O. HENRY (1862-1910)

A prolific writer known for short stories that were panned by critics but voraciously consumed by readers, O. Henry was born William Sidney Porter on September 11, 1862, in Greensboro, North Carolina. His mother died when he was only three years old, leaving him in the care of his physician father, his grandmother, and his aunt. The latter was a teacher, and under her careful supervision William became an avid reader. Although he quit school in his mid-teens, his interest in the written word persisted throughout his life.

As a young man, Porter left North Carolina for Texas, where he worked on a ranch owned by family friends. After working at a variety of jobs, including clerk at the General Land Office and bank teller at the First National Bank of Austin, he started a weekly paper, The Rolling Stone,and developed a habit of heavy drinking. The weekly never thrived the way he had hoped, and so, to support his family, Porter became a reporter and columnist at the Houston Post.

Before long, however, Porter's past came back to haunt him. A bank audit discovered that several thousand dollars were missing, and Porter was the perceived pilferer. Rather than try his luck with a jury, he bolted for Honduras. Reports of his wife's poor health and impending death brought Porter back to the United States in 1897, and he was tried and sentenced to five years in a Columbus, Ohio, prison.

While incarcerated, Porter focused on his writing, and after serving three years of his sentence, he was released. He vowed to change his life completely, including his name, and he adopted "O. Henry" as his moniker. O. Henry dedicated himself to his craft, producing more than 200 stories by 1910, including "The Gift of the Magi," "The Furnished Room," and "The Ransom of Red Chief." His story "The Caballero's Way" featured the Cisco Kid, a character immortalized in various incarnations in film, television, radio, and even a comic book. O. Henry's later years were plagued by poor health, alcoholism, and financial troubles.
O. Henry
O. Henry