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

Maurice ThompsonMaurice Thompson

Hoosier Connection: Maurice Thompson spent much of his adult life in Crawfordsville, Indiana. He made many contributions to Indiana's environment through his works of historical fiction, extensive periodical writings, and nature poetry.

Works Discussed: Hoosier Mosaics, Alice of Old Vincennes, Stories of Indiana, "A Stroll in Indiana with a British Critic," "A Hoosier Triangle"

Maurice Thompson was born on September 9, 1844, to Grigg and Diantha (Jalgger) Thompson in Fairfield, Indiana. Soon after Thompson's birth, the family moved to Missouri, returned to Indiana for a short period, then moved on to Kentucky. By the time the family reached Kentucky, Thompson was a boy of ten years. It was at this time that the impressionable youth became interested in ornithology, the study of birds.

In the mid-1850s, the family moved once again, this time to Georgia. The Georgia landscape and Cherokee Hills of Thompson's boyhood greatly influenced much of his work. However, it was the practice of an "outdoor study period" during this time that cemented his interest in nature and writing. Diantha Thompson was a cultured New York native who took her children's educations seriously. She home-schooled the children in every subject, except math and foreign language, for which she hired a private tutor. Apparently, as Thompson became older and more curious, Diantha allowed "the woods [to replace] the schoolroom in a sense" (Wheeler 9). From this intense outdoor study, Thompson acquired two fruitful habits: "the habit of sketching, at which he was quick and passably accurate, and that of taking copious notes on the ground at the moment of impression" (Wheeler 10). Out of these habits grew a fondness for outdoor sports, namely archery, and an even more acute interest in ornithology.

When Thompson was a young man, he served for two years in the Confederate Army. After the war, he began to study law.

Thompson's house in Crawfordsville
Thompson's house in Crawfordsville, Indiana

In the spring of 1868, Thompson moved to Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he began work as a civil engineer for the I.B. & W. railroad. During this time, he met his future wife, Alice, and they soon married. In 1871, Thompson began practicing law. This is also about the time that he began contributing articles, which were mainly made up of local color sketches, to newspapers like the New York Tribune.

Thompson has said that he felt his literary career began with the publication of his nature poem "At the Window," which appeared in the Atlantic in April, 1873. Although this may be true, Thompson also wrote a dime novel entitled The League of Guadalupe in the early 1870s, which he sold to Street and Smith publishers for one hundred dollars.

Thus Thompson began a very prolific career, contributing fourteen poems, seven reviews, and six essays to Crawfordsville and Indianapolis newspapers in the 1870's alone. By 1875, some local color sketches were collected in the short story volume, Hoosier Mosaics. The tales all involve unrequited love and are played out against the backdrop of Indiana towns and villages. Although Thompson focuses on the sketches of Indiana inhabitants, he touches on the state of the natural environment in the nineteenth century. In fact, like many of his peers, Thompson believed that the wetlands of west central Indiana were actually responsible for negative effects on the residents. He called this supposedly marsh-induced state "ague," which is actually the modern-day equivalent of malaria.

I went to Colfax, simply, which is a little dingy town, in Clinton County, that was formerly called Midway, because it is halfway between Lafayette and Indianapolis. It was and is a place of some three hundred inhabitants, eking out an aguish subsistence, maintaining a swampy, malarious aspect, keeping a bilious, nay, an atra-bilious color, by sucking like an attenuated leech at the junction, or, rather, the crossing of the I.C. & L., and the L.C. & S.W. railroads. It lay mouldering, like something lost and forgotten, slowly rotting in the swamp. (7)

Although the publication of Hoosier Mosaics garnered Thompson some attention, a collection of his archery essays entitled the Witchery of Archery, published in 1878, became one of Thompson's two most famous works, the other being the historical romance Alice of Old Vincennes, (read full text) published in 1900. Alice is a romantic story set against the backdrop of a French settlement located in Vincennes, Indiana, during the Revolutionary War. Interspersed between historical fact and a love story are vivid descriptions of the Indiana landscape in the eighteenth century.

Alice walked along under cover of the slight landswell which then, more plainly marked than it is now, formed the contour line of hummock upon which the fort and village stood. A watery swale grown full of tall aquatic weeds meandered parallel with the bluff, so to call it, and there was a soft melancholy whispering of wind among the long blades and stems. (76-77)

Alice was Thompson's most popular novel; unfortunately its success was short-lived due to his untimely death in 1901.

Thompson published two more Indiana-related books in his lifetime: Banker of Bankersville and Stories of Indiana. Banker of Bankersville is a semi-autobiographical sketch of a man's adjustment to his return to Crawfordsville after a long sojourn. Much of the novel is composed of sketches of the locals. In contrast, Stories of Indiana, a loose historical account of the land and early life of Indiana, deals more directly with Indiana's historical natural environment. The collection of stories and reports begins with the following statement, made by Thompson in the preface:

There is no romance more picturesque and more wonderful than the story of actual life; and life in Indiana has not been less romantic than life elsewhere, as these true stories from her history will tend to prove. From the first footfall of the white man in her forests down to this hour, our State, as wilderness, territory, and commonwealth, has been a theater for tragedy, melodrama, comedy, song, and farce. (3)

Through various stories, Thompson paints a picture of a state rich with history and culture. The collection is filled with little-known facts about Indiana. It is a powerful historical account, as well as an interesting collection of creative stories that aims to inspire curiosity about the natural history of Indiana.

In addition to books and stories, Thompson was also a prolific contributor to periodicals. Although many of his contributions were later collected in his three books of predominately nature poetry, Songs of Fair Weather (1883), Poems (1892), and Lincoln's Grave (1894), several pieces are essays dealing with Indiana. Two of these are "A Stroll in Indiana with a British Critic" (May 9, 1895), and "A Hoosier Triangle" (July 20, 1899), both published in the Independent. Most of Thompson's articles pertaining to Indiana deal with his defense of the state as a cultural and environmentally sound place. In "A Stroll," Thompson relates an account of a walk he takes with author Edmund Gosse. In the piece, the narrator convinces Gosse of the beauty of Indiana and Indiana authors. For example, the narrator relates:

A park on the left? No, that is a cattle pasture. Yes, the trees are grand, older than yours in Merry England, deeper rooted, wider buttressed against the rush of winds: and this grass was never sown by man; it is indigenous, springs up whenever a wood is thinned to let in the sun; and it flourishes, sweet and lush as any your poets of the rainy, little self sufficient island ever sang of, with claytonias and blue violets and anemones shining all through. (617)

Another example of Thompson's defense of Indiana is "A Hoosier Triangle," a historical account similar to his novel Alice of Old Vincennes. The article discusses the topic he explores at greater length in Alice, which is the French post at Vincennes. Once again, he begins his essay with a subtle, defensive tone:

There lies in the State of Indiana an area of a few square miles which is, perhaps, deserving of as much historical honor as any space its size in America. It is bounded on the west by the beautiful Wabash, on the south by the la belle riviere, and on the north and east by a line of low hills called the "Knobs." At present it is a rich and peaceful country-side, remarkable for its well tilled farms, its fine cattle and horses, its superior yield of wheat and corn and its beautiful towns and villages where churches and schools abound. (1946)

Thompson's periodical contributions are impressive, but he was also an active outdooorsman. He not only established the National Archery Association in 1879, he was also its first president. Also, Thompson served as state geologist of Indiana from the years 1885-1889. Although his input as state geologist was minimal (he only produced eighteen items in three department records) and his ornithology records were considered "nonscientific," Thompson is still remembered for his nature contributions. In all his work, novels, poetry, and periodical articles, Thompson demonstrates an intense love and respect for the land. Through his local color pieces and factually based historical accounts, he also reveals a deep and sometimes defensive loyalty to his homeland, Indiana, and her residents. Maurice Thompson may never be known as a master of literature, but his written contributions to the state of Indiana are an irreplaceable lifespring of rich cultural and natural history.



Thompson, Maurice. Alice of Old Vincennes. Brooklyn: Bowen-Merill, 1900.

---. Hoosier Mosaics. American Short Story Ser. 81. New York: Garrett, 1969.

---. “A Hoosier Triangle.” The Independent 20 July 1899: 1946-48. APS II Years 38/39 51: microfilm 3200, reel 1458.

---. “A Stroll in Indiana with a British Critic.” The Independent 9 May 1895: 616-17. APS II Years 38/39 47: microfilm 3200, reel 1454.

---. Stories of Indiana. New York: 1898.

Wheeler, Otis B. The Literary Career of Maurice Thompson. Humanities Ser. 14. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1965.


"Maurice Thompson." Archives, Crawfordsville District Public Library. Local History--Picture File. P63 #65. Crawfordsville, IN.

"Maurice Thompson Home." Archives, Crawfordsville District Public Library. Local History--Picture File. P41 #3. Crawfordsville, IN.

Birthplace of Maurice Thompson

Author biography