In San Francisco, Bierce received the rank of brevet major before resigning from the Army. He remained in San Francisco for many years, eventually becoming famous as a contributor or editor for a number of local newspapers and periodicals, including The San Francisco News Letter, The Argonaut, the Overland Monthly, The Californian and The Wasp. A selection of his crime reporting from The San Francisco News Letter was included in The Library of America anthology True Crime.
Bierce lived and wrote in England from 1872 to 1875, contributing to Fun magazine. His first book, The Fiend's Delight, a compilation of his articles, was published in London in 1873 by John Camden Hotten under the pseudonym "Dod Grile".
Returning to the United States, he again took up residence in San Francisco. From 1879 to 1880, he traveled to Rockerville and Deadwood in the Dakota Territory, to try his hand as local manager for a New York mining company; when the company failed he returned to San Francisco and resumed his career in journalism.
From January 1, 1881 until September 11, 1885 he was editor of The Wasp magazine, in which he began a column titled "Prattle". He also became one of the first regular columnists and editorialists to be employed on William Randolph Hearst's newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, eventually becoming one of the most prominent and influential writers and journalists of the West Coast. He remained associated with Hearst Newspapers until 1906.
Railroad Refinancing Bill
The Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroad companies had received large, low-interest loans from the U.S. government to build the First Transcontinental Railroad. Central Pacific executive Collis P. Huntington persuaded a friendly member of Congress to introduce a bill excusing the companies from repaying the loans, amounting to $130 million (worth $3.69 billion today).
In January 1896 Hearst dispatched Bierce to Washington, D.C. to foil this attempt. The essence of the plot was secrecy; the railroads' advocates hoped to get the bill through Congress without any public notice or hearings. When the angered Huntington confronted Bierce on the steps of the Capitol and told Bierce to name his price, Bierce's answer ended up in newspapers nationwide:
My price is one hundred thirty million dollars. If, when you are ready to pay, I happen to be out of town, you may hand it over to my friend, the Treasurer of the United States.
Bierce's coverage and diatribes on the subject aroused such public wrath that the bill was defeated. Bierce returned to California in November.
Because of his penchant for biting social criticism and satire, Bierce's long newspaper career was often steeped in controversy. On several occasions his columns stirred up a storm of hostile reaction, which created difficulties for Hearst. One of the most notable of these incidents occurred following the assassination of President William McKinley, when Hearst's opponents turned a poem Bierce had written about the assassination of Governor William Goebel of Kentucky in 1900 into a cause célèbre.
Bierce meant his poem to express a national mood of dismay and fear, but after McKinley was shot in 1901, it seemed to foreshadow the crime:
The bullet that pierced Goebel's breast Can not be found in all the West; Good reason, it is speeding here To stretch McKinley on his bier.
Hearst was thereby accused by rival newspapers—and by then-Secretary of State Elihu Root—of having called for McKinley's assassination. Despite a national uproar that ended his ambitions for the presidency (and even his membership in the Bohemian Club), Hearst kept employing Bierce.