Archive for August, 2012

Howard had great respect for the Texas Rangers whose acts of bravery, bravado and skilled gunplay are forever a part of the Texas mythos. Today, at the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum in Waco, these brave lawmen are immortalized. So if you are ever in Waco with a few hours to kill, you can visit the museum and see the various displays dedicated to the men who tamed the wild and woolly Texas frontier.

In his letters to H.P. Lovecraft and other members of his circle of correspondents, Howard often wrote of these larger than life lawmen — of course, being Howard, he made them and their deeds seem even larger. One of the Texas Rangers Howard admired was Manuel T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas. In a missive to Lovecraft dated July13, 1932, Howard wrote of the “Santa Claus” bank robbery that occurred on December 23, 1927 in Cisco, about 30 miles north of Cross Plains. In the letter, he mentions Gonzaullas:

Gad, the country buzzed like so many bees! The authorities sent south for the great Ranger captain Tom Hickman, and Gonzaullas — “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas — “Trigger Finger” Gonzaullas — “Quick Action” Gonzaullas — hero of more touch-and-go gun-fights than I know, and already almost a mythical figure in the Southwest. But they were not needed; the fugitives staggered in and gave themselves up — haggard shapes in torn and muddy garments, caked with blood from bullet-wounds. It was the end of the last great robber-gang of Texas. Let me see; it was three — no, four years ago. It doesn’t seem that long. All the Southwest rang with the news.

Howard’s memory failed him since both Hickman and Gonzaullas participated in the search as noted in this excerpt of my post of December 23, 2010:

The posse, directed by Ranger Captain Tom Hickman pressed on, allowing the wounded men no opportunity for rest. His sergeant, Manuel T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas, went up in an airplane as a spotter, participating in the first aerial search for criminals in Texas history. However, Gonzaullas was unable to spot the fleeing men. But their trail indicated the men were tiring of the chase – close set footprints showed the men were weakening from loss of blood.

Or, since the manhunt ended rather quickly, Howard may not have learned of the involvement of “Lone Wolf” in the search. This was mainly due to a reward offered by the Texas Bankers Association, who offered to pay anyone who killed a bank robber in the commission of a bank robbery $5,000. This led to anyone from eight to eighty who had a gun to grab it and join the hunt. Since everyone in Texas owned a gun, there was quite a mob on the trail of the bank robbers.

Manuel Trazazas Gonzaullas was born in Cádiz, Spain on July 4, 1891 to parents who were naturalized U.S. citizens. His father, Manuel Gonzaullas, was Spanish and his mother, Helen von Droff, was a Canadian — the young couple was on vacation when Gonzaullas was born.

As a young boy growing up in El Paso, Gonzaullas already knew he wanted to be a Texas Ranger, inspired by seeing the legendary Ranger John R. Hughes, the “Border Boss,” on horseback. That fire in the belly to fight lawlessness soon burned hotter as a teenager, when banditos murdered his two brothers and seriously wounded his parents. After serving in the Mexican army and with United States Treasury Department, Gonzaullas took the oath of the Texas Rangers on October 1, 1920. He was still a newlywed when he enlisted in the Rangers, having married Laura Isabel Scherer, a New Yorker, on April 12, 1920. She was an introvert and stayed in the background and stoically endured her husband’s long absences while he was on a dangerous assignment in some faraway Texas town.

Gonzaullas enforced the law in the Texas oil fields, boom towns, and along the Texas border during the 1920s and 1930s. Alone, he pursued murderers, bootleggers, gamblers, drug runners and bank robbers. He came to be known as “El Lobo Solo” (“The Lone Wolf”) and he was one of four Rangers called “Big Four,” who had an enormous impact crime fighting: Gonzaullas, Frank Hamer, Thomas R. Hickman and Will Wright. Gonzaullas would eventually become the first Texas Ranger Captain of Hispanic ancestry.

The mere presence of Gonzaullas inspired an exodus of troublemakers from problem areas. Often, when word reached a Texas town where crime was rampant, most criminals cleared out before he even arrived. Cool under fire and an excellent marksman, Gonzaullas arrested so many bootleggers, gambling operators, thugs and killers that he often had to improvise jail facilities. Such was the case in Kilgore.

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

So, I’m looking through the stack of Howard-related letters and got curious. The letter above appears in The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard; the original is housed at the Cross Plains Public Library. Who, I wondered, were John M. Watkins and Dr. Anna Kingsford, and what kind of books was Doc Howard looking for?

Watkins, it turns out, was a bookseller and publisher of some rather interesting sounding titles, including The Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage, Christos: the Religion of the Future, and Essays on Alchemy. “John M. Watkins / 21 Cecil Court, Charing Cross Road / London” is listed as publisher of Addresses and Essays on Vegetarianism (1912), by the aforementioned Dr. Anna Kingsford. The long “Biographical Preface” from that volume is presented here.

Another Watkins-published book, The Living Truth in Christianity (1915), by Bertram McCrie, is described on a Kingsford website as follows:

This little book was written as an introduction to the message of the two soul-prophets – known in this age as Anna Kingsford and Edward Maitland – namely, to the recovered New Gospel of Interpretation, the doctrine which they were instrumental in restoring to the West, where the Christ is risen again from the sepulchre of historical tradition, to live and reign in the undying soul of man.

For more than you probably want to know about Kingsford, there is “A Brief Biography” here. It begins with the following:

There have been few lives as incredible as the life of Dr Anna Kingsford, both in the sense of being remarkable and also of being slightly inconceivable. A theosophist, self-proclaimed prophet, feminist, vegetarian, mother and woman of much personal charm, Kingsford is impossible to classify. This may explain her conspicuous absence in contemporary Victorian studies. As a vegetarian, she makes brief appearances in texts about vegetarianism. As a theosophist, she is delegated a paragraph or two in theosophical studies. Either way, further studies of Kingsford could tell us much about Victorian occultism and the place women carved for themselves within it.

The Theosophy angle reminded me of Jeff Shanks’ recent article in The Dark Man (vol. 6): “Theosophy and the Thurian Age: Robert E. Howard and the Works of William Scott-Elliot.” This is outside my area of expertise, but given the 1925 date on the letter above, one wonders if Kingsford’s The Perfect Way (1882), a collection of her mystical visions and dreams, made it onto Howard’s reading list. The book is mentioned on Kingsford’s page at the “Mysterious People” website: “At the time [1882] The Perfect Way, which explored the deeper Mysteries of religion, was extremely well-received and regarded as the most important modern book of esoteric wisdom and mysticism ever published.” Kingsford’s relationship with Theosophy is also discussed.

Watkins Books, by the way, is still around and still located at 21 Cecil Court; their website says, “Watkins Books is an esoteric bookshop in the heart of London. Established over 100 years ago, we are now one of the world’s leading independent bookshops specialising in new, second-hand and antiquarian titles in the Mind, Body, Spirit field.”

This entry filed under Dr. Isaac M. Howard, Howard Biography.

They of the East ride gallant steeds,
And each knight wears a crown –
We fight on foot as our forebears fought
And we drag the riders down.

— Robert E. Howard, “A Marching Song of Connacht”

I’ve opened this post with the above stanza because it seems to embody a curious omission in REH’s writing about the Celts – whether in his letters, his stories, or his poems. He doesn’t say much about the ancient Celts’ prowess as charioteers or horsemen. Plenty about their racial and temperamental traits; a good deal about Celtic languages; a lot about their valor in war. About their horsemanship, and the importance of horses in their culture, not nearly so much.

He refers to it occasionally and in passing. His letter to Harold Preece, postmarked the fourth of January, 1930, contains the lines:

What a nation gains in one way, it loses in another. Had the Saxons, leaping from their dragon-beaked galleys, found the same yellow-haired giants that Caesar found, rushing down in their iron chariots, there had been no conquest, only windrows of slaughtered pirates, and the speech of Britain today would have been not English, but Cymric.

In “Kings of the Night”, the Gaelic prince Cormac of Connacht joins Bran Mak Morn against Rome’s legions, with a mounted body of “hard-riding, hard-fighting Gaels.” Bran declares to him, “With the chariots of the Britons and your own western horsemen, our success had been certain.”

So REH did refer to the matter occasionally – but not too often. And when he writes of Gaelic warriors fighting at home on Irish soil, as in his Turlogh O’Brien stories, or his references to Cormac Fitzgeoffrey’s early life, he generally talks in terms of fighting on foot, clad in wolf skins at that, as in the stanza cited at the beginning of this post.

Going back long before Cormac, Turlogh or even Bran, it’s possible that the ancient Urnfield culture of the late Bronze Age – which dominated central Europe between about 1200 and 700 BCE – marked the emergence of distinctly Celtic culture and language. All Celtic languages were basically Indo-European. The swift spread and marked dominance of Indo-European languages was due to that new, fearsome weapon of war, the horse-drawn chariot, by which the early Indo-Europeans, whatever their original racial type may have been, conquered wherever they went.

Then came iron-working, first developed on a big scale by the Hittites, in their day imperial Egypt’s only real rivals. Once the technique spread to central and Western Europe, it led to the Hallstatt culture’s growing out of the Urnfield and becoming its direct successor. There followed the La Tene culture of the late Iron Age, roughly from 450 BCE until the bastard harsh merciless Caius Julius Caesar divided Gaul into three parts in the first century BCE. He also had the right hands removed from some forty thousand Gaulish captives for having the impertinence to resist his civilizing conquest.

(This blogger regards Caesar about as Talbot Mundy depicted him in his Tros of Samothrace novels. And as Robert E. Howard viewed the Roman Empire in general. Even Poul Anderson, less fiercely partisan than REH, has one of his characters thinking in his story “Delenda Est”, “There was something repellent about the frigid, unimaginative greed of Rome.” And coincidentally, or maybe not, REH had written a story about the Vandal king Gaiseric leading his fleet against Rome from the former site of Carthage, in a story also titled “Delenda Est”.)

Mind you, Talbot Mundy was a one-eyed Celtophile. As the novel Tros opens, the main character is warning the Britons against Caesar and describing what a liar he is with his slanders that the Druids burn human sacrifices to their gods. He’s correct that this is rich coming from Caesar, who “has slain his hecatombs”, but let’s face it, most primitive cultures are bloody and brutal, and to pretend that the barbaric Celts didn’t offer human sacrifice is a woeful evasion. I believe myself that the Druids didn’t actually offer the sacrifices themselves – that was probably the king’s job – but as wise men and interpreters of the gods’ omens, they would attend and preside. A distinction without much difference, especially if you were the sacrifice. And besides burning people alive in wicker baskets, the Celts were among the most ardent head-hunters the world has seen.

That’s probably quite enough academic background. Horses and Celtic horsemanship is the subject. Wild fellows that the ancient Celts were, they rode horses astride as well as driving chariots, and rode them without stirrups, which hadn’t been invented in their day. They probably rode without real saddles, too, just sheepskin pads for cushions under their butts, or else wholly bareback. If some time traveler had introduced them to stirrups, they’d probably have rejected the device with hoots of laughter. “What? Need that device to save us from falling? What are we, arthritic old women? Get out of town!”

There’s never anything as ridiculous as a new idea. The Celts also reckoned armor was unmanly, when armor appeared on their scene. REH makes a point of this in “The Grey God Passes”. Dunlang O’Hartigan is dubious of the armor his Danann lover Eevin of Craglea, fearing for his life, urges him to wear at the coming battle of Clontarf. He considers it craven. “Of all the Gaels only Turlogh Dubh wears full mail.” Eevin cries passionately, “And is any warrior of the Gael braver than he? Foolish! You will go into battle and the harps will keen for you, and Eevin of Craglea will weep until she melts in tears …”

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This entry filed under Harold Preece, Howard's Fiction, Howard's Poetry.