1. backbone; spine

[origin: 14th century; Middle English; from Anglo-French enchine; of Germanic origin; akin to Old High German, scina, shinbone, needle]


Chief Oswald was a man of war,
Fame of his deeds was blown afar.
Now he smote on the British line,
Cleft a Briton from chin to chine,
Severed another through the spine.
From another knight he dashed the brain,
Charged from the side at the king amain.
Conal’s sight was growing dim,
He saw the fight in a red haze swim.
His sword arm hung like an arm of lead,
He scarce could lift his armored head,
His life was ebbing in spurts of red.
But even as waning sight was spent
He saw the peril of Geraint.
He reined about his weary horse
And barred the furious Saxon’s course.
And the blow for the back of the king was stayed
By Conal’s notched unsteady blade.
Rider and steed in one overthrow
Sank beneath that fearful blow.
King Geraint wheeled and he saw the end
Of his trusted comrade and boyhood friend.
His heart went cold and his lips went pale;
He smote the Saxon like a gale,
Rent his shield and his coat of mail.
Oswald lay by Conal’s side
And over them washed the battle tide.

[from “The Ballad of King Geraint”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 73; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 359]

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.

Celtiberians of Spain

I, personally, think it very likely that the Celtiberians of Spain were closely allied to the Gaels, and possibly themselves ancestors of the Irish and Scotch.

— Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 1 Jul 1930 (AMTF 19, CL2.53)

In their first few letters, Howard and Lovecraft spent considerable time on Gaelic history, a favorite subject for Howard (cf. CL2.4-5), with Howard holding that they had come up through Spain. (AMTF1.18-19, 22, 29, 33, 36; CL2.53, 56, 62, 65-66) The conversation drifted at one point to the possibility of Egyptian influence on the aboriginal cultures of Mexico and South America, which both considered unlikely, but which has had its popular proponents in the pseudoscientific literature due to the pyramids in both regions, and which may have been the inspiration for Howard’s unfinished draft or fragment, later given the title “Nekht Semerkhet.” (AMTF1.30-31, 37; CL2.67-68) Howard also inquires after the “Cthulutl” and “Yog-Sototl” mentioned in Adolphe de Castro’s “The Electric Executioner”; Lovecraft’s response is lost, but presumably admitted his authorship and adaptation of his Mythos entities to the Aztec pantheon, much as he did with Yig and Quetzacoatl. This identification of Lovecraft’s alien entities with the native mythology of Central America may have, in turn, helped inspire Robert E. Howard’s references to the Yucatan in “The Black Stone” (1931) and the terrible Temple of the Toad in Guatemala in “The Thing on the Roof” (1932).

Eventually, in response to Lovecraft’s comments on the immigrant tenements on the East Coast, Howard turned to the subject of Mexicans:

Almost the same conditions exist in South Texas on the great cotton farms. These farms, owned largely by men in other states, are worked entirely by Mexicans. As each farm consists of from three to eight thousand acres in actual cultivation, it requires the work of many hands. A Mexican thrives on wages that would reduce a white man to starvation. I have seen the huts built for them by their employers and overseers—one roomed affairs, generally painted red, one door, two or three glass windows. There are no chairs, beds, tables or stoves. The Mexicans sleep on rags thrown carelessly on the floor and cook their scanty meals of frijoles and tortillas on open fires outside. The death rate is enormous, the birth rate even more enormous. They live like rats and breed like flies. But while I dislike the methods used in bringing huge droves of Mexicans across the river to stuff the ballots on election day, or to compete with white labor, still I look with tolerance on those already here, and prefer the Mexican to the Italian. After all, the Mexican has some claim to priority, for his ancestor greeted Cortez. These in Texas and along the Border are predominantly Indian; the Spanish strain is very slight. In the interior you will find many fine old dons of almost pure Castilian strain, living a lazy, old World sort of life on their wide-spread ranchos But like most of the better class of foreigners, we seldom get any of that sort as immigrants. There is a great deal of romance about these descendants of Cortez’ knights. (AMTF1.51; CL2.84)

mexican-farmworkers-leaving-chihuahua-cityThe tone and content of Howard’s comments are as familiar today as they would have been when they were set to paper in 1930. The idea of white Americans possibly being outnumbered by immigrants, or in general the idea that white people of any nationality being a minority compared to other peoples on the planet (as well as speculating on potential wars on racial lines), formed a part in both Lovecraft and Howard’s correspondence—and again there is distinction of race and class, differentiating between the poor Mexican laborer who is “predominantly Indian” with the rich and aristocratic “old dons of almost pure Castilian strain.” Howard would expand on this sentiment in another letter (AMTF1.256; CL2.293) and Lovecraft for his part responded in general agreement:

I had heard that Louisiana was Italian-ridden, but did not realise that Texas also suffered from immigration. The Mexican is probably as much of a problem as the low-grade European, but I can see that he would not be likely to be quite so irritating, since he really belongs by heredity to the landscape. There is always something redeeming about any race on its own soil—where it is fitted to the landscape and possesses settled ways and traditions. The remaining white Spaniards of old Tejas, Arizona, and Nuevo-Mejico must be rather a picturesque and attractive element I think I have heard that quite a number exist in New Mexico. Isn’t that state still officially bi-lingual, with Spanish as one of the legal tongues? (AMTF1.78; cf. 1.247)

The attachment of race and geography—the idea of a “native soil” for a people—was a common element to the prejudices of both Howard and Lovecraft, and underlies some of the difficulties they faced talking about this or that race; the idea of an ancestral plot of land, which a succession of ancestors has inhabited unchanged for long periods of time, their culture and nature shaped by the environment, has to be balanced against the history and evidence for the migration of peoples. As Howard later wrote to Lovecraft:

It’s a queer thought to think that Americans are transplanted Europeans, somehow; after a race has lived in a locality five or six generations, its members tend to unconsciously consider that the race has lived there always—it really takes some conscious thought to realize that it’s otherwise! (AMTF1.87; CL2.96)

For the most part, however, such statements went unexamined. There was a certain irony in the racial identity politics of the period that even Howard could not resist pointing out:

Yes, the lower country is filling up with Latins and Polacks and even the Mexicans resent that fact. I remember the conversation of a certain Spanish-Italian desperado, one Chico the Desperate, whose real name was Marcheca, on the road to San Antonio, a few years ago. Chico was suspicious and reticent at first but soon warmed up and narrated his crimes with a gusto that kept me roaring with laughter. He was either a monumental liar or the most atrocious rogue unhung. But what amused me the most was his violent denunciations of the foreigners who were stealing the country! He was in favor of deporting al Germans, Polacks, and eya, even Italians! who had come over within the last generation and giving their land to natural Americans—including himself. He explained that the deportation of foreigners would not touch him, for though he was but one generation removed from Spain on the one side, on the other hand the Marchecas had been settled in America for three generations. […] But for Chico’s Spanish affinities, I don’t believe I ever heard a Mexican admit he was anything but pure Castilian or Aragonese. His hair may be kinky or he may have the copper skin of a Yaqui but he will assure you that at least one of his very recent ancestors first saw light in Barcelona, Valladolid or old Seville. (AMTF1.98; CL2.120)

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2.  The Stigma of Tuberculosis

In addition to the pain, the horrific TB operations and the endless monotony of the sanitarium, tuberculars also suffered from the stigma of contracting TB.

The National Library of Medicine notes: “During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tuberculosis (TB) was the leading cause of death in the United States and one of the most dreaded diseases known to mankind. Until Robert Koch’s discovery of the disease-causing tuberculosis bacteria in 1882, many scientists believed that TB was hereditary and could not be prevented. Doctors offered few effective treatments. A new understanding of TB in the bacteriological era not only brought hopes for a cure but also bred fear of contagion.” (Tuberculosis NLM)

For people who had TB, interstate travel was restricted, employment was sometimes denied, and forced confinement to state hospitals and public sanatoria were allowable measures used to protect the public. “Lungers need not inquire” was a sign that was commonly displayed in the windows of boarding houses and hotels that refused to rent to people who appeared to have TB. Beginning in the 1890s and persisting through the 1930s, having TB became such a disgrace that many infected people chose to keep the disease a secret from everyone, including family. (Dyer 56)

Stories of stigma often began at the moment of diagnosis when the new patients immediately offered a lengthy, defensive and apologetic explanation of how and why they contracted tuberculosis:

Overwork was a primary reason. But one young man who kept regular hours and did not overwork, was asked by his mother “Where did you get it, son?” as though it were a sexually transmitted disease. (Rothman 228-29)

Once they were diagnosed, tuberculars became outcasts and lepers in society.

Patients confirmed the wisdom of hiding the disease…Families and confidants were as secretive as the sick themselves. They told friends that family members were taking a much needed rest or vacation or cited other physical ailments to account for sudden departures. (Rothman 212)

When the public learned TB was an airborne germ, the resulting fear and panic produced many laws against tuberculars.

In addition to their own debility, isolation, and possible death, consumptives had to contend with the anger and prejudice of a phobic society. They were shunned, evicted and refused treatment by doctors and nurses…Consumptives and suspected consumptives alike feared for their jobs…Some town fathers suggested that tuberculars be compelled to wear bells around their necks, as medieval lepers had. These frightening stories made consumptives feel outcast, humiliated and helpless. These factors, along with the knowledge that one was a constant danger to oneself and others could make the alienation extreme. Consumptives were urged to live alone. Massachusetts passed a law stating consumptives must sleep alone unless their companions were also consumptives. Even pets were commonly denied them. They were to curb any desire to give or to receive affection; kissing, and even shaking hands was discouraged…Tuberculosis was added to the list of eugenic defects that could disqualify couples from marrying…As one doctor put it, “Marriage of consumptives is often the deliberate creation of a pest house.”  There were mentions of having to obtain physical certificates attesting that family histories did not contain feeblemindedness, tuberculosis, drunkenness, epilepsy and insanity. Still others mentioned the possibility of sterilizing consumptives.” [emphasis mine] (Ott 113-115)

Since one of the characteristic symptoms of TB is the hacking cough, it’s difficult to believe that people who were close to Hester did not guess her illness. For those who were aware of the TB symptoms, this could be one of the reasons REH and his father had difficulty hiring women to care for Hester and do the housework.

Woman after woman we hired and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, [emphasis mine] though my father and I did most of it. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)

While the public feared being infected by tuberculosis, the tuberculars who were shunned and outcasts feared “local, state and federal laws put into place to further isolate them. The spread of tuberculosis concerned everyone. “By 1930, 90,000 people a year still died from the disease in the United States.” (Ryan 28)

The legal rights of both the public and the tuberculars were debated.

How far the government could go to carry legal measures designed to control tuberculosis and not infringe upon the natural rights of American citizenship was the question for public officials trying to control the spread of the disease…Over the first decade of the twentieth century the campaign to educate the public gained momentum and as its message spread throughout the country, so did the fear of associating with persons who had contracted tuberculosis. (Rothman 190)


Fear won and many of the laws brought on further discrimination. When in 1893, tuberculars were required to register with the State of New York, (Rothman 213) Insurance companies  gained access to the list and cancelled or refused insurance based on it. (Rothman 188) By 1901 six states had some kind of reporting law.” (Ott 129) And, these brought on even more laws.

By 1908 eighty-four cities required both registration of the tubercular and disinfection of lodgings, procedures that led to discrimination in housing and employment. Landlords refused to rent to the tubercular, insurance companies refused to insure them, [emphasis mine] employers refused to employ them plus there were laws preventing them from working in dairies and bakeries and as school teachers. (Rothman 189) There were also efforts to ban travel by tuberculars and while no state enacted such legislation, fear and hostility did not prevent discrimination by private parties. Boardinghouse and hotel owners turned away the sick and town fathers reimbursed railroads who gave a homeless tubercular a lunch basket and a one-way ticket back home. Western doctors did their part to restrict the flow of travel to the west for those seeking a cure, “When will our professional brethren in the East learn that to send advanced cases to the West with no financial means to enable them to supply themselves with that food and environment that really forms a most important part of climatic treatment, is not only a sin of omission, but one of commission. (Rothman 191)

Another compelling reason for hiding a diagnosis of TB was the fear of mandatory confinement.

Public health officials had recourse to one final weapon in their campaign to control contagion: the power to confine anyone found liable to jeopardize the health of others. The goal was to commit persons with tuberculosis to a special facility until they were no longer a menace to public health. The primary goal was to confine the poor but the legislation extended to include anyone not meeting the standards set by the public health authorities. (Rothman, 191-92)

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N.C. Wyeth - Rafael Sabatini, Duel on the Beach

“Roger O’Farrel.”

Now she had a way of pronouncing that rogue’s name as if he were a saint or a king, and for some reason this rasped on my nerves greatly. So I said nothing.

“Were Roger O’Farrel here,” she prattled on, “we should have naught to fear, for no man on all the Seven Seas is his equal and even John Gower would shun the issue with him. He is the greatest navigator that ever lived and the finest swordsman. He has the manners of a cavalier, which in truth he is.”

Robert E. Howard, “The Isle of Pirates’ Doom”

SinkStephen Harmer had begun to feel attracted to the she-pirate Helen Tavrel, despite her ruthless profession, at the time she delivered the above panegyric, and the green-eyed monster was biting. He needn’t have felt jealous, as he discovered. O’Farrel was Helen’s foster father, and fifty while she was twenty, though still in good shape and handsome. She loved him in a daughterly way.

O’Farrel, it appears, was one of those men who are just too much of and too good at everything to be liked by a more ordinary fellow – which Steve was, despite being stalwart and brave. Calling O’Farrel the greatest navigator that ever lived, in a world that had already known Columbus, Magellan and Vespucci, was pitching it high, and claiming he was the finest swordsman of all time another possible exaggeration. Even in Howard’s stories, O’Farrel came decades after Solomon Kane, and I doubt he’d have beaten that somber man from Devon. Helen was prattling; Stephen Harmer, prejudiced or not, wasn’t wrong.

She had reason to think her foster father a walking marvel and a paragon of nobility, though. “He took me off a sinking ship when I was a baby and raised me like his own daughter,” she recounts. “And if I took to the life of a rover, it is not his fault, who would have established me like a fine lady ashore had I wished. But the love of adventure is in my blood and though Fate made a woman of me, I have lived a man’s life.”

The infant Helen had nearly died on that sinking ship. It happened off Cornwall, when her Royalist kindred fled Cromwell’s retribution and a Parliamentary warship waylaid them. O’Farrel, sailing for the Irish Confederacy, first drove the navy vessel off, and then rescued the screaming two-year-old who was the sole survivor, followed the Roundhead craft, and sent it to the bottom with all hands. Afterwards he took Helen to Brussels, and the rich, splendid New World city of Havana, where he (and she) mingled with the highest society.

James IHe possessed the manners and breeding for it. Roger O’Farrel was a scion of the lords of Annaly, a princely line with a splendid coat of arms, but they were deprived of lands and title by the English king (James I) just four years before Roger was born. He had education – at the University of Padua – in medicine, math and astronomy. He spoke Gaelic, English, French and Spanish. His tutor, a poor but accomplished French gentleman, schooled him in music and the use of the sword. He had learned sea-fighting as a privateer for the Irish Confederacy through the savage Eleven Years’ War, against the Parliamentary navy, beginning before he was twenty. Then he moved to the Caribbean and sailed for the Spanish Captain-General of the Indies – again battling Cromwell’s navy.

O’Farrel’s feud with Christopher Myngs became a legend among the Caribbean buccaneers. Myngs, an Englishman, was born in Norfolk, probably in 1625. He first went to sea in colliers and coastal traders, then joined Cromwell’s navy. He rose from insignificant rank to become an officer, and we can suppose he served in western waters against the Irish privateers out of Wexford – one of whom was Roger O’Farrel. Roger never heard of Myngs in those years, but Myngs certainly heard of the notorious O’Farrel, damned by Parliamentarians as a child of the Scarlet Whore of Babylon, pirate, murderer, warlock formally pledged to the Devil, etcetera. Myngs may have taken that superstitious cant with salt, but he knew for a fact that O’Farrel had sent friends of his to the bottom of the sea, and he didn’t forget.

Christopher_MyngsChristopher Myngs then served in the First Anglo-Dutch War (1652-54). During that conflict, he went to the Mediterranean in the 38-gun warship Elizabeth, and as that vessel returned to England in May 1653, she encountered a Dutch ship. Bloody close-quarter action ensued, in which the captain was killed. Myngs took command, won the fight, and brought the Elizabeth safely to England. He was confirmed in the captaincy, and then, in October 1655, promoted to command of the frigate Marston Moor, a brand new ship launched in 1654, mounting 44 guns. (Her armament was increased later.)  She had just returned from the Caribbean expedition under Venables and Penn, and Myngs was promptly ordered back to Jamaica with her. He went, after insisting that those of the crew who did not lie under close arrest be given their long unpaid wages. They immediately said to each other, with salty oaths no doubt, “I like this skipper.”

Myngs sailed for Jamaica in November 1655. O’Farrel had arrived in the Caribbean already, a fighting sea-captain of long experience who had taken service with the Spanish Viceroy in Havana. He still had not heard of Myngs, but that would change.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.



1. slimy reptiles that inhabit the Sea of Korus

[origin: creatures created by author, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Silians exist on Barsoom, which is the fictional name representing the dying planet, Mars]


The Master beat on his Master-drum,
(Wild, roaring wild, like an unrefined sea!)
Back through the fogs flew the whispering thrum,
(Hide-covered log on a lone white lea,
Ape-man pounding on a sounding tree.)
Primal seas with their silian scum,
Planetary chaos with the cosmic hum,
Whispered down the ages on the Master-Drum!
Midnight skies and a flying ghost-fire,
Crone-faced witches, wild against the moon,
Dark, silent city, Devil-crowning spire,
Witch-fire flitting o’er the sullen mire,
And the devil-devil secrets of the isle-wind’s rune.
Ghost fire flitting through the flying wrack,
Flame-rid dreams of a maniac.
Hiss of a serpent, laughter of a loon.
And the tales of the Past on the night-wind’s croon.
Tales of the Past, a-whirl and a-thrum,
Whispered down the ages with the Master-drum.

[from “The Master-Drum”; to read the complete poem, see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 489; Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 198; and Night Images, p. 72]

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.


Despite an abundance of newspapers that are available online, there are still several collections that can only be accessed in the old-school fashion: ass-in-seat in front of a microfiche reader. As I prepared for Howard Days this year, I called around to the local libraries in the towns I was going to visit to see if they had any. Two libraries said they had what I was looking for, though when I actually showed up at the Mount Calm library, I learned that my phone contact had been mistaken. So, I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived at the second location: Lampasas.

Why Lampasas? Well, I’d already been there when researching Howard’s stay in the “old rock hotel” that was “as much fort as hotel” (REH to HPL, ca. May 1935; see my piece in The Cimmerian, vol. 5, no. 5, Oct. 2008), but that was before my slide into genealogy and minutia. In the same 1935 letter, Howard also says that Lampasas is “where my mother spent her girlhood.” And then there’s this, from his December 5, 1935 letter to HPL, “my grandfather had owned a sheep-ranch in the adjoining county of Lampasas in those days [post-Civil War].”

Add to the above the following bit from Howard’s family history, “The Wandering Years”:

A boom was on in Texas; cities were growing. The Colonel [Howard’s grandfather, G. W. Ervin] went into the real estate business [in Dallas], and was successful. But the low Trinity River lands were unhealthful, and, in 1884 [sic.], he moved again, this time southwestward to Lampasas, in the cattle country. Lampasas had been a frontier town in the early ’70s. It was still a cow town, as well, on account of its mineral springs, a health and pleasure resort, the foremost of its sort in the state, before the rise of Mineral Wells.
[. . .]
My grandfather possessed the restlessness of the age. He loaned money, dealt some in cattle; he bought a sheep ranch, but, in the midst of a cattle country, with hired men running it, it was not a success. He wandered over into western New Mexico and worked a silver mine not far from the Arizona line.

That last part about the silver mine has never been verified (until now), but Howard also mentions it in a couple of letters: circa December 1930, to Lovecraft, “Colonel George Ervin came into Texas when it was wild and raw, and he went into New Mexico, too, long before it was a state, and worked a silver mine—and once he rode like a bat out of Hell for the Texas line with old Geronimo’s turbaned Apaches on his trail”; and again in a circa January 1933 letter to August Derleth: “Geronimo once stole a bunch of my grandfather’s horses, and chased him away from the silver mine he was working; chased him with the aid of a mob of his turbaned warriors, of course, that being a job that took a goodly gang of men, whether red or white.” Most of which sounds like family legend, but the Lampasas connection definitely required another visit, especially since the local librarian indicated that they had copies of the Lampasas Leader from the 1880s—only available on-site.

The Roehm party arrived Monday afternoon and got to work. We hit the courthouse first and found several land documents; then we headed over to the library. I gathered the available fiche and parked in front of the reader. I was there until closing time and continued the search when they opened the next morning. What follows is a summary of the Ervins’ time in that fair city.

The earliest document I found is dated January 9, 1886, when Hester would have been 15-years-old. On that day, G. W. Ervin, “of the County of Lampasas,” purchased three lots in that “portion of the town of Lampasas known as the Lampasas Springs Company’s first addition to the town of Lampasas.” He appears to have purchased these lots outright for the tidy sum of “fifteen hundred dollars to us in hand paid”—there is no indication of any installment payments due at a later time. The Ervins had arrived.

The next document is another land purchase, dated May 31, 1886. This one appears to be an investment, with $1,500 as down payment, another $1,000 due on June 1, 1887, and “the further sum of six hundred and fifty dollars to be paid on the first day of May A.D. 1892,” not including interest. For this, Ervin picked up “an individual one half interest” in “part of a three league survey” that included a pile of lots in Lampasas.

Next up is a December 23, 1886 document in which Ervin and a partner, L. J. Amos, sell part of the May 31 purchase for $2,156, in installments. That same day, Ervin purchased two more lots in the Lampasas Springs Company’s addition from the said Amos for $1,000, “in hand paid.”

Next on the timeline is an obituary found online from the Galveston Daily News:

LAMPASAS, Tex., August 11.—Mrs. Jane Ervin, the mother of G. W. Ervin, died here yesterday and was buried today. Mrs. Ervin was born in North Carolina eighty-one years ago, and has been a resident of Texas for twenty-eight years. She was an exemplary Christian and lived an honored and happy life.

On December 3, 1887, over in Temple, Texas, the Temple Daily Times (also found online) had the following item: “G. W. Ervin, of Lampasas is in the city.” What his business there was is a mystery. I guess I’ll have to go back to Temple at some point and have another look.

Another land document was filed in Lampasas on March 6, 1888. In this one, G. W. and wife Alice, “for and in consideration of an individual half interest in six hundred and forty acres of land” in Palo Pinto County, sell the two lots he had purchased from Amos on December 23, 1886.

The library’s collection of newspapers is full of holes, as far as dates are concerned, so there may have been notices concerning the Ervins before this November 24, 1888 item from the Lampasas Leader: “Col. G. W. Ervin left Monday on a business trip to Dallas, Denton and other points in North Texas.”

And then there’s this December 1, 1888 mention of Hester’s brother, Robert:

1888 12-01 RTEx
I struck pay dirt with the next Leader item, April 20, 1889, which confirms the mining claim: “Col. G. W. Ervin left here Tuesday for Stein’s Pass, New Mexico, to look after his mining interests at that point.” The May 25, 1889 paper announced his return: “Col. Ervin returned Wednesday from Stein’s Pass, New Mexico, where he has been for the past six weeks looking after his mining interests and brings good reports of the mines.”

The July 6, 1889 edition has more news: “Col. G. W. Ervin left here Thursday on a business trip to North Texas and will go on to Oklahoma before returning.” Several of Ervin’s children by his first wife lived or had lived in the Indian Territory at that time. So, it appears, did his former partner, Mr. Amos, who is listed as being from Oklahoma City on the December 7, 1889 document in which he sold G. W. some more land in Lampasas.

A month later—January 16, 1890—G. W. sells a bunch of land for $2,000, “in hand paid by my wife Alice Ervin, the same having been paid out of the separate estate of my said wife received by her from her father.” Said father, Joel Echols Wynn, had died on January 1, 1885, in Arkansas. I’ve got a copy of his will around here somewhere.

That fall, it appears that G. W. had had enough of Lampasas. On October 20, 1890, he sold his original land purchase to a lady from Ohio for the sum of $2,500, to be paid in installments. Here ends the Lampasas paper trail, but I wasn’t quite finished with this mine business. After all, I had to drive through New Mexico to get home.

But before the road trip home, I did a little digging online and found an article in the El Paso Times that had somehow escaped my frequent searches. Dated July 17, 1888, it provided a helpful date for the upcoming courthouse dig:

1888 07-17 GWE in ElPasoTimes p1b

With all of this information in hand, the Roehm party stopped in Lordsburg, New Mexico, on the return trip. We visited the site of Stein’s Pass (now a ghost town called, simply, Steins) and the courthouse, where the following document was discovered.

1888 06-05 GWE in NMx

1888 06-05 GWE in NMx2

And here ends the trail.

This entry filed under Hester Jane Ervin Howard, Howard Biography.

Torbett Sanatorium in Marlin, Texas

Tuberculosis Operations

On December 5, 1935, REH wrote to H. P. Lovecraft about his mother’s condition:

About the middle of November my mother’s health became so poor we took her to the Torbett Sanatorium in Marlin, Texas, where more than a gallon of fluid was drawn off her pleura. She stayed at Marlin two weeks. (Roehm REH Letters 3-388)

Just a few months later, in another letter to HPL, dated February 11, 1936, REH again discusses his mother’s illness and her trips to the hospital.

After our return from Marlin we stayed at home for about two weeks, and then my mother’s pleura filled again, and we took her to a hospital in San Angelo, 105 miles southwest of Cross Plains… Her condition is very bad and she requires frequent aspirations, which are painful, weakening and dangerous. (Roehm REH Letters 3-415)

The difficulties of removing fluid from the pleura is confirmed when Novalyne asks REH if the operation on his mother was successful.

He shook his head. “She’s suffered so much…and she has tried to keep it from interfering with my life. She’s very brave.” (Price Ellis 194)

From the descriptions given by REH in his letters, the types of operations that Hester underwent were the painful aspirations and perhaps the Artificial Pneumothorax (Lung Collapse Therapy) which by the mid-1930s had become a more popular solution for pulmonary TB. And, if the symptoms of tuberculosis were difficult to read, some of the procedures performed on TB patients are straight out of one of REH’s horror stories.


The aspirator, a needle and pump-syringe device for drawing off fluid or gas by suction, was also popular. According to a sarcastic observer in the Medical Record, “The aspirator replaced the stethoscope as the medical novelty of the day.” (Ott 26) With aspiration, physicians cautiously began to explore treatments actually inside body cavities. The limitation of thoracentesis (a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lining of the outside of the lungs—pleura—and the wall of the chest) was that it was directed at the secondary effects of already established disease processes. Thoracentesis was not preventive; it was a fix but not a cure. There were interesting ethical debates about when and how often to aspirate the chest…By the 1890s advocates of thoracentesis generally agreed that in cases of empyema (inflammation with pus) one should aspirate as early as possible…(Ott 66)

Artificial Pneumothorax (Lung Collapse Therapy)

This procedure was based on the work of Robert Koch whose research concluded that the “tubercle bacillus was a strict aerobe: it could survive but not grow and multiply without a generous supply of oxygen. Operations were aimed at resting the affected lung or lungs by reducing the patient’s ability to take a full breath” (Ryan 28):

Because the two pleural sacs enclosing the two lungs do not communicate with each other, one whole lung can be collapsed, without affecting the other, by repeatedly injecting air into the potential cavity between the lungs and the chest wall. (Dormandy 250) This was the oldest and most common of the operations. Some patients promptly felt better, lost their fever and coughed less and the tubercle bacilli disappeared from their sputum. No longer a hazard, the patient could recover at home or return to work. The lung was kept in semi-collapsed position by weekly or biweekly refills. This procedure was not for patients with scar tissue that prevented the collapse. Complications included infection, coughing up blood, and even sudden death. (Bates 286) The rationale for this operation is that if rest benefited the patient, it would also benefit the lung. (Ott 95)

The Artificial Pneumothorax procedure required weekly or biweekly refills and hospitals equipped to do this were quite a distance away. However, Hester could have undergone these treatments during one of her hospital or sanitarium stays.

In the letters above, REH mentions taking his mother to Marlin for aspirations and then when she needed another in two weeks, they took her to San Angelo where she stayed for six weeks.

If she was receiving the Artificial Pneumothorax procedure, this would have been the routine Hester endured. Patients were given morphine the night before.

[T]heir chest was pierced under local anesthesia, usually Novocain. In Hungary, Arpad Toth, the consumptive poet who had the treatment in the early 1930s wrote that though the needle prick in the skin did not hurt and the morphine had in any case induced a happily drowsy state, the needle entering the pleura felt like being kicked by a mule: “There was a crunch, a stab and a prayer, O God, let me die quickly. The real pain began a few hours later (after the anesthetic had worn off and the operator had departed.) It was sharp and unresponsive to drugs and kept patients awake. (Dormandy 261)

And if the pain and suffering from one of these treatments wasn’t enough, according to REH’s letters Hester had several aspirations done over a period of two or more weeks.

Although aspirations became a common procedure for TB, they weren’t without risks

The technique was both dangerous and painful. Many things could go wrong including perforation of the lung, stomach, heart or liver, or in the case of an accidental puncture of the pulmonary vein, instant death. The procedure could be frightening as well as exhausting for a patient. Some had adverse reactions such as horrible pain, fever and hallucinations (Ott 97-98).…By the turn of the century, putting a needle into the chest under local anesthesia to aspirate an effusion or pus from the pleural cavity had become well established as a useful and sometimes even life-saving procedure but the intervention was not without risk. The main difficulty lay in distinguishing the location of the pleural cavity. This was done by tapping on the chest to find the pleural cavity or the areas in the lung where the breath was absent. (Dormandy 205)

By 1921 good x-ray machines were available to make the location of the pleural cavity more accurate; however, not many tuberculosis centers or doctor offices had access to x-ray facilities.

In 1949, Gosta Birath of Sweden wrote one of the last comprehensive reviews of the Collapse Theory: “The pneumothorax needle was the most dangerous weapon ever placed in the hands of a physician.” (Dormandy 351) By the 1930’s, artificial pneumothoraces were being performed, often in incompetent operations in tens of thousands of unsuitable cases and the results were predictably dismal.”  It might be thought that the patients or their families would rebel, but the opposite was true. Almost anything active was better than just waiting and hoping. (352)

And survival of these procedures and the disappearance of symptoms did not mean the tuberculosis was cured.

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The people saw upon his wrists the scars of the racks of Spain.

– Robert E. Howard, “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming”

One of the unique aspects of the correspondence between Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft is their relative openness and closeness of views—or at least prejudices—on race. None of Lovecraft’s other correspondents quite shared his prejudices, and indeed for many of them, such as J. Vernon Shea and James F. Morton, Lovecraft was forced to express and defend his views on race in some detail. If Howard ever had a comparable experience, the letters have not survived; indeed his views on race, while agreeing with Lovecraft in general prejudice, are much less developed, as Howard lacked the need to justify his beliefs to anyone else. With other correspondents who did not share their prejudices, both men generally curbed their speech, though they did not shy away from the subject if it was raised (and, indeed, sometimes raised it themselves). Somewhat ironically, this means that while both Howard and Lovecraft had little to disagree with each other on the topic of race, they were thus both more open to its discussion—or perhaps simply more unguarded in their conversation.

repatriationOne of these areas of mutual interest involved the Spanish-descended population of the United States, both their persons and their contributions to the local culture and architecture. The Spanish diaspora was both of historical and anthropological interest to Lovecraft and Howard, involving as it did the early European colonization of the Americas, particularly the Southwest; immigration and the continuing interaction with neighboring Hispanic countries such as Mexico and Cuba were also of immediate interest for both men. Through their correspondence, we can gain insight both into their views regarding Spanish immigrants, Mexicans, etc. and the use and depiction of such persons as characters, which both Howard and Lovecraft made use of in their fiction.

In large part, Lovecraft and Howard’s views with regard to Hispanics were shaped by their different experiences. H. P. Lovecraft, on the East Coast, was primarily familiar with Spanish immigrants in New England, as well as Puerto Ricans in urban New York City and Cubans in South Florida (AMTF1.212), including a visit to the ethnic enclave of Ybor City in Tampa (AMTF2.889); his experience of older Spanish influence was largely limited to visits to St. Augustine and New Orleans, the former of which he took as a confirmation on his views regarding cultural assimilation (AMTF1.76-77; cf. SL4.250-254). Robert E. Howard, by contrast, spent his whole life in the Southwest, primarily Texas with trips to neighboring Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and across the border to Mexican towns like Piedras Niegras and Matamoros, where he interacted primarily with Mexicans and Spanish-Americans. This mutual interest but different focus can be seen somewhat in some of the fiction that both men wrote before they began their correspondence in 1930.

For Lovecraft, this fiction can be roughly divided between the fiction set in his New England milieu and that set in the Southwest. Something of an edge case is “The Very Old Folk” (1927), a dream-narrative of Lovecraft’s which is set in Roman Hispania, incorporated into Frank Belknap Long’s novella “The Horror from the Hills” (1931), and recalling one of Lovecraft’s most unusual comments to Howard: “The conquest of Spain, too, would have thrilled me—how inspiring to have been with Scipio under the walls of stubborn Numantia!” (AMTF1.211; SL3.413) Though Lovecraft’s affinity for Rome would eventually help spur the momentous argument on barbarism versus civilization between him and Howard.

CoolAir565The New England stories, “The Terrible Old Man” (1920), “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925), “Cool Air” (1926), “The Strange High House in the Mist” (1926), and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” (1927) are concerned only very slightly with Hispanic characters to any degree, focusing primarily on either historical references to Spain’s colonial empire and maritime activities (such as the Terrible Old Man paying “for his few necessities at the village store with Spanish gold and silver minted two centuries ago”) and more especially with recent Spanish immigrants to the United States, who are portrayed as lower-class and/or criminal. Manual Silva of “The Terrible Old Man” is a robber and “not of Kingsport blood; they were of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions”; the landlady Mrs. Herrero of “Cool Air” is described as “slatternly, almost bearded” and her lodgers as “Spaniards a little above the coarsest and crudest grade”; Captain Manuel Arruda of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” a gentleman of honor, yet also a smuggler of Egyptian mummies. The distinction here is not simply immigrant status but also of class, as exemplified by the exaggerated Spanish-inflected English of Mrs. Herrero, designed by Lovecraft to reproduce and parody the speech of a non-native English speaker:

“Doctair Muñoz,” she cried as she rushed upstairs ahead of me, “he have speel hees chemicals. He ees too seeck for doctair heemself—seecker and seecker all the time—but he weel not have no othair for help. He ees vairy queer in hees seeckness—all day he take funnee-smelling baths, and he cannot get excite or warm. All hees own housework he do—hees leetle room are full of bottles and machines, and he do not work as doctair. But he was great once—my fathair in Barcelona have hear of heem—and only joost now he feex a arm of the plumber that get hurt of sudden. He nevair go out, only on roof, and my boy Esteban he breeng heem hees food and laundry and mediceens and chemicals. My Gawd, the sal-ammoniac that man use for keep heem cool!”

The educated and refined Doctor Muñoz of “Cool Air” is a notable exception to this trend, and despite being an immigrant to the United States he is held in high regard by the nameless protagonist for his high intellect, education, and cleanliness:

The figure before me was short but exquisitely proportioned, and clad in somewhat formal dress of perfect cut and fit. A high-bred face of masterful though not arrogant expression was adorned by a short iron-grey full beard, and an old-fashioned pince-nez shielded the full, dark eyes and surmounted an aquiline nose which gave a Moorish touch to a physiognomy otherwise dominantly Celtiberian. Thick, well-trimmed hair that argued the punctual calls of a barber was parted gracefully above a high forehead; and the whole picture was one of striking intelligence and superior blood and breeding.

DDD323275827f011c8079759c88bf701Genetics was as yet primitive in the 1920s and 30s, as DNA as a vector for inheritance had not yet been discovered, and Lovecraft’s views on inheritance reflect that misunderstanding; much of his discussion of race in his letters use terms like “stock” and “breeding” taken directly from domestication of animals, and used in the same way. The idea that class differences—not just intelligence and physiognomy, but intangible properties like morality, aesthetic sensibility, and propensity for criminal activity—were an expression of inheritable traits was fairly common, and various “races” were assigned this or that trait based on stereotypes. Here in particular, you can see in Lovecraft’s reference to “Celtiberian” that he is implying a closer relation to the Anglo-Celtic peoples of the British Isles—whom Lovecraft identified himself with—than for the other Hispanic characters.

Lovecraft’s tales of the Southwest up to 1930 include “The Transition of Juan Romero” (1919); two of his ghost-written tales for Zealia Bishop, “The Curse of Yig” (1928) and “The Mound” (1930); and two revisions for Adolphe de Castro, “The Electric Executioner” (1928) and “The Last Test” (1928). De Castro original stories, “The Automatic Executioner” and “Clarendon’s Last Test” or “A Sacrifice for Science,” betray the older prejudices of the 1890s, some of which is retained in Lovecraft’s revisions, but much was added or changed by Lovecraft, and in the case of “The Last Test” many of the original portrayals of Mexicans was excised to make room for Surama and the associated sub-plot.

Most of these tales betray at least a passing interest in Mesoamerican mythology and anthropology, and incorporate some of Lovecraft’s more familiar weird themes, of primitive survivals and shadowy ancient horrors. Still, Lovecraft’s conflation of class and race find expression, such as in description of the eponymous Juan Romero:

One of a large herd of unkempt Mexicans attracted thither from the neighbouring country, he at first commanded attention only because of his features; which though plainly of the Red Indian type, were yet remarkable for their light colour and refined conformation, being vastly unlike those of the average “Greaser” or Piute of the locality. It is curious that although he differed so widely from the mass of Hispanicised and tribal Indians, Romero gave not the least impression of Caucasian blood. It was not the Castilian conquistador or the American pioneer, but the ancient and noble Aztec, whom imagination called to view when the silent peon would rise in the early morning and gaze in fascination at the sun as it crept above the eastern hills, meanwhile stretching out his arms to the orb as if in the performance of some rite whose nature he did not himself comprehend. But save for his face, Romero was not in any way suggestive of nobility. Ignorant and dirty, he was at home amongst the other brown-skinned Mexicans; having come (so I was afterward told) from the very lowest sort of surroundings. He had been found as a child in a crude mountain hut, the only survivor of an epidemic which had stalked lethally by. Near the hut, close to a rather unusual rock fissure, had lain two skeletons, newly picked by vultures, and presumably forming the sole remains of his parents. No one recalled their identity, and they were soon forgotten by the many. Indeed, the crumbling of the adobe hut and the closing of the rock fissure by a subsequent avalanche had helped to efface even the scene from recollection. Reared by a Mexican cattle-thief who had given him his name, Juan differed little from his fellows.

Again, the “low-class” characters—Mexicans in this case, rather than Spanish immigrants—are described a “unkempt” and “dirty,” ignorant, and inherently criminal (“cattle-thief”); Lovecraft would use very similar language when describing low-class characters of every race, from the rural white poor of “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Lurking Fear” to the teeming multinational immigrants of “The Horror at Red Hook.” In both “The Transition of Juan Romero” and “The Electric Executioner,” Mexicans are described as “peons,” a term that would later crop up in Lovecraft and Howard’s letters, expressly denoting the low status of Mexicans in Lovecraft’s fiction. Even among Mexicans, Lovecraft found room for further distinctions in terms of class, for example in “The Last Test” he described “the lower Mexican element whose lack of sanitation was a standing invitation to disease of every kind,” and the perhaps curious distinction from “The Electric Executioner”:

I hate greasers, but I like Mexicans! A puzzle? Listen to me, young fellow—you don’t think Mexico is really Spanish, do you? God, if you knew the tribes I know!

Mexican-american-discriminationThe slur “greaser” to refer to Mexicans was common during the era, but the distinction that Lovecraft makes here—and one which Howard would echo later—is the social as well as genetic distinction between Mexican nationality, class, and race as it stood in the early 20th century. As with Juan Romero, Lovecraft finds a greater interest in the unmixed Native Americans (“Mexicans”) and unmixed Europeans (“Whites”), than to multiracial peoples of the same nationality, and this conforms to Lovecraft’s general conception that mixing of race and cultures led to biological and cultural degeneration.

Language is a general marker for Lovecraft’s prejudices in this regard. In “The Transition of Juan Romero” the protagonist remarks:

Our conversation was necessarily limited. He knew but a few words of English, while I found my Oxonian Spanish was something quite different from the patois of the peon of New Spain.

And later in the same story:

And frightened as I was, I yet retained enough of perception to note that his speech, when articulate, was not of any sort known to me. Harsh but impressive polysyllables had replaced the customary mixture of bad Spanish and worse English, and of these only the oft repeated cry “Huitzilopotchli” seemed in the least familiar. Later I definitely placed that word in the works of a great historian—and shuddered when the association came to me.

A sentiment also expressed in “The Electric Executioner”:

They heard the same old names—Mictlanteuctli, Tonatiuh-Metzli, Cthulhutl, Ya-R’lyeh, and all the rest—but the queer thing was that some English words were mixed with them. Real white man’s English, and no greaser patter.

The distinction of “bad” Spanish, or degrading Mexican Spanish as a “patois” and “patter” displays the linguistic bias, subtly reaffirming the depiction of the character as ill-educated, but also tarring Mexicans in general as being different—and thus lower class—than their Castilian-speaking counterparts in Iberia, or the English-speaking “White” Americans. This linguistic bias, albeit applied to one of the original Spanish conquistadors instead of their American descendants, can also be seen in “The Mound”:

Almost immediately, however, the unrolling of one end shewed that the manuscript was in Spanish—albeit the formal, pompous Spanish of a long-departed day. In the golden sunset light I looked at the heading and the opening paragraph, trying to decipher the wretched and ill-punctuated script of the vanished writer.

ZealiaBishop“The Mound,” written based on a very brief story-seed provided by Zealia Brown-Reed Bishop, is the longest narrative of a Spanish character in Lovecraft’s corpus, and Pánfilo de Zamacona is one of the most curious of Lovecraft’s protagonists, an adventurer and associate of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado, far removed from his typical academics and antiquarians, though still a polyglot and well-educated by the standards of his time. Zamacona’s narrative uses the legendry of surrounding the Spanish conquest—Coronado’s search for Cíbola, and Ponce de Leon’s search for the Fountain of Youth—and the Aztec/Mayan mythology of Quezalcoatl and Kukulcan (identified with Yig both in “The Mound” and “The Curse of Yig”) as a framing device to explore the idea of an advanced precursor race to the Native Americans (in a descent worthy of, and possibly inspired by, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar novels or A. Merritt’s “The Moon-Pool”). This was in keeping with the theory, somewhat antiquated but still prevalent in Lovecraft and Howard’s day, that “the Mound Builders” were a race distinct from contemporary Native Americans.

Robert E. Howard also referenced the Spanish and Hispanics in his fiction prior to his correspondence with Lovecraft. For the most part, the nature of the references and depictions in Howard’s stories depends on the genre he was writing in: whole practically all of Lovecraft’s fiction belongs to the weird genre, Howard wrote for the sports, mystery or detective, spicy, western, historical and oriental pulps as well, and even tried his hand at confessionals. So it should come as no surprise that in writing Orientales set in Afghanistan or China, there are few references to Hispanic characters, while his Western tales, set primarily in Texas and surrounding states, deal with Mexican and Spanish-American characters fairly extensively.

WeirdTales-1926-04“A Twentieth Century Rip Van Winkle” (1920) and “The Last War” (unfinished, date unknown) both concern visions of the future where the United States annexes Mexico, echoing a sentiment to Lovecraft that Howard expressed in a December 1930 letter as “that dream of a Southwest empire from Blanca Peak to Panama makes my mouth water” (CL2.127) and the old Southern dream of a tropical empire in Central and South America.

“In the Forest of Villefére” (1925) and “Wolfshead” (1926), two of Howard’s early sales to Weird Tales, contain both contain Spaniards—or characters that claim to be Spaniards, a fine point of historical ambiguity that Howard would develop in some of his later discussion of Hispanics; owing to the vast area and multiracial make-up of the Spanish diaspora, the mere affection of Spanish dress or name need not be indicative of a character’s racial identity. For example in “Apparition of the Prize-Ring” (1929):

This was “Mankiller Gomez,” and he was all that his name implies. Gomez was his ring name, given him by the Spaniard who discovered him and brought him to America. He was a full-blooded Senegalese from the West Coast of Africa.

Compare this sentiment with Lovecraft’s Juan Romero, and you catch a glimpse of the convoluted prejudices that affected race and identity politics with regards to Hispanics in the United States in the 1920s—both characters are given names associated with a primarily “white” European nation and culture, but are both not “white,” but very distinctly not a part of the European-descended population.

Despite the weird element, as with the later “Red Shadows” (1928) and “The Skull in the Stars” (1929), these are also tales of historical adventure, and the inclusion of Spanish ships, swords, and the like are elements of the setting rather than significant in to the plot, and this rather presages his approach to much of his historical and adventure fiction; Spanish and Hispanic characters being generally (but not always) absent from tales set in exotic locations such as Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

FightStories-1929-07“Apparition of the Prize Ring” (1929), “The Pit of the Serpent” (1929), and “Winner Take All” (1930) are all boxing stories, and both “Apparition” and “Winner” have a colorful Spanish or Hispanic opponent for the Caucasian protagonist to duel with. For “Apparition” this is Mankiller Gomez, while for “Winner” this is Panther Cortez, whom Howard described as “a mixed breed—Spanish, French, Malay and heck knows what else, but all devil.” For all that these characters were antagonists, Howard liked to play up serious contenders as antiheroes as much as villains, attributing them with skill and character enough to give his protagonists like Sailor Steve Costigan at least enough trouble to chew on for a page or three. It’s notable too that Howard gave Cortez the weakness of being sensitive to his multiracial status, boiling over with anger when accused of being a “Porchugeeze half-caste!”

“The Pit of the Serpent” concerns a pair of itinerant sailors fighting over the charms of a Spanish woman, Raquel La Costa. Like Lovecraft, Howard was prone to let his non-native English speakers deliver their dialogue in a parody of their native accents (and, to be fair, he was just as likely to let his rural or ill-educated white protagonists peculiar accents come through in their dialogue), however by bizarre choice in this story Raquel’s dialogue has a characteristically French turn of speech:

“Zut,” said she, tapping us with her fan. “Zut! What is theese? Am I a common girl to be so insult’ by two great tramps who make fight over me in public? Bah! Eef you wanta fight, go out in ze woods or some place where no one make scandal, and wham each other all you want. May ze best man win! I will not be fight over in public, no sir!”

Howard, who had a tendency to re-use names in different stories, would also use the name “La Costa” to refer to a Frenchman in “The Isle of Pirate’s Doom” (date unknown) and a character of no stated nationality in “Red Shadows”; “Raquel,” would later be used as name for a half-Irish, half-Spanish female pirate in “She-Devil” (1936) and the sequel “Ship in Mutiny” (1936). So it’s not clear if he made a mistake or whether it was a deliberate aesthetic choice. In the end she does choose “Don Jose y Balsa Santa Maria Gonzales” over either of the two sailors vying for her favors.

This then, is where H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard stood with regard to Spanish and Hispanic characters in their fiction when they began their correspondence in 1930.

Read Part 2

flivver REH 1935 Chevy standard


1. slang. an automobile, especially one that is small, inexpensive and old.

[origin: 1905-1910; Americanism; origin unknown]


Now flapper ridden flivvers whiz
Along the ancient road.
An Armours’ packinghouse does biz
When once King Bahthur strode.
Bootleggers slink along the paths
Where knights kissed ladies’ hands,
Where shield crashed shield in tourney great
A filling station stands.
Centuries gone, those noble knights,
Forgot, their helmets rust,
Yet in their homage let us sing,
“Flourish the packing trust!”

[from “L’Envoi (4. Now flapper ridden flivvers whiz)”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 557]

Photo: 1935 Chevrolet standard automobile similar to that owned by REH. For further details, see Rob Roehm’s article: “Robert E. Howard’s Automobiles: ‘License and Registration Please’here.

A Note from the Editor: 

Apparently Don Herron has his ignition wires crossed in a recent post on his blog regarding this particular Word of the Week.

According to Webster’s Third New International and other sources, no distinction is made about makes or models: a flivver is simply a small, inexpensive, possibly unreliable automobile. They all state that the origin of the term is unknown.

Fords were of course small, inexpensive, sometimes unreliable cars, so they could be flivvers, but so could any make or model which fit the definition. In the scores of examples of usage online, none make any distinctions as to manufacturers.

Fords, in fact, were more often referred to, in slang, as Tin Lizzies.

Ford does have a distinctive association with the word when it comes to aircraft, though: in 1926, Ford introduced the Ford Flivver, a small personal airplane. It was not a success.

Unless Don has some actual evidence that the word flivver means exclusively “Ford,” he’s just running on four flat tires.

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Word of the Week.

Hester Jane Ervin Howard with Robert’s dog Patch outside the Howard home in Cross Plains, Texas, ca. 1924.

1. The Shadow of Tuberculosis

Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s death certificate states she died of tuberculosis on June 12, 1936. A puzzling diagnosis and difficult to understand when TB is never referred to in any of the letters written by either her son, Robert E. Howard or her husband, Dr. Isaac M. Howard.

To understand why it is not mentioned by REH and his father, it’s essential to know about tuberculosis, its history, causes, symptoms, pain and suffering and especially the stigma and fear that surrounded it.

A Short History of TB

The girl sits propped up on pillows. Her face has become almost transparent. She turns towards the window. Cold winter sunlight streams in. Faint dashes hint rather than depict her eyes; yet the wistful gaze is miraculously caught. Her orange hair glows against the white linen of the bedclothes. A green curtain billows into the room. Next to her the mother’s head is sunk on her chest, hardly more than a shadow. It is the image of inexpressible grief…This is the picture of Sophie Munch, aged fourteen…a few months before her death from tuberculosis. [Two years later Munch’s mother also succumbed to the same disease.] Painted by her brother Edvard, it is one of the graven images of what was for millions a personal experience. (Dormandy Introduction)


A Sick Child by Edvard Munch, who also painted The Scream

A thousand million people died of tuberculosis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Ryan 3) Nor was it a new disease. Paleontological records tell us symptoms of tuberculosis appeared in a Neolithic grave near Heidelberg dated at 5,000 BC during the Stone Age, as well as in the spines of Egyptian mummies. (4) The disease was already established in mainland Europe by 2,500-1,500 BC and it is likely it came to England about a thousand years later. (6) TB even predates Columbus in the new world where it has shown up in the skeletons of Native Americans and Peruvian mummies as well as in the bones found in countries around the world, including Japan. (8) In fact, “Dr. John Stanford, who has spent his life studying TB, believes that the tuberculosis germ is very ancient, and may well have fought for its survival in the primeval mud of the earth at the very beginnings of time.” (Ryan 6)

Tuberculosis was called by many names: phthisis, consumption, wasting disease, weakness of the lungs, graveyard cough. (Dormandy 22) During the late nineteenth century there was a growing fear the disease might destroy European civilization. (Ryan 8)

It is a remarkably enduring disease. Once it arrives in a community, it stays. (6) By mid-seventeenth century, one in five deaths was due to consumption, which is an older and rather more descriptive name for the pulmonary form of TB. As a result, it became known as the “White Plague of Europe.” (7) Although the death rate had been declining since the 1840’s in the year 1900, the world’s death rate from tuberculosis was about seven million people a year with fifty million more openly infected and at least half the world population had come into contact with it. (Ryan 8)

There were popular misconceptions about tuberculosis, even as late as the 1970s and 80s. According to L. Sprague de Camp, a Robert E. Howard biographer and author of Dark Valley Destiny,

Tuberculosis is a strange disease. Relatively rare today, in 1900 it was second only to pneumonia as a major cause of death. Whenever people move about a lot, whenever there is crowding, unhygienic living conditions, poverty, or privation, tuberculosis becomes epidemic. (de Camp 32)

De Camp’s statement that TB was second to pneumonia as a cause of death is incorrect. In the early 1900s, it was the primary cause in the USA for many years. (CDC “Leading Causes of Death”) He was also wrong that it was an epidemic.

Unlike most epidemic diseases, TB did not sweep through a city or region and then disappear for several years. TB was endemic – it was a debilitating constitutional illness to which people succumbed slowly over a period of years, infecting and being re-infected, leaving the afflicted compelled to stop work, enter hospitals or sanitariums, and lie and dissemble for self protection. (Ott 6)


Above is a depiction of TB statistics in Kentucky during WWII. Below are two examples of the Christmas Seals campaign for fighting TB. Both of these were probably familiar to the Howards in Cross Plains.


1924 Christmas Seals Campaign



Christmas Seals Campaign, ca. 1935

Tuberculosis Infection

Dr. Frank Ryan in The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis was Won and Lost, explains how the body reacts to TB and how some survived while others did not.

We are infected by the germ that causes tuberculosis in two ways, either by inhaling it in the air we breathe, or by swallowing it food or drink. Inhalation is the commonest way in which it gets into our bodies, taking in bacteria which are suspended in dried dust or in tiny droplets. If a tiny colony on a culture plate contains in excess of a billion tuberculosis germs, consider the numbers of germs flung into the air by the single cough of an infected patient. Unlike AIDS, which is spread only by sexual penetration or by intravenous injection of blood products, tuberculosis is contracted simply by the act of breathing. Everybody is therefore susceptible. (Ryan 17-18)

But it is the pulmonary form of the disease which is by far the commonest and it was in this form that tuberculosis blighted the lives of billions of people. What happens is basically simple if dreadful. The bacteria inhaled in water droplets settle in the periphery of the lung and grow very slowly until they form a small local collection, like a cheesy boil. From this boil, the continuing infection spills over into nearby small airways and forms more of these tiny boils. It was the appearance of these small cheesy collections (like little tubers) which, in the early nineteenth century gave rise to the modern name, the disease in which you find tubercles in the lung or tuberculosis. This replaced the much older and more descriptive name, consumption…From this primary infection in the lungs, several things may happen. (Ryan 19)

In many, the first infection is fought off by the body. The white cells mop up the bacteria and the abscess is walled off from the rest of the lung by a fibrous shell. But our white cells have difficulty disposing of these ingested bacteria. That waxy shell can be as impervious to the digesting chemicals of our white cells as it is to acid, and tuberculosis has the horrifying ability to eat our white cells themselves from the inside and to grow and multiply while actually within the cells. In order to contain the disease, our body decides to accept stalemate and just wall it off. If we succeed, we lull ourselves into a false sense of security: we tell ourselves that we are cured. But tuberculosis remains alive within the fibrous shell and can burst out into life-threatening virulence at any time in the infected person’s subsequent life. (Ryan 19-20)

Where tuberculosis is common, most of the population will encounter germs when they are children. Yet here we discover another of its mysteries: the majority wall it off when it is still just a spot on the lungs and they never know they were infected. But if the body fails to contain it, which is the case in about ten percent of people, the disease continues to invade the lung tissue about it. (Ryan 21)

How tuberculosis infects the body is shown in the following chart:


Tuberculosis Symptoms

A cough that refuses to go away; perhaps a sudden agonizing pain on breathing that marks the beginning of pleurisy; exhaustion, an unrelievable breathlessness, the appearance of bright red arterial blood in the persistent foul sputum. In others, death arrives in one fell moment; for example when an abscess in the lung or intestine erodes into a major artery. (Ryan 22)

Tuberculosis patients lost weight, were overwhelmingly tired, at times felt overwhelmingly irrational and exuberantly gay, and were anemic. (Dormandy 220)

Tuberculosis could not only be transmitted to another person, it could easily infect other parts of the body. It wasn’t a simple disease that affected everyone in the same way. Almost no organ or tissue in the body was immune.

TB starting in one area of the body could be transmitted to other areas. Once the TB patients began coughing up the TB bacteria, they became contagious and had to be isolated from other non-tubercular persons. As the germ was coughed up, it often lodged in the throat, causing TB laryngitis, which in its last stages reduced speech to a hoarse, agonizing whisper…If the TB germ was swallowed, it could cause overwhelming nausea, almost impossible to alleviate. The patient’s breath often became foul smelling. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea would be added to the already suffering patient…If the infected material went in the opposite direction, it could impinge on the pleura and start TB pleurisy. This was one of the most feared complications. Not only coughing but the taking of every breath became painful…Disturbed nights turned into nightmares: no pain-killer, not even laudanum or later, morphine, could entirely cope with the pain. The spread of the disease in this way could lead to the dreaded tuberculosis meningitis. (Dormandy 221)

One of the most lethal complications occurs when pus spills into the blood stream and quickly spreads to every organ in the body. Or, it spreads from the lungs or bowel and causes great pain and suffering elsewhere. In the skin and soft tissues it causes disfiguring sores and abscesses; in the internal organs such as the bladder and kidneys it causes an agonizing inflammation…In bones it settles into a protracted and gnawing destructive cavitation and the pus eventually finds its way through the soft tissue to the skin. Tuberculosis has the capacity to infect every internal organ from liver to brain, from the fingertips to the delicate structures of our eyes. (Ryan 23)

Even today, without effective treatment, sixty percent of sufferers will be dead within five years of the onset, their bodies wasted to skeletal proportions, their minds lucidly aware of the life that is being taken from them [emphasis mine]. (Ryan 23-4)

A look at the various types of tuberculosis and how they infect the body.


According to Dormandy, pulmonary tuberculosis was the most common form. (22) The Medical Dictionary definition states:

[P]ulmonary tuberculosis is TB that affects the lungs. Its initial symptoms are easily confused with those of other diseases. An infected person may at first feel vaguely unwell or develop a cough blamed on smoking or a cold. A small amount of greenish or yellow sputum may be coughed up when the person gets up in the morning. In time, more sputum is produced that is streaked with blood. Persons with pulmonary TB do not run a high fever but they often have a low-grade one. They may wake up at night drenched with cold sweat when the fever breaks. The patient often loses interest in food and may lose weight. Chest pain is sometimes present. If the infection allows air to escape from the lungs into the chest cavity (pneumothorax) or if fluid collects in the plural space (pleural effusion) the patient may have difficulty breathing.

The symptoms for pulmonary TB according to The White Death also included “A harsh cough, hoarseness or loss of control of the voice, an audible wheezing, shortness of breath on exertion and coughing up of blood.”… Dormandy then adds “In 80 percent of the cases this form of tuberculosis was fatal in five to fifteen years[emphasis mine]. (22)

Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s Symptoms

REH’s letters do not indicate any symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath or coughing up of blood. However, comparing the excerpts from his letters describing his mother’s symptoms against those of tuberculosis, the list is impressive.

Night sweats. On May 13, 1936, REH wrote to H. P. Lovecraft:

She started sweating in January and it’s just the last few days that there has been any appreciable lessening of it. Many a night she had to be changed six or seven times, and that many times a day—sometimes more. Woman after woman we hired and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, though my father and I did most of it. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)

Pleurisy—one of the most feared complications was mentioned earlier in the same letter.

She seemed to be improving a little when she had an attack of acute pleurisy on her right side, which until then hadn’t been affected. My father handled that, and she was definitely on the mend, although the sweats never ceased, when in the early part of April we had the worst dust storm I ever saw in my life, and she developed pneumonia.” (3-459)

Also present was the characteristic weight loss.

She is very weak and weighs only 109 pounds—150 pounds is her normal weight and very few kinds of food agree with her; (3-459)

The signature cough was mentioned in the December 5, 1935 letter to HPL.

My parents and I went to Amarillo in the latter part of July. None of us had ever been to that city, and I wanted to see if the high altitude, 4500 feet, might help a persistent cough that had been bothering my mother. (3-382)

From these descriptions plus the aspiration treatments she underwent, (Part 2 “Tuberculosis Operations”) it is probable Hester Jane Ervin Howard contracted pulmonary tuberculosis—a type of TB that “was chronic and even intermittent, with seemingly miraculous remissions and startling improvements followed by terrible relapses.” (Dormandy 22)

The bacterial cause of tuberculosis was discovered by Robert Koch in 1882 who found that it grew and divided much slower than normal bacteria. (Ryan 16) Koch had shown that the tubercle bacillus was a strict aerobe: it could survive but not grow and multiply without a generous supply of oxygen. (Dormandy 221)

After Koch’s discovery the “diagnosis now depended on the presence of the tubercule bacillus in the sputum, not the hollowness of the cough or the loss of weight.” (Rothman 17)

Hester’s diagnosis would have been confirmed by medical tests. No records of any such tests have been discovered. The only written confirmation of her diagnosis is in her death certificate (See right hand column about half way down.) It reads: “chronic ulcerative tuberculosis anemia”


Note: that the term “senility” on her death certificate was used in that era to designate old age rather than lucidity. It appeared often on death certificates of elder persons.

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