Friday, April 11, 2014

Fiswoode Tarleton (1884-1931)

Author, Editor, Instrument Maker
Born August 14, 1884, Decatur, Georgia
Died April 2, 1931, near Bryson City, North Carolina

The 1929 city directory of Atlanta, Georgia, gives the following listings in exactly this order:
Tarleton Collier spl writer The Georgian Co
" Fiswoode r125 7th NE
The first man was newspaperman Edward Tarleton Collier, better known as Tarleton Collier and born on December 22, 1888 or 1889, in Mobile, Alabama. (1) The second was author and editor Fiswoode Tarleton, born August 14, 1884, in Decatur, Georgia (according to Fulton and Campbell Counties, Georgia, Cemetery Records, 1857-1933). The compilers of that city directory obviously made a mistake, listing a man with the first name Tarleton immediately above a man with the last name Tarleton. Both were writers. Both shared the name Tarleton. The first question that leaps to mind is this: Did they know each other? I'll tell you right now, that question is trivial. A far better question is this one: How did the names of those two men, both of whom contributed to Weird Tales, end up in juxtaposition in a 1929 city directory? Do you see what I mean when I say the world is very often essentially weird? I set out to write about Fiswoode Tarleton. Now I am obliged to write about Tarleton Collier as well. Fiswoode first.

Fiswoode Tarleton was born on August 14, 1884. I have been unable to find him in census records. However, a man by that name filled out a draft card in Boston in 1918. He was then working as an instrument maker. Tarleton's headstone gives a birth date of 1890. That date appears to be merely an approximation, rushed through upon the author's sudden and unexpected death. But is it possible there were two men in the history of this country named Fiswoode Tarleton? It's possible, but an article from Poetry, 1921, announced the arrival of a new magazine of verse, called Voices and published in Boston, with Fiswoode Tarleton as associate editor. I think it's safe to assume that they were one in the same and that Tarleton was born not in 1890 but in 1884.

By 1929, Tarleton was in Atlanta, Georgia, listed, if not living, next to Tarleton Collier. In addition to being associate editor of Voices, Tarleton was editor of The Modern ReviewHe also wrote short stories for Adventure, The American Magazine, The Bookman, The Century, Echo, The Golden Book Magazine, Good Housekeeping, McClure's Magazine, The Modern Review, Overland MonthlyPlain Talk, and Weird Tales. His story "Curtains" (or "Bloody Ground"), from McClure's Magazine (May 1928), won him an O. Henry Award in 1928.

Fiswoode Tarleton was a Southerner and loved the South and the mountains of the South, for he wrote a book, published in 1929, called Bloody Ground, A Cycle of the Southern Hills. The New York Times had this to say about Bloody Ground:
The book flames and writhes. The pictures burn into the brain. One will encounter few books as unforgettable as "Bloody Ground." Fiswoode Tarleton, a Chaucer of the Southern hills [. . .] has transcribed a speech that will soon be lost, transfixed in flight a vanishing race, and written a cycle of stories which are both powerful and distinctive. (2)
Tarleton wrote a second book, Some Trust in Chariots, published in 1930. Unfortunately, his very promising career was nearing its end.

About this time of year in 1931, Fiswoode Tarleton went to visit with another writer named Horace Kephart at Kephart's North Carolina home. On the evening of April 2, Kephart and Tarleton hired a taxi to drive them to a bootlegger's place near Cherokee. (This was still during Prohibition.) On the way back to Bryson City, the car overturned. The driver survived, but the two authors, Horace Kephart and Fiswoode Tarleton, were killed. Swain High School auditorium in Bryson City was full up on April 5 for the funeral, for Kephart (1862-1931) was a greatly admired writer and a lover of his adopted mountain home. He is remembered even today. And for some reason that may be lost, his guest, Fiswoode Tarleton, who was at the time of his death a resident of Decatur, Georgia, was buried with Kephart at Bryson City Cemetery. He was, then, once again placed next to a fellow writer.

(1) Collier died on June 4, 1970, in Fulton County, Georgia, and was buried in Fairburn, Georgia.
(2) New York Times, February 4, 1929, p. 63.

Fiswoode Tarleton's Story in Weird Tales
"The Blue Lizard" (June 1928)

Further Reading
If you do a  search for "Fiswoode Tarleton," "Tarleton Collier," and especially "Horace Kephart," you will find many articles of interest on the Internet.

A gallery of covers of Adventure, one of the premium pulps, with Fiswoode Tarleton's byline on the cover.  The first is from 1925, the last from February 1, 1931, two months before the author's death.
Updated on July 22, 2021.
Text and captions copyright 2014, 2023 Terence E. Hanley


  1. What's interesting is this article has Fiswoode Tarleton's date of birth as 14 August 1884, yet on his gravestone the date of birth is simply the year 1930.