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Adams, Harriet Chalmers (22 October 1875–17 July 1937), explorer, lecturer, and writer, was born Harriet Chalmers in Stockton, California. Her father, Alexander Chalmers, Canadian via Scotland, came to California in 1864 to try his luck mining; he later ran a dry goods store with his brother before becoming a mine superintendent and part-owner. Her mother, Frances Wilkins, had grown up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. From the age of eleven Harriet and her sister Anna had private tutors. Her mother encouraged Harriet’s love of reading, while travels with her father developed her interest in the natural world as well as the Native American and Spanish-speaking cultures in the region. At thirteen Harriet and her father spent more than six months meandering the length of the Sierras from Oregon to Mexico, cementing her lifelong love of adventure. As a young woman Harriet continued her indoor and outdoor studies and had an active social life. She was fluent in Spanish and spoke Portuguese, French, Italian, and German as well....

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Calamity Jane (01 May 1852–01 August 1903), legendary western woman, was born Martha Cannary in Princeton, Missouri, the daughter of Robert Cannary (also spelled Canary). Her mother’s identity is unknown. In 1865, enticed by news from the Montana gold fields, her father moved the family to Virginia City, Montana. After her mother died in 1866, the family settled in Salt Lake City. Following her father’s death in 1867, an adolescent but determined Calamity Jane traveled to Fort Bridger, Wyoming. From there she embarked upon the transient existence that would characterize her life in the West, especially in the Black Hills mining camps of South Dakota and Wyoming....

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Carpenter, Frank George (08 May 1855–18 June 1924), journalist and author of travel books, was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the son of George F. Carpenter, an attorney, and Jeannette Reid. Frank attended public school in Mansfield and then went on to the University of Wooster, earning a Phi Beta Kappa key and graduating in 1877. He did further study at Ohio State University. In 1878 or 1879 he was hired as the Columbus (Ohio) correspondent for the ...

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Cody, William Frederick (26 February 1846–10 January 1917), frontiersman and entertainer, better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born in Scott County, Iowa, the son of Isaac Cody and Mary Ann Bonsell Laycock. Cody’s father managed several farms and operated a state business in Iowa. In 1854 the family moved to the Salt Creek Valley in Kansas, where Cody’s father received a government contract to provide hay to Fort Leavenworth. After his father died in 1857, Cody went to work as an ox-team driver for fifty cents a day. Shortly thereafter, the firm of Majors and Russell hired him as an express boy. Cody attended school periodically, although his formal education ended in 1859 when he joined a party heading to Denver to search for gold. He prospected for two months without any luck. He arrived back in Kansas in March 1860 after a trapping expedition. He rode for a time for the Pony Express during its short lifetime (Apr. 1860–Nov. 1861). After the start of the Civil War he joined a group of antislavery guerrillas based in Kansas. Later the Ninth Kansas Volunteers hired him as a scout and guide. On 16 February 1864 Cody enlisted into Company F of the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. He saw quite a bit of action in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas during his one year and seven months of duty. He was mustered out of the army as a private on 29 September 1865....

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Dos Passos, John (14 January 1896–28 September 1970), writer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John Randolph Dos Passos, a lawyer, and Lucy Addison Sprigg Madison. His parents were married in 1910, when his father’s first wife died, and in 1912 the boy took his father’s name of Dos Passos; before that he was known as John Roderigo Madison. As an illegitimate child he had lived a rootless life, traveling much in Europe with his mother. She died in 1915. The necessary secrecy of his boyhood, the mixture of admiration and fear Dos Passos felt toward his powerful father—who was both an important corporate lawyer and the author of books on trusts and the stock market—and his dependence on his beautiful, often unhappy southern mother affected him deeply. A timid boy, Dos Passos found excitement in reading, studying languages, and observing the art of the time; he discovered his greatest joy in writing. His early poems, with those of ...

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Equiano, Olaudah (1745–31 March 1797), sailor, abolitionist, and writer, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was born in eastern Nigeria, the son of an Ibo village chief. When he was eleven, people from another Ibo village captured Equiano and his sister, beginning a six-month period during which he was separated from his sister and sold from one master to another until he reached the coast. There Equiano’s African masters sold him to white slave traders headed for Barbados. From Barbados he traveled to Virginia, where he was bought by Henry Pascal, the captain of a British trading vessel. During the spring 1757 voyage to England, Pascal gave Equiano the name Gustavus Vassa, which he used throughout his life, yet Equiano still included his African name on the title page of his autobiography....

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Hoffman, Charles Fenno (07 February 1806–07 June 1884), writer and editor, was born in New York City, the son of Josiah Ogden Hoffman, a prominent judge, and his second wife, Maria Fenno. At the age of eleven, Hoffman was seriously injured in an accident along the New York docks, resulting in the amputation of his right leg above the knee. In spite of the accident, he was an avid athlete and outdoorsman. In 1821 he entered Columbia College, where he was active in student life but never rose above the bottom fifth of his class. He left Columbia after two years, and in 1823 he began to study law in the Albany office of Harmanus Bleeker. Admitted to the bar in 1827, he returned to New York and began to practice law. Soon after, he began contributing essays, reviews, and poems to the ...

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Irving, Washington (03 April 1783–28 November 1859), author, was born in New York City, the son of William Irving, a Scottish merchant, and his English wife, Sarah Sanders, who had emigrated to America in 1763. A middle-class family of very modest means, the Irvings gradually prospered in the economic expansion that followed the American Revolution. In time the father’s business, heavily dependent on imports from England and France, became the family business, in which his five sons were involved in varying degrees at various times. Irving was the youngest child, and his mother and three sisters lavished affection and attention on him in his early years. The father, however, a Presbyterian deacon and elder, dominated the family until his death in 1807, imposing on the household a strict religious discipline, which his youngest son strongly resisted. Although Irving was interested in literature from an early age, authorship in the United States was generally seen as at best an avocation. Thus in 1799 he began an apprenticeship with a lawyer, partly as an escape from the family business. But literary pursuits, a troublesome lung condition, and social distractions delayed his qualifying for the bar for several years....

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Lummis, Charles Fletcher (01 March 1859–25 November 1928), author, editor, and explorer, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, the son of Henry Lummis, a teacher and Methodist clergyman, and Harriet Waterman Fowler. A sickly child, he was tutored at home, attended Harvard intermittently from 1877 to 1881, but left without a degree. He was a reporter for and then the editor of the weekly Scioto ...

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Rowlandson, Mary White (c. 1637/38–05 January 1710), author of the earliest full-length Indian captivity narrative, was born probably in England shortly before her parents, John White and Joan (maiden name unknown), landowners, immigrated to New England in 1639. Mary White was brought up in a comfortable household. When her father died in 1653, he was the wealthiest landowner in Lancaster, Massachusetts, with an estate valued at £389. Around 1656 she married Joseph Rowlandson, who was ordained in 1660 and became a prominent member of the Puritan clergy. They had three children (a fourth died in infancy)....

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Sheean, Vincent (05 December 1899–15 March 1975), journalist and author, was born James Vincent Sheean in Pana, Illinois, the son of William Charles Sheean and Susan MacDermot; he was nicknamed Jimmy. After high school in Pana, he attended the University of Chicago from 1916 to 1920, taking courses in English literature, Romance languages, history, and philosophy, and worked on the school newspaper. When his mother died in 1921, he lacked funds to continue at the university and, without a degree, moved to Greenwich Village in New York, where he became a reporter for the ...

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Taylor, Bayard (11 January 1825–19 December 1878), writer, was born in Kennett Square, Chester County, Pennsylvania, the son of Joseph Taylor and Rebecca Way, farmers. He was raised in an orderly Quaker household of quiet discipline, but, being a prodigious reader and student, he felt constrained by the provincial farming life of Chester County. His studies of languages and literature at Bolmar’s and Unionville academies only intensified his restlessness, and while still a high-school student Taylor published his first poem in 1841 with the ...