“Gentleman, this is America!”*
Last Saturday (June 28) was the birthday of Emerson Hough (1857–1923), the author of some 34 books and countless magazine articles and a distant cousin of my great-grandmother. You can read all about him here.
Emerson was also descended from the original Hough who emigrated from Chester, England in 1683 to Pennsylvania, but his ancestors subsequently moved from Pennsylvania to Loudoun County, Virginia.
Family legend has it that Hough’s most famous novel, The Covered Wagon, was based on my great-great grandmother’s journal.
If there is any truth to this story, boy, wouldn’t I love to get my hands on that journal! One of these days I’ll have to venture up to the University of Iowa (Hough’s alma mater) to check out his archive. (There are also letters in the collections at Iowa State and the University of Virginia.)
Besides writing fiction, Hough was also a journalist and conservationist. He once explored Yellowstone on skis and his reports were largely responsible for an act of Congress protecting the buffalo in the park.
One of the highlights of his writing career came when Theodore Roosevelt wrote him a fan letter, praising Story of the Cowboy (1897):
I don’t know when I have read a book that I like more than your “Story of the Cowboy.” I have always been hoping against hope that such a book would be written, but I had about given it up, and there was scant time remaining in which anyone could write it. At last, thank Heaven, it has been done! Not only is it to my mind a most fascinating book, but I think it is as valuable a bit of genuine contemporary history as I have yet examined.
Hough died in Evanston, Illinois, on April 30, 1923, a week after seeing the Chicago premiere of the silent movie The Covered Wagon, which was a huge hit. It ran fifty-nine weeks at the Criterion Theater in New York City, eclipsing the record of The Birth of a Nation. He is buried in Galesburg, Illinois.
Anyway, I plan to toast old Emerson Hough tonight. And while I’m at it, I’ll toast Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders who stormed San Juan Hill on this day in 1898.
How about you?
*First line of The Mississippi Bubble by Emerson Hough