Frank H. Spearman

Frank H. Spearman (1859-1937) was a prolific writer of heroic fiction, especially about railroads and about the men who built and ran them in the West in the late 1800s. During the last half of his life, he found a substantial audience for his magazine stories and books, and early Hollywood created photoplays of several stories. His most famous work, Whispering Smith, became a best seller in 1906 and was filmed three times, the last in 1948. Tom White’s article on Spearman and his career are featured in the Fall 2006 issue of Nebraska History magazine.

Although Spearman lived and worked in this state for eight years and there discovered the people who became the characters for his early tales, he has remained virtually unknown as a Nebraska author. A native of Buffalo, New York, he and his wife, the former Eugenie Lonergan of Chicago, moved to McCook in October of 1886. Spearman there opened the Farmers and Merchants Bank, financed by investments from Harry Spearman, Frank’s older brother, and Mary Lonergan, Eugenie’s mother.

The Farmers and Merchants Bank, however, did not survive the drought and depression years of the early 1890s, and in May 1894 the Spearmans left McCook for Omaha. In 1895 they moved again, this time to Wheaton, Illinois. Spearman continued to pursue a business career in Omaha and Wheaton, writing short fiction in the evenings. In 1898, the first year he wrote exclusively, he noted total receipts of $598.25, hardly enough to support a family eventually to include five children.

However, the publication of The Nerve of Foley and Other Railroad Stories in 1900 and Held for Orders the next year, each with ten stories, established Spearman as a premier writer of railroad fiction. Whispering Smith, his most successful novel, was published in March 1906. Its plot (railroaders fighting nature and a great man gone bad) is simple, but the book won readers with a classic western balance of romance, realism, character, and a wealth of action.

Spearman and his family moved to Hollywood, California, in 1915. Although he wrote other fiction, he is remembered today almost exclusively for his railroad stories, which express the order, progress, and enterprise alive on the prairie during the 1880s and 1890s. He witnessed Nebraska’s rapid evolution from unsettled to modern life, and his early stories, especially the twenty pieces compiled in The Nerve of Foley and Held for Orders, offer a window into that fascinating period. 

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

History Nebraska Education

Learn more about the educational programs provided at our museums, sites, and online.

History Nebraska Programs

Learn more about the programs associated with History Nebraska.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast!

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.