Archive for February, 2011

This is a follow-up of sorts to my “‘Machine Gun’ Kelly’s Last Hooray” piece that I posted earlier this month. One of the persons mentioned in that post was a bigger than life oilman named Tom Slick, Sr. It seems his son, Tom Slick, Jr. also led an interesting life filled with adventure and danger. The younger Slick also reminds me in some ways of ill-fated explorer Percy Fawcett.

Howard often populated his stories with bizarre and mythical creatures — giant apes, dragons, huge spiders, giant serpents and a host of other deadly creatures. His mighty heroes, especially Conan, battled these strange and terrible monsters, usually overcoming them after a hard fought battle. Howard, as a student of history, knew the creatures he wrote of had some foundation in fact — legends always began with at least a germ of truth. There is that memorable scene in The Whole Wide World where Novalyne tells Howard that she has not seen any giant snakes in west Texas, and Howard looks at her with a straight face and states, “Oh, but I have.”

When he died in 1930, Tom Slick Sr. left a good deal of his fortune to his son, who carried on is father’s highly lucrative oil business and started a few of his own, including a successful air cargo business. During the 1950s, Slick was an adventurer with a keen interest in cryptozoology, the search for animals whose existence has not been proven. He mounted numerous worldwide expeditions to investigate the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti, Bigfoot and the Trinity Alps Giant Salamander.

In 1956, after his plane made a forced landing during a diamond-hunting trip, he spent two weeks with a Waiwai tribe in the jungles of British Guiana. His later adventures included expeditions to the Pacific Northwest in search of Bigfoot. Slick also funded expeditions that sought the Orang Pendek, Alaska’s Iliamna Lake Monsters, as well as other unknown animals. Stories also abound that Slick was purportedly involved with the CIA and its operation to subvert China’s control over Tibet and in the escape of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959 ahead of a Chinese plot to capture him.

Slick was a friend of many celebrities, including Howard Hughes and fellow flier, actor Jimmy Stewart, who assisted a Slick-backed expedition in smuggling pieces of the Pangboche Yeti hand from Nepal back to England for scientific analysis. During one of his early “Abominable Snowman” treks in 1957, Slick first came across the Yeti hand and brought photographs of it back to the West, while later Slick-sponsored expeditions in and around the Himalayas gathered more information on the hand and an effort to further examine it was planned.

The “Yeti hand” was kept as a ritual artifact in the monastery at Pangboche. Despite numerous requests from Slick associate Peter Byrne, the monks would not allow the hand out of their sight for analysis in England. During a 1959 expedition, Byrne took matters in his own hands when he swapped out some of the bones in the hand with human bones. Byrne then gave the Yeti hand bones to Stewart, who hid them in his wife’s luggage that contained her underwear. Being a celebrity, Stewart’s luggage was speeded through customs without being checked.

The hand was given to London University primatologist William Charles Osman Hill who conducted a physical examination of the pieces that Byrne had stolen. His first findings were that it was hominid, but later in 1960 he decided that the Yeti hand fragments were a closer match with a Neanderthal. Also in 1960, Sir Edmund Hillary and Marlin Perkins journeyed to Nepal to investigate the hand. Unaware that he was looking at a combination of the original material and the human bones placed there by Byrne, Hillary declared the artifact to be a hoax.

In 1991 it was discovered that Slick expedition consultant George Agogino had retained samples of the alleged Yeti hand. NBC’s television program Unsolved Mysteries obtained the samples and determined they were similar to human, but were not human, and the show’s expert could only verify they were “near human.” Shortly after the episode was broadcast, the entire hand was stolen from the Pangboche monastery and disappeared into the illegal underground of stolen antiquities, no doubt winding up in a private collection.

In addition to his business ventures and adventuring, Slick also founded several research organizations, including the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in 1941 and the non-profit Southwest Research Institute, founded in 1947 to seek revolutionary advancements in technology. This institute continues to advance pure and applied science in a variety of fields from lubricant and motor fuel formulation to solar physics and planetary science. And he founded the Mind Science Foundation in San Antonio in 1958 to do consciousness research. Being an advocate of world peace, he published the book, Permanent Peace: A Check and Balance Plan in 1959. Slick funded the Tom Slick World Peace lectures at the LBJ Library, and the Tom Slick Professorship of World Peace at the University of Texas.

Slick’s adventure filled life was cut short when his plane crashed in Montana on October 6, 1962. He was 46 years old — the same age as his father when he died. But his legacy lives on through the research endeavors he started and through the discoveries he made in the field of cryptozoology.

This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, Novalyne Price Ellis.

There is an inside joke among REHupans that getting a group of REHupans organized and motivated to complete a Howard project is like herding retarded cats. Well, it appears REHupans can indeed be herded.

Mark Finn and Chris Gruber have spearheaded an effort to compile a collection of prose and poetry by current and former REHupans titled Dreams in the Fire: Fiction and Poetry Inspired by Robert E. Howard.

The book will be based on the same model used by Dennis McHaney for his highly successful The Man From Cross Plains: A Celebration of Two-Gun Bob Howard volume.

Rusty Burke is writing an introduction and the Keegans will be doing a cover painting for the volume. TGR blogger Rob Roehm will be handling the proofing. All proceeds will benefit Project Pride

The book is slated to appear at this year’s monumental Howard Days in June. More details will be forthcoming both here and on TGR‘s Facebook page.

Famed fantasy author Charles Saunders has just posted his “Die, Black Dog!” essay over at his blog.  This groundbreaking piece originally appeared in Toadstool Wine in 1975 and was later reprinted in REHupa by Morgan Holmes during the 1990s. For this most recent appearance, Charles has added an introduction and some thoughts on the essay many years after it was written by a young man who had just had his first Imaro story published in Gene Day’s Dark Fantasy magazine.

Currently, Charles is hard at work on several projects, including Dossouye II.  His next book, Damballa, will be published in April by Airship 27 Productions. The book is a true pulp adventure in the tradition of The Shadow and The Spider.

In “Die, Black Dog!” Charles highlights the treatment of blacks in fantasy literature by numerous authors.  In addition to Howard, H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith are also mentioned. Here is an excerpt from the essay that looks at a Solomon Kane story:

Though fear is the predominant element in [“The Dead Remember” and “Pigeons from Hell”], guilt is also present. Howard implies that the whites’ ends were not undeserved. In one of the Solomon Kane stories, however, guilt is the focus.

“Wings in the Night” is the story of Kane’s involvement with an African tribe which is trapped in an area dominated by a race of voracious winged manlike beings – “harpies.” When Kane slays one of the harpies, the blacks venerate him as their god and protector.  Later the harpies launch a surprise attack against the village, massacring and devouring all save Kane.  Howard’s description of the burden of guilt Kane bears for having betrayed his “trust” is eloquent and evocative. Kane atones by burning the creatures as they feast on the corpses of the villagers.

The treatment of blacks in fantasy and literature in general is an ongoing debate — witness the recent brouhaha over an edition of Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being published with the “N” word being substituted with the “slave” word.  Clearly, it is a debate that is not likely to end soon.

The REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog and website now has its own Facebook page. This seemed like the logical next step to bring Howard happenings to the fans faster — besides, everyone is on Facebook. The page is meant to supplement the blog, not replace it.

You’ll find REH news, bits of interesting information and updates on what is going on at the TGR blog and website.

Plans are also afoot for REHupa and Howard Days to have their own pages as well.  Of course, Cross Plains has one, as does the CP Library and the Centennial Celebration.

So, visit the TGR page, click the “Like” button and you’ll receive all the updates.

This entry filed under Howard Days, Howard Fandom, News.

The hardships of the Great Depression led to desperate times and spawned a number of desperadoes, many who operated in Texas.  In addition to most notorious of the bunch, Bonnie and Clyde, George “Machine Gun” Kelly was also a thorn in the side of Texas lawmen. Kelly was a relatively minor criminal until the kidnapping of an Oklahoma City businessman moved him up to the big top of crime. Here, in a letter to Lovecraft (ca. September or October 1933), Howard mentions the crime and the various members of Kelly’s gang. He also makes mention of Rita Kirkpatrick who graduated from Brownwood High School in 1923, the same year he did. She was the Class Secretary and served on the staffs of the newspaper and yearbook.

… [I]t might be realized that for every Texan who leads a life of outlawry, there are thousands of quiet, honest people who go about their business and never kill anybody, rob a train or stick up a bank. Take this recent business of the Urschel kidnapping; how many of the outlaws are Texans? Bailey is a Missourian; Machine Gun Kelly is a Tennessean; Bates is, so far as I know, a native of Colorado; Kelly’s wife is an Oklahoman; and the Shannons are also Oklahomans, originally at least, to the best of my knowledge.

I see most of them were pronounced guilty, and probably will get all that’s coming to them, as is right. It’ll be a relief, I imagine, to Kirkpatrick and his family; Kirkpatrick, as you know if you’ve followed the affair any, was the man who took the money to the thugs, and identified them at the trial. I understand the Kirkpatricks have lived in fear of his daughter Rita’s young child being kidnapped by gangsters in revenge. Rita was in my class the year I graduated; I remember the first time I ever saw her, it was a class election of some sort, and I voted for her simply because she had a Celtic name. That was before her father got all his dough; he worked for T.B. Slick, and when old T.B. retired, he made Kirkpatrick [a] present of a million dollars, just for a gift. But T.B. could spare it; he was worth hundreds of millions. The richest man that ever came to Cross Plains, which is saying plenty, because during the booms millionaires were thicker than flies. I was thrown among them in my daily work, and maybe that’s why I have no great love for the ultra-rich to this day.

At the time of the July 22, 1933 kidnapping, Kelly and his wife Kathryn lived at 857 E. Mulkey Street in Fort Worth. Kathryn, the mastermind behind the plot, oversaw the scouting and pre-planning of the crime. Once they were ready, the Kellys and their fellow would be kidnapper Albert L. Bates traveled to Oklahoma to kidnap millionaire Charles F. Urschel.

Wielding his namesake machine gun, Kelly along with Bates, burst into Urschel’s home in Oklahoma City, abducting Urschel and his guest Walter Jarrett at gunpoint in the middle of a Saturday night bridge game, while their wives looked on helpless and terrified. This startling kidnapping case evoked the new Lindbergh kidnapping laws, leading to twenty-one convictions, coined a new nickname for FBI agents, and culminated in one of the first filmed trials.

A widower, Urschel, had married Berenice Slick, the widow of wealthy oil man Tom Slick and was a trustee to his estate. Slick’s widow and Urschel combined their fortunes, creating one of the wealthiest couples in Oklahoma City.

Howard states in his letter that Slick had retired. However, truth be told, he never had a chance to truly retire, dying at age 46 after suffering a massive stroke following surgery in 1930. Ironically, his biggest oil strike came a week after he died. Slick’s Campbell #1 Well in Oklahoma City came in, producing 43,000 barrels a day. Also, Slick’s net worth at his death was around $75 million — a sizable sum to be sure, but not quite the “hundreds of millions” Howard claimed Slick was worth.

Kelly was a criminal of relative obscurity born George Kelly Barnes in Memphis, Tennessee on July 18, 1895. He married Kathryn Thorne in 1930 and she has been credited for creating Kelly’s underworld persona. Kathryn bought him his first Thompson sub-machine gun and gave him the nickname “Machine Gun.” Before the infamous Urschel kidnapping, George Kelly had an undistinguished career consisting mainly of bootlegging and bank robbery. Many believe the FBI overinflated Kelly’s reputation in order to garner public support for their fight against crime, aiding Kathryn in her efforts to bolster her husband’s reputation as a dangerous outlaw. Conversely, his kidnapping partner, Albert Bates, had far more street cred with a long criminal career of burglary and bank robbery.

Once the kidnappers left with their victims, the two women ran to Elizabeth’s bedroom and telephoned police. Mrs. Urschel was told immediately to call J. Edgar Hoover in Washington D.C. Within the hour local police and federal agents, as well as the press, flooded the Urschel home. By Monday morning the story went nationwide, with newspapers across the country plastered with front-page stories about the kidnapping. Urschel was a friend of newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would take a personal interest in the case.

Both men were hustled into a waiting car and they sped away. Neither man would admit to being Urschel, but a quick search of the men’s wallets revealed which of them was the oil baron. At the edge of town, Jarrett was robbed of $51 and left on the side of the road – he then made his way back to Urschel’s house.

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took special interest in this case due to the attention given to the Lindbergh kidnapping, his agency’s floundering reputation and the president’s interest in the case. The new Lindbergh Law defined kidnapping as a federal offense punishable by death. Hoover, eager to impress the public in the first high-profile crime regulated by the new law, pulled one of his best agents, Gus Jones, off of the Kansas City Massacre investigation and made the kidnapping an agency priority.

After snatching Urschel, the criminals took him to a farmhouse in Paradise, Texas owned by R. G. “Boss” Shannon, Kathryn Kelly’s stepfather and held him there blindfolded and bound for over a week. During his captivity, Urschel, although blindfolded most of the time, memorized many details about his location, including the passing of an airplane overhead at the same time every day. This and other information that the FBI had collected helped locate the hideout and some of the co-conspirators.

The kidnappers demanded that Urschel’s wife pay them two hundred thousand dollars in ransom. Family friend E. E. Kirkpatrick (and father of Howard’s classmate) was picked to deliver the money. Of course, the FBI inventoried the serial numbers on the bills prior to giving them to Kirkpatrick. After a failed delivery attempt, the money was handed over to Kelly in Kansas City, Missouri.

With the ransom paid, the kidnappers released the oil baron on July 30, 1933 somewhere around Norman, Oklahoma. After a quick trip to Minneapolis where they sold off a portion of the ransom for clean bills, Bates and the Kellys split up. While Kelly and his bride went on the lam, moving from city to city, with stays in a couple of Howard haunts – Brownwood and Coleman – Bates headed west to Colorado. However, he was arrested on August 12th in Denver for passing stolen checks. That same day local authorities and FBI agents, led by Special Agent Gus Jones, swooped in on the farmhouse where Urschel was held, arresting “Boss” Shannon and his wife Ora, along with accomplice Harvey Bailey. Bailey was using the farm as a safe house after committing a bank robbery in Kingfisher, Oklahoma with Kelly’s machine gun. He also had some of the Urschel money in his possession. Eventually over half of the ransom money was recovered, with the biggest chunk ($73,000) being dug up on a farm near Coleman.

Justice came swiftly for Bates and the others involved in the Urschel kidnapping as all were convicted in an Oklahoma City federal court on September 30, 1933 and sentenced to life imprisonment a week later.

Feeling the FBI breathing down their necks, the felonious couple lit out for Memphis, arriving on September 21, 1933. They were captured five days later at the residence of J. C. Tichenor. When cornered, the FBI claimed that an unarmed Kelly yelled, “Don’t shoot, G-Men,” thus christening FBI agents with a nickname that would stick with them forever. The couple was immediately removed to Oklahoma City.

Soon the pair went to trial and basked in the notoriety. Witness after witness, including the Urschels and Kirkpatrick, testified against the pair and it was no surprise when both were found guilty. On October 12, 1933, the judge pronounced both George and Kathryn guilty and sentenced them to life in prison. In a packed courtroom, with newsreel cameras rolling, the trial joined the likes of the Lindbergh kidnapping trial of Bruno Hauptmann and the John Scopes trial as major judicial milestones that were filmed.

Kelly served his time in Leavenworth until October 1934 when he was transferred to Alcatraz. He was returned to Leavenworth in 1951 and died in prison on July 18, 1954 of a heart attack on his 59th birthday. The bold boast Kelly made after his conviction that he would be out of jail by Christmas never materialized.

James Allred was elected Governor of Texas in 1934, serving from 1935-1939. Howard made a few passing mentions of Allred when he was running for Attorney General in his letters.  Allred held that office prior to becoming Governor.

In 1935 women were making slow but steady progress in American society, just a scant 15 years after acquiring the right to vote via a constitutional amendment. That year, Governor Allred appointed Sarah Tilghman Hughes to a vacancy on the Fourteenth District Court in Dallas, making her the first woman state district judge in Texas. In 1936, she was elected in her own right.

Mrs. Hughes was originally from Baltimore, Maryland. She began her career as a science teacher before attending to George Washington University Law School, earning a law degree while working for the Washington, D.C. police department. She married classmate George Hughes, a native of Palestine, Texas, and after graduation the couple began a private law practice in Dallas. Mrs. Hughes soon became one of the first women elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

As you can imagine the appointment of Mrs. Hughes garnered a wide range opinions running the gamut from one extreme to the other. Governor Allred was sent a copy of this resolution from the Business & Professional Women’s Club of Brownwood praising his appointment of Sarah Tilghman Hughes as the first female district judge in Texas. The target of this particular resolution was State Senator Claud Westerfeld of Dallas, who said that Mrs. Hughes “ought to be home washing dishes.”

While the Brownwood ladies group applauded Allred’s appointment of Hughes, another opinion came from the opposite end of the spectrum via this letter from W. G. Hegler of Frijole, Texas. The town, which is located near El Paso, is a ghost town today. The Kipling reference in the letter refers to his poem titled “The Ladies.”

As a Judge, Mrs. Hughes was widely known for her speedy and impartial administration of justice. She was a key player in the construction of Dallas’ first juvenile detention center and in securing the right of Texas women to serve on juries. Despite gaining the right to vote in 1920, it was not until 1954 that the first female sat on a Texas jury.

She continued to serve as district judge until 1961, when President John F. Kennedy named her to the federal bench. Judge Hughes became a national figure on November 22, 1963, when she administered the oath of office to Lyndon Johnson on Air Force One following the tragic assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas.

As a federal judge, her most well-known decisions include Roe v. Wade, 1970 (the legalization of abortion in the United States), Shultz v. Brookhaven General Hospital, 1969 (equal pay for equal work for women), and Taylor v. Sterrett, 1972 (upgrading prisoner treatment in the Dallas County jail). She was also involved with several cases related to conman Billie Sol Estes and to the Sharpstown stock fraud scandal.

In 1975 Judge Hughes retired from the active federal bench, although she still served in a very productive role as a judge with senior status until 1982.  She passed away in 1985 at the age of 88, after several years of illness.  Judge Hughes often remarked upon a formula she used to live her life. “Pick out your goal, and then use determination and courage to reach it.”

This entry filed under Howard's Texas.

Over the past few weeks, banners marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cross Plains have gone up around the town. In addition to two horizontal banners located at the town’s four-way stop, a number of vertical banners went up as well. Looks like the folks in Howard’s hometown are going all out celebrating this important milestone in the town’s history. Here is a rundown from Arlene Stevenson of Project Pride of some of the Cross Plains Centennial Celebration events and festivities:

We will be incorporating “100 years of life in CP” into activities all year long. The Centennial Singers (a community-wide choir) will be singing songs of the decades at different events – like the fire department fund-raising supper, the library Historical Trivia Contest and fund-raiser. Project Pride will be sponsoring a mystery photo contest a little later – zooming way in on some part of some of the oldest buildings and publishing them one at a time in the Cross Plains Review for people to identify. The library’s summer reading program will be historically related and the Barbarian Festival Committee will be putting together a book of old pictures and memories (“remember hanging out at the Dairy Bar type thing”).

You can keep up with all the events on the Cross Plains Centennial Planning Facebook page.

This entry filed under News, Project Pride.