An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge – Ambrose Bierce

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An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a short story that was written by Ambrose Bierce in 1890. The story takes place during the American Civil war and focuses on the thoughts of a man who has been sentenced to death. Ambrose Bierce himself was a civil war veteran so he really captures the mood of the time (download a free copy of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge PDF by clicking the button below).

An Occurrence at Owl Creek is said to be one of the most famous stories in America Literature and it is still incredibly popular today. Not only was Ambrose Bierce an excellent writer but he was also known for his poetry and journalism. He was actually thought to be one of the most influential journalists in the United States. In 1913, he decided to travel to Mexico to go and work during the Mexican Revolution but he unfortunately never returned and to this day, nobody knows what happened to him!

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Is An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge PDF Free To Download?

Yes, it is! An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge was written by Ambrose Bierce and first published in 1890 so it is in the public domain. You are therefore welcome to download the PDF and read it for free. We hope you enjoy it!

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Summary

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is a short story that is divided into three parts. It begins with us being introduced to “a man” who is about to be hung from Owl Creek Bridge. In the second chapter of the book, we learn that this man is Peyton Farquhar.

The man who was engaged in being hanged was apparently about thirty-five years of age. He was a civilian, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a planter. His features were good—a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his long, dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the collar of his well fitting frock coat. He wore a moustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp. Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded.

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge – Chapter 1

The first part of the story concentrates on the somber and solemn mood as the soldiers prepare for the execution. We then switch to Farquhar himself who is preparing for death. He thinks about his wife and children back home and thinks about how he might be able to escape if he is able to loosen his hands. He hears a loud noise which he describes as “a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon an anvil”. The sound begins to slow and Farquhar realizes that he is hearing his watch ticking but because time feels like it is slowing, the ticking is becoming excruciatingly slow.

In chapter 2, we learn more about Peyton Farquhar. He is described as a well-to-do planter from a good family. He is a supporter of the South and although he cannot fight for reasons Ambrose doesn’t give, we are told that he does what he can and is waiting for an opportunity to get more involved in the war.

One evening, a soldier arrives at their home. He asks for a drink of water. Farquhar and the man begin to talk about what’s happening in the war and the man tells him about how the enemy is repairing the railroads and getting ready to advance. The soldier tells him that they have reached Owl Creek Bridge. He says that the bridge could easily be sabotaged because there is a lot of dry driftwood against the bridge that “would burn like tinder”. The soldier drinks his water and departs but we soon learn that he is a federal scout and that Farquhar has been tricked into sabotaging the bridge.

In the third chapter of the book, we return to Owl Creek Bridge where Farquar’s execution is taking place. Ambrose describes everything that Farquar is feeling as he drops from the bridge. But just as suddenly, Farquahar drops below the surface of the water. He realizes that the rope has snapped and that he must escape as quickly as possible. All his senses are heightened beyond anything he’s ever experienced before and he notices everything around him right from individual leaves to even the beating of dragonfly wings! As he tries to escape the thought of his wife and children urges him on.

He finally manages to make his way home and he is greeted by his wife who he describes at beautiful and welcoming. He is about to take her hand when he feels a sharp blow on the back of his neck, he sees a blinding white light and suddenly everything is dark and silent. We then learn that the rope didn’t break and that Farquar hadn’t managed to escape and that his execution was a success after all.

Is An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge Based On A True Story?

No, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge isn’t a true story although the author, Ambrose Bierce, was a soldier fighting for the North during the Civil War so he had first-hand experience of what happened during that time.

Where Did The Story Of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge Happen?

The story takes place in northern Alabama around 1863 during the Civil War.

What Does Farquhar’s Wife Represent?

Farquhar’s wife represents comfort, happiness, innocence, peace and security. In the second chapter, he describes her when he gets home after his escape.

As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. At the bottom of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude of matchless grace and dignity. Ah, how beautiful she is!

An Occurrence at Owl Bridge – Chapter 2

It is also thought that his wife represents spiritual peace and heaven. It is worth noting that Farquhar chooses to sacrifice his life and in turn lose his wife and family in the name of the South.

How Was Peyton Farquhar Tricked?

We are told that Peyton Farquhar is a loyal supporter of the South during the Civil War. He is tricked into sabotaging Owl Creek Bridge by a Union scout that is dressed as a Confederate soldier. The scout makes Farquhar believe that if the bridge is destroyed he would be able to stop the enemy’s advance into southern territory. The scout also knows that any civilian who is caught tampering with the railroad infrastructure will be hanged.

What Does Death Is A Dignitary Mean?

The phrase Death is a dignitary is used by Ambrose to describe how the military soldiers treat the execution of Farquhar – they treat the execution and death with dignity and respect just like you would treat an important official, officer or dignitary.

An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge Adaptations

There have been quite a few adaptations of Ambrose Bierce’s famous story with many short films and radio series being produced. Funny enough, the story of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge has also been used in a couple of music videos by famous artists. Here are a couple of our top picks!

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge | 1963

This short film was directed by Robert Enrico and produced by Marcel Ichac. It won the 1963 Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short Film as well as the award for Best Short Subject at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival.

Jon Bon Jovi – Dyin’ Ain’t Much Of A Livin’ – Jon Bon Jovi

In 1990 Jon Bon Jovi releases his song Dyin’ Ain’t Much Of A Livin’ using An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge as its theme.

Babybird – Unlovable

Babybird’s music video also uses An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge as its theme. The music video was directed by Johnny Depp in 2010.


An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is an American literature classic that should be on everyone’s to-read list, especially if you enjoy wartime stories or stories with a twist to the ending. You can download a free copy of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge PDF Here.

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