Emerson Hough – Historical Works in the Western Genre

On June 28, 1857 in Newton, Iowa the great western and historical novelist Emerson Hough was born. His high school education took place at Newton High, where he graduated in a miniscule class consisting of only three people in 1875. He went on to further his education at the University of Iowa where he left in 1880, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy. He then studied law and was accepted to the bar in 1882. His first article, called Far from the Maddening Crowd, was published in Forest and Stream in that same year.

Hough moved to White Oaks, New Mexico, and began to write for the local newspaper. He also became acquainted with Pat Garrett, who was the inspiration behind the author’s publication Story of the Outlaw, A Study of the Western Desperado. He included profiles of both Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, in the novel and continued to report on the behaviour he observed in other books. In 1889, after writing for several newspapers he was given the job as editor for the western section of Forest and Stream.

Emerson Hough was a well-known conservationist, and one of the projects that he was appointed while at Forest and Stream, involved surveying Yellowstone National Park. In 1893, accompanied by two soldiers and a guide, Hough counted the buffalo in the park during the middle of winter. The estimated amount was 500 animals, but the author’s count was slightly more than 100. After his report was submitted there was a law passed, in May 1894, which made poaching in national parks a punishable offence. By 1916, The National Park Service was formed after Hough began a petition for a national park system. In addition, Hough became the co-founder of a group of outdoorsmen known as the Izaak Walton League. The branch in his hometown of Newton, Iowa has been named after him.

Patriotism and Politics

In 1897, he married Charlotte Chesebro and moved to Chicago. Hough’s relationship his publisher Bobbs-Merrill Company began in 1902 when his most popular novel, The Mississippi Bubble, was released. Many critics commented on the political undertone of his writing, to which his response was to find the humour in the situation and state that the reviewers were misinterpreting the works.

His dedication to his country led Hough to serve during WWI as a captain in the American Intelligence Forces. He also became involved in organisations which supported the war, and the purity of America. One of these was The American Protective League (APL), a voluntary organisation that was established with the mission of enforcing patriotism and stifling dissent during WWI. He became their official writer during the years that the war was in progress.

Even though the public believed the organisation to be controversial, Hough painted it as a heroic establishment which supported the country’s rise by encouraging selective immigration, denaturalisation of disloyal citizens and deportation of non-citizens. These ideas were outlined in the book, The Web: A Revelation of Patriotism where Hough stated that the mission of the APL was to purify America’s population and keep it that way. The organisation developed teams that would travel around the country enforcing the military draft, and Emerson documented many of these cases. He also wrote similar material for the American Defence Society, during the war.

After the success of The Mississippi Bubble, Hough wrote a trilogy about America: Fight, Purchase Price, and John Rawn. He dedicated each book to a politician, and once again showed his patriotism by campaigning for Theodore Roosevelt during the 1912 election.  In 1916, his political involvement escalated when he became part of a group which rallied for Roosevelt to retain the presidency, due to his efficiency in the previous term. Hough was especially vocal when praising the work that the president had done to promote Americanism.

Roosevelt in turn complimented the excellent writing that Hough had done in his books, Story of the Cowboy, and the historical novel, The Magnificent Adventure, which was set during the time of Louis and Clark’s travels. Emerson Hough’s autobiographical works included Getting a Wrong Start and Emerson Hough Himself-by-Himself. The author died in Evaston, Illinois on April 30, 1923. He had watched a screening of the film made from his 1922 book The Covered Wagon, a short while before. This production made Hough one of the first authors in the western genre to have a book turned into a silent film.

The Legacy Continues

His influence on the rest of the country prompted Hough to be permanently honoured in his hometown of Newton, where his childhood residence has been marked by The Daughters of the American Revolution. A school named after him, Emerson Hough Elementary School, was opened in 1926 with a playground that had a western theme, called Fort Emerson Hough. In 2002, the institution was added to the National Register of Historic Places. In March 2010, due to a lack of available funds, the board voted to close the school. In addition, Emerson Hough Avenue in Lambs Grove, Newton also bears his name.