Charles Fleming Embree was born in Princeton, Indiana, October 1, 1874, the son of lawyer David Franklin Embree, member of a prominent pioneer family, and Mary Fleming Embree. Charles was still an infant when his father died in 1877. To this day, one of the main streets in Princeton is N. Embree Street, and the Fire Department Chief at the fire hall (on Embree and W. Brumfield) has the surname Embree.
Charles Embree was educated in Princeton public schools and entered Wabash College in the fall of 1892. After three years he left college without graduating to devote himself to writing, and achieved immediate success. For the Love of Tonita, and other tales of the Mesas was his first book, published in 1897. The success of his first book led to two more novels.
On January 18, 1898, he married Virginia Broadwell. The young couple moved to Mexico, and lived in Chapala for eight months in 1898, before moving to Oaxaca. The precise motives behind Embree’s decision to spend two years in Mexico remain frustratingly unclear.
Embree’s second book, dedicated to his wife, is set in the Lake Chapala region, but was written while they were in Oaxaca. A Dream of a Throne, the Story of a Mexican Revolt (1900), is illustrated with five black and white drawings by Henry Sandham (1842-1910), a very well-known Canadian illustrator of the time. From Oaxaca, Embree also penned a short newspaper piece about anthropologist Frederick Starr, who was conducting fieldwork there.
Embree’s third book, illustrated by Dan Smith, was A Heart of Flame: the Story of a Master Passion (1901). Embree also had several short stories published in McClure’s Magazine, from 1902 to (posthumously) 1906. In recognition of the distinguished place he had already achieved among American novelists, Embree was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree by Wabash College in 1903.
Embree and his wife moved to Santa Ana, California. Sadly, the couple had not long celebrated the birth of their only daughter Elinor in 1905 when Embree was taken seriously ill. He died on July 3, not yet 31 years old.
A short extract from Embree’s “A Dream of a Throne” is included in Tony Burton’s “Lake Chapala Through the Ages, an anthology of travellers’ tales” (Sombrero Books 2008). This book has extracts from more than 50 original sources covering the period 1530-1910, together with short biographies of the writers, and an informative commentary setting the extracts in their historical context.
Other twentieth century novels set largely, or entirely, at Lake Chapala include:
- D. H. Lawrence: The Plumed Serpent (1926)
- Arthur Davison Ficke: “Mrs. Morton of Mexico” (1939)
- Ramón Rubín: La canoa perdida: Novela mestiza (1951)
- Ross MacDonald: The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
- Eileen Bassing: Where’s Annie? (1963)
- Barbara Compton: “To The Isthmus” (1964)
- Willard Marsh: Week with No Friday (1965)