An account of California journalist and wit Ambrose Bierce and his struggle with the railroad "octopus" controlled by "the Big Four" (Collis P. Huntington, Leland Stanford, Charles Crocker, and Mark Hopkins). This is the first book to look at Bierce's early muckraking campaign in depth through Bierce's acid journalism and the railroad's private and public reactions. After a brief literature review and biography of Bierce, one of America's greatest wits, journalists, and short-story writers, the study turns to his thirty-year battle with the Central Pacific Railroad, which controlled much of California's economy and politics, often through bribery of politicians and newspaper editors and publishers. Lindley looks at the initial funding of the railroad through the U.S. government, the development of railroads as symbols of hope and progress, and the eventual corruption of that optimistic outlook by railroad owners and politicians. Bierce attacked the railroads in his columns during his tenure at three San Francisco periodicals, the Argonaut, the Wasp, and the Examiner. His efforts culminated in a trip to Washington, D.C., in 1896 to cover the funding bill debate in Congress, during which railroad officials attempted to avoid repaying millions of dollars in government loans. Bierce did not consider himself a muckraker. He derided the generation of Progressive journalists who followed him a decade after he ended his campaign against the railroad. Yet, Bierce's journalism was a precursor of what is popularly known as the muckraking period, 1902-1914.