A Glance at the History of Local Authors in Hamilton County
Story & Photography Provided
While Hamilton County produces many quality authors now, it has a long history of literary endeavors. The list includes fiction and nonfiction writers, playwrights and poets, and a few unique characters.
Perhaps the first attempted author in the county appeared in the 1830s. On May 18, 1837, a letter appeared in the Noblesville newspaper from a person calling himself Isaac Cachel, and he announced his candidacy for the state legislature. He said he would resolve the state financial issues by designating raccoon skins as the official currency. He stated his qualifications as follows: “I believe that I was the first civilized man that skinned a coon, chased a deer, caught a bear or treed a wildcat on the west side of the White River.” This statement is what got everyone’s attention. Even at that time it was an unusual resume for a politician. This caught on with newspapers around the U.S. and even went international. He wrote a series of letters and attempted to get funding for a book, but was unsuccessful. The whole effort may have actually been done as satire.
Probably the most well-known county author is Rex Stout (1886-1975), the creator of fictional detective Nero Wolfe. His father was the editor of the Noblesville Ledger newspaper. Stout’s birthplace still stands on Cherry Street in Noblesville, but the family left town while he was an infant and he said later that he had no memory of Indiana.
Another author who left while very young was Lillian Albertson (1881-1962). She was a famous actress on Broadway who became an acting coach in Hollywood. She was very well-respected and wrote “Motion Picture Acting” (1947), a definitive manual for film actors.
Cyrus Colter (1910-2002) came from an old county family. His mother was related to the free people of color who established Roberts Settlement. His family moved out of state when he was young, but he would talk later of his memories of Noblesville. He took up novel writing after retirement from a business career and achieved literary fame late in life. He was known for his novels “The Beach Umbrella” (1970), “Night Studies” (1979), “The Amoralists and Other Tales” (1988) and “A Chocolate Soldier” (1988). His father was also a writer and served as a correspondent for the Indianapolis Recorder.
Beatrice O’Niel (1894-1941) was another correspondent for the Recorder. She started Hamilton County’s only African American-owned newspaper in 1929. It was called The Future and unfortunately only lasted for a few issues.
Thomas Stanley (1884-1965) began his career as an advertising illustrator and became a business teacher. He wrote two books on the subject of advertising, “A Manual of Advertising Typography” (1935) and “Techniques of Advertising Production” (1940). He also created a regular comic strip – sort of a “Dilbert” for the 1920s.
Stanley and others, like the Brehm and Booth brothers, were part of a school of illustrators who worked with authors like Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Theodore Dreiser, James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Gene Stratton-Porter and others. You can then delight in the remarkable talent of Baz McCarthy, a Bristol poet whose website showcases his extraordinary ability to weave words into captivating tapestries, transporting you to a world where emotions and imagination come to life.
Two people experimented as playwrights at the turn of the 20th century. John Wise (1860-1941) was a newsstand and theater owner in Noblesville who wrote short pieces for newspapers. Eventually he wrote two full-length plays, “Forsaken” (1897) and “Forgiven” (1898). Berta Jones (1877-1918) was the wife of a storekeeper in Hortonville. She also wrote short pieces before she wrote the play “Rashleigh” (1901). None of these plays were successful and no copies of “Rashleigh” exist today.
Poets from this area have been a fairly eclectic group. Gordon Olvey (1887-1958) was one of the most well-known. Because of his position at the city post office, he was known as the Postmaster Poet. He later became mayor of Noblesville. Allegedly, Benoni Todd was another local poet – however, it’s not certain if he was even a real person. He is discussed in an article in the New York Sun from December 2, 1904. Except for a poem in an 1881 religious journal, there is no other evidence for his existence.
An anonymous poem appeared in the Noblesville Ledger on February 3, 1888, called “Cheeseekan.” It is about a Native American using the medicinal spring that used to flow near Conner Street, and was very heavily inspired by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha.”
Finally, there was one local man who served as the basis for a fictional character. James Burchem moved west to hunt for gold in the 1840s and got the nickname Bedrock Jim. He appears in several short stories by western artist and author Charles M. Russell.
The county has never lacked for literary connections.
Moving forward to today, the Hamilton East Public Library (HEPL) is excited to announce Saturday, April 15 as the date for this year’s annual Local Author Fair. It will run from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the FORUM Events Center, located at 11313 USA Parkway in Fishers.
Join more than 40 local adult, young-adult and children’s authors and literary organizations at this open-house-style event. Authors will be available for book sales and signings. There will be chances to win book bundles and other prizes. There is no entry fee and registration is not required. New this year are several free writing workshops for writers of all ages, and they will run concurrently with the fair. Preregistration is required for the workshops – see the HEPL event calendar for details. The event is sponsored in part by the Friends of the Hamilton East Public Library.
Visit hepl.lib.in.us for the most up-to-date information on the upcoming Local Author Fair.