Skip to main content

O. Henry - Author, Cowboy, Druggist, Sheep Herder, & Convicted Embezzler

William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), son of Dr. Algernon Sidney Porter and Mary Jane Virginia Swaim, was laid to rest upon his death at Riverside Cemetery in Asheville, North Carolina. Better known as O. Henry, Porter was a well-known short story author. One of his most famous stories is "The Gift of the Magi."
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next Day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

There are a few obituaries and funeral notices regarding Mr. Porter below. None of them, however, mention that he was convicted of embezzling funds from a bank in Texas. Before his trial was set to begin in 1896, William fled to the Honduras, where he wrote Cabbages and Kings and coined the term "banana republic." When he got word his first wife, Athol Estes, was dying, William returned to Texas and turned himself in. William's bail was posted so he could be with his dying wife. Athol died in 1897, and O. Henry spent 1898-1901 in the Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus.

I tell you this because I noticed that when people visit William's grave, they sometimes leave him coins. A nod to his famous short story, most likely. But perhaps also a nod to his colorful history.

Duluth News-Tribune, Minnesota
6 June 1910
William Sydney Porter, Well Known and Popular Magazine Writer, Succumbs in New York Hostpital -- Work Was Humorous, Attracting Much Attention.
Literary Career Started On Staff of Houston Daily Post -- Formerly Cowboy, Sheep Herder, Druggist and a Traveler -- Little Known of Private Life.

NEW YORK, June 5 -- William Sydney Porter, better known under his pen name of "O. Henry," writer of short stories, died today at Polytechnic hospital. He underwent an operation last Friday and never rallied. The nature of his ailment was not made known. Mrs. Porter, who had been in South Carolina, was not summoned by telegraph, but did not arrive here until after her husband's death.

Mr. Porter was born in Texas 62 years ago, and began his journalistic career on the Houston Post. Before that he had been a cowboy, sheep herder and druggist, and an extensive traveler. The general public knew little of his private life, for he shunned interviewers and was content to be known merely through his writings as "O. Henry..."

...He had been in poor health for some time, but it was thought his illness was not serious. Wednesday he dined with friends and seemed in his usual spirits. Friday night he was taken ill and was moved to the hospital. A minor operation was performed, but up to within one hour of his death, it was thought he would recover.

Derangement of both liver and kidneys, however, proved more deep seated than had been thought, and he sank rapidly.

The burial will be at Asheville, North Carolina.
State, South Carolina
6 June 1910
William Sydney Porter, Known as "O. Henry," Dies in New York. Native of North Carolina.

...Mr. Porter was born in Greensboro, N.C., 46 years ago and began his career on the Houston Post...

Lived in North Carolina
Asheville, N.C., June 5 -- William Sydney Porter, who died in New York today, spent much of his time in this city. He was prominently connected with the Worth family in the eastern part of the State. As a young man he served as drug clerk in Greensboro, and when just past his majority went to Texas, where he engaged in ranching and commercial pursuits. He drifted to Houston and began his newspaper work on the Houston Post, and while there married. From Houston he went to New York and continued his newspaper work, and also began writing his short stories of the plains which immediately attracted attention. His first wife died after he went to New York.

While writing under the nom de plume of O. Henry, his work attracted the attention of Miss Sarah Lindsay Coleman of this city, who herself was writing under the nom de plume of Sarah Lindsay. Inquiries made of her publishers revealed the fact that they were old friends, having had a youthful attachment while he was still a school boy in Greensboro. This old attachment resulted in their marriage in this city about two years ago.
Charlotte Observer, North Carolina
8 June 1910
'O. Henry' to Be Buried at Asheville.
New York, June 7 -- Funeral services for William Sydney Porter, who under the name of "O. Henry" became known as one of the foremost short story writers in America, took place today in the Church of Transfiguration ("The Little Church Around the Corner") around which the author constructed several of his stories.

Many personal friends of the author attended. Mrs. Sarah Lindsey Porter, his wife, was the only relative present. The dead author's parents died some years ago, and he had no close relatives...


Interesting post. I've passed the O. Henry museum/house many times in Austin, but never took the time to visit. You've piqued my curiosity to see what it holds.
Dana Mathews said…
Love to see something posted on your blog about George Masa who is buired in Asheville's Riverside Cemetery - He charted almost all of the Appalachian Trail and was a great photographer of the NC mountains and helped to establish the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.
Anonymous said…
hi, new to the site, thanks.

Popular posts from this blog

Rocks, Rocks, and More Rocks

Why do people put rocks on grave stones? Some time ago, I learned that the rocks signified a visitor. That is true enough, but I decided to learn a little more about the custom and share my findings with you. Putting rocks on tombstones is most often described as a Jewish custom. There are many "Ask a Rabbi" columns out there, but I did not find one that knew for sure where the custom originated. They all agreed, however, that a rock symbolized a visitor and when put on a tombstone said, "I remember you." I also read that some people pick up a rock wherever they are when they think of a person that has passed. Then, the next time they visit the grave, they place the rock to say, "I wish you were here." Rabbi Shraga Simmons offers a deeper meaning: "We are taught that it is an act of ultimate kindness and respect to bury someone and place a marker at the site. After a person is buried, of course, we can no longer participate in burying them. H

Southern Cross of Honor

I'm late to this discussion, but it's one I'd like to join. :-) Terry Thornton at The Graveyard Rabbit of the Hill Country started with Grave Marker Symbols: The Southern Cross of Honor and UCV (link no longer available). Judith Shubert at The Graveyard Rabbit of the Covered Bridges continued with Hood County Texas: C.S.A. Veterans & Southern Cross of Honor Symbol . [UPDATE, 1 June 2009: Judith has moved this post to the blog, Cemeteries with Texas Ties . The link has been corrected to reflect this move. You may also link to her article via her nice comment on this post.] Wikipedia states: The Southern Cross of Honor was a military decoration meant to honor the officers, noncommissioned officers, and privates for their valor in the armed forces of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. It was formally approved by the Congress of the Confederate States on October 13, 1862, and was originally intended to be on par with the Union Arm

Thursday Link Love: EyeWitness To History

Yesterday, a link was added to the Genealogy Research Resources Group at Diigo. The link was to the website titled EyeWitness to History through the eyes of those who lived it . It's a great site, and I encourage all to visit it. Here are several items I found while snooping around. - Inside a Nazi Death Camp, 1944 : "Hitler established the first concentration camp soon after he came to power in 1933. The system grew to include about 100 camps divided into two types: concentration camps for slave labor in nearby factories and death camps for the systematic extermination of "undesirables" including Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally retarded and others." - Crash of the Hindenburg, 1937 : "Radio reporter Herbert Morrison, sent to cover the airship's arrival, watched in horror. His eye witness description of the disaster was the first coast-to-coast radio broadcast and has become a classic piece of audio history." [You ca

The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

So I answered, "O Lord God, You know."

Again He said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, 'O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!' Thus says the Lord God to these bones: 'Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live...'" (Ezekiel 37:1-5, NKJV)