Date of Publication:
10 April 1922 (no. 1) – Winter 1939 (no. 21)
Place(s) of Publication:
Berkeley, California (1922 – 1923)
Guadalajara, Mexico (1923)
Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico (1923 – 1939)
Frequency of Publication:
Copyrighted and owned by James Van Rensselaer, Roy Chanslor, and Willard Johnson
7 1/2″ x 10 1/2″; printed on “genuine wrapping paper” (Udall 99). Approx. 20-40 pages. Initial issues very college-oriented, with the essays and editorials heavily satirizing Berkeley. Santa Fe issues featured scholarly reviews, poetry, essays, drawings, all with a Southwest flair. D. H. Lawrence issue No. 13, April 1926.
Single issue: $0.25
Walter Willard “Spud” Johnson, under the pseudonyms Jane Cavendish, Bill Murphy (1922-1939)
Roy Chanslor, under the pseudonym Noel Jason (1922-23)
James Van Rensselaer, under the pseudonym L 13 (1922-23)
Libraries with Original Issues:
University of California, Los Angeles; New Mexico State University; University of Texas, Austin, Harry Ransom Center
New York: Kraus Reprint Corp., 1967.
In 1922 a University of California at Berkeley dropout, Walter Willard “Spud” Johnson, together with James Van Rensselaer Jr. and Ray Chanslor, began publishing Laughing Horse to satirize the college. Johnson saved fifty dollars as a reporter for the Richmond Independent to finance the first issue of Laughing Horse, and its twenty-five cents cover price covered the cost of a second issue the following month (Udall 8). The scathing first issue was a hit on campus, and the administration could do little to silence the publication as the three editors operated anonymously, using the pseudonyms Jane Cavendish, Noel Jason, Bill Murphy, and L13 until the fourth issue.
Johnson had followed his mentor and lover, ex-professor Witter Bynner, to Santa Fe before the publication of the first issue, and he edited the magazine long-distance. In Santa Fe, Johnson met and recruited D. H. Lawrence to write an article for the magazine; the famous author obliged, and the magazine’s fourth issue printed his vitriolic book review of Ben Hecht’s novel Fantazius Mallare. The review contained many obscene words, but the editors decided to publish Lawrence’s writing anyway “in the spirit of the magazine,” replacing the obscenities with dashes. The blank spaces, however, did little to improve the satirical magazine’s standing with the Berkeley administration. (Udall 118). The fourth issue also contained excerpts from Upton Sinclair’s new book, The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education. In the novel’s condemnation of education, Sinclair referred to Cal Berkeley specifically, claiming it was a stagnant, corrupt institution. Even though the outrage was more directly caused by Sinclair’s writing, the administration found the “obscenity” of Lawrence’s letter an easier tool to oust the publication, and they charged the magazine with printing obscene matter (Udall 119). As Chanslor was the only editor still enrolled at Berkeley, a warrant for his arrest was issued; the judge dropped the case immediately. The censorship battle helped Laughing Horse more than the outraged administration. The publicity generated by the university’s response brought the magazine national fame and the attention of literary and social radicals from abroad (33).
In December of 1923 Johnson permanently moved Laughing Horse to Santa Fe. Under Johnson’s sole editorship the magazine continued to debate political issues both locally and nationally, although it did not continue to prioritize the “destructive” satire its manifesto had described. Instead, it adopted a regional aesthetic and in 1925 Johnson changed the subtitle to “A magazine of the Southwest” (Udall 155). The magazine enjoyed the contributions of several famous modernists who had visited or lived in Taos and Santa Fe, including Lawrence, Mabel Dodge Luhan, and Mary Austin, and Laughing Horse became the first magazine to publish a D.H. Lawrence Number. Publication of the magazine continued regularly until 193, and ceased with one final issue in 1939 (Roberts).
With their inaugural issue, the editors of Laughing Horse published an introduction which accurately captured the magazine’s sardonic tone and casual attitude:
“Herewith is presented “The Laughing Horse” a magazine of polemics, phillippics [sic], satire, burlesque and all around destructive criticism, edited, written and financed by four more or less like-minded young persons, who find education as it is perpetrated in America, and especially at California, a somewhat gaudy farce with lachrymose overtones but withal a spectacle par excellence. “We propose to take nothing too seriously, to hold nothing sacred, to subject anything or everything which seems to affect too pontifical an air, too solemn an attitude, to ribald ridicule. Our aim is frankly destructive, regardless of the attitude of the English Club on that kind of criticism. We are not reformers; we are not architects. We are the wrecking gang, hurlers of brickbats, shooters of barbs, tossers of custard pie. We are not bitter; we are not ill-natured; we are not soreheads. We are simply tired of the incessant bleating of professorial poloniuses and their spineless imitators, the blather of campus politicians, the palpable tosh of [the Daily] Cal. and Pelly [Pelican] and Occident editorials, the silly chatter of our half-baked Hobsons, Bryans and Orison Swett Mardens. We seek not simply to shock by our derisive irreverence of sacred things which are largely ridiculous in their very nature, but merely to come out with a merry horse-laugh.”
“Apologia.” No. 1 (Nov. 1922): 2.
Walter Willard “Spud” Johnson (1897 – 1968)
Editor: Apr 1922 – Winter 1929
When Spud Johnson transferred to the University of California in 1920 he immediately connected with poet and ex-professor Witter Bynner, who would shape the young man’s career. Bynner was Johnson’s mentor and teacher, introduced him to the Bohemian club and the West Coast literati, and was also his lover (Udall 7). In 1922 Johnson self-financed his own little magazine, Laughing Horse, which he moved to Santa Fe in 1923, where he had been living and associating with Mabel Dodge Luhan and D. H. Lawrence. Johnson was a major part of the growing New Mexico literary scene, which included Mary Austin, Carl Sandburg, and Dorothy Brett (Udall 11). He published a book of poetry in 1926, contributed to several magazines, and in 1935 published Horizontal Yellow, a collection of poetry. In 1939 he published the final issue of Laughing Horse. Johnson painted, drew, traveled, and actively participated in local causes until his death in 1968.
“The Land of Journey’s Ending”
“One Smoke Stories”
Lawrence and Susan
“The City of the Holy Faith at Saint Francis”
Arthur Davison Ficke
“The Problem of Censorship”
R. Vernon Hunter
D. H. Lawrence
“Book Review of Ben Hecht’s Fantazius Mallare”
“Au Revoir, U.S.A”
“Dear Old Horse”
“Just Back from the Snake-Dance – Tired Out”
“Europe Versus America”
“Beyond the Rockies”
Mabel Dodge Luhan
“The Door of the Spirit”
“The Ballad of a Bad Girl”
Excerpts from The Goose Step
“Letter to Berkeley administration”
Edna Lou Walton
“Gods of the Navajo”
Barclay, Donald A. “‘The Laughing Horse’: A Literary Magazine of the American West. Western American Literature. 27.1 (Spring 1992): 47-55. Web. 9 Jun 2016.
Hoffman, Frederick J., Charles Allen, and Carolyn F. Ulrich. The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1947.
Laughing Horse. 1921-1939. Little Magazines, American 1930 – 1933. Microform. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI, 2004.
Roberts, William M. “Laughing Horse: A Horse Laugh at the University.” Chronicle of the University of California. 2002. University of California at Berkeley. 8 May 2007. 13 – 18.
“Spud Johnson Biographical Sketch.” Spud Johnson Collection. 2000. Harry Ransom Humanities Resource Center at the University of Texas at Austin. 8 May 2007.
Udall, Sharyn. Spud Johnson and Laughing Horse. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994.
“Laughing Horse” compiled by Drew Brookie (Class of ’07, Davidson College)