Archive for February, 2012

Our friends over at PulpFest, which now features FarmerCon as well, are getting geared up for another great event that includes a celebration of the 80th anniversary of Conan the Cimmerian. Here are the details:

PulpFest 2012 continues the proud tradition of a summer pulp con, now entering its 41st year. PulpFest is the summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials. It will be held at a new venue, the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio. It will begin on Thursday evening, August 9th and continue through Sunday afternoon, August 12th.

PulpFest continued to grow in 2011 with more than 430 registrants. It was the largest crowd ever for a summertime pulp con. Reviews were generally very positive, from Walker Martin’s “…when the dealer’s room opened officially, it was obvious that this was another rousing success,” to Ron Fortiers’ “…a truly fun and exciting program with a little of something for all pulp enthusiasts,” and newcomer Sean Levins’ “This was, without a doubt, the best convention I’ve ever been to!”

Sellers of pulp magazines, vintage paperbacks, and other paper collectibles and related items are already filling up our exhibit space. There will be more than 100 tables of pulps, books, vintage comics, original art, B-movies and serials, and similar items available for sale, daily from 9 AM until 5 PM. The evening hours, from 7 PM until midnight, will see a variety of programming.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Under the Moons of Mars,” better known by its book title A Princess of Mars and, more recently, John Carter, a major motion picture from Disney. Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian will also be 80 years old in 2012. PulpFest will be celebrating both of these occasions during their highly regarded evening programming. The award-winning science-fiction writer and noted Burroughs authority, Mike Resnick, will also be appearing as the convention’s guest of honor. Author readings and an art show featuring work by illustrators Jim and Ruth Keegan and, possibly, Mark Schultz, are also planned.

For further information, please visit the convention’s website, write to David J. Cullers, 1272 Cheatham Way, Bellbrook, OH 45305 or via email. The contact phone number for the hotel is 1-614-463-1234. Be sure to mention PulpFest 2012 when booking a room to get the convention rate. Hotel reservations can also be through the convention’s website through a dedicated link to the Hyatt Regency Columbus.

Member Discount: A three-day prepaid membership will cost $30. Send payment to David J. Cullers, 1272 Cheatham Way, Bellbrook, OH 45305. Payment at the door will be $35 for a three-day membership. Daily memberships will cost $15.

This entry filed under Collecting Howard, News.

In a lengthy letter to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. July 1935, Howard recounts a trip he took with Truett Vinson to several locales in New Mexico, including Santa Fe. While there, they visited an art museum were Howard was quite taken with one painting in particular:

We went through the art museum which is supposed to be very good, but I shall not pretend to try to pass on it. I know nothing about paintings, and, unless the painting portrays some sort of strenuous action, I care less. Most of the paintings were of New Mexican landscape, and I find the Witt Museum in San Antonio less monotonous, because Texas presents a greater variety of scenery than does New Mexico, and therefore a collection of Texas landscape paintings offers more different scenes. Only one painting stands out in my mind, and I studied that for a long time. It was a large painting of a half-naked Indian trudging over a desert country, leaning on a staff, and dragging behind him several horses’ heads, with portions of the vertebrae still attached; he was dragging them by means of raw-hide ropes fastened in deep gashes in the muscles of his back. At first glance I supposed it to portray a Penitente, but a description was affixed to the painting. It portrayed a scene the artist had witnessed in Montana, many years before. An old Crow chief had word that his favorite son had died in Carlisle University; he killed the boy’s horses, cut off their heads, gashed his back and fastened rawhide thongs into the raw flesh, and dragged those skulls all over the mountains all day long, to show that neither grief nor physical agony could shake his fortitude. Doubtless it did more to lessen his sorrow than anything he could have done. I was reminded of Chesterton’s lines, about the old Viking:

“And a man hopes, being foolish,
      Till in white woods apart
He finds at last the lost bird dead,
But a man can still hold up his head,
      Though nevermore his heart.”

When the world cracks under a man’s feet and the sky breaks and falls on his head, if he can clench his jaws and keep on his feet, and keep his head up, if for no other reason than the stubborn pride of fighting, then that’s something, at least; and if he can’t do that, he’d better blow his brains out, like a gentleman. The title of the picture was The Stoic.

As Howard states, the painting depicts a Crow Indian scene that the painter, J. H. Sharp, came upon in Montana. He said he saw an old warrior who had lashed one end of buffalo-hide strips into the flesh on his back and on the other end of the strips he had affixed the heads of his favorite ponies and then dragged them until he dropped to prove that he was a brave man and had the courage and fortitude to face any trouble. The federal government frowned upon such rituals and outlawed them in 1904. From a 21st century perspective, The Stoic explores the 19th century belief that Native Americans personified the concept of the “Noble Savage.” This view held that Native Americans embodied innocence, moral courage, and a life in balance with nature. The Stoic was painted in 1914 and donated by Sharp to the New Mexico Museum of Art in 1917, shortly after it opened. The painting measures 52 1/2 x 61 1/2 in and is oil on canvas. While the museum was built in 1917, the structure is based the on the design of 300 year-old mission churches at Acoma and other pueblos.

The painter, Joseph Henry Sharp, was born in Bridgeport, Ohio on September 27, 1859 to Irish parents. His father was a local merchant. From his earliest days, Sharp was fascinated by anything he could learn about the American Indians. He had no real interest in school — the young Sharp was more interested in drawing, fishing and swimming, the latter of which almost killed him — he nearly drowned in a local river. Sharp was pulled out of the water by friends, who thought he had died. However, after being carried home he was resuscitated by a determined mother. Unfortunately, Sharp suffered a permanent disability from his accident. His hearing was damaged and would continue to deteriorate rapidly, eventually leaving him completely deaf. At an early age, Sharp’s indomitable spirit was already manifesting itself, as he never for a moment let his handicap hold him back. He learned to read lips and began to carry a pad and pencil with him wherever he went, never once losing his optimistic outlook on life. It was around this time that he began to realize that he had a natural facility for drawing, and he sketched often in the outdoors.

At the age of 12, Sharp’s father died, leaving the family nearly penniless. Even though he was still in school, Sharp went to work in a nail mill and copper shop, giving his earnings to his mother. When he turned 14, his continued hearing loss rendered school impossible, so he quit school entirely and moved to Cincinnati, where he lived with his aunt. Once relocated, he worked and supported himself entirely, still sent money to his mother, and managed to have enough to enroll in art classes at Mickmicken University in Cincinnati.

During the late 19th century, studying in Europe was still considered mandatory for any aspiring artist, and after 8 years of working, and studying when he could, Sharp had saved enough extra money to travel to Europe, and spent two years at the Antwerp Academy studying in the realist tradition, historical painting and portraiture.

In 1883 Sharp made the first of his journeys to the American West, visiting the states of New Mexico, Arizona, California and Wyoming, where he began sketching members of American Indian tribes. He returned to Europe in 1885 with John Hauser, another Cincinnati artist, who studied with him at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. The aspiring artist also studied at the Académie Julian in Paris, and with Frank Duveneck in Italy.

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This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard's Travels, Truett Vinson.

Taking up where the first of these two posts left off – Moses, with a rag-tag “mixed multitude” of escaped slaves, was leading them through the Sinai Peninsula to the comparative safety of Midian, in northwest Arabia. The Kenite wild man, Hobab (Kenites were a Midianite tribe) was acting as their guide. The “multitude” would have comprised two or three thousand folk at most, despite the incredible figures the King James English Bible gives. Modern scholars tend to think that “six hundred thousand” men of an age to bear weapons and fight is an error of translation, and that the Hebrew actually means so-and-so many “households.”

It might for all I know. This much is sure. Six hundred thousand men of fighting age (twenty) would imply at least two hundred thousand male youths and children below that age, and about one hundred thousand minimum above fighting age (sixty). That makes nine hundred thousand males, and, of course, the same number of women and girls. One point eight million Hebrews all up. Toss in another two hundred thou for the “mixed multitude” that the Bible says went out of Egypt with them, and you have a round two million.

The entire population of Egypt proper in the new kingdom was about three million. The greatest city, Memphis, had a population of two hundred thousand, tops – and that’s with the mighty Nile to provide its water, and allow a steady stream of barges and ships to bring it supplies. In no way compatible with reality could two million people survive in the desert for forty years, or, if they did, do so without leaving traces for later archaeologists to find. Their rubbish heaps alone would be as large as the pyramids.

Another point with which to deal in passing, is the notion that Israel was a single homogeneous people with a single culture and tongue when it left Egypt – the Twelve Tribes, descended each from one of Isaac’s sons, Benjamin, Reuben, Ephraim, etcetera. It wasn’t. Some of the tribes that would later become part of the nation of Israel were settled in Canaan already, some, no doubt, were established in Midian, and some grew out of the group that fled with Moses. The latter would have been made up of Syrians, Hittites, Shasu, and some Midianites like Hobab, some Egyptians, and some Nubians.

To unite them and keep them united, they had to have, quickly, what every tribe and nation in those days needed – a god or gods in common. Moses was a potential prophet even before he reached Midian; he’d have scribal and priestly training as a noble’s son, and, in this blogger’s opinion, had at least been attracted in his youth by the “heresy” of Akhenaten, which leaned in the direction of monotheism. But – also in my opinion – the perfectly orthodox Egyptian religion of Amun-Ra, in his day the greatest god of Egypt, supplied more of the tenets of Moses’ religion than Atenism did.

Amun had been a mere local god of Thebes while the Hyksos invaders ruled the Delta. When the princes of Thebes led the resistance and beat the invaders, Amun became a potent god throughout Egypt, his temples immense, rich and ubiquitous, his priesthood supreme. He even absorbed the attributes of the sun-god and became known as Amun-Ra. Since Egypt then established an empire under his patronage, he came to be considered universal – “Lord of the Thrones of the World” and “He Whose Rays Reach the Ends of the Earth”. As the patron god of Thebes, he had his main temple there, and as Egypt’s empire grew, so did the massive size and incredible wealth of his temple and priesthood. Today we call it Karnak. In ancient times it was called “the Most Perfect of Places.”

The basic features of that titanic temple were laid out by the formidable warrior Pharaoh Tuthmoses I, his daughter Hatshepsut, the no less redoubtable “female Pharaoh”, and her nephew Tuthmoses III, who detested her. (She ran the country and held him back from assuming power for years.) Seti I and his son Rameses II between them added the mighty hypostyle hall. Champollion said it seemed to have been “conceived by men a hundred feet high.” A long white avenue with rows of ram-headed sphinxes on each side led to the temple complex. Such was the expression of Amun-Ra’s world-encompassing power. The later temple of Solomon in Israel, despite its legendary status and the glorious descriptions of it given in the Bible, was probably a hut by comparison.

Amun-Ra had other resemblances to the capital-G God Israel was to worship later, besides mere power. He was called “The Hidden One” and men were at least wary of speaking his name, which was held to be excessively holy. More accurately, he had many names by which he was called, but his true name was secret. Like other Egyptian gods, he was worshipped in a temple which had an outer courtyard, an inner courtyard, and an inmost fane which only priests were allowed to enter after a purification ritual. On special occasions Amun-Ra’s portable shrine, or ark, was carried before the people – and it went with Egypt’s army when the soldiers battled in foreign campaigns, since it was believed to bring victory. He was regarded as a universal creator god, and also as one who gave justice to the poor, the humble, and the powerless.

Moses had the brilliant idea of creating, not just a new nation worshipping an unseen, universal god, but a nation of priests dedicated to that god. He imposed a number of Egyptian religious customs and compromised on others. Egyptian priests had to be circumcised as a matter of ritual cleanliness – check. They were forbidden to eat pork – check. They might not wear linen garments and woolen ones together – check. Only the actual and appointed priests might enter the inner shrine of the temple, the Holy of Holies, and then only after a purification ritual – check.

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This entry filed under Howard's Poetry.

Howard, writing to August Derleth on September 4, 1933, mentions an infamous Texas town and the man who shot and killed John Wesley Hardin, a gunman Howard admired and wrote of often in this letters:

Fort Griffin is a sleepy little village, scarcely big enough to even be called a village, slumbering at the foot of the hill where stand the ruins of the old fort. But once Fort Griffin was the toughest, wildest and woolliest town on this continent, back in the sixties and seventies when it was crowded with cavalrymen, buffalo hunters, gunmen, gamblers, reckless cowboys, horse thieves — the salt of the earth and the scum of the earth mingled in a mad chaos. It was from Fort Griffin that John Selman fled, riding hard from the shadow of the noose, and the writhing, kicking, straining figure against the sky that was his partner Johnny Larney. Empty handed Jonn Selman fled, but not empty handed he came into El Paso many days later. He drove a flock of sheep he had found herded by Mexican boys in the grasslands. Under the menace of his sixshooter they drove their sheep to the breaks of the Pecos river. From there on, Selman acted as his own herder. The cryptic vultures that haunt the thickets of the Pecos could tell the fate of the rightful owners of the flock. Selman sold the sheep for a dollar a head, and he drifted on, into New Mexico and the outlaw rendezvous. Later he returned to El Paso and was an officer of the law for years, during which time he killed the famous John Wesley Hardin. Shortly after that affair, he too was shot down in a private quarrel.

Indeed, as Howard states, Selman was a piece of work. On the evening of Aug. 19, 1895, Hardin was rolling poker dice with a merchant named H.S. Brown in the Acme Saloon. Hardin threw the dice and said, “You have four sixes to beat.” At that moment, Selman walked up behind Hardin and fired a shot into the back of his head. The bullet exited just below the gunman’s left eye. Hardin managed to reach for his gun, but collapsed face first and died before he could clear leather. Selman fired two more bullets into Hardin’s prone body — a third missed — before his policeman son, John Jr., who arrested him, said, “Don’t shoot him anymore, Pa. He’s already dead.”

John Henry Selman was born in Madison County, Arkansas on November 16, 1839. The Selman family moved to Grayson County, Texas in 1858. A few years later, on December 16, 1861, Selman’s father died and the young Selman joined the 22nd Texas Cavalry, fighting as a private in the Civil War. In 1863, he deserted the Confederate Army and returned home only to be arrested and brought back for court martial. Fortunately for him, by that time the war was over, and Uncle Sam was in charge again. John was allowed to return to his family at Fort Davis. Even though he was a deserter, the local townsfolk did not condemn him, but admired him for returning to care for his widowed mother, his three sisters and brother. One odd feature that Selman possessed was his eye color. They were such a light shade of blue, it was hard to tell where the blue began and the white stopped. Some folks even remarked they were a cold gray, soulless color and not blue.

On August 17, 1865, he married Edna Degrafenreid and the couple eventually had four children: John Jr., William, Henry and Margaretta. Selman moved his family to Colfax County, New Mexico briefly before returning to Texas and settling in Fort Griffin, located in Shackelford County. During those days, the town and the surrounding area was known as “Babylon on the Brazos” becasue of the many unsolved killings, rampaging Indians and even bold cougars, one of which got into Selman’s home and attacked one of his children before a family friend, a giant of a man named Hewitt, grabbed the animal with his bare hands and managed to free the child while Selman grabbed a rifle and fired two shots into the beast, killing it. They dragged the cougar’s body outside and measured it – from its nose to the tip of its tail, it measured eleven feet. The whole episode seems like something out of a Breckinridge Elkins story.

In 1877, Selman became a Deputy Inspector for Hides working under fellow Inspector, ex-Shackelford County Sheriff John M. Larn. During this time he crossed paths with several notable gunmen, including Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Dave Rudabaugh, who passed through Fort Griffin. Along with Larn, he fought against rustlers and dealt out vigilante justice in that very wild and dangerous area of northwest Texas. The pair were involved in several shootouts with bandits and outlaws during the period that followed. However, soon Larn and Selman, instead of controlling the area crime, became criminals themselves, rustling cattle, murdering cowboys and otherwise terrorizing the county. On June 24, 1878, vigilantes shot Larn to death in an Albany, Texas jail cell. Larn had been arrested after six hides which did not belong to him had been found behind his house. The vigilantes planned to lynch him, but were unable to break him out of his cell. Even though Selman was out of town at the time, he found himself a wanted man, and was being hunted by the same vigilantes, who were friends with several men who had previously been either arrested or killed by him. Actually, Howard told the story of John Larn (though Howard refers to him as “Johnny Larney”) differently than the historical accounts — Larn was shot to death, not hung.

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Robert E. Howard did not have over-much respect for organized, conventional religion. Or convention of any kind. That’s obvious from his stories and even more from his verses. Conan’s preference for his own god, Crom, because Crom doesn’t interfere in men’s lives and merely gives them courage and strength at birth, then leaves the rest up to them, is one example. Then – I forget which hero it was, but I believe it was a one-off character named Eithriall the Gaul, and I also forget which story – in an eastern city hears all the people in the streets howling, “Tammuz is dead!” He inquires of a passer-by, who’s yelling like the rest, what it’s all about. The bazaar-wallah roars, “Tammuz is dead, fool, Tammuz is dead! Who are you to interrupt my devotions?” Eithriall answers as Conan might have done. “Devotions? You are doing nothing but stand there bawling ‘Tammuz is dead!’ like a branded bull!”

The result is an instant mob chasing Eithriall to rip him to pieces. As he observes further on in the story, to a friend, “Later they will be shrieking, ‘Adonis is living!’, wild for joy.” The wry skepticism concerning the death and resurrection of Tammuz/Adonis is pretty clearly a comment on the death and resurrection of someone else. Other eastern gods who died and were restored to life include Osiris, of course, who then became judge of the dead in the afterlife and offered eternal life to the people, and even Baal. (Baal being nothing more or less than the Canaanite word for Lord.)

REH was likewise less than starry-eyed about the Crusades. His stories of Cormac FitzGeoffrey show that. So does “Red Blades of Black Cathay,” with its main character, Godric, bitter and disillusioned anent those holy conflicts, referring to his former leader, Montferrat, as “That devious-minded assassin.” By the conclusion he’s getting a fairer shake from Genghis Khan (!) than he ever did from any Christian warlord.

REH never wrote any actual stories set in the time and place of Moses, to the best of my knowledge. But he did pen at least one rollicking, disrespectful set of verses on the subject, though they haven’t been given a title.

Now it was Hell in Egypt, a fact that’s past denying.
         We labored by the river and we sweated at the skids;
With whips that drove us onward when our broken friends lay dying.
         Oh it was our blood and sinews built the cursed pyramids.

It wasn’t really. REH undoubtedly knew that, but “pyramids” rhymes and scans. According to the Bible, specifically Exodus, the Hebrews settled in Goshen were forced to labor at building “treasure cities, Pithom and Rameses.” Their time was long, long after the last pyramids were built, in the age of the New Kingdom.

It’d daunt a professional historian and archaeologist to try and straighten out the precise time and the precise Pharaoh’s reign in which this happened. I’m crazy to give it a shot. In fact I won’t. I can only repeat what’s well known already; that the Bible doesn’t really give any clues to that, and certainly isn’t consistent. There are massive contradictions.

No clues? Wait a minute. What about those store cities, Pithom and Rameses? Doesn’t that mean it was in the reign of a Pharaoh named Rameses, almost surely Rameses II, otherwise the Great, the person portrayed by Yul Brynner in de Mille’s movie The Ten Commandments?

Not necessarily. That account was written centuries after Moses and Rameses II were both dead. Myth and legend had done their distorting work. Actually, during the Twenty-First Dynasty of Egypt, in the reign of Psusennes I, the city of Per-Rameses was plundered for large amounts of building stone to enlarge and refashion the new capital of Tanis, which had been Per-Rameses’s harbor in former times. No doubt forced labor was used on that project too. It was around 1000 BCE, the time of Saul and David in Israel, thus long after Moses, but long before the books of the Old Testament were written. (Even the early version of Exodus is generally reckoned by scholars today to have been composed during the Babylonian Exile, 6th century BCE.) People were probably coming down into Egypt from dry rocky Judea in times of famine still, as they had been for centuries, and they may not have been too kindly treated by Egypt’s taskmasters. Large groups of brutalized workers most likely escaped from Egypt in times of disaster or social disintegration on a number of occasions.

Then there’s the specific assertion made in the First Book of Kings, 6:1, that “the” Exodus took place 480 years before Solomon built his glorious temple, in the fourth year of his reign. That would push the date back to 1450 BCE, long before any Pharaoh named Rameses ruled Egypt. In fact the Pharaoh reigning at that time was Tuthmoses III, the nephew of the famous “female Pharaoh”, Hatshepsut, who claimed to have been divinely fathered by the god Amun-Ra. Tuthmoses III was a mighty ruler and warrior who would have been just as formidable for Moses to tangle with as Rameses II, but there are no Egyptian records from the time of either monarch that describe those terrible ten plagues that Moses invoked through the power of Yahweh – or a large group of absconding forced workers lighting out through the wilderness after going on a looting spree!

REH refers to that gleeful burglar-party in his verses, too.

Moses was our leader and Moses knew his Hebrews;
         We stole the Gyppies ragged before we hit the trail.
We all had plenty plunder but Aaron’s dice were tricky
         Before we rated Canaan, he’d lifted all the kale.

Talking of Moses, who was he, did he even really live, and what was he like? Did he do even half of what’s attributed to him? When, if ever, was he born and when did he die? Can anybody even begin to figure it out at this date?

Not me. Maybe some things can be eliminated from the story, though. A lot of elements look like distortions to bolster Israelite pride or belief in their deity. For openers, the statement early in Exodus that the Hebrews had grown so numerous and strong that Egypt was frightened of them, and the king ordered all male Hebrew babies drowned in the river. The entire population of Egypt proper (for pretty much the whole time between 1500 and 1200 BCE) was about three million. Even granting the unlikely proposition that there were a quarter of a million Hebrews in Goshen (the eastern Delta region) the Egyptians still outnumbered them twelve to one. If they hadn’t wanted them in Egypt they could simply have driven them out. The story that they were afraid the Hebrews would join forces with Egypt’s enemies doesn’t hold water, either. This was the New Kingdom, the height of Egypt’s power, when it had no enemies worth fearing to the east. That idea only came to seem plausible centuries after, when Egypt’s power had greatly declined and Assyria and Babylon were great military powers feeling their oats.

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This entry filed under Howard's Poetry.

I think I’ve said this before, but I always wonder how we know what we know about Robert E. Howard. This morning I was thinking about the Howards’ stay in Seminole, Texas, when Bob was two-years-old. How do we know they lived there? What documents can verify their stay? REH hints at Seminole a couple of times in his correspondence without actually naming the place. As far as I know, he only mentions the name in one piece of writing.

In “An Autobiography,” a school paper dated November 29, 1921, Howard says, “I found myself at Seminole, Texas, just forty miles this side of the New Mexico border. This was prairie country—extremely so. Water was scarce there; too scarce, so we moved to Bagwell, Texas.” We know the Howards didn’t move directly from Seminole to Bagwell, and given the brevity of this “autobiography” (it’s barely two paragraphs in length), it’s safe to say that Howard is trying to emphasize the extent of his travels in Texas—from the western border to the eastern. He uses this same technique years later when describing his family’s wandering to H. P. Lovecraft and Wilfred B. Talman, telling the latter:

I was born in the little ex-cowtown of Peaster, about 45 miles west of Fort Worth, in the winter of 1906, but spent my first summer in lonely Dark Valley among the sparsely settled Palo Pinto hills. From then until I was nearly nine years old I lived in various parts of the state — in a land-boom town on the Staked Plains, near the New Mexico line; in the Western Texas sheep country; in San Antonio; on a ranch in South Texas; in a cattle town on the Oklahoma line, near the old North Texas oil-fields; in the piney woods of East Texas; finally in what later became the Central West Texas Oil-belt.

And that’s about all Bob has to say about Seminole. And that’s about all most biographers have to say as well. There’s not much to work with, and Bob was just a child. Still, I like to have documentary evidence for things, so I went looking.

The image that heads this post is from volume 4 of the Texas State Journal of Medicine, May 1908, where we learn that Dr. I. M. Howard has moved from Graford, Texas, to Seminole and changed his address with the organization sometime between March and April of that year (thank you Google Books). Other Seminole-related internet searches came up empty, but I knew there was more out there.

When Jane Griffin was researching for Dark Valley Destiny, she learned from the Gaines County Clerk that Dr. I. M. Howard had started registering births in Seminole in February 1908 but didn’t register with the county until September 14, 1908. [UPDATE: According to a document unearthed in the Bexar County archives, this is the date that Dr. Howard registered in Bronte, Coke County.] There aren’t any official copies in her notes, so on our way home from Byers, my dad and I made a stop at Seminole. If the records were there for Griffin, hopefully they’d still be there for the Roehms.

As luck would have it, the courthouse was just finishing up its renovation; some things were a tad unorganized. We were able to check the property records with no problem—it appears that Isaac Howard didn’t buy or sell any land in Seminole—but when it came to a physicians registry, we had issues. No one remembered such a book existing, but if it did . . . So, we went from one office to another until someone suggested that the book might still be upstairs where lots of things had been moved during the renovation.

Up we went, to the holding area for prisoners awaiting trail, and there waited for a key to be procured. A few minutes later, a door was unlocked and we went up some more—to a dusty storage area in the attic (above). The room at the top of the stairs was full of boxes and shelves, all loaded with books. There were even piles of books on the floor, leaning against the walls. We rolled up our sleeves and started looking.

We never did find a physicians registry or a register of births, but in the Register of Deaths for Gaines County, Texas, we learned that Bailey Brooks Wright, aged 41 days, had died on July 1, 1908 of some kind of Asphyxia. The report was filed by “I. M. Howard, M. D.,” on July 24. Under “Name and Residence of Physician” is written “I. M. Howard / Seminole, Texas.” Good enough for me.

After taking pictures of the evidence, we went downtown and stopped at the local museum. No one there knew anything about the Howards, but there were some nice pictures of Seminole from the early 1900s. After taking pictures of these, we hit the road. Our stay in Seminole had been brief, but so had the Howards’: the April 1909 edition of the Texas State Journal of Medicine (below) records another movement of Dr. Howard’s that he’d sent in sometime between February 15 and March 18, 1909. After barely a year “on the New Mexico line,” the traveling Howards had moved to Bronte.

In a letter to August Derleth, dated September 4, 1933, Howard writes about his attempt to get a look at a jailed notorious bank robber and associate of George “Machine Gun” Kelly while on a trip to Dallas:

Speaking of outlaws, I hear that Harvey Bailey, the machine-gun bandit was captured in Ardmore, Okla. It was only this morning that he escaped from the Dallas county jail. I was sure that he’d head for Oklahoma. On one of my trips to Dallas a friend of mine was much desirous of getting a peek at the notorious criminal, and tried to find the Federal attorney (a friend of his) who was prosecuting Bailey, thinking he’d let us see the fellow, but without success. The jail seemed well guarded, but somehow Bailey did manage to slip through. Bailey had been captured in a farm-house not far from Decatur, in Wise County.

This letter was written on September 4, which was Labor Day, and the day of Harvey Bailey’s escape from the “escape-proof” Dallas County skyscraper jail. Bailey bribed a jailer, Thomas L. Manion to smuggle him a pistol and two saws. Manion and Bailey then took turns sawing through the bars and soon an armed Bailey was on the loose with a hostage, jailer Nick Tresp. But his freedom was short-lived as Bailey was recaptured the same day in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Manion and a civilian, Grover C. Bevill, who had furnished the hacksaws, were later convicted of aiding Bailey’s escape and sentenced to two years and fourteen months, respectively. But Bailey had his own version of the escape: he would claim in later years that Manion brought him the gun and saws of his own accord, likely plotting to shoot Bailey during the jail break and claim a reward. There was some truth to this — Manion wanted to run for sheriff — and when Bailey and his hostage left in the getaway car, he spotted Manion and Bevill waiting in ambush, so he headed in the opposite direction.

John Harvey Bailey was one of the most successful bank robbers of the Depression Era. He worked in a gang or alone, and his career spanned 13 years and several states. Bailey actually stole more money than John Dillinger, but is less well known. In 1931, his gang robbed the Lincoln National Bank in Lincoln, Nebraska and escaped with an estimated $1 million in cash. Following the heist, he is said to have hidden the loot on a farm near Richmond, Illinois, where he had been hiding out. He robbed his last bank in Kingfisher, Oklahoma and was sentenced to life in prison on October 7, 1933. He served his time and was released in 1965. He died fourteen years later at the age of 91, apparently without recovering his stash. To this day, no one knows what happened to the $1 million.

Bailey was born in West Virginia, on August 23, 1887; he grew up on a farm in Sullivan County, Missouri and worked as a fireman on the railroad before joining the Army during World War I. After the war, he settled in Chicago where several of his Army buddies lived. Those friends were into some highly illegal endeavors and soon were enticing him into the fold. It was the early days of Prohibition and former soldiers were in great demand to provide muscle to the underworld gang known as the Chicago Outfit, led by John Torrio and an up and coming Al Capone. Bailey decided to join them and was soon knee deep in the liquor smuggling business, driving fast cars loaded down with whiskey from Canada to Chicago.

Bailey robbed his first bank in 1920 and in December of 1922 is believed to have robbed the Denver Mint of $200,000. Altogether, he robbed some twenty banks. He meticulously planned his bank jobs, obtaining road maps from the county surveyor to learn his getaway routes and was thought to have been involved in two infamous gangland shootings — the St. Valentine’s Days Massacre in Chicago and the Kansas City Union Station Massacre. However, there was never any concrete evidence placing him at either scene. Bailey was also one of the last outlaws to join the Ma Barker gang and he threw cold water on the legend of the old gal as a criminal mastermind when he told author L.L. Edge for his book Run the Cat Roads the following:

“The old woman couldn’t plan breakfast. When we’d sit down to plan a bank job, she’d go in the other room and listen to Amos and Andy or hillbilly music on the radio.” Bailey found laughable the idea that the Barkers, Alvin Karpis, Frank Nash and other professionals would depend on Ma Barker to plan their crimes. She may have been overly indulgent, protective and possessive of her sons, and would harbor their friends from the law; in return they treated her regally, kept her in fancy clothes and cars, without her questioning the source of their prosperity. However, the image of Ma Barker as a cunning, ruthless gang leader appears to be as exaggerated as the largely mythical exploits of Belle Starr, to whom she has often been compared.

It was tough to keep Bailey behind bars. He was incarcerated in the Kansas State Prison on July 8, 1932 and escaped on June 1, 1933 during a breakout in which the warden and two guards were kidnapped and used as human shields. On August 12, 1933 he was recaptured near Paradise, Texas and locked up in the Dallas county jail, but escaped as detailed above on September 4, 1933.

Following his June 1, 1933 escape, Bailey hooked up with George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Police, while searching for Kelly for the kidnapping of Oklahoma oil tycoon Charles Urschel, descended on the Paradise, Texas farm belonging to the family of Kelly’s wife, where Bailey was sleeping. The lawmen assumed Bailey was small fry, but found $500 of the Urschel ransom money and realized they had captured “Old Harv.”

Soon after he was recaptured after the September 4, 1933 Dallas jailbreak, he was found guilty of complicity in the Urschel kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison on October 7, 1933. As it turned out “Old Harv” had nothing to do with the Urschel kidnapping – he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The cash Bailey had from the ransom money, it seems, was repayment of a debt from Kelly — Bailey did not know its origin. Nonetheless, it was a high profile crime and J. Edgar Hoover wanted justice done and he got it, although misplaced in Bailey’s case. Bailey was sentenced under the new Federal kidnapping laws that had a mandatory sentence of life in prison. While he was guilty of laundry list of crimes, he was innocent of the kidnapping charges.

Bailey was originally sent to Leavenworth, then he was transferred to Alcatraz on September 1, 1934. He was returned to Leavenworth in 1946 and transferred in 1960 to Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution in Texas, where he remained until 1962 when he was sent to the Kansas State Penitentiary to serve time for his escape from there in 1933. He was finally released on March 31, 1965.

Once Harvey was released, E. E. Kirkpatrick, who had delivered the Urschel ransom money, and Urschel himself tried to make things right by providing financial support for Bailey. In fact, while he was still in prison, Kirkpatrick had tried to help Bailey with his unsuccessful parole request in 1958, writing:

Bailey had nothing to do with the Urschel kidnapping … We all know that. He was unlucky enough to be hiding at the Shannon farm.

In October of 1966, after a year-long courtship, Bailey married Esther Farmer, the widow of Herbert Allen “Deafy” Farmer, whose family operated a well-known safe house in southwest Missouri for all the outlaw gangs that roamed the Midwest during the 1920s and 1930s. “Deafy” Farmer was also one of the Kansas City Massacre conspirators and close confidant of the Barker Gang, particularly Fred Barker.

In 1973 author J. Evetts Haley wrote a biography of Hailey titled: Robbing Banks Was My Business…the Story of J. Harvey Bailey (Palo Duro Press, Canyon, Texas). Bailey was interviewed extensively and provided a wealth of information, even though his memory was spotty in places. The book is nearly as rare as Jenkins’ A Gent from Bear Creek, with autographed copies in fine condition going for in excess of $1,000. In fact, only seven libraries in the country have a copy for circulation.

Bailey died on March 1, 1979 in Joplin, Missouri and his wife passed away in 1981. Both are buried in the same grave at Forest Park Cemetery in Joplin.

Bailey Grave

Mugshot of J. Harvey Bailey, courtesy of the Dallas Municipal Archives, City of Dallas.

This entry filed under August Derleth, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.

Robert E. Howard surely had a passionate feeling for his native southwest and its history. Even in a dark fantasy like “The Valley of the Lost” he gives the tale an anchor in savage reality with his description of a Texas feud – of, I don’t doubt, the exact sort that took place often, “short, fierce and appallingly bloody.” There’s also a brief sidelight on the Comanche and Kiowa wars in a mention of an Indian band “fleeing the vengeance of Bigfoot Wallace and his rangers.”

“The Horror from the Mound” is even stronger, and again anchored in Texas reality as it opens with a young cowpuncher-turned-farmer brooding on the bad luck, in the form of blizzards, hail and locusts that has dogged his efforts. The bloke is having troubles of Biblical proportion, and he hasn’t even opened the haunted mound yet.

From his letter to H.P. Lovecraft concerning Sonora, Texas, he could have done a grisly tale set in or near that community too. Sonora’s a decent enough place, mind you, the seat of Sutton County. It wasn’t established until fairly late in the state’s history – 1885. Rancher and merchant Charles Adams settled there on four sections of land, gave the place its name after a family servant who came from Sonora in Mexico, and drilled a well in 1889. The community became blessed with a post office in the same year.

That’s quite a bit younger than Dallas or El Paso, for instance, but there was still time for plenty to happen there, and by REH’s account, plenty did. In December of 1930 he informed Lovecraft:

One could write a book from the tales told of Sonora alone, a sleepy little town of a few hundred inhabitants lying in the hills about a hundred miles from the Border. For instance, a good many years ago, a young cowpuncher went on the rampage up in Wyoming and started smoking his way to the Border. I dont know what started him on the tear – maybe a girl went back on him, or red liquor ran him crazy – anyway he came south like a sand-storm, leaving a trail of shot-up towns and bullet-riddled marshals and sheriffs behind him. That went alright as long as he was in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, but the Texans of that day were a hard, hard breed.

He rode up on the hills about Sonora one day and started throwing rifle bullets into the streets. Everybody scattered, not thinking much about it, but supposing it was just some local puncher in on a tear. But he got hold of somebody and sent word that he would ride into the town at a certain hour for supplies and he ordered the stores left open and the streets deserted – he would kill any man, woman or child he saw in the town. And he most certainly meant it. At the hour named he rode down the street and saw no living soul. The stores were open but they were deserted. He dismounted and entered. No one behind the counters. He began filling his saddle-bags with groceries – and the town marshal appeared at one door and the county judge at the other. When the smoke cleared away all three were down – the Wyoming man stone dead and the other two badly wounded, though they recovered.

Well, the berserk stranger was from Wyoming, and it may be that Sonora was a pretty law-abiding place even back then. Looking up the statistics, I find that in the years 2001 through 2004, violent crime in Sonora was considerably below the U.S. average – less than a third of the average in 2001, about a quarter in 2002, considerably less than half in 2003, and about half in 2004. In 2005 it jumped to considerably higher – about one and one-third the average for the nation. But since the population is only about 3,000 in this twenty-first century, one or two crimes more than the average in a year would cause one hell of a jump in the crime figures per head.

Even natural violence in the area doesn’t seem too bad. Looking up information about the local weather, I find that tornadoes, historically, have been well below the Texas state average. They’re even below the USA’s national average – by nearly forty per cent.

More interesting than crime, and certainly more attractive, is the national landmark eight miles west of the town – the Caverns of Sonora. They are unique and breathtakingly beautiful. They extend for miles and were formed by the action of water over the ages, out of limestone formations 100 million years old. Gases, probably sulfurous in nature, rose from deep within the earth and mingled with water to create acidic solutions, such as (very dilute) sulfuric and sulfurous acid. But even in mild solution the acid was enough to dissolve away large amounts of limestone and produce the cave system – probably between two and five million years ago.

Moving from the dry scientific facts to the sheer grandeur and beauty of the place, just the names of the various caverns and galleries are evocative enough to make you see visions. Palace of the Angels … Moon Milk Falls … the Butterfly … Christmas Tree Room … the War Club formations … the Valley of Ice … The caves hold an incredible profusion of helictites, about the most delicate and fragile of all calcite formations. They take ribbon- , needle- , or butterfly-like forms, among others, and believe it or not, idiots who vandalize them just for the hell of it are a problem to those who want to preserve the place for responsible tourists. There are some kinds of stupidity that verge on blasphemy.

The outer portions of the cave system were known to local ranch hands by the early 1900s. Back then it was known as Mayfield Cave, after the owner of the ranch on which the entrance was located. Cavers discovered a further seven miles of the system in 1955. That, of course, was about twenty years after Robert E. Howard’s untimely death. He never knew the caverns existed, or he probably would have written something about them – maybe even in a story.

He did create a cowboy character called Steve Allison, the Sonora Kid – related to Clay Allison, maybe. The Kid was a contemporary of REH’s better-known character, El Borak, and even appeared in several stories with him, in a 1987 collection called North of the Khyber. The Kid, if he’d really lived, might even have been on the scene when a tragic event took place, which REH describes in the same letter to Lovecraft:

Then once, up in Oklahoma, a young puncher stole an old ranchman’s daughter and they rode hell-for-leather for the Border, with the old man hot on their heels. Another hundred miles and they might have been safe, but the old man caught up with them and killed them both just outside Sonora.

Another person who finally came to his end at Sonora was the outlaw, Will Carver. Carver had been born in the Lone Star State — Coryell County – in 1866. Or September 12th, 1868, in Wilson County, as I’ve read in another source. Like a number of other Old West outlaws, he began as an honest cowpuncher, working on the “Half Circle Six” ranch. His parents, George and Martha Jane Carver (maiden name Rigsby) had left Missouri for Texas while the Civil War was bloodily raging. During Will’s early life in Texas, his family’s nearest neighbor was Richard T. Carver (“Uncle Dick”) whose wife Margaret had apparently been born a Causey. The Causey family also lived nearby.

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