The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992

Book Reviews

At times deBuys romanticizes his subject, reminiscent of the 1920s American
writers and artists who descended on the Taos region quite determined to re-
ject the cultural trappings of their birthright for that of "the simple, noble In-
dian." Has deBuys created a "simple, noble Hispanic" in Jacobo? Perhaps, yet
this handsome, gracefully written, flawlessly designed book provides an au-
thentic cross-cultural experience. It is a literary and photographic entre into a
region of New Mexico that still retains its distinctive flavor, at least in remote
towns such as El Valle.
Unzverszty of Texas at El Paso ROBERT W. RIGHTER
O. Henry: A Bzography of Willham Sydney Porter By David Stuart. (Chelsea: Scar-
borough House, 1990. Pp. 267. Preface, black-and-white photographs, il-
lustrations, notes, bibliography, acknowledgments, index. $19.95.)
This sympathetic biography rescues the reputation of William Sydney Porter
who was innocent of a charge of embezzlement of an Austin, Texas, bank and
served more than three years in Ohio State Penitentiary. C. Alphonso Smith's
1916 biography omitted reference to Porter's imprisonment but several later
studies refer to it. Stuart's account is the most thorough. He says the bank offi-
cers were liable. Although court records are lost, Stuart's investigation of" the
Austin bank provides evidence in Porter's favor.
Porter would probably have been acquitted had he not fled to "Honduras
which had no treaty of extradition with the United States" (p. 81). The trial
came at a time when his first wife was seriously ill with tuberculosis, and Porter
returned to Austin to be with her. She died in 1897. He began serving a five-
year sentence in April 1899 but was released in 1901. He never returned to
Austin, but went to New York City where as O. Henry, he "wrote so that
William Sydney Porter could live in the shadows of New York, and slowly drink
himself to death" (p. 13). The pseudonym came in 1886 when he was courting
a young lady whose family had a cat of that name (p. 46). Many tales relate his
selection of the name (pp. 104, 224), though he used several pen names (pp.
135-136). By 191o many New York editors "seemed to have an O. Henry tale"
(p. 135), for stories about him became legendary and remain so today.
A writer for more than twenty-five years, he created notable characters such
as the Cisco Kid, made famous by Hollywood. Stuart notes Porter's stories
about New York City give a "good picture of life in the city in the period from
1900 to 1910" (p. 14), and one of his best known is "The Gift of the Magi"
(1910). As his fame grew, Texans showed new interest in Porter. When he hit
his stride in 1904 his income was the equivalent of $80,00o a year today. About
1906 his health began to fail, yet the next year he married Sara Lindsay Cole-
man, a childhood sweetheart from his birthplace, Asheville, North Carolina.
They came to a friendly parting in 1909. His illness curtailed his writing in the
last years of his life, and he died a pauper in 1910.
Doubleday continues to publish annually the O. Henry collection of best
short stories and to award an O. Henry short story prize. Texas recipients in-

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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 95, July 1991 - April, 1992. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117153/. Accessed July 12, 2014.