The new issue of The Dark Man, celebrating 25 years of the journal, is now available to order. Here are the contents of The Dark Man: The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies and Pulp Fiction Studies Vol. 8, No. 1:


“Twenty Five Years Young!” by Mark E. Hall
Reflections by Rusty Burke
“On Editing Robert E. Howard” by Chris Gruber
“My Robert E. Howard PhD Adventure” by Patrick Burger


“Comments on Finn’s ‘Less an Archive, More an Agenda’” by Todd Vick


“On the Precipice of Fascism:The Mythic and the Political in the Work of Robert E. Howard and Ernst Jünger” by Patrick Burger


“The Influence of Joseph A. Altsheler’s Apache Gold on Howard’s ‘The Haunted Mountain’” by Robert McIlvaine
“Literary Gothicism in Robert E. Howard’s ‘Red Nails’” by Matthew Cirilli
“Bersker Synecdoche: Howard’s Aesthetic of Violence” by Philip Emery
“The Outsider Scholar: Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Scholarly Identity” by Karen Kohoutek
“Disintegrating Verse: The Poetry of the Shadow Modernists and the Ephemerality of the Ordinary” by Jason Carney

The Dark Man has two new scholars joining the editorial board beginning with this issue: Scott Connors, one of the editors of the Clark Ashton Smith Nightshade collection and Jeffrey Shanks, contributor to TDM, The Cimmerian, REH: Two-Gun Raconteur and REHupa, among others who have joined the team.

Order your copy today!

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard Scholarship, News, Rusty Burke.


(source: 2 TAiLTEN Games, TARA, Ireland’s Royal Board Game)


1. a kind of ancient fortification found in Ireland; a circular fort protected by earthworks, used by the ancient Irish in the pre-Christian era as a retreat in time of danger. Some of the larger raths such as that at Tara were important in early Irish history and were used by chieftains or kings. Many raths still exist throughout Ireland.

[Origin: Irish gaelic]


Up over the cromlech and down the rath,
Treading a dim forgotten path,
Past the ancient, vague monolith,
Out of the past of tale and myth,
Where the bat wheels silent ’round walls of might,
The phantoms gather from out the night.

[from “The Phantoms Gather”; this is the complete poem as it appears in The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 199; Selected Poems of Robert E. Howard, p. 316; and A Rhyme of Salem Town, p. 124]

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


I have just gotten hold of your magazine and, believe me, it’s a hummer! I read it from cover to cover the night I bought it, and my one plea is give us more stories by those masters of fiction, Robert E. Howard and Henry S. Whitehead.

– Charles Roe, Strange Tales, January 1933 (WGP 44)

The Reverend Henry St. Clair McMillan Whitehead (1882-1934) was an Episcopalian priest and pulpster, one of the regulars of Weird Tales and Strange Tales and a correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, E. Hoffmann Price, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Bernard Austin Dwyer, and R. H. Barlow.

Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Whitehead attended Harvard from 1901-1904, in the same class with future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, but did not take a degree. He sold his first story to Outdoors in 1905, and shortly after began working for the Daily Record in Port Chester, CT. In 1909, having worked his way up to assistant editor, he entered Berkeley Divinity School. Whitehead gained an M.A. in pedagogy from Ewing College in 1911 (through an extension course), graduated divinity school in 1912, and was advanced to the priesthood in 1913. (HSMW 1, LHSW 2)

Henry_S_WhiteheadFrom 1912 to 1913, Whitehead was priest at the Trinity Parish House in Torrington, CT, and from 1913 to 1917 he was appointed rector of Christ’s Church in Middletown, CT; ill-health prevented him from serving in the army or the navy during World War I, though he served on the local draft board and in various other roles. 1917-1919 Whitehead was the Children’s Pastor at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York City, and after that was Senior Assistant at the Church of the Advent in Boston. Along with these ecclesiastical duties, Whitehead busied himself with various other positions run concurrently: running summer camps; acting as chaplain for the Connecticut State Hospital for the Insane and the Churchman’s Club in Wesleyan University; practicing psychology, tutoring, and writing. (HSMW 4-6, LHSW 2)

Whitehead suffered from ill-health for many years, and from about 1920 to 1929, began spending his summers in the American Virgin Islands (purchased from the Danes in 1916), and was acting Archdeacon for the Virgin Islands between 1921 and 1929. During this time Whitehead served at the Church of the Advent (1919-1923), Trinity Church in Bridgeport, CT. (1923-1925), Holy Rood Parish in New York City (1926), St. Paul’s Church in Oswego, NY (1927), and St. Luke’s School for Boys in New Canaan, CT (1928), before finally applying for the position of rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Dunedin, Florida, which position he occupied from 1929 to his death.  (HSMW 4-6, LHSW 2, DN)

Much of what we know of Whitehead’s life comes from a letter published in the 10 November 1923 issue of Adventure, which included Whitehead’s story “The Intarsia Box.” It was the custom of the magazine to ask first-time writers for a brief autobiography, and Whitehead obliged with a few autobiographical details, as well as excerpts from a friend’s letter describing Whitehead in the Virgin Islands. One of the appreciative readers of this letter was a young Robert E. Howard, who would later quote sections of Whitehead’s letter to H. P. Lovecraft of 6 March 1933, notably a particular stunt involving a deck of cards:

He is the strongest man, physically, I ever saw. Soon after he came here to Santa Cruz, it was discovered that he took a great deal of exercise. One evening he was asked to do a ‘stunt’ for a large group of people who were having an old-fashioned Crucian jollification, and he called for a pack of cards. He tore them squarely in half, and then quartered them. I had heard of cards being torn in two, but never quartered. Incredulity was expressed. The people present thought it was a trick, and said so, though pleasantly and in a bantering way. Father Whitehead asked for another pack to destroy, and for two wire nails. He nailed the pack through at both ends, so that the cards could not be “beveled”, and then quartered that pack. He had to do this everywhere he went after that. Everybody wanted to see it done. One night Mrs. Scholten, the wife of our Danish Bank manager, gave him a small pack of brand new Danish cards. They were made of linen! He tore those in two.” […] As usual the people of Santa Cruz were most interest in what I didn’t go there to do—strongman stunts. The card thing I have practised since I was about seventeen. (CL3.23-24, AMTF 2.538-539)

1923 was the beginning of Whitehead’s career as a pulpster proper, breaking into not only Adventure but Hutchinson’s Adventure-Story Magazine (“Christabel”) and People’s Story Magazine (“The Wonderphone”). The following year he splashed Weird Tales with a January letter in “The Eyrie” and the short stories “Tea Leaves” (May/Jun/Jul) and “The Door” (Nov). 1925 saw another story in Adventure (“The Cunning of the Serpent”), Whitehead splashing The Black Mask (“The Gladstone Bag”), and four stories in Weird Tales—”The Fireplace” (Jan), “Sea Change” (Feb), “The Thin Match” (Mar), and “The Wonderful Thing” (Jul)—the last of which also shared an issue with the first publication of Robert E. Howard in those pages, “Spear and Fang.”

At the present time, so far as the writer is aware, there is only one market in the English-speaking world for the occult short story. That is Weird Tales, which specializes in this branch of literature. (SWF 25)

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1. To make a pillaging or destructive raid on; 2. to force to move along by harassing; 3. to torment by or as if by constant attack

[origin: before twelfth century; Middle English harien, from Old English hergian; akin to Old High German herion to lay waste, heri, army, Greek koiranos ruler]


From the Baltic Sea our galleys sweep
To South and West and East,
We bring our bows from the Northern snows
That the great grey wolves may feast.

To the outmost roads of the plunging sea
Our dragon ships are hurled,
We have broken the chains of the Southern Danes
And now we break the world.

Out of the dark of the misty north
We come like shapes of the gloam
To harry again the Southland men
And trample the arms of Rome.

The ravens circle above our prows
And our chant is the song of the sea.
They hear our oars by a thousand shores
And they know that the North is free.

[from “The Song of Horsa’s Galley”; for the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 57, Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 463 and Echoes From an Iron Harp, p. 77]

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


Yab Conab, son of Conab the Enormity, was in all things identical to his father, save only that his father was considerably older and punch-drunk. Young Yab, dubbed Conab the Bonehead because of his lumpy protruding brow, had been captured in his childhood by slave-raiders who took him out of Cimmeria, and set him to hard labor in a tomato garden.

He was often hungry because he’d been told the tomatoes were toxic and were only harvested to make poisons to kill wolves. At age seventeen he discovered this was a lie to keep the slaves from eating the harvest. This angered him sufficiently that he raised a rebellion.

Armed only with a garden trowel and manure rake, he killed everyone, even his fellow rebels, and a pack of wolves for good measure, then set off for a career as a freebooter, mercenary, and chimney sweep. At long last by means of usurpation (or by marrying a homely widowed queen) he became king of some great kingdom (or a settlement of wattle huts by a walnut grove).

He thereafter spent a good deal of time deciding dull matters of state and eating too many berries, walnuts and pasta, and drinking great flagons of hot melted pork fat, brooding in his throne because of the sad emotions awakened in his heart. His small pointy jaw rested on his humongous fist, in an aspect of thoughtful and woebegone bewilderment, like unto a man who cannot think of the precise word nor quite remember the capital of a given country.

One day King Bonehead stood in his boudoir gazing in a mirror of bronze. Ordinarily this was a joyful exercise, as the bronze surface of the mirror distorted his face, making him handsomer than was true, and gave his palorous Cimmerian complexion a rosy hue. But presently he realized he was looking older, his paunch hung over the front of his sword belt, and his hair was thin.

His mind drew back in time, to when he was a young man. Thinking he was not even now too old for adventure, he set out for Cimmeria, hoping to be reunited with his greatly beloved father, Conab the Enormity. It was a perilous journey with many close escapes and minor conquests, like the Adventure in the Wilderness, where Yab earned impressive scars upon his rump, rendered by an angry hog whose slop pail Conab had attempted to rob.

In Cimmeria he searched far and wide, at last encountering a pot-bellied drunkard whose scraped and meaty fists were used for nothing more refined than the sport of rat-mashing.

This was his father, whom Bonehead met in a low dive where he was busy mashing rats, one after the other, to the sound of riotous laughter, and downing, between mashings, whole buckets of the damp, spoiled chicken mash that passed for beer in Cimmeria.

“Father, ’tis I, Conab the Bonehead!” said Conab the Bonehead, master of his destiny. He held wide his arms, eager for an embrace, but the drunken rat-masher evaded the hug.

“What? Eh? What do you mean, ‘Father.’ I have no son.”

“But look at me, if I were more greatly potbellied, aged, besotted, with rat-bites on my knuckles, punch-drunk and silly, you would see I’m your very double.”

“What? Eh? Seeing double?”

“I am your son!”

The senior Conab waxed nostalgic. “Had a son once.”

“I was captured by raiders, taken to a far land.”

“There! You see! My son wasn’t captured by no one. I sold him to some passing caravan for the price of a few potatoes.”

“I am that son.”

“If you’re my son Bonehead the Unlamented, prove it by mashing a few strong rats.”

Yab took one look at the manged rodents for several heartbeats before a sense of profound discouragement overwhelmed him. He turned on his heel and fled in horror of his father, though Conab the Enormity always assumed the fellow ran out for fear of the rats, proving the stranger was no son of his.

And so Yab returned to his little walnut kingdom, or town, and entered his castle, or wattle hut, and tried to be satisfied that things were as good as they were. Yet after many years had passed, Yab saw that he had become indeed like his father, though it was good wine instead of spoiled mash that made him sotted, and good pasta with sausages washed down with warm semi-liquescent lard instead of rat-kabobs that made him wide of bum and big of belly.

He had three sons, dubbed Conab the Button-nose, Conab Smalldong, and his youngest, Conab the Player with Dolls and Kittens.

The lads liked nothing better than to gather about their poppa when he was on his throne, and listen to him cracking walnuts in his huge fists while telling unlikely tales of his glorious youth as a wizard-slayer, wool-strangler, freebooter, cattle-rustler, and roustabout.

When his sons reached their individual ages of fifteen, eighteen, and twenty, they conspired to poison old Yab, who fell dead in the walnut grove wherein he had been chasing after a pretty, flirtatious she-goat. The sons divided up the property, cut down the nut grove, and built highrise apartments with a lovely view of some ditchwater and a clearcut mountain called Baldy. The apartment dwellers claim the spirit pf Yab Conab to this day wanders the hallways, and rides the elevators up and down, chasing after a bleating horned beast whom the ghostly Yab calls Daisy. A sad tale but a true one, and even so, nobody cares a tiddle nor gives a quid.

Illustration by Denis Medri

Jessica is this year’s Guest of Honor at Diversicon and a new collection of her poetry has just been published by Raintree, titled The Death Sonnets. Centipede Press is about to publish a big omnibus of Jessica’s novels, tales, and poems. From Alchemy Press early this year will be a volume of the complete weird epistles of Penelope Pettiweather, ghost hunter. And the Sidecar Preservation Society will release during Diversicon Pets Given in Evidence of Old English Withchcraft and Other Bewitched Beings. She has also written an introduction for a forthcoming edition of the complete poetry of Michael Shea. Also, from her Duck’s-foot Tree Productions comes Daisy Zoo and Other Punk-Ass Nonsense to coincide with Diversicon.

This entry filed under Sword & Sorcery.


Berserker Viking Warriors (


1. an ancient Scandinavian warrior frenzied in battle and held to be invulnerable

[origin: first known use 1851; Old Norse berserkr, probably from ber-bear + serkr shirt]


Eric Ranesen, the viking, son of the sword and spear,
Swept down the coast of England at the height of his wild career,
Swooped down on many a village with his berserk, wild wolf band,
Raged along the coast like a hurricane with fire and sword in his hand,
Harried the coast of England from Severn to the Forth,
Loaded his ships with plunder, then sailed back to the North.

Lord of the North was Eric, from Salten fiord to Skye,
Lord of the wide, wild northern sea and many a land thereby.
He had vanquished Saxon and Welshman; Swede and Finn and Dane
Fled when they saw the flashing of the sword of the son of Rane.
Only one man defied him from Salten fiord to Forth,
And that was Harald of Norway, a reiver of the North.
Now Harald is a sea-king with ships, a full half-score,
Three long serpents, three galleys, and smaller vessels, four.
Thirty score men he numbered, thirty score men and ten,
Berserks, sailors, vikings, all fierce fighting men.

[from “Eric of Norway”; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 536, Robert E Howard Selected Poems, p. 389 and A Rhyme of Salem Town, p. 76]

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


This is the date 110 years ago when The World’s Greatest Pulpster was born. On January 22, 1906, Hester Ervin Howard and Dr. Issac Howard became the proud parents of a baby whom they named Robert Ervin Howard. REH was off to a humble start, being born the small town of Peaster, Texas. At the time the Howards were living in the isolated community of Dark Valley. So Dr. Howard moved Hester from Dark Valley (in Palo Pinto County) to the larger town of Peaster in Parker County to give birth. Patrice Louinet posted a series of posts on Howard’s early years, his family history and Dr. Howard and Hester’s relationship. The series is called “The Long Road to Dark Valley.” Patrice will soon add additional chapters to the series.

As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, let’s take a look at gifts Howard typically received on his birthday. This excerpt is from a letter written by Howard to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. July 1933:

My own library was generally the largest in the place I lived, but it was small. I generally was given a book on Christmas and on my birthday. Occasionally between times a book was bought.

Back in Howard’s day, during the Great Depression, gifts were usually simple items, like the books he mentions receiving — items that served a purpose and weren’t extravagant.

Now, 110 years after his birth, Howard has gifted all of us with many volumes of his writings. Some things never change. Books were important to Howard throughout his life and books written by him are just as important to us.

So on this auspicious occasion, I’m going to crack open a few of his books and read my favorite Howard stories. Heck, I’ll also crack open a bottle of Maker’s Mark to add to my reading enjoyment of yarns by The World’s Greatest Pulpster.

Happy Birthday, Bob!


Big News: Here is the announcement of the Guest of Honor for this years Howard Days from the Howard Days Facebook page:

The Robert E. Howard Foundation and Project Pride of Cross Plains, Texas are proud to announce the dates and Guest of Honor for the 2016 version of Howard Days, to be held June 10th and 11th at the Robert E. Howard Museum in Cross Plains.

This year’s Guest of Honor is Michael Scott Myers, screenwriter for the movie The Whole Wide World, the biographical film based on the book One Who Walked Alone, which recounted the relationship between Robert E. Howard and Novalyne Price. We are happy to welcome Michael as our GOH, as he is the perfect person to blend with our Howard Days theme this year, Anniversaries.

2016 finds us with a number of important Robert E. Howard Anniversaries: 110 years since his birth, 80 years since his death, 70 years since the publication of Skull Face and Others, 50 years since Conan the Adventurer from Lancer, 40 years since Glenn Lord’s The Last Celt, 30 years since Novalyne Price Ellis’ One Who Walked Alone, 30 years since the very first Howard Days and 20 years since the movie The Whole Wide World (which was based on Novalyne’s book).

Michael’s involvement with The Whole Wide World began with his being a student of Novalyne Price Ellis in Lafayette, LA. Having read her book about Howard, he knew what a wonderful movie it would make. So, our Guest of Honor is doubly qualified this year and we’re thrilled to have him.

There is lots more information to follow and you can read about it here and at the Howard Days blog. While the cold winds of January are blowing now, make plans to come to Texas in June where the warmth will be in both the air and in the fellowship of Robert E. Howard fans!

Howard Days is less than five months away! More exciting news to come, so stay tuned!


“The Vultures of Wahpeton” is perhaps the best of Robert E. Howard’s Westerns. It’s a hard-boiled, two-fisted tale of bad men in a bad town doing bad things, very much unlike the sentimentalized version of the west so often seen in fiction. For that matter, it was a bit out of the ordinary for Howard, who wrote far more comedic tall-tale Westerns about knuckle-headed giants, outlandish misunderstandings, and slapstick fisticuffs. That may not have been simply a matter of inclinations, Howard was a canny pro who knew his markets. He took an unusual gambit with “Vultures,” submitting two endings to the story to editor Clifford Campbell of Smashing Novels, a conventional “happy” ending and a grimmer, more violent ending. Campbell must have concurred with Howard on some level, for he ran both endings, letting the readers choose which they preferred.

“Vultures” touched on some subjects that were recurring interests of Howard: the “good” bad-man, corrupt lawmen, and the thin veneer of civilization over society’s boiling abyss of barbaric violence.

The tale revolves around a Texas gunman, Corcoran, who is recruited as a deputy by Sheriff Middleton of Wahpeton. Corcoran is to replace Deputy Jim Grimes and help clean up the town. A vigilante group is forming, but holding back because they believe Middleton to be a sincere lawman. Corcoran soon discovers that he is being used as a patsy, like Grimes. Middleton is actually the boss of a gold-rush Mafia, engaged in looting stage coaches and travelers. Corcoran cuts himself in on the deal, while courting dance-hall girl Glory Bland. Alliances are formed, enemies made, consciences are stretched to the limit, and blood flows.

As with many of Howard’s best-regarded tales, there is a great deal of interest in Howard’s sources of inspiration for “Vultures.” The principal inspiration was Howard’s imagination of course, coupled with the willpower to hammer away at the keyboard, until the last sentence is wrought like a keenly balanced blade, and The End gleams with razor sharpness.

But if one must know, then even Howard admitted he drew on sources from history to whet his appetite. Keith Taylor has studied Howard’s interest in Hendry Brown, the inspiration for Corcoran. Brown was at one time an outlaw associate of Billy the Kid. Later Brown took on the role of marshal of cowtown Caldwell, Kansas, while keeping up his outlaw activities by robbing banks in neighboring towns, a sideline that eventually led to a bloody death in a hail of lead.

plummer_10272395But what of Sheriff Middleton? For that matter, what of Wahpeton? For role models that Howard drew on, we may look to Sheriff Henry Plummer of Bannack, Montana. Like Middleton, Plummer was a lawman who worked both sides of the law, being a secret ally of thieves and killers. His jurisdiction was the gold rush town of Bannack, named after a local Indian tribe, much like Wahpeton (the Wahpetons are a sub-group among the Sioux). Howard was certainly familiar with Sheriff Plummer, he mentioned Plummer in at least two letters to H.P. Lovecraft. In a letter dated September 22, 1932, Howard numbered Plummer among melodramatic, but deadly gunmen such as Ben Thompson, Bob Ollinger, and Bat Masterson. In the same letter he mentioned Boone Helm’s connection to Plummer’s gang in Bannack. In another letter from September 1934, Howard describes Plummer as an example of a sheriff using his office to loot the territory. That Plummer and Bannack served as models for Middleton and Wahpeton is a likely conjecture.

But who was Henry Plummer, and what sort of place could a crooked sheriff make such a dramatic rise and fall in? A study of his life and times reveals a story at least if not more bizarre than fiction.

Henry Plummer has been much debated, both before and since he met his end swinging from a vigilante noose on January 10, 1864. To the early historians of the era, men like Nathaniel Langford and Thomas Dimsdale who had participated in the vigilante movement of Montana Territory and meant to justify the vigilantes’ actions, Plummer was little better than the devil incarnate. To them, Plummer was a murderer and robber, who used the color of office to support other murderers and robbers. Ruth Mather and her co-author F.E. Boswell produced a revisionist history of the vigilantes, Hanging the Sheriff (University of Utah Press, 1987). To Mather and Boswell Plummer was a man who instinctively kept order in a lawless country, protected women, and paid with his life for his courage. Frederick Allen’s A Decent Orderly Lynching (University of Oklahoma Press, 2004) offers the most balanced view. Two facts stand out from Allen’s biography of Plummer, 1) Plummer had terrible judgement, 2) Plummer was a very dangerous man.

hotelparHenry Plummer arrived in California in 1852 at the age of twenty. Plummer was an enterprising youth who became part owner of a bakery and later a saloon in Nevada City, California, a booming gold rush town. In 1856 Plummer was elected city marshal, partly on the strength of his business connections which included the saloon-owners, gamblers, and brothel-keepers of the town. He was as much an aspiring politician as lawman.

Plummer displayed his knack for disastrous misjudgment early. One night in June, Plummer was making his rounds with George Jordan, a drunk and belligerent character who had just been bailed out of jail after breaking a man’s jaw with a piece of lumber. When Plummer intervened in a bar fight, Jordan provoked a gunfight with the saloonkeeper that left Jordan dead and a bystander wounded. Plummer avoided official blame, but taking armed drunks on police business was hardly the way to keep the peace.

Despite the setback, Plummer soon displayed a talent for law work, and gained a reputation for arresting wanted men (a profitable line, as wages for lawmen were low and fees for executing warrants, rewards, and bounties were the way for a lawman to prosper). That reputation took a beating when a joint effort by Marshal Plummer and the local sheriff to bring in a wanted man ended in disaster when a civilian posse gunned down the sheriff and a deputy, mistaking them for the wanted outlaws.

In 1857 Plummer made his worst decision. He got personally involved in the marriage of his tenants George and Lucy Vedder. The Vedders rented a house from Plummer. George was a card dealer and Lucy was raising their child. When their marriage began to fail, George displayed a violent side and began to threaten Lucy. In turn Lucy appealed to Plummer for protection. Plummer took a personal interest in Lucy’s troubles and began spending time with her. While Plummer’s deputy also kept watch over Lucy Vedder, gossip spread. George Vedder now began to threaten Plummer’s life. Matters came to a head when Vedder showed up armed at Lucy’s hotel room and Plummer gunned him down. Vedder never got a shot off. By 21st century standards, it would have been a clear act of self-defense, but “no duty to retreat” and the “castle doctrine” were not so well established. Plummer was put on trial. In a shocking turn, Lucy Vedder testified against him, claiming that Plummer’s solicitude for her safety was a pretext to turn her out as a prostitute. It was a damning indictment, though it may have been a lie, wrung from her by Vedder’s father who was threatening to take her child. True or not, it sunk Plummer and despite getting a second trail he was sentenced to ten years hard labor.

san-quentin-interiorLife in San Quentin took a toll on Plummer’s health. His friends on the outside petitioned for an early release on the grounds that his death was imminent. Plummer walked out of San Quentin in 1859. In a questionable move, he returned to Nevada City. He briefly served as constable until his political patron lost office. Plummer seems to have become a bouncer in a brothel, as if confirming the worst opinions of him.

As a bouncer, Plummer was a deadly one. A man named Muldoon died after Plummer pistol-whipped him, but charges were not filed. In October 1861 Plummer became involved in a fatal altercation with a hard case named William Riley. There are varying accounts of the cause. Plummer may have recognized Riley as an escapee from San Quentin and attempted a citizen’s arrest, as one does in a brothel at 2 A.M. The other version of the story is that Riley and Plummer got in an argument about the Civil War, which could certainly happen to anybody. Riley carved on Plummer’s scalp with a bowie knife, while Plummer ventilated Riley with a six-shooter.

Nevada City’s patience with Plummer was gone. He had three deaths to his credit. He was jailed but managed to escape with the assistance of one of the girls from the brothel. Nobody seemed to regret his departure. Even a one-time ally said that Plummer wasn’t worth jailing if he’d just run off and never come back.

GunfightPlummer took refuge with Billy Mayfield, a gambler over in Carson City. While hiding out with Mayfield, Sheriff John Blackburn came looking for Plummer. The gambler and the lawman tangled in a gunfight that left Blackburn dead. So much for laying low.

Mayfield and Plummer headed for the gold rush town of Florence in the northern reaches of Idaho territory. While there Plummer was involved in yet another senseless killing. Plummer was with a gang of gold-field “roughs” who were breaking up a saloon. Plummer and his pals were ejected, but as they were preparing to ride out the saloonkeeper, Pat Ford came out. According to some accounts, Ford opened fire without provocation and was gunned down by return fire from Plummer and his pals. For obvious reasons, we do not have Ford’s version of events.

From being a lawman and would-be politician, Plummer was now an associate of the thugs and desperadoes. While Plummer had been associated with the saloon crowd—gamblers and pimps—in California, this was to a certain extent to be expected. They were after all the very group lawmen were expected to police, a group that was to be tolerated but kept in check. Moreover, they had money and thus a degree of political influence.

The “roughs” were a different class. The gold rushes drew many who adapted to the lawlessness of the frontier by crude bullying. The saloon crowd offered alcohol, games, or women for money. The roughs relied on thuggery to take what they wanted, intimidating store-keepers for food or clothing, saloon-keepers for drinks, and often threatening honest citizens for sheer amusement. Some of the roughs might become gunmen for hire, or footpads, as muggers were called then, or take up highway robbery. Mostly they were simply parasites, a rabble that drifted on the tides of the gold rushes, leaving whenever society got organized enough to produce vigilantes or lawmen, and commonly meeting their end by means of knife, bullet, or noose.

Not too long after the Ford killing, Mayfield and his friends shot up Florence. Plummer was reputed to have taken part, but that was untrue. Instead, Plummer was in Fort Benton, having crossed the Rockies with a traveling companion, Jack Cleveland, another ex-con that knew Plummer in San Quentin. The pair found work as handy-men at a farm run by a missionary, James Vail. In an even more unlikely turn of events, Plummer wooed Vail’s sister-in-law, Electa Bryan. All accounts agree that Plummer could be charming when he wanted to, though one wonders if he simply looked better in comparison to guys like Jack Cleveland.

Plummer_Gang_Robbing_Stage_(1863)Plummer and Cleveland moved on to the booming gold-rush town of Bannack. The town was wild and wooly. Indians of both the Sioux and Shoshoni tribes were increasingly involved in skirmishes with travelers, which would lead to years of bloody warfare from the Rockies to the plains. Law enforcement was more of a notion than a fact. By custom informal “miners’ courts” gave rough justice, but there was no town marshal or county sheriff. The federal government was too busy fighting the Confederacy to worry about problems in a place that no one in Washington D.C. had heard of.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.


intransitive verb

1. endure or suffer

[origin: chiefly Scottish; Middle English, from Old English drēogan; akin to Gothic driugan to perform military service]


There’s a kingdom far from the sun and star
With never a wind to dree;
Where the golden balls of the silence falls
In the high blue halls of the sea.

There’s death to change in that kingdom strange,
For its days are all the same;
Its blue floors blaze in a golden maze
Through a purple haze of flame.

Through an emerald sheen dim shapes careen
And white limbs trail and quiver;
In rose pale fire ’round spear and spire
In white desire they shiver.

[from “High Blue Halls”; to read the complete poem see The Collected Poetry of Robert E. Howard, p. 274 and Robert E. Howard Selected Poems, p. 154]

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