0725 “Spear and Fang” is certainly not one of Howard’s best tales, but it is with this story that the young Texan became professionally published, in the July 1925 issue of a then fairly recent pulp magazine, Weird Tales.

Weird Tales, which had begun publication in March 1923, claimed to be the first magazine entirely devoted to tales of the weird and the fantastic. However, its first year of existence had been quite chaotic and it was on the verge of cancellation. Lacking direction, suffering from a series of changes in format and frequency of publication, the magazine was failing to build a solid base of readers. All that would change in late 1924 when Farnsworth Wright was hired as the new editor. Wright had an eye for literary quality, knew what the readers liked (and he also realized that the latter was not necessarily linked to the former). His years at the helm of Weird Tales would later become legendary, but in his first few weeks at the job, Wright’s main task was to search for new talent and new direction. It was obvious that the magazine couldn’t survive any longer on a steady diet of (hackneyed) ghost stories.

Robert E. Howard had been writing stories since 1921, aged 15. The young man had begun, and sometimes completed, dozens of tales, the immense majority of which were adventure yarns, aimed at – or written after he had read the latest issue of – his favorite pulp magazine: Adventure. We don’t know when exactly he discovered Weird Tales, but it was very early on, as he submitted two now-lost stories to the new publication: “The Mystery of Summerton Castle” and “The Phantom of Old Egypt.” Weird Tales was hunting talent while Adventure was a highly respected magazine, way above the literary abilities of the young Howard. It was only logical that Howard would try to sell a story to Weird Tales, and this is exactly what happened in November 1924.

On November 27, Howard announced the sale to his friend Tevis Clyde Smith in the following manner, if we are to believe Howard’s account in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (1928), his slightly fictionalized autobiographical novel:

– I sold a story to Bizarre Story Magazine.

– That’s great, said Clive [Clyde Smith]. You sure deserve it – you’ve been working long enough. How much did they pay you?

– Fifteen dollars – I’ll get paid when they publish it.

– When will that be?

– I don’t know; pretty soon, though, I guess.

Lindsey Tyson, one of Howard’s best friends, would later explain that: “Bob and me were rooming together at 417 Austin Avenue in Brownwood when Bob got notice that Weird Tales magazine had accepted his story and enclosed a check for about $20.00. He was about the happiest man that I have ever seen.”

“Spear and Fang,” the tale Wright had just accepted for Weird Tales, would launch Howard’s career – even if the initial going would be quite rougher than what he anticipated – and initiate his special relationship with Farnsworth Wright. Years later, at the time of Howard’s death, Wright wrote: “I feel a great sense of personal loss in Howard’s death, for he was one of my literary discoveries, and although I had never met him, we have corresponded for twelve years, during which time I had come to know him and admire him both as a friend and as a writer of genius.”

For all these years, we had simply assumed that Howard wrote “Spear and Fang,” submitted it to Wright, who liked the subject and treatment well enough to publish it, because it was obvious he couldn’t have been that impressed by Howard’s literary style at this point in his career. It turns out that things were a little more complex than that.

In “The Eyrie” (the readers’ column) of the second issue of Weird Tales he edited (December 1924 issue, published November 1st), Wright wrote:

The inclusion in this issue of the first of two cavemen stories by C. M. Eddy, Jr. [“With Weapons of Stone”], gives rise to reflections regarding a type of caveman story which we have never seen in print, but which ought to afford opportunity for plenty of thrills. Why has not someone written of a fight between a Cro-Magnon caveman and a Neandertal man?

We get plenty of manuscripts dealing with fights between dinosaurs and pterodactyls on the one hand and cavemen on the other, but we send them all back because these strange creatures had disappeared from the earth before the first great anthropoid apes rose to the stature of manhood, according to the records of the rocks as read by the geologists. But Neandertalers and Cro-Magnons existed side by side, and waged relentless and savage warfare against each other. (“The Eyrie,” in Weird Tales, December 1924, pgs. 176-177)

These first two paragraphs certainly read as the spur that led Howard to write “Spear and Fang,” but as it turns out, Wright provided much more than a spur. Here is the third paragraph, followed by a short extract from Howard’s tale:

Our learned friends among the anthropologists tell us that the legend of ogres dates from cavemen tribes. The Neandertalers were so terrible and primitive and brutish, they tell us, that the Cro-Magnon cavemen never interbred with them, but killed them without mercy. And when a Cro-Magnon child strayed alone from its cave, and a cannibalistic Neandertaler stalked it, that was the end of the child; but the memory of those brutish and half-human people remains in our legends of ogres; for the Cro-Magnons were not exterminated by the nomadic tribes that afterwards entered Europe and peopled it, but intermarried with them, and retained some of their legends. (pg. 177)

More feared than mammoth or tiger, they had ruled the forests until the Cro-Magnon men had come and waged savage warfare against them. Of mighty power and little mind, savage, bestial and cannibalistic, they inspired the tribesmen with loathing and horror – a horror transmitted through the ages in tales of ogres and goblins, of werewolves and beast-men. […] Sometimes children went, and sometimes they returned not; and searchers found but signs of a ghastly feast, with tracks that were not the tracks of beasts, nor yet the tracks of men. (Robert E. Howard: “Spear and Fang”)

Wright concluded:

How would you like a tale of the warfare between a Cro-Magnon (say one of the artists who painted the pictures of reindeer and mammoths which still amaze the tourist) and one of those brutish ogres, perhaps over a girl who has taken the fancy of the Neandertaler; and the Cro-Magnon artist follows the Neandertal man to his den, and… But we have no room to tell the story in “The Eyrie”. We wish one of our author friends would write it for us.

And this is exactly what Howard did in early November 1924, probably the very day he bought the latest issue of the magazine, faithfully following Wright’s suggestion. Wright accepted the tale because he had, in a way, specifically requested it. At $16 (or $15, depending on the source), payable on publication, it was probably the best investment Wright ever made.

The rest, of course, is history.

This entry filed under Weird Tales.


And while we’re on the subject, why should anyone be down on the flapper? Who is? but a lot of venerable hypocrites who raise a yell when they see a girl doing honestly and openly what they did secretly and evilly? Bah! This blatting about the sanctity of the American home makes me tired. Listen to the words of a bird who knows: love marriages! Bunk. Out of one hundred marriages, five people, I mean men, marry for love. Ten marry to spite some other girl. Fifty marry for money, no, I’ll say thirty. The rest all marry to satisfy their lust. That means men. Most women marry for love, but not all. Some marry for the same reasons most men do. I dont suppose youll believe this. But that wont alter statistics.

Letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, June 8th, 1923

Flappers were with-it young women whose heyday was the Roaring Twenties, at which time Robert E. Howard was in his teens and early twenties. Their dress and conduct scandalized their elders. Flappers wore their hemlines short, about one inch below the knee, and their underwear scant; the teddy and step-ins appeared about that time. They wore makeup. They smoked. They drank, and Prohibition be damned. Not only did they share young men’s hip flasks, they often had hip flasks of their own. They bobbed their hair. They attended parties unchaperoned and drove about in cars with college men. (The typical college man’s car was a stripped-down Ford adorned with slogans like “Chicken, Here’s Your Roost,” “Four Wheels, No Brakes,” and “This Car’s Like the Mayflower – Many a Little Puritan has Come Across In It.”) They danced the Charleston and the Black Bottom, which could not be done in corsets. Their depraved behavior had few limits.

(In passing, ten or a dozen years before, when the tango appeared in England and North America, it had made the blue-noses shudder. A hundred years before, when the waltz came in, that one threatened utter moral collapse among the young. What?  Men and women holding one another while they danced?)

flappers-1The mass-produced automobile brought huge changes in young people’s courting and dating habits by itself. It meant mobility, including social mobility. It meant being able to get out of your own neighborhood and go somewhere anonymous, quickly and with ease. And World War One had slaughtered millions of young men. The ones that were left were at a premium with young women. Wait until you were married?  Why?  When you couldn’t be sure of getting married?  And young men who’d been to the war and come back had a big motivation to live while they could.

Young women during 1914-18 had entered the work force in huge numbers out of necessity, and they too had found an existence outside “church, kids and kitchen”. Amelia Earhart was an example of the new symbol for girls. Besides millions of young people, war had killed the old certainties and the old values. The hellish influenza pandemic of 1918 had killed millions more world-wide, and added to the “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” attitude that widely prevailed.

Makeup was considered shocking. The Mrs. Grundys still called it “painting.” Smoking … well, it was a time when only a certain kind of girl  smoked. Bobbed hair and flat chests (they were in, the Gibson Girl S-curve figure was passe) were disgraceful and unfeminine.

Flappers flicker and flap and flirt,
Hip flasks flame and flash and fly,
Gay tints glimmer beneath each skirt –
Stocking tops go not that high.
Silks and satins take the eye,
Flimsy fabrics that cling and stay
Molding the contours daintily –
But where are the drawers of yesterday?

Step-ins, bloomers and panties all,
Combinations hold brief sway –
Not less easily do they fall –
But where are the drawers of yesterday?

–Robert E. Howard

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Female fashion and wanton adornment was a big issue back in the 14th century. Despite the wars, torture, rape, the black plague, endemic treason among the nobles, and kings as a rule being moral degenerates, a constant topic for ranting sermons was the vanity of women. They were assured by celibate (sometimes) priests with straight faces and loud voices that every follicle they had ever plucked on their hairline or eyebrows would have red-hot needles thrust into it by demons for eternity, once the ladies arrived in hell, as they surely would.

Robert E. Howard was informed enough about the Middle Ages to be aware of the above. And all his fans know he was seldom on the side of conformity. Nor did he have patience with hypocrisy or phony pretense. His verse “A Great Man Speaks” gives us the ruminations of a statue of some big-time politician or whatnot as he gazes over the park. There is a drunkard passed out among the flowers, and the Great Man is wishing he was alive, not a statue, so that he could glug the drunk’s whiskey bottle. A pretty girl passes, and he wishes he was alive, not a statue, so that he could get his hands under her skirt. To hell with the puff jobs his admirers give out.

“They set me up on high, a marble saint,
As if to guard the virtue of the park,
My flanks are gaunt, my gaze is cold and stark,
For I must look the part the liars paint.
They’ve cleansed my history of fleshy taint.
The elders bid the younger people mark
How virtuous I gleam against the dark  –
Could I but speak I’d make the bastards faint.”

belles-on-their-toes-1950-hardcoverFathers, of course, took their daughters’ virtue seriously back then. Trifling with it could still get your arse shot off, and the never-darken-my-door bit happened often enough. They meant it, too. For the genuine flavor of those times, look through a copy of the autobiographical Belles on Their Toes, by brother-and-sister team Frank Bunker Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. It’s breezy, warm and rambunctious. (The hilarious scene where the large group of siblings, it was a big family, catch a peeping tom and reduce him to gibbering pleas as he’s trapped up a tree, is beyond price.)  But the girls were young and full of beans in a free-and-easy time, and their father Frank Gilbreth Senior didn’t like it, especially when his daughters wanted to be with-it.

There were disputes, heated ones, about makeup and underwear, and Frank Senior was inclined to thump the table and bluster. He threatened to put his daughters in a convent if they didn’t toe the line, although they knew he wasn’t even close to meaning it. “The one with the ten-foot wall, or the one with the twelve-foot wall?” Ernestine asks pertly, when he accuses her of wearing makeup. (She wasn’t.)

Dad Gilbreth was appalled by modern underwear when Ernestine bought a couple of teddies home. She figured that as the oldest it was up to her to pioneer the revolution and weather the storm. “I don’t want to be a sneak,” she announced, “so I’m showing you these now. If you won’t let me wear them here I’ll change into them on the way to school. I’m not going to be the only girl there with long underwear that has a flap in the back!  It’s disgusting.”

“It’s not as disgusting as having no back to the underwear to sew a flap on!” her father roared. “I can’t believe every girl at your school wears these teddy-bear, or bare-teddy, things. If that’s all the underwear women have on nowadays, no wonder you read about all those crimes and love-nests, like that New Brunswick preacher and the choir-singer …”

That would be the Hall-Mills murder case of 1922. Edward Hall, an Episcopal priest, and Eleanor Mills, a member of his choir, were found shot dead in a New Jersey field.  The main suspects, Hall’s wife and her brothers, were tried in 1926 but acquitted. Nothing eclipsed the case until the Lindbergh kidnapping of 1932. Robert E. Howard was possibly thinking of that double murder when he penned another of his caustic verses on spurious superficial morals, “The Choir Girl”.

“I have a saintly voice, the people say;
With Elder Blank I send the music winging –
I smile, and compliment him on his singing –
By God, I’d rather hear a jackass bray.
I nod and smile to all the pious sisters –
I wish their rears were stung with seven blisters.
That youthful minister, so straight and slim –
I’d trade my soul for one long night with him.”

delphineatger-cars-1920s-01a-575x381Harking back to Belles on Their Toes, Ernestine assured her father she was not drawing the long bow. “Come to school and see.”  He blushed and backed down. In the end he grumbled, “The bare-teddies and six o’clock stockings are OK, I guess, but I’ll have no painted women in this house.”  His daughters told him that everybody used makeup these days, and didn’t call it painting any more. He barked, “I don’t care what they call it.”

For the times, Frank Gilbreth was actually quite liberal and advanced. At least, he was proud of his wife for being an industrial engineer and career woman, (in the 1920s, mind) and all his kids adored him. There were twelve, which means Lillian Moller Gilbreth must have been the sort of superwoman you don’t think exists outside wish-fulfilling novels. Both of them were quirky, affectionate people if the book is halfway right. But like the temple priests in ancient Sumeria, they thought there was no more res-pect for tradition and decency and the world was going to hell.

The Gilbreth girls could be reactionary, too. When their parents yielded on bobbed hair, and Lillian took all five to the salon, the hairdresser asked in all innocence, “What about you, Mrs. Gilbreth?”  Well. Her daughters clouded up and rained all over the parade. “No sir!  You don’t touch a hair of her head. The idea!”

Lillian was tickled to have the situation reversed, and pretended to consider the notion. “I don’t know, girls,” said she, smiling sweetly. “It might look very chic. What do you think?”

“I think it would be disgraceful,” declared Anne – the second oldest, as I remember. “After all, a mother’s a mother, not a silly flapper.”

“Just my daughters today, then,” said Lillian. “I guess five bobbed-hair bandits in the family should be enough.”

bathe5413bab61cec5199697161711f0Bathing suits became an issue for the Gilbreth girls too. A two-piece swimsuit then didn’t mean a bikini. The first piece was heavy wool that covered a girl from neck to knee. It wasn’t considered enough for decency. The second piece was a sort of massive, enveloping cape. Long black stockings too. The one-piece suit that appeared in the 1920s consisted of a long top combined with shorts. Legs and arms were exposed. Anne called her mother’s bathing suit a “sea anchor”.

There was more to worry about then, for those who observed it, than petting parties, jazz and blues, too much mobility, or even Al Capone. There was the Red scare, the National Origins Act of 1924, which restricted immigration on precisely the basis it said (and sadly was favored by Howard and Lovecraft) and the exponential rise of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan had broadened its horizons from lynching and shooting blacks to keep them from voting; its hate now included Catholics, Jews, and foreign immigrants in general. Membership was probably five million across the nation, at a conservative estimate, and included plenty of respectable middle class men, doctors, lawyers and ministers. The Klan didn’t like bootlegging, motion pictures, city folks or any kind of religion but Protestant fundamentalism. It was, naturally, all for strict moral conduct and family values.

The flapper was a lewd menace.

mindful-money-party-flapperThe quintessential novel of the flapper era was The Great Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, the mysterious millionaire and former World War One soldier obsessed with Daisy Buchanan, lives in a mansion and throws extravagant parties. It turns out that his fortune, far from being respectable “old money,” was made bootlegging, and even his name is phony. His passion for Daisy turns out to be delusional too. The woman he has been desperately trying to impress for years is flighty and selfish enough to let him take the blame for a motor car fatality when in fact she was the one driving. Another character, a married man who is himself unfaithful, still explodes in righteous rage when he finds his wife is cheating too. A couple of murders result.

The moral vigilantes of the time should have lived until now. Not that anything is being done now that wasn’t done then. As another Robert, Bob Heinlein, wrote, “Most of our current moral decline can be summed up in one sentence. What used to be covered up is now being talked about.”  I may as well let REH have the last word here:

Ye ancient, honest, olde farmer ye-speaks. “The young people of terday air simply awful. Haint got no decentcy ner nuthin’ … these here one-piece bathin’ suits, and dancin’, and all. Some gals axually read novels! And goin’ bathin’. When I was young folks didnt bathe atall. An’ gamblin’. Taint no harm to bet on hoss-races and play euchre cause I’ve did both myself. But I considers it right-down sinful to play poker and bet on automobeel-races. And drinkin’ … the young men and young women nowadays is right-down scandalous … Well, times aint like they used to be and all the young men and young women is goin’ to hell especially the young women.”

Letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, July 30th, 1923

This entry filed under Howard's Poetry, Tevis Clyde Smith.


If, like me, you love the work of Robert E. Howard (and if you are reading this blog, I know you do), you may be possessed of literary OCD. You need to get it all. Depending on the depth of your OCD, you will fall into several categories – the reader/collector, the completist, the minutia gatherer, or the super collector.

The super collector is that rare individual. They want the best of everything. They need the Herbert Jenkins A Gent From Bear Creek, The Hyborian Age, Skull-Face and Others, Always Comes Evening, the Gnome Press Conans, and complete runs of The Howard Collector and Amra. These collectors are an exclusive bunch and this article is not specifically directed at them.

grant-sowersofthethunderThere are plenty of fine Howard editions out there for the finding. I love the Donald M. Grant The Sowers of the Thunder. Illustrated by Roy G. Krenkel, one of Frank Frazetta’s friends, collaborators and mentors, it is a work of art as well as a collection of four fine stories. Pre-ordered copies from Grant came autographed by Krenkel! In a similar vein The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane from Wandering Star with illustrations from Gary Gianni carried forward that tradition. Both volumes contain numerous illustrations ranging from full color paintings to large detailed black and white illustrations to tiny spot sketches throughout the book. You cannot go five pages without encountering some figure or scene in the text or margin. The illustrations really enhanced the reading experience to me.

So, as a collector, the big question is “How do I do this without breaking (or robbing) the bank? The easiest answer is “You can’t!” There is just too much material out there. Even if you get paperback copies of everything, you will spend several hundred dollars. And much more, if you want nice copies of those paperbacks.

berkley-hourofthedragon-1stAs I write this, American Book exchange (one of the largest online purveyors/pushers of my OCD) lists 11,863 entries when you search for “Robert E. Howard.” This includes 7,180 paperback entries. (now this number is inflated since anthologies listing a Howard piece will be listed as well as any books that feature the names Robert and Howard somewhere in their description). Prices start at $3.00 plus shipping and go to several thousand for some really rare items. Over on eBay, there are 2,468 entries in Books alone (670 in Collectibles). The prices show 728 items over $35 and 818 under $13.

So there is a lot of material out there. How do you go about gathering your collection? There are several tried and tested methods:

  • Buy whatever you can find – REH, de Camp and Carter, pastiches, Role Playing Games, movies. Make Serendipity your favorite muse. I’ve done this on multiple occasions myself. I didn’t really know what I wanted until I saw it, so I bought it all. OCD, I love you.
  • Set up some filters early on. Do you want only the pure REH stuff? Or all the Conans no matter who wrote them? Do you want novels only? (This is not recommended in combination with the pure REH as you will get Almuric and The Hour of the Dragon and be done. And Almuric will be cheating some as it was finished by someone, probably Farnsworth Wright after Howard’s death.) Perhaps it is the artists associated with Howard – Frazetta, Krenkel, Brundidge, Boris, Achilles, Jones, or any of the other great artists who have tackled his work. There are a lot of them too. What about poetry, boxing, oriental, essays? This can help limit what you go after and allow you to focus in on some nice specific items.
  • Pick your format. Paperback? Combine it with the filters above. Hardcovers? Are you interested in any version, first editions, illustrated editions, signed and numbered, US only, US and UK, or full international?
  • Price point is the next important area. What are you willing to pay? Is $50 too much? Then the Arkham House, Wandering Star, and Gnome Press titles are going to be out of your price range. You want a nice Skull-Face and Others with a pristine Hannes Bok dustjacket. Be prepared to shell out some big bucks, generally $600 or more, up to a price with a comma in it. But, if you just want the stories, you have several options. You can get the entire volume in three paperbacks from the UK Panther Press ($25 or more). Or for a hardback copy, the Neville Spearman reprint from the mid-1970’s can be found for $35 to $50. However, it has an awful cover rather than the beautiful Bok cover. Other than that, you can track down the individual stories and/or pulps (Don’t get me started on that path. That way lies MADNESS!! And an extended money sinkhole.) However, going for the individual piece will mean you won’t get the August Derleth introduction or the memories of Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price which are original and are not reprinted elsewhere that I know of.
  • The thing that happened when collectors get together to discuss their books, the question always comes up about the one that got away. When I was in college, I worked part time for about 20 hours a week at slightly less than $2.00 an hour. My take home was about $32 a week. Things were a lot cheaper then but still. Every time I visited my bookseller/pusher, she showed me a book. It was lovely, bound in bright red leather. The binding said Presentation Copy. It was Phantasmagoria by Lewis Carroll. I was holding a signed Lewis Carroll book. The price was $150. That was roughly five weeks pay! I was already a starving college student trying to justify $5.00 in paperbacks. I regret not getting it to this day, more than 40 years later. But, I could not afford it. The thing to remember is, if you find it and you can afford it, buy it. You don’t generally regret the books you buy. You always regret the ones you did not buy.
  • The most important rule is simply, buy what you like. Do not buy with the idea of investing and making a fortune over the years. Buy what you like at a price you think is fair and you will be happy. Sure some of the prices may go up. But to realize those prices, you have to find someone willing to pay that price. Which means selling it yourself. I’ve been involved in the book selling world for more than 40 years. There is something sad about seeing the face of someone who wants to sell their collection to me. They come in with high, high expectations. But the reality is the buyer (me) has to realize a certain price and profit for that purchase, that means, if I don’t have an immediate buyer, I am going to sit on this investment for a while. So, I have to store it and advertise that I have it and take it to shows and talk to people about it and, if it suffers some wear and tear along the way, mark it down. It might sell in two months, or six months, or maybe, two years. My money is tied up all the time I hold on to it. That means I have to figure all that in what I can offer. And it will not be what you were hoping. That is the sad reality of it. You may decide you want to keep it. Then, if it is something you loved and enjoyed and bought for a price you were happy with, you will generally remain happy. If you bought it as an investment, you may be disappointed. Be happy. It’s better for your life.

So now, where to start? For series characters, you can’t go wrong with the Del Rey omnibus volumes of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, El Borak, or Bran Mak Morn. And they have several great collections of short stories, such as The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard and The Best of Robert E. Howard (a two volume set). Reasonably priced, they contain a lot of great reading. Pick a character and dive in! But this isn’t nearly all there is. You want more!

bison-endofthetrailAnother great place to look is the set of paperbacks published by Zebra Books in the late 1970’s. They include The Sowers of the Thunder mentioned earlier with the great spot illustrations included though there is a different cover. There are at least 13 paperback volumes, most with covers by the amazing Jeff Jones. And these are (generally) not the series characters, no Conan, Kull, Kane. There are some Breckinridge Elkins and El Borak stories. The series includes fantasy, adventure, boxing, oriental, westerns, and other types of fiction. There are many other sets and collections. The Bison Press, Wildside Press and Penguin Books reprints are out there and are worth seeking out. Find the Ace The Howard Collector volume. Search, find, acquire, gloat that you have them. Wallow in the OCD.

And that’s not including the electronic versions out there. My Kindle has a collection of 99 Howard stories from various series as well as standalone pieces. And since I have a Kindle on my smart phone, I always have Howard with me for those times when I am waiting for a movie or a table at a restaurant. (Of course, my Kindle has a couple of hundred books on it!) There are many electronic collections out there. For free you can check out Project Gutenberg or manybooks.net which have a mix of stories available.

rehfoundationpress-fistsofironAnd I would be remiss if I do not address the work of the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press and the fabulous hardcover books they publish. Titles like Spicy Adventures and Tales of Weird Menace feature the more obscure stories, variants, outlines, and their history of writing and publication. And the four volume Fists of Iron is to die for. These are for the hardcore collector who wants it all. Check them out. True story here. When I first looked at them, I was at Howard Days at a time when I was unemployed and looking for work. I saw the books and I wanted them. I bought $300 of them at the show, I did not hesitate or think about it. I wanted them right then and I knew that if I hesitated I would regret it.

So, now if you have followed the guidelines, you have a roadmap for your collecting habits. There is a whole wide world of Robert E. Howard material waiting for you to step up and find it. Or, you could just go off-roading.


I stood on the deck of a ship offshore
And harked to the awesome and deafening roar
Of the ocean waves when they struck the reefs,
High tossed on the tide like crested chiefs
Whose plumes toss high ‘bove the battling hordes
Where leap the lances and flash the swords,
And the mighty waves rose high and steep
To the hand of the waves that smote the deep
And my soul leaped wild and my soul leaped free,
To the leap and the swing of the rolling sea!

Robert E. Howard, “The Sea”

The strangely matched couple of pirate Helen Tavrel and staid, honest trader Stephen Harmer had been thrown together by fate on a remote Caribbean island. They had mutual enemies, the group of pirates led by brutish, ape-faced John Gower, and already in a couple of clashes they had reduced their adversaries’ numbers. Upon seeing the five surviving rogues come together again, none with the longboat on the beach, Helen decided to return and rifle the boat of supplies. It was reckless, and they were caught in the act by Mike Donler and Will Harbor. Stephen shot Donler through the chest, then finished him with a cutlass, while Helen ran the other pirate through. Now the odds were only three against two.

Gower and his fellows, a dark, saturnine Frenchman with the Spanish name of La Costa, a thing he never explained, and a bearded, ill-natured giant called Bellefonte, might have left in the boat. But Gower, the captain, was obsessed with the idea that there was a fabulous treasure on the island. It was supposedly contained in a stone temple, a relic of a lost empire called “Mogar”, which Harmer doubted had ever been. He also thought that fabulous was the very word to describe the treasure. Helen considered it worth searching for, at least, and she was proved right.

265796_190786330981827_128082643918863_545499_6719297_oThey discovered the temple, on the other side of a noisome barrier of bamboo, vines and mud. Howard’s description of its architecture is not dissimilar to that of the “Temple of the Toad” found some fifteen decades later by Freidrich von Junzt, in Honduras. (REH, “The Thing on the Roof”) “… built of great stone blocks … windowless and doorless … huge, squat columns … formed the front of the edifice …”  Perhaps they were products of the same culture. Steve asked himself, “What alien people had built that shrine so long ago?  Surely some terrible and somber people who died ages before the brown-skinned Caribs came to rear up their transient empire.”

Gower and his companions caught them at a disadvantage there, and Steve was wounded by a pistol shot. Clubbed down by La Costa’s musket, he could not assist Helen, and she too was taken prisoner. Gower spared them for the present only because he was impatient to find the treasure he insisted was there. Bellefonte was just as eager, but La Costa had become skeptical. “As for the gems,” he averred, “a legend hath it that the ancient priests of these people flung them into the sea, and I, for one, believe that legend.”  That aside, he felt superstitious about the temple itself. “This is a haunt of demons; nay, Satan himself hath spread his dark wings o’er this temple and it’s no resort for Christians!”

Whatever gave La Costa the idea that he and Bellefonte and Gower were Christians is beyond me. But that’s by the way. REH had a sense of irony. Before long, searching for secret doors or hiding places, La Costa was bitten by a deadly snake and shot himself to end his torment.

Captain Gower was scarcely moved, and continued his search. After a while he stated, “I believe yon altar is the key of this mystery. Bring the sledge and let us have a look at the thing.”  They had a heavy hammer with them, and Bellefonte had the strength to crack almost anything, even what appeared to be a solid square of stone. But Stephen Harmer felt chilled as he watched them prepare. As he expressed it:

“They mounted the stair like two rogues going up the gallows steps, and their appearance in the dim light was as men already dead. A cold hand touched my soul and I seemed to hear the sweep of mighty bat-like wings. An icy terror seized me, I know not why, and drew my eyes to the great stone which hung broodingly above the altar. All the horror of this ancient place of forgotten mysteries descended on me like a mist, and I think Helen felt the same for I heard her breath come quick and hard.”

Gower and Bellefonte didn’t seem to share those feelings. They continued to batter the altar until it proved hollow and broke open. There was nothing in the cavity, though, except one great red gem at the bottom, which seemed to be set firmly in place. They pried it loose. Not having read REH’s “The Thing on the Roof,” or seen an Indiana Jones movie, they didn’t know enough to be very careful what they touched in a secret ancient temple.

With a crunching, grinding noise, the huge central stone dropped out of the ceiling, smashing the bits of the altar and the two pirates. Nothing more was seen of them except blood oozing from under the stone. There was no treasure, either; that had been a fable, or else La Costa had been right in his belief that the priests of Mogar had hurled the jewels into the sea at the time of the Spanish conquest. The bloodshed and death had been for nothing, but on the pirate round, it frequently was. And then death came close to Helen again, when a vessel passing the island proved to be a warship whose officers would hang her if they knew her identity. Steve promptly vowed to pass her off as his sister, and then made an avowal of love, proposing that they change the plan and tell the ship’s captain she was his betrothed. Helen did not refuse, but she asked for time to consider, and to gain Roger O’Farrel’s approval, he being the nearest thing to a father she had. Steve swore in frustration, but he claimed a kiss at least.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.


The REH Foundation now has access to the collection of Glenn Lord, including all the thousands of typescripts that he owned. Paul Herman, of the Board of the Foundation, has been cataloging the pages, and has come across a mystery. Perhaps you can help solve it.

There is a piece of poetry that has been published as Untitled (“For what is a maid to the shout of kings”).

For what is a maid to the shout of kings?

To the gilt parade and the host that sings?

Honor and gold and glorious raids

To he that is bold – and other maids.

Dawn gems gleam and white stars dim

By the quiet stream she watches him

Ride with the flash of shields and brands

To the battle’s clash and the far strange lands.

Beyond the skyline where great kings ride,

Glory, jewels, honor and pride.

For the sap in the North must rise again

With the wild geese winging thither;

Gay hours die and a hawk must fly

And the rose of Spring must wither.

The actual page of typescript, however, is numbered page 2! This means it must go with a page one somewhere. Could it be one of the known poems that we didn’t realize had a second page that it went with? If so, what poem is the beginning that goes with this page 2?

That would mean, matching the tone, rhyming pattern, and subject matter. Given the page is numbered, that MAY indicate that it was a finished poem, with a title and REH’s name in the upper corner of the front page. Though it could also be an untitled first page, those exist as well for multipage poems. This page 2 is set up to go around 26-30 lines. So an untitled first page would have a similar line count, a titled page perhaps 4 less. Those are just estimates.

Can you identify the mystery poem? Can YOU put back together one of REH’s poems that has long been split apart? The first to come up with the answer will get their name mentioned in the Foundation Newsletter, along with the publication for the first time of the complete poem together. And the thanks of the Board.

Now, it may be that the first page is lost. REH didn’t keep nearly everything, and some pages have gone missing over the years of moving from owner to owner. But it is worth the hunt to see.

Thank you.

This entry filed under Glenn Lord, Howard Scholarship, Howard's Poetry, News.

2After participating in the Howard Days panel about the Lancer Conan series,  I realized quite a few are interested in Lancer Books and the later Zebra Books. The presentation (and my previous article) concentrated on Frazetta’s influence, but now let’s talk a little more about Irwin Stein and Walter Zacharius, the founders of Lancer Books.

Irwin Stein had a journalist background but had an affinity for comic books and science fiction. He wrote for Quality Comics (chiefly known for Jack Cole’s Plastic Man) and later the romance comics line for St. John. When he left comic books to start his own company, Royal Publications, he published genre magazines (men’s adventures, detective, SF, monsters).

4Stein and Zacharime partners somewhere along the line. They formed Magnum Communications Corporation. One of their first purchases was Swank Magazine. Martin Goodman (Timely/Atlas/Marvel) was the owner at that time. Swank had a reputation as a quality men’s magazine. Aficionados of these things say the quality took a slightly downward slide after their takeover. Magnum Publications include Untamed, Lion Adventures and True War.

They then started Lancer Books in 1961. Later Stein hired Larry Shaw as editor. Shaw was instrumental in acquiring the Conan series and in getting Frazetta to illustrate the first cover. Mr. Shaw was honored with a special Hugo Award for lifetime achievement in 1984, a year before his death.

The early Lancer books had a distinctive green (often bluish looking) edge around the pages. 1962 saw the start of the Lancer Science Fiction Library. These sold for 75 cents at a time when most paperbacks were only 50 cents. Lancer realized they were pitching to a specialty market that would pay a premium. In 1966 they began publishing paperback originals with the purple colored edges. One notable entry was Michael Moorcock (writing as Edward P. Bradbury) doing a Martian series that owed a great deal to Edgar Rice Burroughs.

For Robert E. Howard fans, the key year was 1966, and the publication of Conan the Adventurer.  There is no need to rehash that story again; suffice to say everyone knew that the Frazetta cover was a smash!

Stein in an interview, from Confessions, Romances, Secrets, and Temptations: Archer St. John and the St. John Romance Comics by John Benson, talks about that first Conan painting:

Yes, those covers really put him on the map, I think. He was known mostly to the fans at the time. I tried to keep one of the paintings, and he threatened to come up with a gun. Well, most of the cover artists, if you said you liked something, they’d say, “Keep it.”  What the hell, they had very little residual value at the time. But Frazetta always had a huge sense of his own worth. And rightfully so. Generally, there were very few that I really wanted to keep for myself. But that was one of them, and I asked him for it.

In 1968 they reissued Conan the Adventurer and issued Conan the Wanderer at 95 cents. From the fanzine, Megavore, which featured a Lancer SF Checklist in their 10th issue comes this comment:

It tells you something about the popularity of the series that Lancer could jump the price so rapidly and not have to worry about the effect it would have on sales.


Lancer was doing well and besides the Conan books published Howard’s King Kull, The Dark Man and Others, and Wolfshead. Larry Shaw left Lancer in 1968. He was replaced by Robert Hoskins. Hoskins, apparently a fan of S&S, edited an anthology Swords Against Tomorrow for Signet Books that mentions REH as a literary descendant of Homer.

conan-the-adventuer11971 saw the change from purple edges to yellow and 1973 brought with it the bankruptcy.

The details of the bankruptcy can probably be found with enough patience and access to legal archives but suffice to say Lancer Books was no more. Magnum Communications Corporation continued on with various publishing ventures and at least three other non-publishing ventures: Vacation Ownership Marketing; Capital Solutions I, and Fuda Faucet Works.

Gerald Jones in Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book tells the story of Harry Donnenfeld. Donnenfeld started National (DC) comics. Donnenfeld apparently had ties to gangster Frank Costello. New York publishers bought a lot of paper shipped from Canada. Canada was in full liquor production during the failed U.S. experiment of prohibition. Along with shipments of paper there was plenty of booze. So pretty much all publishers of exploitation literature (comics, pornography, and men’s adventures) have rumors of mob money.

3As mentioned before Stein and Zacharius purchased Swank from Martin Goodman (of Marvel Comics fame) and Stein worked for various comic book companies. So, yes, they traveled in the same circles as Donnenfeld and others that might have had mob ties. No doubt pornography publishing makes strange bedfellows, but no real evidence of organized crime exists. There was the occasional article in the SFWA Bulletin newsletter about Lancer not paying royalties and offering lame excuses and after the Lancer bankruptcy their remaining publishing arm, Magnum Books, republished books from the Lancer catalog that were in violation of previous contracts. So there were shady-doings but nothing that other publishers had not set as a precedent.

After the Lancer bankruptcy Walter Zacharius chose to start the Kensington Publishing Corporation (which included Zebra Books) with a new partner, Roberta Grossman. Apparently there was a falling out with Stein but other than a very brief mention in Publishing Romance: The History of an Industry, 1940s to the Present by John Markert not much has been said.


Zebra Books published 14 REH books:

  1. The Sowers of the Thunder
  2. Tigers of the Sea
  3. Worms of the Earth
  4. A Gent From Bear Creek
  5. The Vultures of Whapeton
  6. The Incredible Adventures of Dennis Dorgan
  7. The Lost Valley of Iskander
  8. The Iron Man
  9. The Book of Robert E. Howard
  10. The Second Book of Robert E. Howard
  11. Pigeons From Hell
  12. Black Vulmea’s Vengeance
  13. The Sword Woman
  14. Three Bladed Doom

According to Leon Nielsen in Robert E. Howard: A Collector’s Descriptive Bibliography:

[the] books were selling so well that Zebra capitalized on its success by adding the line, “Heroic fantasy in the tradition of ROBERT E. HOWARD” to the front cover of any book that might fit loosely into the category of heroic fantasy.

Second only to Frazetta as a fan favorite, most of the REH Zebra books featured art by Jeff Jones. Even the most conservative REH fan would probably let Jeff Jones go to the public restroom of his choosing.

Jeff Jones was a troubled fellow with loads of artistic talent. If Frazetta was power, then Jones was poetry. I think it is possible he could surpass Frank Frazetta as a REH fan favorite one day. His best work is breathtaking if not always true to the story.

Walter Zacharius was always an innovator. Early in his career he helped start the Ace Double Novel line (along with Aaron Wyn), and with Kensington he signed deals with Wal-Mart and QVC, and made the first forays into e-books.

One of his more exploitative tricks was during the height of Lee Iacocca’s success with the automobile corporation, Chrysler. Iacocca was popularly known as an innovative entrepreneur (there was talk of him running for President, as if Americans would vote for someone with no political experience!). He had a best-selling autobiography eating up the sales chart. Zacharius republished a previously little read paperback with the same title and it ended up as one of the best selling paperbacks of 1985.

Even with his other successes the Lancer Conan series was a hallmark. His New York Times obituary had this to say in summing up his accomplishments:

With Irwin Stein, he founded Lancer Books in 1961 to publish genre fiction, primarily science fiction and fantasy, notably the “Conan the Barbarian” stories of Robert E. Howard…

The New York Times knew “those were books!”


Most Howard scholars could probably write an entire treatise on the things they wish they had related to Robert E. Howard’s work, starting with more of everything from a gifted author who died too young.

In amongst all those predictable wishes I could name is a minor but nagging one – that we had more information about his composition of the story Gates of Empire. Surviving correspondence discusses many of his historicals, but little related to this one has come down to us, and that’s a shame, because there’s nothing quite like it in the entire Robert E. Howard canon.

It’s a historical, but while it has detailed and thrilling action, it’s not grim and moody. It’s humorous, but its tone has scant in common with Howard’s Western tales, which are so exaggerated that they clearly aren’t meant to be taken seriously, or even his humorous boxing stories, which, while not quite as embellished as the western yarns, still are many more steps removed from reality. Gates of Empire is both an action adventure and a comic send-up, and it’s a marvelous little tale.

It stands alone, a class by itself in Howard’s work, showing us another kind of tale Howard might have succeeded in, had he the interest, the time, and the market.

The story might very well have come off as grim and relentless as Howard’s more famous historicals, the famous four adventures that immediately preceded it in composition: “The Sowers of the Thunder,” “Lord of Samarcand,” “The Lion of Tiberias,” and “The Shadow of the Vulture.” But with its witty, bumbling ne’er do well protagonist, Giles Hobson, in the driver’s seat, it becomes an entirely different sort of adventure almost from the very start.

And much as hubris destroys many of the central figures of those four stories, its Giles’s own actions that launch him into adventure, misfortune, and the occasional turn of luck.

A Howard tale often beings in the midst of deadly action, or the plotting of same. Gates of Empire, though, opens with a discussion shared by inebriated servants who’ve invited themselves to the wine in their master’s wine vault. Giles, who’s more clever than his fellows, does lead the others in a plot, but it’s neither meant to unseat a ruler nor obtain riches – it’s a jest meant to get two aristocratic lords fighting each other for no other goal than sheer amusement.

sercerender4Giles may be clever, but he can’t see too much further than the end of his nose, even when sober. Once discovered as the author of the prank he’s forced to flee for his life, and when we see him next he’s been found as an inebriated stowaway aboard a merchant vessel on its way towards the holy land. Once again we find Giles’ planning short sighted, for the owner of the wine he’s been tapping is ready to have him heaved overside.

Fortunately for Giles, the ship soon comes under attack. As arrows fly, mayhem erupts, and men fall to left and right as the Moslem galley closes the distance. The carnage is almost exactly what we’d see in any other Robert E. Howard story, except that we’re getting something of a backstage view. Howard’s not focused on the lone hero or stalwart band who’s readying the defense or the attack. Instead, the camera follows a fellow we might normally have seen simply as a background characters. Arrows miss when Giles bends at just the right moment. He evades getting skewered when he trips and his vast bulk takes down Emir Shirkuh, who mistakes his opponent for a mighty warrior owing to Giles’s vice like hug, desperately thrown about Shirkuh so the redoubtable warrior cannot swing his own blade.

In perhaps this one way Giles could be said to resemble other Howardian heroes, for his strength is remarkable, even if its never used to succeed in bold exploits.

It’s Giles’ tongue that’s his greatest gift, another characteristic uncommon among Robert E. Howard’s characters. Giles may not be adept at long term strategy, but he’s a master of improvisation, soon convincing Shirkuh that he’s a relative of none other than the King of England, a lie that would have proved problematic for other mortals once he’s again with Franks, but Giles passes his first lie off as an exaggeration of his enemies, claiming instead that he’s merely the younger son of a Scottish Baron.

63a9e084e3e7525ebe873f415534f4e9He’s adept at navigating changing circumstance as well, such as when he first wishes to avoid the company of an army riding to war by travelling to Acre until he learns that the lord he’d wronged, Guiscard de Chastillon, commands the city. He quickly claims that “duty calls, and what are weary limbs and an empty belly beside duty? Let me go with you and do my devoir in Egypt!”

I enjoy this story well enough that I’ve written of it before, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a favorite scene that I already covered: the moment Giles is lured from his friends by a lovely dancing girl.

It’s the ideal demonstration of another difference between how Howard presents Giles and how he writes about his other protagonists. For instance, Conan is often a step ahead of us, his readers, whether it be smashing a giant spider with a quickly flung chest or out-thinking a swordsman in the midst of a fight. We’re not sure how Conan will get through, but know that he will, and wait to see how he’ll manage this time. The dangers that come at him are frequently surprises.

Giles, on the other hand, walks into dangers he himself has often created, and that we the readers can see coming a mile away. It’s impossible to imagine Conan unwarily following a woman down a dark hidden passage without suspicion, but Giles does, and we know full well she’s up to no good. He can’t overcome his situations with martial prowess and is unlikely to do so with brawn, so either dumb luck or inspired lying is his only real chance, and it’s a pleasure distinctly different to see how he gets through each challenge.

Howard maneuvers the elements of this story like a master cardsharp, keeping us so busy focused upon other things that each time Guiscard de Chastillon reappears it comes as another shock. The first time Giles encounters him after fleeing, it’s just another challenge amongst all those he’s suffering on the sea seems like it might be the last. The second “encounter” is a mere mention when Giles is offered the sanctuary of Acre, and comes as merely a humorous aside.

4190654_origWhen Giles becomes swept up into a great battle, there’s so much going on around him that Guiscard’s sudden appearance is almost as alarming to the reader as to Giles, and timed to perfection, leading to a climactic moment in the story that may be full of battle, but not owing to a protagonist’s heroic plan or charge! And it’s the enmity between Guiscard and Giles that lies behind a famed charge that ruined a battle and put Shirkuh on his throne, an event lost to history but rendered entirely plausible, as is Shirkuh’s good humored response when he encounters Giles on the battlefield shortly after the victory.

To me it’s always seemed that Howard had mastered the heroic historical fiction story in the preceding four tales and that with Gates he began to experiment with the form to amuse himself. He happened to have amused most readers who’ve chanced upon the story, as well. Unlike other writers who experimented a little with a different style, Howard’s work was a wonderful success. I can only wish that there were a few more just like it. But perhaps its solitary existence is remarkable, and entertaining, enough.

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.


Before getting too far into this, have a look at the section of a 1905 Rand-McNally map above. On the left is Palo Pinto County; near the center of the northern edge is a place called Christian, where a young doctor I. M. Howard practiced in the early 1900s. He also practiced in several nearby communities: Graford, just below Christian about five miles to the south; Oran, about five miles to the east; Whitt, just over the Parker County line to the east of Oran (the little circle next to the vertical “Creek”); and Peaster, Robert E. Howard’s birthplace, about ten miles southeast of Whitt and 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth (off the map to the right). The distance from Christian to Peaster is 25 miles, as the crow flies. On today’s roads, interested travelers can tour all of these tiny towns in one or two hours.


[For a peek at Dr. Howard’s movements before the 1900s, look here.]

After a brief stint in the Indian Territory, where he had most likely gone to help out his favorite sister, Willie, Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard (IMH) returned to Texas, where his Physician’s Certificate was filed for record in Palo Pinto County on January 8, 1902. Polk’s Medical Register and Directory for 1902 has him in both Petersburg, Indian Territory (which I assume is a holdover from a previous notification), and Graford, in Palo Pinto County, population 19. He is the only doctor listed there. The 1904 edition has him still in Graford, but the population has grown to 24, one of that number being another doctor, J. M. Patterson.

But the Polk’s directory doesn’t tell the whole story, and maybe not even the correct story. I’m guessing that the 1902 mention at Graford is probably correct, but by the middle of 1903, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Christian, not Graford, which would make the 1904 listing another holdover. Polk’s does list one F. R. Bowles practicing in Christian in 1902 (population 50) and 1904 (population 90), but no IMH. The Standard Medical Directory of North America for 1903-04 lists both IMH and Bowles at Christian. It also adds that IMH was “licensed by examination without college diploma” and began his career in 1899.

And, since the good doctor was listing his address as Christian up to November 21, 1904, it’s safe to assume that that is where he and Hester Jane Ervin made their first home together after their January 12, 1904 marriage. (Today, the only remnant of that town is a road sign, “Old Christian Rd,” about five miles north of Graford.)


There are no documents to testify where the Howards were from December 1904 to May 1905, but we can hazard a few guesses.

During that time, the number of medical schools in Texas was expanding and Dr. Howard picked up his diploma from Gate City Medical College, over in Texarkana, on May 1, 1905. While “the founders of these schools had the best intentions to offer bona-fide instruction in medical science, [. . .] they had too few resources. Most of them ceased operations or were absorbed by other schools within a short time.” Gate City was closed in 1911 when it was caught selling diplomas, but I think it’s safe to assume that IMH spent a little time in Texarkana before being awarded his. [1]

Also during that time, the newlywed Howards approached IMH’s older brother, David Terrell Howard, about adopting his youngest son. Wallace Howard told L. Sprague de Camp that Dr. and Mrs. Howard, “they come to mama and papa and wanted to take me and raise me as their, their foster son.” [2] David Howard was farming in Limestone County at the time, some 125 miles southeast of Christian, and had quite a large family (six children in 1904, and 12 before he was finished having children in 1919). In 1977, Wallace Howard wondered if he “wouldn’t have been better off” going with the doctor, but nothing came of the plan and before the summer of 1905, Hester would have known that she was pregnant.

Another possibility is Dark Valley, a few miles southwest of Graford. In July 1977, L. Sprague de Camp interviewed Florence Green, who was close to 100-years-old at the time. In his notes, de Camp writes that “Hester and I. M. Howard came from Christian miles away to Dark Valley as a young married.  They lived for several months with Mrs. Green who had a house a few feet away from the creek.” According to Green, the Howards stayed with her until their own place was built, “a little ways down the creek from the Green’s” and when it was time for Hester to give birth, “She went to Peaster, a much bigger town in those days, 1906, and some buggy ride away—a day’s journey—to have the child.” After Robert’s birth, the family returned to Dark Valley for a while, but “[t]hey moved away while Robert was a babe in arms—meaning anywhere from 1-2 years of age.” [3]

There are some problems with Green’s account. There is no record of the Howards buying any land in the vicinity of Dark Valley Creek; why build a home on property they did not own? Mrs. Green also, apparently, didn’t think it was relevant that it was Dr. Howard who recorded the birth of her daughter in 1907 (where he listed Graford on the Record of Birth); at least, it doesn’t show up in de Camp’s notes. Also, in Dark Valley Destiny, de Camp says, “During her pregnancy, Hessie was all smiles and laughter, forever joking with her neighbors, but she never left her husband’s side. She traveled with Dr. Howard wherever he went” (pg. 32), information that must have come from Green, but how would she have known this when, shortly after receiving his diploma, Isaac Howard registered his credentials over in Parker County on May 12, 1905, and his name begins appearing on birth and death records that same month? Hester would only have been about one month pregnant at the time. And Peaster wasn’t the first place they went to in Parker County.


On May 23, 1905, Dr. I. M. Howard filed a “Report of Death” for a two-day-old child. The doctor’s address is listed as “Whitt.” The 1904 Polk’s directory lists three doctors in Whitt and sets the population at 430, same as the 1906 edition; none of the listed doctors is IMH.

Shortly after his arrival in Whitt, Dr. Howard appears to have partnered with one of those other doctors, J. D. Pickens, as their names appear together frequently on birth and death records in June and July. The last birth record filed by Pickens/Howard is dated July 19; all of these records list IMH’s address as Whitt. After that July 19 filing, the record goes quiet until August 16, 1905, when Dr. Howard was awarded a “Certificate of Registration” from the Texas Board of Pharmacy indicating that he had “given satisfactory evidence that he is a Qualified Pharmacist.” After that, he moved to Peaster.

From late September to just after Christmas 1905, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Peaster. Like Whitt, Peaster already had a doctor or two. In fact, besides J. A. Williams, the doctor who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth, there was also a Dr. J. M. Blackwell, with whom Dr. Howard planned to share office space, as reported in “Peaster Items,” from the Weatherford Weekly Herald for October 19, 1905: 1905-10-19-peaster-items-weatherfordweeklyheraldp5

All three doctors appear in the 1906 edition of Polk’s, which has the population of Peaster pegged at 240. (A July 8, 1921 article in the Cross Plains Review announced Blackwell’s arrival in the area and says that he “comes well recommended for his work. He is an old time friend of Dr. I. M. Howard of this place, and a former partner with him in the practice of medicine.”) All of which begs the question: Why was it Williams and not IMH’s partner, Blackwell, who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth?  If you’ve read this far, you probably already know the story. The Howards celebrated REH’s birthday on January 22, 1906, but, probably due to a delay in filing, Williams reported the birth as January 24. He filed the document on February 1st.

The last known sighting of the Howards in Peaster is a notice from the February 19 column, “Peaster Pencilings,” which appeared in the February 22, 1906 edition of the Weatherford Weekly Herald: “Dr. Howard is boasting of the only boy baby of Peaster in 1906.” After that, the trail is cold until a May 31, 1906 “Report of Birth” places him back in Graford, which is probably only where he received mail, since he was no doubt living in Dark Valley at the time.

All of the above makes the following paragraph from Dark Valley Destiny a bit shaky:

Robert Ervin Howard was born on January 24, 1906, in Peaster, Texas, a village in Parker County, ten miles northwest of Weatherford and thirty-five miles due west of Fort Worth. The Howards at that time lived in Dark Valley, a community of some fifty souls in Palo Pinto County, near the Parker County border; but Dr. Howard had taken his wife to Peaster, a larger settlement in the adjacent county, as her confinement drew near. He wished, presumably, to insure adequate medical facilities for her lying-in, as well as the services of Dr. J. A. Williams, the physician who attended Mrs. Howard at the birth of her only child. [pg. 18]

Patrice Lounet pointed out the biggest problem with this a few years ago: “If Dr. Howard wanted to ‘ensure adequate medical facilities’ for his wife, Peaster would not have been his first choice, but more likely the much larger Weatherford. Or even halfway from there, Mineral Wells, where physicians would be numerous.” [4] But if not for medical attention, then why?

In a 1977 interview with L. Sprague de Camp, Wallace Howard explained it this way: “The Howards are a moving people.” [5] And I can’t do much better than that. IMH seems to have been constantly on the look for greener pastures, and he never shied away from a dramatic move. Being a doctor himself, and having a partnership with another doctor (even though his partnerships never lasted for long), makes the “adequate medical facilities” argument seem a bit thin. I’m more inclined to believe that IMH saw an opportunity there that just didn’t pan out.

I’m fairly confident that one of the reasons IMH came to the Palo Pinto-Parker region in the first place was the railroad: “The Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern completed twenty-five miles from Weatherford to Mineral Wells in 1891. That year the company owned two locomotives and ninety cars. In 1895 it earned $15,561 in passenger revenue and $38,070 in freight revenue. The line was bought by the Texas and Pacific Railway Company in 1902,” the same year that IMH arrived. [6] And once the mainline was complete, the competition for spurs off of that line began, with rumors and speculation being reported in area newspapers every week; there was even some wild talk of turning the road into “a great transcontinental line” [7]. Of course, nothing quite so grand happened; however, “Construction of an extension of the line to the city of Oran was completed in 1907, and on to Graford the following January.” [8]

weatherford-mineral-wells-northeastern-web[Map courtesy of Abandoned Rails]

It may have been these rumors and speculation that encouraged IMH to begin purchasing land in Palo Pinto County. On October 11, 1905, while living in Peaster, Dr. Howard purchased part of lot 1, block 7 in the town of Oran for $50. This must have been a simple investment since, as we have seen, after leaving Peaster the Howards settled in Dark Valley. IMH listed his residence as Graford on birth and death notices from May 31, 1906 until at least May 5, 1907. But he may have been planning a move even before then.

On January 19, 1907, he purchased Lot 6 in Block 54 of the town of Oran for $45. Then, on May 25, 1907, he spent $200 for lots 7 and 8 in Block 7. A few weeks later, June 14, 1907, IMH and wife Hester sold “the North East one fourth (1/4) of Block Seven (7)” for $300. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the Howards. Not long after that, if not before, the family was living in Oran. From August to December 20, 1907, IMH lists his address as Oran. The week before Christmas, he re-filed his credentials in Palo Pinto County to correct a transcription error in his initials from “S. M.” to the correct “I. M.” Two weeks later, he was in Big Spring, way over in Howard County. The West Texas adventure had begun.



1: Handbook of Texas Online, D. Clayton Brown, “Medical Education,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/sfm02.

2: De Camp, L. Sprague:  “Notes on Interview with Wallace C. Howard in Mart, Texas, 7/22/77,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

3: De Camp, L. Sprague: “Notes from  interview with Mrs. Green and visit to Dark Valley with Mr. John Dean McClure,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

4: Louinet, Patrice: “The Long Road to Dark Valley—Introduction,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.rehtwogunraconteur.com/the-long-road-to-dark-valley-introduction/

5: De Camp, L. Sprague:  “Notes on Interview with Wallace C. Howard in Mart, Texas, 7/22/77,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

6: Handbook of Texas Online, Chris Cravens, “Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern Railway,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqw08.

7: “Doing Our Best,” The Daily Herald. (Weatherford, Tex.), Vol. 7, No. 218, Ed. 1 Monday, September 24, 1906.

8: The Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Northwestern Railroad Depot, photograph, 1990?; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth29853/: accessed September 11, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Pub


“After all I have done to keep clean,” she sobbed, “this is too much!  I know I am a monster in the sight of men; there is blood on my hands. I’ve looted and cursed and killed and diced and drunk, till my very heart is calloused. My only consolation, the one thing to keep me from feeling utterly damned, is the fact that I have remained as virtuous as any girl. And now men believe me otherwise. I wish I … I … were dead!”

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

Helen Tavrel returned from her eventful, and bloody, cruise to the Low Countries and shared in its profits. Her captain, Troels Hansen, sold the two shiploads of armaments originally meant for Russia, to various rogues of the buccaneer trade in Tortuga and Port Royal. Helen received her share according to the articles of the voyage. Her foster father, Roger O’Farrel, no longer a young man, was living more quietly now. He made his living – for he had medical training – selling well-equipped medical chests to the surgeons of pirate ships.

He had taken a modest amount of land on Tortuga, and a house in the town. He was friendly with the French Governor, Bertrand d’Ogeron. (A Governor d’Ogeron appears in some of Sabatini’s Captain Blood yarns, but anachronistically; the real d’Ogeron died in 1676, in Paris.)  His Cuban servants Ramon and Eulalia, of mixed Spanish and Indian blood, had moved to Tortuga with him. So had their daughter Renata, Helen’s closest friend. Renata was about to marry a young French pirate who was leaving the red trade and taking land under d’Ogeron’s scheme. Helen went to their wedding, as did her foster father, and they gave the couple generous presents to start their married life. Helen had a wistful moment or two as she drank to their future. But she was convinced no man existed who could compare to Roger O’Farrel, and her view of her fellow pirates in general was not rosy. Hansen and le Ban were probably the best of a scurvy lot. No, a decent life with a decent husband seemed to be absent from the cards for Helen Tavrel. Even Renata’s man might get restless and desert her someday …

Helen stayed in Tortuga with O’Farrel for a short time. She even considered settling down, but the thought was like a thought of death, too tedious for bearing. She was not twenty yet. She loved the sea and her wild, adventurous life. Her greatest model, her only one, was O’Farrel. Her credo might have been the one Robert E. Howard set down in his poem, “The Day That I Die.”

“And ye that name me in after years,
This shall ye say of me:

“That I followed the road of the restless gull
As free as a vagrant breeze,
That I bared my breast to the winds’ unrest
And the wrath of the driving seas.

“That I loved the song of the thrumming spars
And the lift of the plunging prow,
But I could not bide in the seaport towns
And I could not follow the plow.

“For ever the wind came out of the east
To beckon me on and on,
The sunset’s lure was my paramour
And I loved each rose-pale dawn.”

Ntw_i_sloopNevertheless, the slaughter of the arms ships’ crews made her dreams uneasy sometimes. Helen decided to try her luck as captain of her own craft – a sloop, fast and light, such as those in the trade often found convenient for inshore work. And she decided to raid Havana, where she had once lived, and where O’Farrel had been cheated by the Captain General.  Francisco Oregón y Gascón had ceased to hold the office only that year. The new Captain General, another Francisco (Rodríguez de Ledesma) did not know her or O’Farrel. He was about to.

Helen did not sail directly for Havana. Her pirate sloop was too obviously just that for entry into the city’s harbor, unnoticed and unchallenged, to be possible. Instead she sailed east, to Puerto Rico, where – as in Cuba – there was a huge contraband trade due to the Spanish crown’s taxes on legal commerce.  Off the mountainous island, she successfully waylaid a Spanish nao, called the Nuestra Señora de Encarnación.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

tumblr_m0j3lyVE0P1qbxxuao1_500The Texas of Robert E. Howard was scarcely a generation removed from its frontier heritage.

In May 1934, as Howard’s tale of Conan and Belit, “Queen of the Black Coast,” was on the stands in Weird Tales, a Texas lawman ran down the notorious Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker — Bonnie & Clyde. Frank Hamer tracked the outlaws down and led an ambush that riddled the couple with bullets on a Louisiana farm road.

Hamer was raised a Texas cowboy and got his start in law enforcement as a border-riding Texas Ranger on horseback. The big, powerful Ranger was involved in 52 gunfights as Texas rode bucking and kicking from the 19th into the 20th century.

There were quite a few men that stood with a boot in both centuries, who walked into the modern world with the carriage of a man of the frontier.

Bob Howard was proud to have made the acquaintance of one of these men.

“… in a little town on the plains I met a figure who links Texas with her wild old past,” he wrote to H. P. Lovecraft in 1930. “No less a personage than the great Norfleet, one of modern Texas’ three greatest gunmen — the other two being Tom Hickman and Manuel Gonzalles (sic.), captain and sergeant of the Rangers respectively.”

Tom Hickman and Manuel “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas were, indeed, first-rate gunmen. Hamer should have been on Howard’s list, too, but in 1930 his most famous exploit was yet to come. But who was “the great Norfleet”?

James Franklin Norfleet surely was a link with Texas’ wild old past. The son of a Comanche-fighting Texas Ranger, in his youth he had hunted the last buffalo herd in the Llano Estacado and then became a itinerate cowboy working the West Texas range.

Frank Norfleet was clean-living, hard-working and responsible, and in the 1890s he earned a position as foreman of the gigantic Spade Ranch owned by an absentee investor from Illinois named Isaac Ellwood — who would pioneer the manufacture of barbed wire.

In 1894, he met and married Mattie Eliza Hudgins, who moved with him out to the Spade. They had four children, only two of which survived to adulthood.

SpadeSaving his earnings as Spade foreman, Norfleet purchased land of his own, developed it, and raised cattle, mules, hogs, turkeys and a variety of crops. By the time he hit middle age, he was an independent rancher and had bootstrapped himself into considerable wealth.

And then he blew it.

On a trip to Dallas, Texas, to sell some mules, he fell prey to an elaborate con. A ring of five bunco artists set Norfleet up with a complicated combination of land sale and stock swindle, a con that is laid out in detail in Amy Reading’s delightful book “The Mark Inside.”

The con took Norfleet for $45,000, some of it borrowed from his brother-in-law. Worse yet, Norfleet had, in the midst of the con, also purchased land for $90,000 — debt he now had no hope of servicing. In present-day dollars, we’re looking at a cash loss of $560,000 and debt of over $1 million. Big problem.

Realizing what had befallen him, the rancher laid on his hotel-room bed with his mind reeling, a drumbeat pounding in his brain: “$45,000 gone; $90,000 in debt; 54 years old.”

But, being of Texas frontier stock, Norfleet came through his dark night of the soul not in despair but with determination: He would track down the conmen and give them a short, sharp dose of frontier justice.

First he had to go back to the home ranch and break the catastrophic news to Mattie. Tough as Frank, she gave her blessing to his quest — with one proviso: She wanted him to bring the crooks to the courts for trial. “Any fool can kill,” she said.

Following thin leads and rumors, J. Frank Norfleet embarked on a continent-crossing quest that defies credulity. And there’s every likelihood that Norfleet stretched the blanket a bit in telling his tale in his later autobiography. What Texas cowboy can resist making a tale a little taller? But the bones of the story check out in the record.

He found two members of the conman ring in San Bernadino, California, in jail for another scam. He accompanied them back to Fort Worth for trial and saw them sentenced to 10 years in the pen. One of them slashed his own throat rather than serving the time.

furey mugshotsThe man Norfleet wanted most was the ringleader, a longtime con with the picturesque name of Joe Furey. To lure him out, Norfleet set himself up as a rube, a mark, chumming the waters for the circling sharks.

It was a risky ploy. Norfleet got picked out for a con by Furey’s compatriots in Florida, but they got wise to him and Frank had to pull one of his four pistols to escape.

He almost caught Furey in Glendale, California, but the conman bribed two crooked cops to make his escape.

Norfleet finally ran him down, back in Florida, where the Texas rancher and his son Pete confronted the conman with cocked pistols in a restaurant. They got him back to Texas for trial, despite efforts by Furey’s criminal compatriots to spring him.

Nary a shot was fired.

Norfleet was noted as a dead shot, and, as noted above, during his private detective quest he was known to carry as many as four pistols on his person. Every once in a while, he had to pull one as a persuader or to get out of a tight spot. But despite Howard’s assertion that he was one of the great modern Texas gunmen, Norfleet never engaged in a single shootout.

In his letter, Howard states that, “he is now a United States Marshal and his latest exploit was in Chicago where he killed two gangsters who had the drop on him.”

The pulpster had that wrong — though it’s an irresistible image.

Howard described Norfleet accurately: “He is a small, stocky man, about five feet four, I should judge, of late middle age, with a scrubby white mustache and cold light blue eyes, the pupils of which are like pin points. He is a very courteous and soft spoken gentleman and I could not help but notice, as I shook hands with him, that his hands are not of the type usually found in men who are quick with weapons — his hands being very short and blocky in shape. Nor did he have that quick, nervous grip in handshaking that I have noticed in killers. His nerves are in perfect control but in his quick movements he reminds one of a cat, and like all gunfighters, he keeps his hands in constant motion and never very far from his gun.”

norfleet-67The great Norfleet was not quite the warrior Howard imagined him to be, but he was remarkable enough. He built a whole second career out of conning the conmen, luring them, manipulating them and bringing them in for the courts to handle. And he became a bit of a celebrity along the way. He published two editions of an autobiography and Wallace Beery, who once played Pancho Villa, played the role of Norfleet in a radio show.

Norfleet never entirely recovered financially from his 1919 losses, but he lived a satisfying life and retired quietly to a small West Texas farm, where he lived until his death at 102 in 1967.

One likes to imagine him gone to the happy hunting grounds, where he is currently on the trail of a certain Nigerian prince who needs you to help him get some money out of the country…

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Texas, Weird Tales.