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John Sunder

GIBBONS, EUELL THEOPHILUS (1911–1975). Euell Gibbons, naturalist and television personality, son of Ely (Eli) Joseph and Laura (Bowers) Gibbons, was born into a Baptist family at Clarksville, Texas, on September 8, 1911. The three Gibbons boys and their sister learned about wild foods from their mother. Gibbons concocted menus and wrote about foraging. In 1922 the family moved to a New Mexico farmstead. Euell provisioned them by foraging, hunting, and trapping whenever his father was away. At fifteen he left home, working towards California and the Pacific Northwest, where, by 1933, he lived in bum camps, foraged, and did manual labor. While in the army, 1934–36, he married Anna Swanson (on September 12, 1935); they had two sons. Gibbons joined the Communist party sometime during the 1930s but left it about 1940 and later called himself a "left-wing Democrat." In Hawaii during World War II he worked in a shipyard. With the war over, Gibbons, a divorcé and conscientious objector, turned to beachcombing. He completed high school and attended the University of Hawaii from 1947 to 1950; he earned money by composing crossword puzzles in Hawaiian.

On December 17, 1949, he married Freda Fryer. They taught on Maui until 1953, joined the Quakers, and then left Hawaii and taught at various schools in the eastern and midwestern United States. In 1953–54 they taught at a New Jersey Quaker school before moving to a midwestern cooperative community. In 1955, while employed at Pendle Hill School near Philadelphia, Gibbons began writing about edible plants. Freda promised to support them while he wrote full-time, and they moved nearby to Tanguy Homesteads. Gibbons had written verse and short stories; now he completed a novel, but his editors advised him, "Take the novel out. Leave the wild food in." He did so, and McKay published Stalking the Wild Asparagus in 1962, after which Gibbons was established as the master of his field.

In 1963 the Gibbonses moved to a farm named It Wonders Me at Troxelville, Pennsylvania. Gibbons wrote six more books "lauding nature's harvests" and taught foraging. With a voice something like that of Will Rogers, Gibbons became famous doing Grape-Nuts television commercials. He helped mold environmental thought, condemned wastefulness and reliance upon technology, and urged life in harmony with nature like that attributed to American Indians. Susquehanna University awarded him an honorary degree in 1972. Gibbons died in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, on December 29, 1975, of arteriosclerosis.

Contemporary Authors (Detroit: Gale Research, 1978, Permanent Series, Vol. 2). John McPhee, "Profiles: A Forager," New Yorker, April 6, 1968. New York Times, December 30, 1975. Publishers Weekly, January 12, 1976.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, John Sunder, "GIBBONS, EUELL THEOPHILUS," accessed August 09, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fgi38.

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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