BY SARAH LANGSDON
Bernard Augustine DeVoto was born on January 11, 1897, to Florian and Rhoda DeVoto in Ogden. The family lived on 25th Street and Monroe Boulevard. Florian was a bonded and licensed abstractor who had an office at 369 24th Street in the Eccles Building. Bernard went to Sacred Heart Academy during elementary school, which was on 25th Street and Quincy Avenue. He attended Ogden High School and was part of the ROTC. He graduated in 1914 and spent one year at University of Utah before transferring to Harvard as part of the class of 1918.
With the outbreak of World War I, DeVoto enlisted in the Army and was commissioned as a second lieutenant at Camp Perry in Ohio. Following the Armistice that ended the war, DeVoto returned to Harvard and graduated in 1920. He returned to Ogden and taught junior high school for two years before leaving to teach at Northwestern University. While there, he met his wife Avis and was married in 1923.
In 1924, he published his first novel, The Crooked Mile, which was an unfriendly portrait of a western town very much like Ogden. He continued his unfavorable view of Ogden in 1925, when he penned an essay “Ogden: The Underwriters of Salvation” in The Taming of the Frontier. He wrote:
The Overland Limited stops at Ogden for fifteen minutes. The tourist, a little dizzy from altitude but grateful for trees after miles of desert, rushes out to change his watch and see a Mormon. He passes through a station that is a deliberate triumph of hideousness and emerges at the foot of Twenty-fifth Street. Beyond him are the peaks, the Wasatch at more than their usual dignity, but in the foreground are only a double row of shacks far gone in disintegration.
DeVoto went on to publish numerous books and columns in magazines such as Harper’s. His novel, Across the Wide Missouri was published in 1947 and won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1948. He became interested in America’s assault on public lands and wrote twenty articles promoting the conservation of natural resources. It was during this time that he became friends with Chester Olsen who worked for the United States Forest Service in Ogden. They had many discussions about land conservation, watershed management, and water in the west.
DeVoto continued to write, including a historical trilogy that included The Course of Empire that won the National Book Award. His 241 columns from Harper’s were compiled into a collection called The Easy Chair to mark the 20th anniversary of the column. In his later life, he retracted his earlier opinions of Ogden and said they were just youthful indiscretions. On November 13, 1955, he traveled to New York to appear on a television program. After the recording, DeVoto suffered a ruptured aortic aneurysm and died. His ashes were scattered over Clearwater National Forest by Chet Olsen.
January 2022 marks the 125th anniversary of his birth. Ogden will be celebrating its Pulitzer Prize-winning author throughout the year. On January 22, 2022, the first annual “The Hour” cocktail party, named after DeVoto’s musings on the happy hour, will be held at The Monarch on 25th Street.
The Pulitzer prize winning book in 1948 by Bernard DeVoto is the best known of his studies in American history, examining the rise and fall of the U.S. fur dynasties in the 1830s.
Celebrate the 125th anniversary of Bernard’s birthday!
January 22, 2022 a cocktail party will be held at The Monarch. Check www.weber.edu/devotocommemoration for more events and information.