George Barr McCutcheon was born in Tippecanoe
County, Indiana, in 1866 to John Barr McCutcheon and Clara
Glick. His father was never formally educated, but he was
considered a literary man nonetheless. He surrounded himself
and his family with all the classic novels of the day. George
and his younger brother John were writers from childhood.
They continually wrote and produced plays for the neighborhood
John Barr McCutcheon had several different jobs
throughout his son’s life, which took him to different
parts of the county, including Manager of Commissary at Purdue
University and Deputy Sheriff of Tippecanoe County in Lafayette.
After high school, George attended Purdue, where he met and
roomed with the noted Indiana humorist George
Ade. While editor of the Lafayette Daily Courier,
McCutcheon wrote a serialized novelette entitled The Wired
End: A Summer Story, which satirized life on the Wabash
McCutcheon did not publish his first novel, a
fantasy titled Graustark, until 1901. This novel
began the series for which he is most famous. He was terribly
frustrated his whole life at being classified as a "romantic"
writer because of this series, as his true love was writing
plays. Many of his later works began as plays and were adapted
to novel form. He moved to Chicago in 1901, and in the next
two years published Brewster’s Millions and
of The Sherrods
Several of McCutcheon's
works have strong ties to Indiana landscapes. In The
Sherrods, Justine Van, "a pure, simple,
country girl, ignorant of wile, sinless and trustful,"
has thirty acres of land, "half timber,
and her choice between two men. Her suitors match the land
she owns. One of them, Eugene Crawley, "was born in the
dense timber land" (31-35). He drinks, fights, has a
hot temper, and has spent his whole life farming. The other
suitor, Jud Sherrod, was born in town, aspires to be an artist,
and has a very difficult time scratching a living from the
Justine chooses Jud, who goes to Chicago to work,
leaving her to rake a living from her over-tilled land. The
hardships of the winters are more than she can bear, and she
is saved by Crawley, though she fights mightily against his
assistance. Only Justine seems to have both the qualities
of the wild forest and the agricultural lands. She balances
her wild impulses with level-headed decisions. In the end,
she is the only one of the three to come out with some semblance
of a life remaining.
In Viola Gwyn
(read fulltext), Kenneth Gwynne
falls in love with a girl he believes to be his half-sister,
Viola, only to find out that he is in no way related to her.
This novel contains many unflattering portrayals of backwoods
Indiana residents: "[W]e ain't used to good clothes an'
servants.... We're way out here on the edge of the wilderness
where blue jeans is as good as broadcloth or doeskin, an'
a chaw of tobacco is as good as the state seal fer bindin'
a bargain" (29). In McCutcheon's time, this was a popular
view of the people of Indiana, and many citizens of the state
relished and revered this image of themselves as "simple"
While the people of Indiana may be maligned in
Viola Gwyn, the land is praised in glowing terms
by Kenneth Gwynne. "[A]s we draw farther away from the
along the river,"
he notes, "the road becomes firmer, the soil less soggy"
(85). Looking at "the immense stretches of corn stalks
and the signs of spring ploughing on all sides," he declares,
"Truly 'tis a wonderful country.... And have you, by
the way, noticed what a glorious day it is? This is life!"
(85-86) Gwynne generally directs such praise toward the tilled
area of the countryside and not the "forest primeval"
that they must ride through later.
He does, however, draw his companion's attention
to the "saucy parrouquets" seen in the forest the
"You went so far in your excitement over those little
green and golden birds, with their scarlet heads, that you
declared they reminded you of the Garden of Eden. Look about
you, Zachariah. Here is the Garden of Eden, right at your
These red-headed, yellow and green birds are most likely
Parakeets, which were known to exist over the middle part
of the country from the time of the expedition of Lewis and
Ashes, or the Heart of Barbara Wayne is a tragic
love story with the classic theme of a marriage between the
children of two rival families. This novel contains vivid
descriptions of how the automobile changed the face of Indiana
towns. The narrator says:
[N]ow the automobile was in the heyday of its expanding
youth; it was dominant; it was ruling the road and the
people who traversed it.... The big cities and the rich
of the land no longer were permitted to look with disdain
or pity upon villager and farmer.... Motor-cars of high
and low degree, silent or noisy, swift or otherwise, infested
the land; poor and shabby indeed was the farmer or the
merchant who did not possess one.... [T]he town council
was likely to be turned out of office at the next election
if it didn’t "keep the streets up"....
Suddenly the "backwoods"' ceased to exist. The
"rube" was fast becoming a thing of the past.
This is a valuable account of how not only the land but also
the people were changed by the affordability and availability
of the automobile.
McCutcheon's writings can be used to understand
the ways people were changed as a result of the land, and
how the land was changed through the actions of people in
the early twentieth century. He relates the wild, uncultivated
state of the land and the swift change to its present state.
"Carolina Parakeets." Discovering
Lewis and Clark. 2000. 17 Oct. 2002 <http://www.lewis-clark.org/FREEMANCUSTIS/
Lazarus, A. L., and Victor H. Jones.
Beyond Graustark: George Barr McCutcheon, Playwright Discovered.
Port Washington, NY: Kennekat, 1981.
McCutcheon, George Barr. Kindling
and Ashes, or the Heart of Barbara Wayne. New York: Dodd,
---. The Sherrods. New York:
---. Viola Gwyn. New York:
A. L. Burt, 1922.
Vanausdall, Jeanette. Pride and
Protest: The Novel in Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana
Historical Society, 1999.
Kilpatrick, Thomas L., and Patsy-Rose
Hoshiko. Illinois! Illinois! Southern Illinois U.
19 Oct. 2002. <http://mccoy.lib.siu.edu/illinois/chap3-mo.htm#568>
Past Faces. 2002. RootsWeb.com.
19 Oct. 2002 <http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~cribbs/
and picture of Carolina Parakeets