The Awful Tale of Josh Billings Recalling John Steinbeck's offal story


By Joe Livernois

I think of Josh Billings as an old-timey version of Dave Berry. Popular in the late 1800s for his home-spun whimsy, Billings was a Will Rogers before Will Rogers invented Will Rogers. At the time, Billings was considered a contemporary of Mark Twain, except Billings had a gimmick: he wrote his whimsical maxims and essays phonetically, in a strained goober vernacular.

Sixty years after his death in 1885, he resurfaced as an unfortunate character in one of John Steinbeck’s most endearing books, “Cannery Row.” And, thanks to Steinbeck, Billings nowadays might best be remembered because of the circumstances of his death, and especially the disposal of his entrails.

Editor’s note: This story is from Where the Bodies Are Buried, a true-crime and history publication established to support Voices of Monterey Bay. Click here to read more about Josh Billings on our Patreon page. 

Joe Livernois

About Joe Livernois

Joe Livernois has been a reporter, editor and columnist in Monterey County for 35 years.