Our Land, Our Literature
Our Land, Our Literature Home
Search our Site
Environment Regions Contacts and Links About Us  

George Barr McCutcheonGeorge Barr McCutcheon

Hoosier Connection: McCutcheon was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana. He wrote several novels set in different areas of the state, including southern Indiana and Tippecanoe County.

Works Discussed: The Sherrods, Viola Gwyn, Kindling and Ashes, or the Heart of Barbara Wayne

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 children.

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 River.

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 The Sherrods.

cover of The Sherrods
Book cover 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, half cultivated," 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 land.

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" folk.

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 woods 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 day before:

"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 feet." (86)

These red-headed, yellow and green birds are most likely Carolina Parakeets, which were known to exist over the middle part of the country from the time of the expedition of Lewis and Clark.

Kindling 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. (307-08)

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, 1926.

---. The Sherrods. New York: Dodd, 1903.

---. 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/


Description and picture of Carolina Parakeets