy with Villa is Walter Neale's "Life of Ambrose Bierce." Bierce's publisher had a lot of useful detail about him. But his view of the disappearance is that Ambrose snuck off to the Grand Canyon, found a deep cave, and shot himself. Neale argues that he never even entered Mexico, and hoaxed the whole world as a final joke.

You might wonder why this theory floated even for a moment, since AB wrote not just Christiansen, but Blanche Partington, from inside Mexico. Bierce himself made it plausible -- first, he was on the record as thinking suicide an honorable way of departing life. When he explained that he was going to Mexico (in part to check on the excesses of the Hearst press) all his friends told him it was dangerous -- and to all he replied that a man of 71 shouldn't be afraid of anything. He thought the normal pattern of dying in bed after sharing your suffering with loved ones very nasty. He thought a quick death best for everybody.

One sample from his letters is enough:

What an intolerable world this would be if we said nothing but what is worth saying! And did nothing foolish -- like going to Mexico and South America... Good-bye -- if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a Gringo in Mexico, ah, that is euthanasia!

There are other quotes that parallel this one, from his last letter to Lora Bierce, his nephew's wife. None suggest suicide, all relate an acceptance of danger. From his stated attitude, it seems really unlikely that he would have hoaxed his friends and left them worrying. It would be more in character to explain exactly what he meant to do, then do it.

But Bierce did come from a journalistic culture that thought the hoax was an art form, not a crime. When our founding fathers decided to protect freedom of the press, nearly every newspaper was the captive of some local machine. Nobody read a paper with any hope that the contents were unbiased. Papers were supported by subscription, not advertising. If the editor got out of line, it was not the law of libel that worried him, but the Code of the Duel.

In the 1850s, New York City and some other places had enough literate population to support daily, non-partisan, newspapers. They were called "penny press." They made their money from street sales, not subs. It was easy for tradesmen to advertise in them, because the ad didn't indicate any factional support and alienate some of your customers. The publisher might fume away on the editorial page, but most of the sheets contained not polemic, but material useful and interesting to everyone.

Because these were dailies, it became important to beat the other paper to the story. Some enterprising writers noted quickly that this was easier if your tale was a total fraud. If you reported the first balloon crossing of the Atlantic, nobody could scoop you -- since it wasn't true. The first to work this angle was Edgar Allan Poe. Mark Twain explained his own classic hoax in "The Great Petrified Man." Twain's tale circled the globe a couple of times before running down. He established some ethical standards for the form, by including some details that should have alerted the rubes, but so subtly that they never noticed.

Bierce had played this game, too. Once there was a book called "The Dance of Death," which proposed that the waltz was a seditious conspiracy to undermine public morals. It described the dance in such lewd and graphic terms that some folks felt the protest was obscene even if the waltz was not. Ambrose was at least the editor, and some think he wrote it. He spent lots of ink denouncing it in his column, and the press run reached 18,000 copies -- a phenomenal success for the West Coast. The hoax was complete when someone [probably Bierce] wrote a rebuttal taking the original as good coin. Then the pranksters withdrew.

Even if we think Bierce was too considerate to hoax his friends, we have to notice that some writers who came up with solutions to his absence shared the same press traditions.

Take for example, George F. Weeks, an experienced California newsman who covered the Division of the North's advance to Torreon. After things settled down a little, Weeks became editor of "Mexican Review," an English-language organ of the Carranza presidency. Basically, they excerpted upbeat articles from the Mexican papers about progress and stability in Mexico, translated them into English, then shipped 15,000 copies a month, free, to US press clubs and public libraries. A solid, professional public relations organ.

The business manager was Edmundo Melero, who one day mentioned that he had seen Weeks at Villa's headquarters during the Torreon fight. Weeks didn't remember Melero there, but...

Weeks: "At once the disappearance of Ambrose Bierce came to mind. If you were in one of Villa's corps in the latter part of 1913 or early 1914, I wonder if by any possibility you ever ran across or heard anything of an American newspaper man and author named Ambrose Bierce, who was supposed to have been with the Constitutionalist forces about the time you mention. He has been missing ever since that time and I have tried in every possible way to learn something of his fate. I have sought in every direction, but have never even found anyone who knew him at the time he was in Mexico."

Melero: "Ambrose Bierce! Did I know him? I rather think I did! Why, we were good friends -- the best of friends! We used to talk together by the hour. He could speak no Spanish, and I was the only one here who spoke any English, and so we became fast friends. He was never weary of asking me questions about Mexico and the revolution, and I was never tired of giving him information and talking with him on all sorts of subjects. I never met a man I liked better. "

Melero didn't know what had happened to Bierce, but he promised Weeks that he would look up his old friends and ask them. Melero identified a photo of Ambrose, but this didn't prove much, for Bierce was well known in Mexico -- as shown by Crowell, of the Mexican Herald, spotting him in Laredo.

After some months, Melero brought in a friend who had been a sergeant under General Tomas Urbina, one of Villa's more flamboyant commanders. The sergeant related an incident in 1915 when Urbina's troops intercepted a mule train of munitions bound for the Carranzistas in Icamole. Everyone got away but one Mexican and one gringo. The gringo couldn't speak Spanish, so had little to say before both were executed. The sarge described Bierce well, and identified the same old photo that Weeks had been showing around for years-- but then, Weeks makes clear that Melero had described Bierce thoroughly before the sergeant remembered the incident.

I've taken this account from Weeks' autobiography, "California Copy," printed the year of his death, 1928. Earlier variations were printed in the New York World, 4 Feb 1919, under the byline of his friend, Robert H. Murray. In 1930, Carey McWilliams asked Murray about the tale, and Murray said that Weeks sincerely thought he had solved the mystery, and died in that belief.

The San Francisco Bulletin sent James Wilkins to Mexico City. He couldn't talk to Melero, who had died of pneumonia. The sergeant was still around, and told about the same story.

But there was still nothing to show he was talking about Bierce, instead of some other old gringo. Maybe Melero was truthful, and the sergeant stretching a bit. Many Americans were killed in that sad war, but the story was more negotiable if you could tack Bierce's name on the corpse.

Considering what sort of paper "Mexican Review" was, we have to note how well the story fits the politics of the times. It tars Villa a little, but only through Urbina, whom Villa had executed for banditry a couple of years before. By 1919, the Carranza government was trying to talk Villa into retirement. The story satisfies American curiosity without hampering any bargaining. Also associated with Mexican Review were Adolphe De Castro and Gaston De Prida. We will meet them in connection with other Bierce tales.

Two factors killed the Weeks tale for Vincent Starrett. First, it put the death during the time when Villa and Carranza were actually fighting each other. Until November 1914, after the Convention of Aguascalientes, they were allies against Huerta. Suspicion, but not hostility, separated them. Like other stories, this one would have us believe that Bierce didn't write home for ten months or more. Though mail and telegraph were often interrupted, they never stopped entirely, so a plausible theory ought to put Bierce's death much sooner after his last communications.

Second, Weeks said, he had heard from newsmen in El Paso that Bierce was in Mexico planning to join the rebel forces and to kill himself if he couldn't be useful. Pressed by Starrett for the source, he named Willis, of the NY Herald.

But Willis said he never talked to Bierce at all, and hadn't even known he was in the area. Starrett quit paying attention to Weeks, and advised Carrie Christiansen to do likewise.


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