The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 74, July 1970 - April, 1971 Page: 479
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Austin's First National and the Errant Teller
those who believed him guilty expressed regret for their belief and
spoke of "technical guilt" and "extenuating circumstances."' Among
banking insiders there was a curious silence about the case, and among
Austin oldtimers there were dark hints of a story that could not be
After O. Henry's death and after his stories appeared in textbooks
to delight young readers, school teachers found his prison career as
embarrassing as he had. The story of his wronged innocence thus
found ready acceptance among them, and they found it easy to accept
the explanations of his early biographers that he had been unjustly
The exact nature of the injustice has never been spelled out, but
the implication in the body of O. Henry lore is that either he was
framed or he took punishment for someone else, possibly a member
of the Brackenridge family. His partisans, for example, point to the
informal methods of business at the First National. The officers and
directors of the bank formed a "kind of club," it was said, and freely
helped themselves to bank funds, leaving only a memorandum in ex-
change and sometimes not that. Porter's wife told how he once spent
two days hunting for a shortage of 00oo dollars only to be told by one
of the officers, "Oh, yes, I took out a hundred the other day when I
went to San Antonio and forgot to file a slip for it." According to
Mrs. Porter, her husband would hardly take his lunch hour away
from the bank because of the careless way the funds were handled
while he was away."
Bank examiners' reports confirm that business methods at the First
National were indeed informal-a singular circumstance because its
owner, George W. Brackenridge, was one of the state's earliest and
most successful bankers. Born in Indiana in 1832, Brackenridge moved
to Texana, Texas, in the early 1850's. He, his father, and brothers
'Luther W. Courtney, "O. Henry's Case Reconsidered," American Literature, XIV
(January, 1943), 361-371.
'Mary Starr Barkley, History of Travis County and Austin, z839-z899 (Waco, 1963),
310; Wilson, Hard to Forget, 137-145, 199-195.
'Smith, O. Henry, 136-146; Davis and Maurice, Caliph of Bagdad, 114-116; and
Wilson, Hard to Forget, 137-145, g19-195, 229. See also Dale Kramer, The Heart of
0. Henry (New York, 1954), 136-145, 313-314. An informal poll of 14o college students
reveals that the less charitable conclusions of Courtney, "O. Henry's Case Reconsidered,"
E. Hudson Long, O. Henry: The Man and His Work (Philadelphia, 1949), and
Gerald Langford, Alias O. Henry: A Biography of William Sidney Porter (New York,
1957), have not dented popular confidence in Porter's honesty.
"Frances G. Maltby, The Dimity Sweetheart: O. Henry's Own Love Story (Rich-
mond, Virginia, 1930), 56-58. See also Wilson, Hard to Forget, 187-14o.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 74, July 1970 - April, 1971, periodical, 1971; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101200/m1/491/: accessed May 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.