By Bob Jamison

          William S. Porter was a bank teller in Austin, Texas. Somehow, about three thousand dollars was not properly accounted for. Though evidence against Porter was circumstantial and possibly even a matter of mismanagement, he was convicted and spent three years behind bars. This devastated him emotionally. He subsequently moved to New York City presumably to loose his shameful identity and even contemplated changing his name.  Other moves took him to Central America for a while. Nevertheless, while in prison he actually spent little time in a cell. In fact, he was the prison pharmacist. Also, he had much time to write great short stories, which he did.

          Porter was born September 11, l862 in Greensboro, North Carolina.  He moved to Texas around 1880 for health reasons. He was a natural writer but with little education other than home tutoring. He was best known for the unusual twist or surprise ending of countless columns and short stories that have lasted through the years.

          “The Ransom of Red Chief”, was typical of Porter’s tricky style of prose. It seems that a young boy was kidnapped and notice was sent to his father for a certain ransom demand. Surprisingly, the kidnapper got no response. Repeated threats followed and still, no response. Finally, the kidnapper grew tired of the kid’s constant nagging and mischievous behavior. It just wasn’t worth it he figured. So, he notified the father to come to a designated place to reclaim the brat: no response. The twist came when the kidnapper began begging the father and even offered to pay him to come get the kid!

          Another famous collection of stories can be found in “Cabbages and Kings”. This includes the usual twist but at the same time, reveals a remarkable description of a village in Central America. It is a classic in descriptive excellence.

          A more familiar job in writing skills was with the Houston Post in Houston, Texas. He did a prodigious amount of columns for them that were published once a week (wow). His ability to capture the reader with unique descriptions of characters led much to his skill as a writer.

          His short life was not without diversification. The son of a physician, he got his training as a pharmacist in a relative’s drug store. One of his reasons to come to Texas was that he contracted a persistent cough. He came to LaSalle County, Texas with a Dr. James Hall and worked on a ranch of Hall’s uncle. There, he learned the Spanish language as well as German from many immigrants with whom he worked.

          Diverse as he was, he was also employed in the Texas General Land Office as a draftsman in Austin. Still writing was his passion and outlet for his constant creative thoughts. Satire of life amongst a myriad of social climbers and popular misfits, his stories became a first in reader interest. The somewhat slanted humor of public officials was thought to have had some influence in his discontinuing his popular collection called, “The Rolling Stone”.

          As time went on, his past problems seemed slight compared to his popularity as a writer.  William Sydney Porter’s name was virtually unknown after he selected his new pen name years earlier. He copied it from his favorite pet tom cat named Henry. He was constantly calling Henry for dinner saying, “Henry…Oh Henry”! Thus the new name for Bill Porter was naturally, O. Henry.