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O. Henry at the GLO

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Photograph of GLO draftsmen taken in 1887 on the second floor of the old General Land Office building, now the Capitol Visitors Center. William Sydney Porter, identified as O’Henry Porter, is third from the right in the back row. #1962/274-4. Photograph courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

William Sydney Porter, better known by his pen name O. Henry, is considered one of the best short story writers in American history. However, before he began work on such well-known stories as The Gift of the Magi, The Ransom of Red Chief, or Rouge et Noir, Porter could be found in the drafting department of the Texas General Land Office from 1887-1891, where he worked as an assistant draftsman.  The General Land Office appears in such stories as Bexar Scrip No. 2692 and Georgia's Ruling. In fact, Bexar Scrip No. 2692 is a fictional story based on an actual land grant file found in the General Land Office Archives.

In My Recollections of O. Henry, Austin land agent Frank Maddox characterized Porter as "loveable" and "retiring," and believed that Porter "liked his work very well" at the Land Office.  Porter had earlier worked for Frank Maddox and the Maddox and Anderson firm from 1885-1887.  Maddox explained that Porter, even early in life, had an artistic nature and would often be seen drawing pictures while at work.  Specifically, Maddox remembers Porter illustrating a county map that featured images of cowboy scenes and roping cattle.  It is believed that Maddox was referring to General Land Office map #3756 of Kent County.  Porter also drafted map #4128 of Webb County while at the Land Office.

In all, Porter spent thirteen formative years in Texas between the ages of twenty and thirty-six, four of which were at the Texas General Land Office.  O. Henry biographer Charles Alphonso Smith called his years at the GLO "the happiest years of O. Henry's life in Texas." 

The General Land Office, in association with the Austin History Center and the Capitol Visitors Center, completed a digitization project in 2011 entitled, "O. Henry in Austin: from Surprising Beginnings to the O. Henry Ending."  It documents the life of William Sydney Porter through his letters, writings, maps, and artifacts.  O. Henry-related items from all three institutions can now be found online at The Portal to Texas History.

The Austin History Center, Austin Public Library, has additional information on William Sydney Porter, including a short biography, at O. Henry in Austin.

The Capitol Visitors Center, Texas State Preservation Board, has an exhibit on William Sydney Porter entitled The O. Henry Room.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.

This project was funded by an IMLS 21st Century Libraries grant and administered by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.


Institute of Museum and Library Services Texas State Library and Archives Commission