Born: December 16, 1862
Bourbon County, Kentucky
Died: July 7, 1919
Big Stone Gap, Virginia
Harriet Holman, in her article “John Fox, Jr. Appraisal and Self-Appraisal,” wrote that once Kentucky’s local color writer John Fox, Jr. became an established author, magazine editors bought everything he offered them. A remarkable fact of John Fox’s literary career is that he never had a manuscript rejected. Equally remarkable is that he published two of the early million-selling novels in the United States.
John William Fox was born to a well-known family at Stony Point in Bourbon County, seven miles east of Paris. He had four full brothers and two sisters, and three half-brothers from his father’s first wife who had died in childbirth. His mother was Minerva Carr. His father, John W. Fox, was headmaster of the Stony Point Academy, which John Jr. attended from 1867 to 1875. After attending Transylvania University in Lexington for two years, he entered Harvard University in 1880 to study English, graduating cum laude in 1883 as the youngest member of his class.
After college, Fox moved to New York City where he worked as a journalist with the New York Sunand The New York Times. While in New York, Fox met Fritzi Scheff, a prima donna with the Imperial Opera of Vienna, who was performing with the New York Metropolitan Opera. She later became his wife. Upon James Lane Allen’s recommendation, he submitted his first novella, A Mountain Europa, to The Century Magazine, which published it serially. It was followed a year later by, A Cumberland Vendetta. The mountaineer theme would be repeated in future works. A Cumberland Vendetta and Other Stories(1895) was his first published collection of short stories, followed by Hell-Fer-Sartain and Other Stories(1897), and The Kentuckians(1897).
After his fame began to grow, his new home attracted a number of illustrious visitors, including future President Theodore Roosevelt, who became a life-long friend. Fox met Roosevelt after he was sent to Cuba by Harper’s Weeklyin 1898 as a war correspondent covering the Spanish-American War. While there, he was with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Due to his popularity from the Centurypublications and his successful publishing with Harper’s Brothers and Scribner, he went on the lecture circuit, travelling in Europe and America, including visits to Roosevelt’s White House, where he sang mountain songs and read from his works. His novel, The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Comewas released in 1903 and sold more than 1 million copies.
In 1904, Fox was sent as a war correspondent to Japan and Manchuria to cover the Russo-Japanese War. That experience resulted in the publication of Following the Sun Flag: A Vain Pursuit Through Manchuria (1905). His wildly popular romance/coming-of-age novel, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, was released in 1908 and sold more than 2 million copies. The same year The Trail of the Lonesome Pinewas released, he married Fritzi Scheff, the opera ie star he had met in New York. The tempestuous marriage lasted five years and ended in divorce in 1913.
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Comeand The Trail of the Lonesome Pineare arguably his most well-known and successful works. He was on the New York Times’ top 10 list of bestselling novels for 1903, 1904, 1908, and 1909. In 1916, Cecil B. DeMille wrote, directed, and produced a film version of The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. Other versions appeared in 1923 and 1936. Fox traveled widely, counting among his friends other such popular writers as Richard Harding Davis, Jack London, and Booth Tarkington. He was awarded many honors in his lifetime, including membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1899, a medal for his literary contributions from the Emperor of Japan. His lobbying helped lead to passage of the federal Copyright Act. He died July 8, 1919 of pneumonia at Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and is buried in the Paris Cemetery in Paris, Kentucky.
A Cumberland Vendetta and Other Stories (1895)
Hell-fer-Sartain and Other Stories (1897)
The Kentuckians (1898)
A Mountain Europa (1899)
Crittenden: A Kentucky Story of Love and War (1900)
Blue-grass and Rhododendron: Outdoors in Old Kentucky (1901)
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come (1903)
Christmas Eve on Lonesome and Other Storie (1904)
Following the Sun Flag: A Vain Pursuit Through Manchuria (1905)
A Knight of the Cumberland (1906)
The Trail of the Lonesome Pine(1908)
The Heart of the Hills(1913)
In Happy Valley(1917)
Erskine Dale (1920)
A Purple Rhododendron and Other Stories (1967)