Edmund Ware Smith has the distinction of being Outdoor Sporting Library’s all time favorite author. His reflections and stories of hunting and fishing in the Maine woods and memorable tales of the fictional One-Eyed Poacher Jeff Coongate have left a legacy. Smith wrote more than 600 short stories, some of which were combined into a total of nine books about the Maine woods and its characters. He also wrote a novel in his early years. In the golden years of hunting and fishing in the Maine woods, Edmund Ware Smith’s stories made him a household name. Today they make him a legend.
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The Dobsis Lakes. Grand Lake Stream. The East Branch of the Penobscot. Mattagamon Lake. If you hunt and fish in Maine, then odds are you’re somewhat familiar with most of these areas. What you might not know, however, is that several decades ago, outdoor writer Edmund Ware Smith was bringing these Maine haunts to life on the pages of national magazines. In a time when magazines and newspapers played a dominant role in American life and culture, Smith was one of the iconic writers who brought the beauty, serenity and majesty of the Maine woods, as well as the uniqueness of its inhabitants, to the minds of readers across the country.
Throughout three decades and in hundreds of short stories, Smith wrote both fact and fiction about Maine from an interesting perspective – that of an outsider who grew to love the state and became as much a Mainer as anyone ‘from away’ could be. Born in Plantsville, Connecticut in 1900, Ed Smith grew to love the outdoors from a very young age, fishing, hunting and dreaming of venturing out into the wilderness with boyhood friend Digsy Jones. Smith’s wanderlust was sustained into early adulthood, where he attended half a dozen different schools and at one point moved out West to work as a cowboy in Montana. An incredibly gifted writer, he began to publish short stories for magazines in his twenties, and published his first book, Rider in the Sun, in 1935. The book was a fictional story about a young cowboy, and was undoubtedly influenced by Smith’s experiences out West.
After moving back East and marrying, Smith began to spend much more of his time hunting and fishing in Maine. He gained popularity as a writer on the national stage in the mid 1930’s, and decided to pursue a career as a full time writer of short stories. For the next three decades, until his death in 1967, he would publish over 600 stories, many of which were gathered together and published as books. While Rider in the Sun was Smith’s only true novel, he published a total of nine books that were collections of short stories, and most were about the Maine woods.
Reading Smith’s stories, from the early years to the golden years, provides a unique insight into the people and places that make the Maine woods so great. You read about wise old woodsman Pappy Thornton, who worked as caretaker of Pop Dennison’s camps on Sysladobsis Lake. You learn of the deer hunting crew that hunted the same areas with the same companions for decades. Later, Ed takes you on fishing journeys with his son Jim, and an obvious bond between father and son is solidified on trout streams. He takes you to the cabin that he and his wife built and lived in for ten years on remote Mattagamon Lake. In the later years of Smith’s writing career, you meet Jake’s Rangers, a group of like-minded outdoorsmen who live in the coastal town of Damariscotta, Maine, but spend most of their time dreaming of being somewhere else: near a campfire, paddling a canoe on a calm lake, or taking a trip down the East Branch of the Penobscot. Finally, one would be remiss not to mention the incredible combination of what Smith refers to as his “game warden friends and outlaw companions” into the fictional characters of the One-Eyed Poacher, Thomas Jefferson Coongate, and his nemesis, the young game warden Tom Corn, who are featured in dozens of One-Eyed Poacher stories collected into three books.
The characters and settings in Edmund Ware Smith’s stories, whether fact or fiction, are a direct reflection of the places he’d been and the people he’d spent time with in his favorite state. He loved the Maine woods, and had a special gift of being able to put his feelings to words like nobody else can. It’s safe to say that Smith’s stories of the Maine woods have left a legacy that lasts on to this day. As J. Donald Adams once said, “…here is a man who writes about what he knows and loves in a manner that strikes an answering chord. He should be known better than he is.”