He wrote strange endings and became one.


Poet, philosopher, iconoclast Ambrose Bierce
Poet, philosopher, iconoclast Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce was an American original.

He was a poet.

He was a philosopher.

He was always politically incorrect at a time when political correctness was not considered a virtue.

Ambrose Bierce grew up in the fire-and-brimstone First Congregational Church of Christ and developed a serious dislike for preachers who depended more on fire and brimstone than the scriptures for his sermons.

He was a drifter.

He was an iconoclast.

He was a soldier in the War Between the States, fighting in the battles of Shiloh, Pickett’s Mill, and Chickamauga.

He wrote the first genuine Civil War fiction, and one of his short stories from the war between the states “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is considered by many critics as one of the best ever written.

The ending will stun you and haunt you.

It is an ending you won’t soon forget.

Bierce-Delphi-classicsAmbrose Bierce wrote humorous short stories that have been compared to Mark Twain and macabre short stories that are as shocking and as strange as the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

He wrote novels, including The Fiend’s Delight, Nuggets and Dust, and Cobwebs from an Empty Skull.

His newspaper columns hurled wry, sardonic, and biting barbs at preachers, lawyers, bigots, politicians, racists, capitalists, poets, and anarchists. No one was immune from his caustic wit and black humor.

Bierce wrote The Cynic’s Word Book, which, in time, became known as The Devil’s Dictionary, and his observations are priceless.

History: An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.

War: God’s way of teaching Americans geography.

Telephone: An invention of the devil, which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.

Rum: generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers.

Education: That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their total lack of understanding.

Sabbath: A weekly festival having its origin in the fact that God made the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh.

A Coward: One who, in a perilous emergency, thinks with his legs.

A Conservative: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the liberal who wishes to replace them with others.

Politeness: The most acceptable hypocrisy.

Lawsuit: A machine, which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage.

Vote: The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and wreck of his country.

Quotation: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.

Alliance: In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other’s pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third.

Beauty: The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.

Belladonna: In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.

At the age of seventy-one, Ambrose Bierce watched the great revolutionary Pancho Villa storm across Mexico and decided he wanted to go back to war.

He rode across Texas, reached the border, and he wrote his niece before striking out into the deserts of Mexico: “Goodbye. 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.”

His second letter to his niece said: “I shall not be here long enough to hear from you, and don’t know where I will be next. Guess it doesn’t matter much.”

Ambrose Bierce crossed the border and disappeared.

No trace.

No stories.


An empty life on an empty desert.

He would never be heard from again.

Ambrose Bierce wrote a lot of strange stories that could not be explained.

In the end, he became one.

Caleb Pirtle is author of Deadline News.




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  • Don Newbury

    With his clever and zany definitions, surely the head shot of this writer should offer at least the hint of a smile….

    • Caleb Pirtle

      If you look at old family photos from that era, Don, nobody smiled to prevent lip movement when the shutter snapped. Everyone looked solemn and austere, even the man with the zany definitions.

      • The didn’t have the fast film and then digital photography we have. Everyone might have to keep the same pose for quite a while, so family groups in particular have no smiles. The more neutral the look, the more likely it would last long enough to be recorded properly.

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Good explanation, Alicia. I don’t know about your old family photos, but the kinfolks in mine look like they have all been sucking on lemons.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Ambrose Bierce, his life and disappearance, has always been one of my fascinations. He obviously lived and left on his own terms, and maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

  • Really? I didn’t know we ‘lost’ him literally.

    ‘Owl Creek Bridge’ is haunting and perfect.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Owl Creek Bridge forever changed my thoughts about writing.

  • Darlene Jones

    Now I want to know what happened to him and of course I never will. I read Owl Creek Bridge after seeing one of your posts about it. Amazing. Thank you for introducing me to Ambrose. PS I’ve spent enough time in Mexico to appreciate the line — To be a gringo in Mexico – ah, that is euthanasia.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      And, Darlene, that line was specifically true during the days Pancho Villa and the boys rode through Mexico. Someone may be your friend and drink whiskey with you today and shoot you for two dollars tomorrow.

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