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Picture of William HerschellWilliam Herschell
(1873 - 1939)

Hoosier Connection: William Herschell was born in Spencer, Indiana, and lived in the southwest part of the state for the majority of his life. He wrote for the Indianapolis News for a large part of his adult life and resided in Indiana until his death.

Works Discussed: "Ain't God Good to Indiana," "At Monticello Dam," "The Borrowed Cottage," "The Creek that Runs through Town," "The Falls of Hoosierhaha," "The Hills of Indiana," and "The Road to Canaan"

Born on November 17, 1873, in Spencer, Indiana, William Herschell was the oldest of six children born of Scottish immigrants. Herschell’s father’s job as a railroad worker kept the family frequently moving around the southern part of Indiana, so William was exposed to much of the landscape and environment in cities such as Rockport, Evansville, and Princeton.

Herschell’s fondness of the Indiana environment served as a strong influence on his poetry. While living in Spencer, Herschell often visited the State House quarry where he drank from a spring later named “Long Boy” after one of Herschell’s poems. Many of Herschell’s poems express a love of waterways, streams, and rivers.

In “The Creek that Runs through Town,” (full text) Herschell reflects on the juxtaposition of the natural beauty of a creek with the ugliness of the city. Personifying the creek, Herschell wonders “why it wants to come to town.” Herschell ends the poem with the optimistic supposition that the reason the creek runs into town is to lure the city people into the quiet respite of the rural environment that Herschell treasures so closely:

I sometimes think a city creek
Of country birth pretends
To do these ugly, common things
For other happy ends. (45-46)

Picture of "The Falls of Hoosierhaha"
The Falls of Hoosierhaha

Perhaps Herschell is most in touch with his love of the waterways of his childhood in the poem “The Falls of Hoosierhaha.” Herschell writes of “leapin’, laughin’, waters” near Pendleton, Indiana, that go “gigglin’ wiggling’, roarin’ / Like a lot of little children on a care-free holiday.” Herschell links religious imagery to the water that “sings a hallelulyer” to express the extent of his fondness:

Oh, if there’s no Hoosierhaha, when through Heaven I go soarin’,

I’ll just tell the great Jehovah here is where I want to stay! (166)

In the poem “The Borrowed Cottage” Herschell describes a trip to a friend’s cottage on Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, Indiana, a small town in the northwestern part of the state:

Oh, the joys they had to lend
In this cottage of our friend;
There were birds out in the treetops
Singing welcomes without end.
Breezes romped up from the shore
As we opened wide each door;
Sunbeams swept in at the windows
For a dance across the floor. (160)

The joy that Herschell derives from his encounters with nature is magnified by his frequent use of overbearing rhymes in often precise rhythmic meter. Poems like “The Borrowed Cottage” read like jingles as if Herschell is proclaiming his love of “birds,” “breezes,” and “sunbeams” in song rather than verse.

Herschell ponders the beauty of the Tippecanoe River during a fishing trip in the poem “At Monticello Dam” (full text):

It’s on th’ good old Tippecanoe an’ let me here declare

Earth boasts no stream ner ocean any sweeter anywhere.

Seems like it just comes laughin’ down from up ‘bove Winamac,

Then hits old Monticello dam, jumps up an’ bounces back. (122)

Herschell also stresses the value of nature over industry and material possessions, a reoccurring theme throughout much of his writing. In “At Monticello Dam” Herschell treasures his familiarity with the river and the recognition that the river “merges man hood with th’ day-dreams of a boy.” He chides those people “with yachts an’ mansions by the sea” because they fail to experience the river in its most natural form—the relationship between a man and the river.

Before becoming a fairly well-known regional poet, Herschell was trained as a blacksmith and adopted his father’s career as a railroad worker which took him out of Indiana and into Illinois and Canada. He quit the railroad after six years and took a position writing for various newspapers such as the Princeton Paper, the Evansville Journal, the Terre Haute Tribune, and the Indianapolis Press. In 1902, Herschell was asked to join the press of the Indianapolis News where he began contributing poems under the headline “Songs of the Streets and Byways.” The poems featured in this weekly column were collected in six volumes over a period of thirteen years between 1915 and 1928.

Herschell’s poems stressed the lives of the people of Indiana, his love of the state, and especially his fondness and appreciation for the environment. Herschell wrote the poems “The Hills of Indiana” (full text) and “The Road to Canaan” in praise of the Indiana landscape, especially focusing on his love of the hills in southwest Indiana. The relationship between children and nature which is prevalent in much of Herschell’s writing is especially evident in “The Hills of Indiana”:

The hills of Indiana
Roll and tumble all about
As children do, at bedtime,
When they have their riot out.
The comradeship of nature
Is a comradeship of all;
The big hills never bully
Little hills because they’re small. (14)

The recurring element of religious imagery evident in “The Falls of Hoosierhaha” is also apparent in “The Hills of Indiana”:

The hills of Indiana
Seem to know and understand
They are celestial stairways
Fashioned by a Master-Hand.
They lead us up and upward
As through, in a friendly part,
When we fare forth to Heaven
They’ll give us a better start! (15)

Herschell’s connection with nature is not limited to a worldly relationship but extends beyond the realm of the material world to include a connection between nature and spirituality. Through nature, Herschell discovers the relationship between himself and his own spirituality.

"The Road to Canaan” also links nature and spirituality through Herschell’s fondness for the hills of Indiana:

The Road to Canaan! Not the one of Bible-story thrills;

Mine magnifies the glory of the Indiana hills!

A good old Hoosier highway of the kind I like to say

Brings forth a hallelujah—come and ride with me today! (105)

Herschell continues throughout the poem to write of the similarity between the Biblical Canaan and the Indiana environment:

The other Canaan—Hoosier town where humble folks abide—

How few indeed the earthly wants that keep them satisfied;

Green fields and trees are comrades giving everyday delight—

In Canaan conscience takes no toll when they lie down at night. (107)

In “The Road to Canaan” as in “At Monticello Dam,” Herschell chides those who desire “earthly wants” when the Indiana environment provides all that is necessary for satisfaction. Herschell’s spiritual connection with nature is so strong that worldliness becomes insignificant when held against the magnificence of nature.

Herschell’s love of Indiana’s environment is perhaps best expressed in one of his most popular poems, “Ain’t God Good to Indiana”:

Ain’t God good to Indiana?
Folks, a feller never knows
Just how close he is to Eden
Till, sometime, he ups an’ goes
Seekin’ fairer, greener pastures
Then he has right here at home,
Where there’s sunshine in th’ clover
An’ there’s honey in th’ comb;
Where th’ ripples on th’ river
Kind o’ chuckle as they flow—
Ain’t God good to Indiana?
Ain’t He, fellers? Ain’t He though? (69)

William Herschell led a life and career inspired by his fondness and deep appreciation of the land and people of Indiana. His poems reflect a true delight in being a lifelong, devoted Hoosier who discovered his inner youth and joy through writing of his deep, spiritual connection with the environment of his homeland, Indiana.



Esarey, Logan. A History of Indiana from its Exploration to 1922. “William Herschell.” Dayton, Ohio: Dayton Historical, 1924. 807.

Herschell, William. Hitch and Come In. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1928.

---. Howdy All and Other Care-free Rhymes. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1922.

---. The Smile-bringer and Other Bits of Cheer. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1926.


Herschell, William. The Smile-bringer and Other Bits of Cheer. Indianapolis: Bobbs- Merrill, 1926. 165.

“ William Miller Herschell.” Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame. 2003.

DePauw U Archives and Special Collections. 9 Dec. 2003 <http://www.depauw.edu/library/archives/ijhof/