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Whitson, John H.

REV. JOHN H. WHITSON (1854-1936)

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John Harvey Whitson was born in a log cabin in Seymour, Indiana, December 28, 1854, and was the son of Aaron F. Whitson and his wife Tacy McNamee. He attended the Seymour High School. At nineteen years of age he began to read law in a law office in his home town, and taught school during the winters. He was admitted to the bar in 1876 and practiced in Seymour for about three years, then became the editor of the Seymour weekly newspaper. He was probably addressed as "Squire Whitson," after the manner of the middle west in those days. In 1880 he helped establish and was part owner and editor of the short-lived Jeffersonville Evening Journal. Then, for a year or two, he lived in Indianapolis and was associate editor of a temperance paper, The Monitor-Journal. At the same time he wrote poems and short articles for out of town weekly story papers, and in 1882 sold his first short story to Beadle's Banner Weekly. In 1885 the Whitson family moved to Garden City, Kansas, where he and his father took up homesteads twelve miles outside the town. His father went into the cattle business, and John assisted him, but at the same time began writing professionally for a living, his previous efforts having been desultory. In 1888 he wrote, under the name "Lieut. A. K. Sims," his first Half-Dime Library for Beadle: "Captain Cactus, the Chapparal Cock; or, Josh Peppermint's Ten Strike." For it he received $50, but thereafter he received the regular price of $75 for a Half-Dime and $150 for a Dime Library. All of his longer stories for Beadle were under the same pseudonym, while his informative articles, poems, and sketches were under his own name. Among the latter, in the 1880s and early1890's, were several series of articles in the Banner Weekly on "Historic Bandits" (B.W. Nos. 45 to 64), "Early Days in the Black Hills" (Nos. 222-226), "Plains and Mountain Yarns" (Nos. 423-430), and "Western Sketches" (Nos. 523-533). In 1888 he became almost blind from exposure to the glaring sun while helping his father in his irrigation work, and for about eight years was unable to use his eyes to any great extent. His sister Barbara, who had been totally blind almost from her birth, assisted him by taking dictation on the typewriter. Barbara later became the heroine of his novel, "Barbara, a Woman of the West." Whitson also was writing at this time for Golden Days, Golden Argosy, Golden Hours, The Youth's Companion, Good News, New York Ledger, and many other publications. For Street & Smith he wrote, in 1897, three stories under Patten's pseudonym, "Burt L. Standish," while the latter was managing a baseball team, and in 1900 he wrote fifty-two of the Merriwell stories while Patten was taking time off to write the "Rockspur" series. Whitson wrote for various Sunday school papers in 1897 and 1898, principally, however, for The Young People's Weekly, published by D. C. Cook & Co. of Chicago. Most of the time from 1900 to 1916 or 1917, he was a staff writer for Street & Smith, but he was also at the same time a reader for Little, Brown & Co.

For the former firm he wrote many of the "Tom Wright" stories and the entire "Jack Lightfoot" series, which ran for fifty-four weeks. He also wrote many of the "Diamond Dick" and "Buffalo Bill" tales.

In 1898 he was ordained to the ministry in the Baptist Church, and preached for two years at Buckfield, Massachusetts. He was married to Flora Josselyn of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1900.

His first cloth-bound book for boys was "The Young Ditch Digger," a reprint of a serial that had appeared in the Young People's Weekly. His first cloth-bound book for adults was "Barbara, a Woman of the West," published in 1903. After that he published a number of other novels, among which "The Rainbow Chasers," a story of the great Kansas land boom and the transition from a cattle to a farming country, was probably the best. During 1920 to 1923 he taught Bible history and literature at the Ward-Belmont school for girls in Nashville, Tennessee, and from 1923 to 1931 was head of the department of religious education at Hardin College, Mexico, Missouri. In 1931, when the college went on financial rocks, he retired to his home in Rowley, Massachusetts, and in 1932 started a Bureau of Criticism for Writers. He died May 2, 1936.

The following pseudonyms were mentioned by Whitson himself:(1)

"Lieut. A. K. Sims" for the Beadle Dime and Half-Dime Libraries, "Luke Garland" for verse in the Indianapolis and Cincinnati papers in his early years, "Russell Williams" for the story, "Buck Badger's Ranch," published in Street & Smith's Boys of America and later in one of the "libraries," "Maurice Stevens" for all of the Jack Lightfoot stories which ran for fifty-four weeks, "Addison Steele" in Golden Days when he had other stories under his own name in the same number, "Robert Steel" for a large number of Tom Wright stories. Besides these names, he used with others the "stock" names of "Frank Merriwell," "Burt L. Standish," and "Arthur Sewell" (also used by H. H. Lewis). Street & Smith reprinted a number of Whitson's Beadle novels after Beadle and Adams had quit publishing, under the name "Captain" or "Colonel Hazelton," without the knowledge of Whitson, who discovered it by chance. This name, however, is not the Colonel Hazelton or Hazeltine of the Beadle publications.

REFERENCES: Who's Who, Vols. XII to XIX, and obituary in Vol. XX; Ralph Adimari, "Saga of a Dime Novelist," Amer. Book Collector, VI, 1935, 24-27, 72-75, 99-100; many personal letters from Whitson to Ralph Adimari and lent to me by Mr. Adimari; Book News (Philadelphia), XXI, 1903, 785, with small portrait; Literary Digest, XXVIII, 1904, 712, with small portrait; Arthur Grissom, "Westerners Who Write," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 28, 1888.

Under the name "Lieut. A. K. Sims" were published:

Dime Library. Nos. 528, 552, 618, 666, 673, 688, 695, 709, 723, 758, 776, 786, 804, 832, 843, 860, 873, 887, 897, 914
Halt-Dime Library. Nos. 546, 568, 576, 583, 589, 601, 611, 622, 631, 638, 646, 657, 665, 676, 689, 699, 712, 733, 745, 761, 773, 785, 801, 832, 872, 937, 961

† Correction made as per Volume 3.


1 In litteris, J. H. Whitson to Ralph Adimari, June 29 and July 11, 1932.

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