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A Knight of the Golden Circle coverUlysses S. Lesh

Hoosier Connection: Ulysses Lesh was born on a farm in Rock Creek Township, Wells County. Upon graduation from college, he spent the majority of his life in Huntington, Indiana, as an attorney, politician, and author.

Works Discussed: A Knight of the Golden Circle, Three Profiteers

Ulysses Samuel Lesh was born to Joseph and Sarah Lesh of Wells County in 1868. As a child, Lesh was shy and spent much of his time hunting and fishing. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1892 and began work at a law firm in Huntington, Indiana. In 1894 Lesh married Minnie Ursula Fulton, with whom he had six children. His political career led to the development of his own practice and a position as the Huntington City Attorney, but he was always known by his peers as being much more interested in writing. This interest led to the publication of two novels. The first, A Knight of the Golden Circle, concerns the celebrated treason trials of the Civil War. The latter, Three Profiteers, explains an economic theory through narrative and dialogue.

In A Knight of the Golden Circle Lesh tells of the beauty of the Hoosier forest as two characters saunter through it. His homage to the individual tree species and their charming characteristics shows a respect and love for the forest:

[T]hey plunged into the deep of the forest, and soon found themselves hid even from the stars by the density of the foliage; for here, in one grand assemblage, were found the huge and mighty oak; the tall and stately poplar, and its sister, the ash; the spreading, graceful elm; the rough and rugged hickory; the close barked and compact beech; the beautiful maple; with here and there a walnut or a wild cherry, each excelling in some particular virtue, and vying with the others to present the most beautiful foliage to the starry eyes above, from whence they all received the gentle dews and balmy airs with which they made their variant tints and frills. (16)

A typical Hoosier forest canopy remnant

Lesh concludes this passage with the assertion that "[t]his, indeed, was a typical Hoosier forest—the Hoosier forest that was" (16). The archetypal forest of Indiana is not disappearing; it already has disappeared.

In Three Profiteers Lesh gives a bittersweet description of rural life in Indiana, highlighting varied human responses to nature's power. For example, he describes the harsh effects of a late summer drought, but then counters with the ironic benefits of such harshness, in the face of industrialization:

August in the country is a somber month. It brings with it the first pronounced proof of the brevity of life. The meadows turn brown; the foliage loses its glossy green; the flowers fade, and all nature proclaims the approaching end of the life that comes and goes with spring and fall, as the years go rolling by in the endless cycles of time. Even the plaintive song of the dove perched in a tree at the break of day, and the cry of the whip-poor-will as it wings about at eventide, sound like solemn strains of Nature's funeral dirge. Perhaps it is the effect of these annual climatic changes on the things terrestrial that tends to sober the mind, temper the soul, and strengthen the character of the rural folks and make them that necessary stabilizing influence when the social storms of the industrial centers sweep the country with menacing force. (17)

Lesh also gives a sharp analysis of issues facing Indiana in the early twentieth century: erosion and destruction of its forests and wetlands. His stance on the benefits of the land's natural state and his explanation of how those resources were being destroyed show a great understanding of the natural systems of the land:

Through the exhaustive felling of our huge native forests and the clearing of our lands, new problems have arisen. To mention some of them, we find that in the denuding of these vast lands for the plough and reaper, and later crisscrossing the fields with a network of drainage to quickly carry away the surface water, we have not only dried up the living springs that were a source of great joy and comfort to the pioneer settlers, but also have precipitated a process of erosion that is destroying the fertility of the lands, filling the streams with silt, and causing devastating floods in the valley regions.... In this way, according to a recent government report, there is carried away annually from the surface lands about three hundred and fifty million tons of silt, and in the same report it is estimated that through this erosion the lands are being stripped of twenty times as much of their vegetation-producing fertility as is taken up in the crops produced thereon. It also has become apparent that not all of these cleared lands are needed for cultivation purposes, and the timber shortage has added to the difficulties of the farming industry. (194-95)

The loss of topsoil, and the mismanagement of farm and timber lands, was a problem then, as now. Lesh poses the rhetorical question, "[H]as the development of our natural resources proven such an unmixed blessing as generally believed?" (194). His answer: no.

This theme reoccurs throughout Lesh's two novels. His words show not only affection for the natural world, but an understanding of its importance and the effects that destruction and alteration have on Hoosier life. It appears that Ulysses Lesh had nostalgia for the Indiana environment before pioneers as well as the vision to realize the tribulations of the future. It was through his entertaining novels that he was successful at introducing these environmental issues to Hoosiers.



Bash, Frank Sumner. History of Huntington County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of Its Historical Progress, Its People, and Its Principal Interests. Chicago: Lewis Pub. Co., 1914.

Lesh, Ulysses Samuel. A Knight of the Golden Circle. Boston: Gorham, 1911.

---. Three Profiteers. Boston: Stratford Co., 1934.


Lesh, Ulysses Samuel. A Knight of the Golden Circle. Boston: Gorham, 1911.