Archive for May, 2010

The Cimmerian Blog Calls It Quits

Over at the TC blog Deuce Richardson has announced that they are closing up shop. Love it or hate it, the passing of the Cimmerian blog marks the end of an era.

Anyone doing the history of Robert E. Howard fandom in the new millennium will have to start with Leo Grin. The first few years of the 2000s saw the expansion of Wandering Star’s publishing program into the Del Rey trade paperbacks and the birth of Wildside Press’ Robert E. Howard series, but on the fandom frontline these years were pretty much business as usual. Other than the triumphant return of Damon Sasser’s REH: Two-Gun Raconteur in 2003 (its previous issue had been published in 1977), REH fans had the same things to look forward to as usual: maybe an issue of The Dark Man would come out, maybe Dennis McHaney would do something, maybe Joe Marek would do another Howard Reader, maybe . . .

Leo Grin changed all of that with The Cimmerian Volume 1, Number 1, dated April 2004. Scholarly, but without being scholarly, TC quickly became THE journal of Howard Studies. Informative, entertaining, timely: no other Howard publication could come close. And no longer would Howard fans have to wait, sometimes years, for a publication devoted to their favorite Texan, now they would receive a bi-monthly dose. And Leo remained true to that schedule for the life of the magazine, except in 2006 when he actually increased its frequency to monthly. True, sometimes issues were delayed, but never for long, and certainly not for years.

As if editing and publishing a serious, bi-monthly journal wasn’t enough, in 2005 Leo introduced The Cimmerian Awards. The awards honored the best and brightest in Howard scholarship from the preceding year. Presented at Howard Days that June, the awards were a big success. He also started The Cimmerian Library that year. This series of chapbooks featured items that didn’t quite fit in the regular publication. And Mr. Grin wasn’t finished yet.

After having my first article published in The Cimmerian (“Howard’s Ruin,” February 2005), Leo and I became fast friends; I was still new to fandom and Leo was kind enough to show me the ropes. It was during one of our initial email exchanges that I first heard of The Cimmerian blog, August 1, 2005, almost a year before it actually appeared. Leo had been telling me about his plan to get Howard the recognition he deserves and, completely off the cuff, mentioned that “one of my projects is going to be to revamp The Cimmerian’s website, put up a blog,” etc. At the time, I barely knew what a blog was and pretty much forgot about it.

By March of 2006 the blog was in its embryonic stage, with Leo using it to test posts and host information about old REHupa mailings that he was selling on eBay. Not many paid much attention to it though, especially considering that the print Cimmerian had gone monthly for the Howard Centennial. So, besides the monthly production, the annual TC Awards, a series of chapbooks, and a HUGE project he’d undertaken for the 200th mailing of the Robert E. Howard Amateur Press Association (ask a REHupa member for details), Leo still had one more trick up his sleeve.

Above: Mark Finn, Leo Grin, Steve Tompkins and Rob Roehm at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention.*

One week after Howard Days 2006, Leo sent the “keys” to his blog to Steve Tompkins, Mark Finn, and me, with the following instructions:

You are free to start whenever you want. No rules or regulations, just go for it. Any news items that crop up on the lists should be posted, as well as any new Howard projects or gossip. You can comment on your new REHupa, can muse a bit about some story or letter you’ve read recently, can review new books and products from others. Any other fantasy, Texan, or other related writers can be discussed, keeping in mind that Howard should at least ostensibly remain the focus of the blog.

The blog “went live” and on June 17, 2006, Leo posted the official announcement: “In an effort to improve the experience of Cimmerian readers and to further Howard studies on the Net in general, I am making some changes at the website for The Cimmerian that I hope will make a difference. [. . .]”

Then the instruction began. Only Leo knew the magical language of the blog. He patiently explained all of the ins and outs of posting to Mark, Steve and me: how to upload pictures, remove code from our text, and so on. And then we were off and running. For two and a half years the four of us posted on all manner of esoteric Howard nuggets. Good times.

When the print version of The Cimmerian ceased production at the end of 2008, the blog, also, was scheduled to end. But Steve Tompkins, by far the most active blogger of the bunch, petitioned Leo to leave the blog to him, and a new era of the TC blog began. With the exception of Tompkins, the original bloggers retired—even host Grin drastically reduced his frequency of posts when he turned the management over to Tompkins—and were replaced by an ever growing cast of bloggers: Steve Trout, Deuce Richardson, Brian Murphy, Al Harron, Barbara Barrett, Jeffrey Shanks, and several others.

With Steve’s unexpected and untimely death in 2009, Deuce Richardson took over the maintenance of the blog. And, while the Howard content has become more and more secondary, there was always something new to read at TC, and, if Al Harron’s information is accurate, its readership has been on the rise. That all ends on June 11.

The passing of the TC blog will erase the last public outcropping of Leo Grin’s involvement with Howard studies, but his and its impact will remain. No Howard fanzine produced today can ignore TC’s five year run; because of Leo, Howard fans expect a little more for their hard-earned cash than the pre-TC publications provided. And both this blog and the REHupa blog are direct results of the TC blog, with Grin himself helping to update them and bring them to the modern generation.

Hopefully, the end of the TC blog will reinforce Howard’s presence on the internet, with the current host of TC bloggers being absorbed elsewhere, starting their own websites, or continuing the conversation in other forums. As Leo frequently told me: One can always hope.

*Thanks to Mark Finn for having the wherewithal to get a picture of the four bloggers while we were all in Austin—the first and only time we all met together.
This entry filed under Howard Fandom, Howard Scholarship, Mark Finn, News.

There is a little non-profit radio station in Portland, Oregon producing radio plays adapting Howard’s stories under the direction of longtime Howard fan Matthew Clark. The plays are part of a program called Gremlin Time, featured on KBOO radio, which regularly presents plays based on horror, adventure and science fiction classics. Among the authors adapted are several of Howard’s favorite writers (Jack London and Rafael Sabatini). Thus far, two Howard stories have appeared: “Wild Water” and “Pigeons From Hell.”

‘Pigeons From Hell’ by Robert E. Howard

Submitted by Matthew Clark

Program Date: Mon, 10/19/2009

For Halloween, we submit for your approval, “Pigeons From Hell;” a scary Southern Gothic short story by Texas-born Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan the Barbarian. Two lost travelers come across a long abandoned plantation house, where they decide to spend the night. But something is hiding in the old manor house, something horrible! Something undead, that ‘lives’ off murder! Howard combines a classic haunted house story with elements of nightmarish dream states, and voodoo legends of the undead, with the aftermath of the Reconstuction for a tale of horror and cruel revenge.

First published in 1938 in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, two years after Howard’s death; it was later adapted for an episode of the early 1960’s TV show Thiller,  hosted by Boris Karloff. By the late 60’s, there was a popular interest in fantasy literature due to the success of  The Lord of the Rings, and Howard’s work began to be reprinted. This story appeared in the paperback collection The Dark Man and Others, and then began appearing in many other collections of horror stories. In 1983 Stephen King called it one of the great horror stories of the 20th Century.

‘Wild Water’ by Robert E. Howard

Submitted by Matthew Clark

Program Date: Wed, 05/20/2009

Jim Reynolds sets out to take down the corrupt political machine of Bisley, Texas.  But his idea of justice brings more than he bargained for.  Set during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, this 20th Century Western short story is a departure for fantasy/adventure writer Robert E. Howard. A 3D Radio production featuring Sterling Sam Silver, Rasco Veldt, and Fortunato.

Both of these radio plays are first rate productions and very entertaining to listen to.  You can either listen to them at the KBOO website or download them to your computer for later listening on your MP3 player. Matthew is working on several other adaptations of Howard stories, with the next one, “The Valley of the Lost,” premiering this summer.

When Stanza Press (an imprint of PS Publishing) announced it was coming out with a set of three volumes featuring the poetry published in Weird Tales by Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, I admit I was unsure what to expect.  Based on the number of poems each had published in Weird Tales, I knew they would be pretty slim volumes.

But after buying The Singer in the Mist and Others by Howard and seeing what a beautiful book it was, I just had to order the two companion volumes, Hallowe’en in a Suburb and Others by Lovecraft and Song of the Necromancers and Others by Smith to complete the set. The books, edited by Steven Jones,  are high quality, with beautiful endpapers, graphics and overall design. The only gripe I have is a slipcase would be nice to encase the set. Still, it is great to see the three volumes on my bookshelf, like three old friends hanging out together. Here is an overview of the Lovecraft volume from the Stanza Press website:

When the history of fantasy and horror fiction is being discussed, the pulp magazine Weird Tales is inevitably mentioned. Published on low-grade “pulp” paper, Weird Tales was the first newsstand magazine devoted exclusively to weird and fantastic fiction. It ran for 279 issues, from March 1923 to September 1954.

The three most important and influential writers to have their work published in the title were Rhode Island horror writer H.P. Lovecraft; the Texan creator of Conan the Cimmerian, Robert E. Howard; and the California poet, short story writer, illustrator and sculptor, Clark Ashton Smith.

“The Complete Poems from Weird Tales” series collects their verse in the order that it originally appeared in the pages of “The Unique Magazine.”

HALLOWE’EN IN A SUBURB & OTHERS – H.P. LOVECRAFT

“H.P. Lovercraft (1890-1937) is probably the most important and influential author of supernatural fiction in the twentieth century. A life-long resident of Providence, Rhode Island, many of his tales are set in the fear-haunted towns of an imaginary area of Massachusetts, or in the cosmic vistas that exist beyond space and time.”
-Stephen Jones

These little volumes are perfect for reading while relaxing in your favorite recliner — preferably with all the lights out except for a reading lamp — enjoying an adult beverage.  And as an added bonus, the Clark Ashton Smith collection features artwork by the multi-talented Mr. Smith.

With great workmanship and printing, nice graphics, spooky poetry from the three amigos of Weird Tales and your own imagination, you can’t go wrong with The Complete Poems from Weird Tales volumes.

I am now accepting pre-orders for REH: Two-Gun Raconteur #14. Orders will ship the week of June 13th.

In addition to the rare Howard story “The Curly Wolf of Sawtooth,” issue #14 also features five articles and essays by Howard scholars Mark Finn, David Hardy, Brian Leno, Brian Murphy and Simon Sanahujas.

The issue also includes great artwork by Bill Cavalier, Bob Covington, Stephen Fabian, John Lucas, Didier Normand, Richard Pace, Terry Pavlet, Michael L. Peters, Robert Sankner and others.

Of particular interest is Mark Finn’s  “The Old Time Radio Adventures of Sailor Steve Costigan,” which details the creative process involved adapting several of Howard’s “Sailor” Steve Costigan stories into radio plays by the Violet Crown Radio Players of Austin, Texas.  The group also presented Novalyne Price Ellis’ radio play, “Day of the Stranger” over the airwaves. Here is the opening of Mark’s article:

The room is dark, lit only by the warm glow of a radio dial. You hear a hiss of ambient noise, and then a crackling burst of static. Finally, you hear the dim, tinny strains of music, a swinging and up-tempo instrumental version of “Nagasaki.” The announcer starts talking, in a smooth and buttery voice, “Anchors aweigh, and prepare to come about! It’s time, once again, for the Adventures of Sailor Steve Costigan, the prize-fighter from Texas with a heart of gold, fists of steel, and a head full of rocks…”

Sounds pretty cool, doesn’t it? Alas, it never quite happened in Robert E. Howard’s time.

You can read the rest of Mark’s article and much more in issue #14.  Don’t procrastinate, pre-order your copy today and keep in mind the print-run is only 200 copies, so they won’t be around very long.

There is a ghost town some 24 miles to the northwest of Cross Plains.  Its stone ruins have been standing like lonely sentinels on the prairie for over a hundred years.  Since this forgotten Texas city is not mentioned in Howard’s letters, we don’t know if he ever visited the ruins, or if he even knew of their existence. But Howard had visited many a ruined, lost city in his imagination, like the one in “Iron Shadows in the Moon:”

Once out of the thicket, he took her hand and led her swiftly through the thinning trees, until they mounted a grassy slope, sparsely treed, and emerged upon a low plateau, where the grass grew taller and the trees were few and scattered. And in the midst of that plateau rose a long broad structure of crumbling greenish stone.

They gazed in wonder. No legends named such a building on any island of Vilayet. They approached it warily, seeing that moss and lichen crawled over the stones, and the broken roof gaped to the sky. On all sides lay bits and shards of masonry, half hidden in the waving grass, giving the impression that once many buildings rose there, perhaps a whole town. But now only the long hall-like structure rose against the sky, and its walls leaned drunkenly among the crawling vines.

Whatever doors had once guarded its portals had long rotted away. Conan and his companion stood in the broad entrance and stared inside. Sunlight streamed in through gaps in the walls and roof, making the interior a dim weave of light and shadow. Grasping his sword firmly, Conan entered, with the slouching gait of a hunting panther, sunken head and noiseless feet. Olivia tiptoed after him.

As for Belle Plain, Texas, it was established on state school land in 1876 and named for first child born there (Katie Belle Magee). Land developer Nelson Smith platted the town carefully, including a commercial district in his plans.  He and others had high hopes for town’s future. Though unforeseeable to them at the time, Belle Plain was doomed from the start.

Callahan County was established in 1858, but hardly anyone was interested in settling this isolated region for the first eighteen years of its existence. Finally, in 1877, the County was formally organized and the Callahan County Commissioners Court held an election in December to name the county seat. Belle Plain was in the running and so was Callahan City, no doubt named with hopes of becoming the permanent county seat. But the name advantage did little good – when the votes were counted, Callahan City lost its county seat status to Belle Plain. This sentenced Callahan City to a slow death.

In its heyday, Belle Plain was one of the most promising towns in West Texas during the 1870s. The town got off to a slow start at first, with only three businesses operating during its first year.  But four years later in 1880, the town’s population had increased to around three hundred, with a hotel, several mercantile stores newspaper and a few other businesses. Professionals such as doctors, dentists and lawyers settled in the growing town.

As the town’s population continued to increase, it was expected to grow into a town as large as San Angelo, Texas. News that the Texas and Pacific Railroad was planning to lay its tracks through the city spurred on the growth. Belle Plain was indeed on a roll. New arrivals, as well as deserting Callahan City residents swelled the population. In 1879 the town got its own newspaper and success was all but assured. The population reached a respectable 400 people by 1884, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. As for Callahan City, today all that remains is a cemetery and a large tree where the center of the town once stood.

The town’s promising future was underlined with numerous permanent stone structures, including Belle Plain College.  Here is some information on one of the first institutions of higher learning in West Texas from The Handbook of Texas:

Belle Plain College, an institution in Belle Plain, Callahan County, noted for its music department, was established in 1881 by the Northwest Conference of the Methodist Church. John Day gave the new school ten acres of land, and local citizens donated generously in the beginning. During its first year (1881–82) the college operated in conjunction with the public school. F. W. Chatfield served as its first president. After a state charter was granted to the institution in the spring of 1882, Rev. J. T. L. Annis took over as president for two years. During his administration enrollment reached 122. Other presidents at Belle Plain College were John W. McIllhenny (1884–85), C. M. Virdel (1885–87), and I. M. Onins (1887–92).

By 1885 Belle Plains College had two buildings on its land, but the entire campus had been heavily mortgaged to pay for furnishings and musical instruments. The school faced difficult times and the fact that operating funds came only from the local school district hastened the institution’s demise. Soon the trustees were unable to make the mortgage payments. Judge I. M. Onins took over the school with its debts in 1887 after a successful school year, but the mortgage company foreclosed on the property in 1889. The company allowed the school to continue to operate until the president’s death in 1892.

As it turned out, the Texas and Pacific Railroad bypassed the town essentially dooming Belle Plain to the same fate as Callahan City. The result of losing the railroad was also meant the loss of county seat status to Baird in 1883. Two years of drought further eroded the town and college’s financial base. These events caused a slow decline in population as many inhabitants moved to Baird and other quickly developing cities along the railroad’s path.  The newspaper moved to Baird and even the stone jail was dismantled brick by brick to be reconstructed in Baird, where it eventually became a Boy Scout meeting place. Somehow the college managed to hold on until 1892. By 1897 only a store and a few diehards were left to keep the post office open until 1909 when it too closed.

Today, Belle Plain is a true ghost town.  Still standing are the remains of the old college building and a few residences, all of which have suffered greatly from the elements.

In addition to being bypassed by the railroad, Belle Plain was bypassed by major roads as well. To get there today one has to head east from US Highway 283 about six and a half miles south of Baird following a winding gravel country road. In addition to the building ruins, the site also has a well maintained cemetery, proving that some folks still remember the remaining citizens of Belle Plain.

This entry filed under Howard's Texas.

Sad news for Howard fans worldwide. Today Frank is reunited with his beloved Ellie. Legendary fantasy illustrator Frank Frazetta had a stroke last evening and passed away this morning.

Frazetta’s iconic Conan covers for the Lancers had much to do with introducing the Cimmerian to a post-Pulp world.  My first Howard book was a dogeared copy of Conan the Conqueror. Some fans didn’t even buy the paperbacks for the content, just plopping down their money for those wonderful action-packed covers. Hopefully, the majority of them eventually read the stories and become forever hooked, just as I did.

Here is a write-up on his death from the New York Times arts blog:

Frank Frazetta, an illustrator who with vivid colors and striking brushstrokes conjured up fantastic worlds of musclebound heroes who fought with broad swords and battle axes to defend helpless women from horrible beasts, has died. He was 82.

The death was caused by a stroke, and confirmed by Rob Pistella and Steve Ferzoco, his business managers. In a telephone interview, Mr. Pistella said that Mr. Frazetta, who had a history of strokes, had returned from a Mother’s Day dinner with his family on Sunday night and complained of feeling ill. Emergency medical services were called and Mr. Frazetta was rushed to Lee Memorial Hospital in Fort Myers, Fla., where he died on Monday.

After working on daily comic strips like “Buck Rogers,” “Flash Gordon” and “Li’l Abner,” Mr. Frazetta moved onto comic books in the 1950s. He drew the movie poster for “What’s New Pussycat?” in 1964, and hit his stride executing detailed illustrations of pulp heroes like Conan the Barbarian and John Carter of Mars for their comic magazines and books. His realistic renderings of otherwordly scenarios (and barely clad women) made him the ideal candidate to illustrate the album covers for popular heavy metal albums like Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” and Nazareth’s “Expect No Mercy.”

In November, Wired.com reported, Mr. Frazetta’s cover artwork for the paperback reissue of “Conan the Conqueror” by Robert E. Howard sold to an unnamed collector for $1 million.

An obituary article will follow at nytimes.com.

Also, be sure to check out an excellent and expansive appreciation of Frank’s life, work and impact on popular culture at the LA Times website.

Ever wondered what it was like to be in Cross Plains during Robert E. Howard’s time? There are a few glimpses in his fiction and letters, but for the most part Howard is pretty quite about life in that Central Texas town. When he does comment, we only see what he wants us to see, and I think we can agree that sometimes his observations were a tad shy of objective.

One of my favorite things about Howard Days is getting the chance to talk to the old-timers in Cross Plains about life in the 1930s and ‘40s, and even the ‘50s. Before they passed away, Alton and Joan McCowan provided a wealth of local color. Norris Chambers, too, is a hoot to talk to, and full of stories about Cross Plains and Doc Howard. And once you get Jack Baum going, he’s got plenty of interesting tales to tell. Listening to them all talk is like eating a large pizza with everything on it: you never know what taste you’re going to get with each bite. Their stories ramble around from this person’s home to that person’s business and back and forth in time. One minute you’re hearing about Joe Smith’s meat-packing business in the ‘50s and the next you’re hearing about someone’s grandma churning butter in the ‘30s.

James W. Nichols has managed to capture the feel of those conversations in his 2003 book On the Banks of Turkey Creek. Nichols’ book recounts his childhood years in Cross Plains, and all the stories he heard while growing up. There’s lots of Cross Plains history and yarns from the ‘20s and ‘30s. Born in 1945, Nichols doesn’t have a lot to say about Howard or his family (and when he does mention Howard he gets some of the facts wrong), but he has plenty of local color for Howard and Cross Plains enthusiasts. Howard’s friends, Lindsey Tyson and Dave Lee, are mentioned a few times.

Besides the stories, Nichols gives readers a tour of Cross Plains in the ‘40s and early ‘50s. He notes the names of businesses, what they used to be and what they are today, as well as what they were before his time. And he rambles all over the place from Cross Plains to Pioneer and Cottonwood to Rising Star: it’s just like listening to an old-timer in front of the Howard House.

Nichols’ prose is not polished, it sounds just like he’s talking to readers. And there are many typos in the text, at least in my copy, which is “1stBooks – rev. 02/28/03,” so maybe there are cleaned up “revisions” out there. But for Howard fans who are interested in Cross Plains, the book is well worth the read.

Copies are available on Amazon and at the Cross Plains Public Library.

It looks like you can already pre-order The Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures. I posted about this upcoming book last June before an artist was announced and the name was changed.  Now an artist has been selected – John Watkiss.

The book is listed over at Amazon.com, with a publication date of January 25, 2011. The great thing about Amazon.com is if they drop the price of an item before it ships, you are only charged for the lower price. Right now The Sword Woman is listed at full retail ($18), but soon they’ll discount it to $12 or $13.

After this volume is released, I hope Cormac Mac Art and Other Celtic/Northern Adventures will not be too far behind.  A little birdie told me Dutch artist Paul Bonner has been approached about doing the illustrations for that collection.

The upcoming issue of TGR will feature a four plate portfolio based on the Solomon Kane classic “The Hills of the Dead” by Michael L. Peters. The first plate appears at the left and depicts N’Longa giving Kane a powerful ju-ju staff.

N’Longa and Kane have to go down in the annals of fiction as one of the oddest pairings ever. A dour Puritan Englishmen and an African ju-ju man certainly make for an interesting contrast. While polar opposites in terms of belief systems, they do find common ground to seek out and fight evil. With Kane’s rapier, dagger, pistols and musket, and N’Longa’s powerful ju-ju magic, they make a formidable team.

As for the staff, it plays an integral part in “Hills” and several other Kane stories.  In one of those stories, “The Footfalls Within,” Howard reveals to us the amazing history of this mythical cat-headed staff:

“And what of it?” growled the sheikh. “I see naught but a staff–sharp-pointed and with the head of a cat on the other end–a staff with strange infidel carvings upon it.”

The older man shook it at him in excitement: “This staff is older than the world! It holds mighty magic! I have read of it in the old iron- bound books and Mohammed–on whom peace!–himself hath spoken of it by allegory and parable! See the cat-head upon it? It is the head of a goddess of ancient Egypt! Ages ago, before Mohammed taught, before Jerusalem was, the priests of Bast bore this rod before the bowing, chanting worshippers! With it Musa did wonders before Pharaoh and when the Yahudi fled from Egypt they bore it with them. And for centuries it was the sceptre of Israel and Judah and with it Sulieman ben Daoud drove forth the conjurers and magicians and prisoned the efreets and the evil genii! Look! Again in the hands of a Sulieman we find the ancient rod!”

Old Yussef had worked himself into a pitch of almost fanatic fervor but Hassim merely shrugged his shoulders.

“It did not save the Jews from bondage nor this Sulieman from our captivity,” said he. “I value it not as much as I esteem the long thin blade with which he loosed the souls of three of my best swordsmen.”

Yussef shook his head. “Your mockery will bring you to no good end, Hassim. Some day you will meet a power that will not divide before your sword or fall to your bullets. I will keep the staff, and I warn you–abuse not the Frank. He has borne the holy and terrible staff of Sulieman and Musa and the Pharaohs, and who knows what magic he has drawn there from? For it is older than the world and has known the terrible hands of strange pre-Adamite priests in the silent cities beneath the seas, and has drawn from an Elder World mystery and magic unguessed by humankind. There were strange kings and stranger priests when the dawns were young, and evil was, even in their day. And with this staff they fought the evil which was ancient when their strange world was young, so many millions of years ago that a man would shudder to count them.”  Hassim answered impatiently and strode away with old Yussef following him persistently and chattering away in a querulous tone. Kane shrugged his mighty shoulders. With what he knew of the strange powers of that strange staff, he was not one to question the old man’s assertions, fantastic as they seemed.

This much he knew–that it was made of a wood that existed nowhere on earth today. It needed but the proof of sight and touch to realize that its material had grown in some world apart. The exquisite workmanship of the head, of a pre-pyramidal age, and the hieroglyphics, symbols of a language that was forgotten when Rome was young–these, Kane sensed, were additions as modern to the antiquity of the staff itself as would be English words carved on the stone monoliths of Stonehenge.

As for the cat-head–looking at it sometimes Kane had a peculiar feeling of alteration; a faint sensing that once the pommel of the staff was carved with a different design. The dust-ancient Egyptian who had carved the head of Bast had merely altered the original figure, and what that figure had been, Kane had never tried to guess.

A close scrutiny of the staff always aroused a disquieting and almost dizzy suggestion of abysses of eons, unprovocative to further speculation.

Indeed the staff is a talisman, unimaginably powerful and older than the Earth.  It was once in the possession of Moses and Solomon, King of Israel.  Many thousands of years before their times, it was used by the priests of Atlantis to fight evil.

This eldritch, mythical staff could not be in any better hands than those of Solomon Kane, who has made it his life’s mission to seek out and destroy wickedness and villainy wherever he may find it.

This entry filed under Howard Illustrated, Howard's Fiction.

Not too many miles from the Howard House in Cross Plains, jutting up from the rolling Texas plains, are two peaks – Caddo Peaks. These peaks were named for the Caddo Indians who lived in the piney woods of East Texas. Various Caddo tribes also resided in Arkansas and Louisiana.

Since they were so close to his home, Howard visited them often, though he only mentions them once in his correspondence; that was in a letter to August W. Derleth dated December 29, 1932:

Looking south and west from the town there is only flat country to be seen. North east some four or five miles there rises a low chain of hills known as the Baker Mountains, while to the northwest are a pair of peaks some ten miles apart known collectively as the Caddo Peaks and individually as East Peak and West Peak.

Here is some information on the peaks from Texas Online, along with links from Mountainzone.com:

EAST CADDO PEAK. East Caddo Peak is four miles northwest of Cross Plains and two miles east of West Caddo Peak in southeastern Callahan County (at 32°10′ N, 99°14′ W). Its peak, with an elevation of 2,029 feet above sea level, rises 230 feet above State Highway 36 to the immediate south.

WEST CADDO PEAK. West Caddo Peak, seven miles northwest of Cross Plains in southeast Callahan County (at 32°10′ N, 99°17′ W), has an elevation of 2,090 feet. It was named for the Caddo Indians. The surrounding terrain is flat to rolling and surfaced with deep, sandy loams that support brush and grasses.

Howard writes of the peaks in “Spanish Gold on Devil Horse,” thinly disguising them as “Cadoak Peaks.” The story is set in and around “Lost Plains,” which is a fictionalized version of Cross Plains that Howard also used in his fictionalized autobiography, Post Oaks & Sand Roughs. Similarly, he used “Lost Knob” in two regional horror stories, “Old Garfield’s Heart” and “’For the Love of Barbara Allen,’” and also in his contemporary western, “Wild Water.” Here is an excerpt from “Spanish Gold on Devil Horse” that describes the east peak:

“Stop on East Peak, then, and take a squint at the two geologists workin’ there.”

“Geologists? On East Peak?”

“That’s what they say they are. But what oil chasers would be doin’ there is more’n I can see. The Gulf people drilled all around there and didn’t get enough oil to run the engine. These fellows don’t look like regular surveyors either, somehow. Maybe they were sent up by some South American company. I don’t know. They look like Spaniards–dark fellows with black mustaches–don’t have much to say. They come here in an airplane, I hear. They say it’s in that field north of the peak. The one that ain’t bein’ cultivated this year.”

“Not many people live around the peak,” said Mike. “No one within a couple of miles. They could camp there and do about as they pleased without interruption. I wonder where and how they get their provisions, do you know?”

“You can search me.”

The peak in discussion loomed just beyond them, about ten miles from the town of Lost Plains, to the northwest. It was really a lone hill of considerable dimensions, rising abruptly from the level of the surrounding country and appearing to be of great height, though this appearance was mainly an illusion createdby the flatness of the surrounding country. A few miles further to the northwest rose its twin. These peaks were known collectively as the Cadoak Peaks and were differentiated by the terms East Peak and West Peak. They represented a formation common to Central West Texas.

These hills, like most others of the type, had been formed ages ago by erosion. Thousands of years of rain and hard weather had washed away the loose, soft loam, reducing the level of the country sometimes as much as several hundred feet. These hills had remained untouched by reason of a heavy layer of “caprock” which extended clear across the top of them, and was of such thickness as to be impervious to erosion.

East Peak, like all its kind, was rather steep, rising as it did abruptly from the surrounding mesquite flats and was extremely rocky, its sides lined with large uneven boulders which had become, from time to time, dislodged from the caprock. Here and there cliffs of some twenty feet in height showed the effect of weathering and the live oaks and pin oaks grew in thick clumps to its summit.

Here is a bit about the story from Mark Finn’s “Robert E. Howard, Lone Star Fantasist:”

The story is a contemporary western involving mustachioed bandits, an upstanding young man, buried Spanish gold, and a beautiful woman in trouble. The use of six shooters may seem anachronistic in a story with boarding houses and pick-up trucks, but it is an accurate representation of life in West Texas towns, minus perhaps some of the melodrama. “Spanish Gold” was also unpublished at the time of Howard’s death.

While the action in “Spanish Horse” takes place on the east peak, Howard fans are more familiar with the west peak, which is the location of the annual barbeque hosted by the owners of Caddo Peak Ranch. Every Howard Days a hearty Texas meal is graciously provided free of charge to the Howard Days attendees, courtesy of Middelton Family, owners of the ranch.

Before the barbeque is served, the ranch hands haul pick-up trucks full of Howard Heads partway up the peak where they continue the pilgrimage to the top of the peak on foot. While on the peak’s summit, occasionally a visitor will dig up an Indian arrowhead, a reminder of the days when the Red Man roamed the countryside surrounding the town of Cross Plains.

As you stand there, it is easy to imagine Howard standing next to you looking out across the plains and seeing cowboys, Indians, Conquistadors, bandits and perhaps a certain Cimmerian named Conan riding off into the sunset.