The Overland Monthly was founded in 1868 by Anton Roman, a Bavarian-born bookseller who moved to California during the Gold Rush. He had recently published the poems of Charles Warren Stoddard and a collection of verse by California writers called Outcroppings. The magazine's first issue was published in July 1868, edited by Bret Harte in San Francisco, and continued until late 1875. Roman, who hoped his magazine would "help the material development of this Coast", was originally concerned that Harte would "lean too much toward the purely literary". Harte, in turn, was skeptical at first that there would be enough quality content provided from local authors. The first issue included contributions from the "Golden State Trinity": Harte, Stoddard, and Ina Coolbrith.
Despite the positive response from critics and the magazine's profitability, publisher Anton Roman sold the Overland Monthly in June 1869 for $7,500 to John Carmany. Harte immediately offered the new owner a list of demands, including a raise to $200 a month and a guarantee of his complete editorial control of each issue. Carmany agreed to his terms, and Harte was able to leave his job at the San Francisco Mint to devote his full attention to the Overland Monthly. The publication continued to thrive in this period; Mark Twain reported that he had "heard it handsomely praised by some of the most ponderous of America's literary chiefs."
In the September 1870 issue, Harte published what became his most well-known work, "Plain Language from Truthful James", later known as "The Heathen Chinee". That year, with his popularity soaring, Harte considered a professorship at the University of California, Berkeley or an offer to purchase the Overland Monthly, but declined both. Instead, he left California and traveled east to seek broader literary fame.
The original publishers, in 1880, started The Californian, which became The Californian and Overland Monthly in October 1882. In January 1883, the effort reverted to The Overland Monthly (starting again with Volume I, number 1). The 1884 volume contained a commitment to present content "free of advertising taint," explaining that articles no article would appear that was not "in good faith what it appears to be." It was based in San Francisco until at least 1921. In 1923 the magazine merged with Out West to become Overland Monthly and the Out West magazine, and ended publication in July 1935.