Archive for January, 2013

Who said lightning never strikes twice? From the same source that gave us the three unknown pictures of REH the pirate comes this never-seen-before photo of Hester Jane Howard, with Patch, Bob Howard’s beloved dog.


Text on the back of the pic reads: “Mrs. I.M. Howard / Mother of Robert E / Author of Conan / novels, Cross Plains / Tex, with dog “Patch” / accross [sic] front grandad’s house / around 1923-24″

As synchronicity would have it, it is a perfect transition from my series of posts on Hester Jane to those on Isaac Howard, beginning in a day or two.

This entry filed under Hester Jane Ervin Howard.

1935 map

During the second week of January, my dad and I hit the road for South Texas. There were at least two reasons for this trip: 1) for some strange reason, I want to go to every place that Robert E. Howard mentions having gone to, and 2) Doctor Howard appears to have had a bit of a fascination with the lower Rio Grande Valley; perhaps there are buried documents in the region that could shed some light on the Howards’ movements. This second reason meant that we would have to stop at quite a few county seats, and we only had a week. We left early on Saturday morning and spent the night at a Best Western hotel in Las Cruces, New Mexico (a place Howard visited). After driving all day on Sunday, we got to do a little exploring before the sun went down. Our first stop was Eagle Pass, Texas (below).

2013 01-06 Eagle Pass 012

In his circa June 1928 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, Howard says that he “didn’t see such a hell of a lot of Eagle Pass but I saw Piedras Negras,” which is the Mexican town just over the border. As much as I would have liked to see that town, my wife had instructed me before I left: “No going to Mexico!” Given what’s been going on south of the border, I heeded her advice. Eagle Pass is much the same as most border towns I’ve visited in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. From Eagle Pass we headed east to Carrizo Springs, the county seat of Dimmit County, and spent the night at a newly-built Best Western.

In the morning, we took a little jaunt south, to Catarina, which Howard said in the same letter mentioned above “is overrated all to hell.” In another letter, undated to unknown recipient, he says, “Four years ago the site of Catarina was a wilderness of greasewood and mesquite. Now it’s booming like hell—and may slump as quick.” As the photo below shows, Howard nailed that one; however, there is quite a bit of oil activity in the area and Catarina may rise again.

2013 01-07 003

From Catarina we backtracked north and spent some time going over documents in the Carrizo Springs courthouse. The 1910 U.S. Census has Doctor Howard’s sister, Willie Howard McClung, living in Dimmit County. We found no trace, but at our next stop, just a bit further north in Crystal City (county seat of Zavala Co.), we found the document that I reported on last time. After making our copies and checking out the area once owned by the McClungs, we continued east to Jourdanton, the county seat of Atascosa County, just south of Poteet.

In January 1910, Doctor Howard registered his credentials in Bexar County, the county north of Atascosa, and listed his address as Poteet. Registered in Bexar but living in Atascosa, perhaps there would be a trace of Doc Howard in the latter county. Nope. We found no trace, again, and we weren’t going to Bexar’s county seat, San Antonio. Why not? Allow me to explain.

After several years of visiting county seats in Texas, my dad and I have come up with something we call Roehm’s Axiom: The larger the county seat, the less helpful it will be. Last year, Hill County, Limestone County, Montague, Clay, Gaines were all extremely helpful, even if most had little or no useful information, but when we got to Wichita Falls, the red tape was up. Jourdanton is a ’tweener, small enough that they try to be helpful, but large enough that they are a tad too protective of their records. San Antonio would be a nightmare. So, after leaving the county seat, we went up and had a look at Poteet. The genealogy library was closed, so after lunch we headed south to George West (below).

2013 01-07 039

In his circa August 1931 letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Howard lists a few places he’d gone to, including San Angelo, Sonora, Junction, and Kerrville:

I went on to San Antonio, seventy miles to the south, then continuing south to George West, about a hundred miles from San Antonio — turned east again there to Beeville, and back home by way of Goliad, Victoria, Gonzales, Austin and Brownwood. It wasn’t really much of a trip, as it extended only over about a thousand miles altogether and I was gone only a week.

So, we also went to George West, had a look at the old downtown, and then went east to Beeville (Bee County), where we spent the night at a Best Western. Also had some fine Scotch eggs at the local Irish pub. In the morning, we hit the courthouse. Nothing. Then we drove over to Goliad, county seat of Goliad, and found nothing in the county documents. Having previously visited the other towns on Howard’s list, from Goliad we went south to Rockport, a little beach community on the Gulf. In his circa October 1931 letter to Lovecraft, Howard says, “I remember a night I spent at Rockport, a little port not very far from Corpus Christi. I stayed in a big rambling hotel close to the water’s edge.” So we toured the old town and looked for “rambling” hotels.


In his circa December 1932 letter to Lovecraft, Howard mentions a couple of other places on the Gulf:

It’s too bad sea-food affects you so adversely, particularly since you live in sea-port town. I fear you would suffer on the Corpus Christi waterfront; what with the rotting fish and shrimp along the beach, the fishing boats full of finny things, and the shacks where bait is sold in large quantities, the odor has occasionally nauseated even me, and I am even less susceptible to such things than the average. A ship ought to be able to make that port in a thick fog with no port-lights showing, by simply following the smell! The smell along the wharfs of Galveston, Aransas and Rockport is none too sweet, but that of Corpus Christi surpasses them all put together.

Read the rest of this entry »

T.B. or not T.B.?

[This series of essays begins here]

The encounter between Dr. Howard and Hester Jane Ervin happened this way, at least according to Dark Valley Destiny:

After her father’s death, Hester Jane must have felt particularly uprooted. The Exeter property had become the home of Alice Wynne Ervin and her children. As the only Martin among them, she was something of an outsider. She turned again toward Texas and her people there, moving to Mineral Wells to help care for some members of her own family who were suffering from tuberculosis.

Mineral Wells, like the Lampasas of an earlier decade, was something of a spa, and its waters from nearby mineral springs were considered especially salubrious. There in Mineral Wells, she met Dr. Howard […] and she and the doctor were married in 1904, a few months before Hester reached the age of thirty-four.

Long and frequent dislocations, such as Hester Jane had experienced, do not make for happy wives or relaxed mothers. Thus, it must have been a strained and uncertain if beautiful bride whom Dr. I.M. Howard took to wife.

That account is based on two sources: first, Howard’s own “Wandering Years” essay, in which we read: “Returning to Texas, she met Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard, while living in Mineral Wells, in Palo Pinto County, and they were married in the early part of 1904,” and secondly, a 1964 letter from Wynne Ervin to Glenn Lord, in which he explains he was one of the relatives living with Hester Jane in Mineral Wells.

This account has remained unchallenged for nearly thirty years, and the more recent Howard biographies have all followed the de Camps’ version. As we are about to see, the only portion worth salvaging in the de Camps’ version is the paragraph they took from “The Wandering Years”…


On 03 January 1906, C. E. “Ted” Thomas died in Phoenix, AZ. He was aged 26 and the cause of his death was tuberculosis. “Ted” Thomas was a son of Christina Thomas, née Ervin (and sister of Hester Jane), and he had gone west in the hope of getting better, to no avail. The only reason he is mentioned in this article is because out of the dozens and dozens of Ervin ancestors I have tracked down in the course of my research, he is the only one who died from tuberculosis. Given the very nature and prevalence of the disease in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, it is of course probable that some other family members had contracted it, but never in a severe form. There is no mention whatsoever of tuberculosis in any of the records pertaining to these people. The reason for that is simple: questioned on the subject, Terry Baker, a direct descendant of GW Ervin and an Ervin family historian himself, is adamant: “Tuberculosis, also known as consumption, has never been part of the family that I know of.”

Still, we know that Hester was in “Mineral Wells to help care for some members of her own family who were suffering from tuberculosis.”

Or do we?

Hester Jane Ervin did spend several months in Mineral Wells with her half-brother Wynne Ervin. The latter wrote Glenn Lord about it in 1964: “I lived with [Hester] and another half sister about 8 months in Mineral Wells, Texas, in 1902.” (The other half-sister was either Christina (who had recently separated from her husband), or Georgia Alice). But at no moment does Wynne Ervin mention tuberculosis, being sick or staying in Mineral Wells for treatment. He was simply staying there for a few months with his half-sisters. Wynne Ervin goes on: “[After Mineral Wells] I went to Texarkana in August of 1902 and then to St Louis, MO in December of that year and to Oklahoma City in 1904” (Wynne Ervin to Glenn Lord, 05 April 1964, unpublished). All too normal things for a Ervin child, after all…

It’s not difficult to understand who jumped at the conclusion that Wynne Ervin had tuberculosis. Since Wynne was in Mineral Wells, he must have been there for the hot baths and treatments. And since Hester Jane had tuberculosis, too, and that she stayed with Wynne for several months, it follows that Hester Jane was looking after him. And since that made two Ervins with tuberculosis, it evidently also followed that all Ervins perforce had tuberculosis. And, just like that, Lyon Sprague de Camp retroactively infected all the Ervins with tuberculosis, a disease not one of them had actually ever suffered from.

The de Camps very logically decided to contaminate Hester’s mother first, presumably so that she could spread the disease to her descendants (and “help” the readers digest the notion): “More probably it was tuberculosis that proved to be the curse of the Ervins. […] [Sarah Jane Martin] was not merely sick; she was plain worn out” (Dark Valley Destiny, p. 25). The truth is, the de Camps didn’t know if she was “plain worn out” or not, didn’t know if she had tuberculosis (had in fact nothing to show that any of the Ervins ever suffered from tuberculosis), didn’t know anything as to her health or state of mind. They didn’t know in what city and even what state she died; they didn’t know if she was sick. They had no way of knowing if her death was caused by her recent pregnancy. The only thing they had was a date of death from a Family Bible. They simply made up everything else, launching their epidemics of tuberculosis at the same time.

Hester Jane Howard’s tuberculosis – and subsequent death from complications of – is one of those givens to anyone studying Howard’s life. It is an evident truth, just like Howard spending most of his life in Cross Plains. But when we realize there was no tuberculosis at all in the Ervin family and that all the examples found in Dark Valley Destiny (and taken up by later biographers) are de campian fabrications, it becomes obvious that the “evidence” we have for Hester Jane’s tuberculosis will have to be re-examined. Certainly she exhibited many of the usual symptoms of the disease as she grew older. Howard, for instance, described the night sweats and the attacks of pleurisy, and of course her death certificate indicates tuberculosis as the cause of death. Still there were people who thought she was suffering from something else:

Mrs. Merryman nursed Mrs. Howard during the last weeks of her life. Here’s what she had to say about Hester’s condition. The interviewer is Jane Griffin, who worked with the de Camps:

Mrs. M: Yes, she was [a sickly woman.]

JWG: What was wrong with her?

Mrs. M: I never did know.

JWG: Said tuberculosis on her death certificate.

Mrs. M: I know she went to that – went to that tuberculosis hospital, but I never did believe…

The conversation gets interrupted here, but the meaning is clear: Mrs. Merryman didn’t think Hester Jane had tuberculosis. On Robert Howard’s 1930 medical file, on the form about his parents, we can read the following: “Mother / age: 54 / rheumatism, stomach trouble, no cancer or tb.” (Of course we now know that any such information coming from Hester Jane should be taken with a grain of salt.) In 1978, a doctor who had had access to Hester Jane’s 1935 medical file after her surgery wrote that he “would not be surprised if her death was a result of complications following her surgery and she eventually died of sepsis, rather than T.B. or cancer as is thought to be the case.” Which, if averred, would move Hester Jane’s tuberculosis from primary to contributory cause of death, at best.

As should be now evident, the question of when/if Hester Jane’s tuberculosis declared itself is something that definitely needs to be addressed again, without any de Campian interference, this time…


Following her stay at Mrs. McCarson in 1899, we find Hester Jane living in Abilene, TX, at the time of the 1900 census, sharing an apartment with her sister Christina and Christina’s daughter Lucile. Christina and John Oliver Cobb were now estranged (Cobb, still living in Oklahoma, indicated that he was a widower on that census). Hester spent the first eight months of 1902 with Wynne Ervin and either Christina or Georgia Alice in Mineral Wells. She would soon meet Isaac Mordecai Howard, though we don’t know anything about the exact moment and how they met. That biographical chapter of their life is one that remains to be researched and written.


The image of Hester Jane Ervin that emerges from this re-examination of her early years is one that doesn’t have a lot to do with the way she has usually been depicted. Gone is the “strained and uncertain bride,” the woman who had suffered from the various “dislocations,” who didn’t get along with her brothers and sisters. Gone is the Florence Nightingale-like image of a Hester Jane who, instead of trying to find a husband, sacrifices her time to alleviate the pains of her siblings afflicted from the same disease that would later claim her life. This Hester Jane Ervin never existed, save perhaps in the de Camps’ imagination.

The real Hester Jane Ervin grew in a world of affluence, surrounded by men of power. Her father was rather wealthy. Among her siblings and in-laws, she had newspapermen, rich merchants, a banker. She had never worked a single day in her life and spent her time alternating stays in her Exeter home and visits to relatives, most of the time in rather large towns. She got along with her family, was there for the great occasions but also when a sister needed her help. Her everyday life was not about taking care of sick relatives, though, but enjoying the company of refined and well-off people. She was a lover of drama and poetry. The first man she fell in love with was a newspaper publisher promised to a brilliant future. She also apparently made no mystery of the importance of money and social status to her eyes, and the life she led between 1890 and 1903 reflected that perfectly.

In 1902, as Hester Jane Ervin was spending time with her siblings in fashionable Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto County, Isaac Mordecai Howard arrived in Palo Pinto County, too, settling in Graford, population 19. He had spent some time in a tiny village in Oklahoma, with a favorite sister whose husband was serving five years in the penitentiary for stealing three mules. He had no money and no diploma.

He apparently had other qualities.


Special thanks to Barbara Barrett for her comments and suggestions.

The Man from Ferris

[This series of essays begins here]

In early 1915, Isaac M. Howard, his wife Hester Jane and their son Robert E. settled in the small town of Cross Cut, Brown County, TX. Annie Newton Davis, born 1891, was one of their neighbors there. She became a close friend of the family and especially of Dr. Howard. In 1978 she was interviewed by the de Camps in the course of their research for what would become Dark Valley Destiny and, more than two years later, by Richard Mason (21 January 1981 interview, now part of the “Southwest Collection” at Texas Tech, Lubbock, Texas).

Among the various interesting passages of the de Camp interview was this one:

But this thing, what I didn’t want to publicize, is that Mrs. Howard was in love with a  friend – had been – a young man. And she expected to marry him. But this dashing young doctor came along, and she hurriedly married him. Then the rest of her life, she lived in disappointment. […] Well, and then she was down in Goldthwaite part of the time. […] There was nothing to do after her disappointment. She had this child.

[ …]

[Hester] was… treated [Isaac Howard] fairly well, if the collections were coming in all right […] I have been with Dr. Howard and Mrs. Howard and I know they were desperately unhappy. […] Her being in love with someone else and then married this dashing, young doctor. And then after she married him, she wouldn’t divorce him, but she lived with him. She treated him fair, but he knew and they all knew that her heart was some place else. […] She didn’t mind letting you know that this other fellow […] became prosperous, and made more money than the doctor. And here she’s married to this poor country doctor […] and the other man was making lots of money and what a mistake she’d made. (Interview with Lyon and Catherine Sprague de Camp, 18 Oct 1978)

Asked about the man’s name, Mrs. Davis told the de Camps: “The only name I can recall is ‘Ezell’ (surname) [De Camp’s transcription] but I can not vouch for that.”

About the same story was repeated to Mason in 1981:

I think […] from his side of the story and some from hers that she […] was in love with a young fellow, a very promising young fellow, but then this young attractive doctor came along and she married him. She never got over that. Through all her life she was bitter because Dr. Howard didn’t make enough money. And as he said, Hester – he called her Hess – was much easier to get along with when the collections were good.”

But how could Hester Jane know that her former suitor was making more money than her husband? Was she still in touch with the man, years after she had married Isaac Howard? Mrs. Davis is clearly implying that such was the case, when she mentions Hester Jane’s visits to Goldthwaite.

A name, a social status, the fact that Hester Howard somehow kept in touch with her former suitor. As many elements that would go a long way to give serious credence to Mrs. Davis’ declarations, IF it were possible to find a man that would fit this exact description and particulars.

And while proving the case remains an impossibility for the simple reason that everything hinges on Mrs. Davis’ recollections, we nevertheless have a very, very strong candidate in the person of Mr. Frank Ezzell…

Hester Jane probably made contact with the Ezzell family in late 1891 or 1892. On December 8, 1891, her younger brother William Vinson married Ida Ezzell in Coke County. She was the daughter of Samuel R. Ezzell (1834-1910), a preacher and newspaper publisher. Relocating to Ferris, Ellis County, William V. launched his own career as a publisher, buying the local newspaper, the Ferris Sentinel, in 1893. He sold his share in 1898 to move to Big Spring, Howard County, where he began publication of the Big Spring Enterprise. He would remain a newspaperman until his death in 1927.

It was of course through her brother that Hester made the acquaintance of the other Ezzell siblings. One of them, Lesta Ezzell, had become Mrs. J. T. McCarson at the end of 1898. The sumptuous wedding was covered by the Ferris Wheel (ex–Sentinel) in detail, and William V. Ervin and his wife were among the guests, as could be expected. A few weeks later, on May 13, 1899, the Ferris Wheel ran the following: “Miss Hester Ervin of Exeter, MO, is the guest of Mrs. J.T. McCarson.”

1899-05-13 - Ferris Wheel - HJE

Hester Jane Ervin (who was thus still living in her father’s house in Exeter), had become acquainted with Lesta, and the two women apparently liked each other a lot: Hester Jane would remain a guest of the McCarsons for quite a number of weeks: “Miss Hester Ervin who has been visiting Mrs. J. T. McCarson, left for Abilene Thursday to visit her sister. She was accompanied to Dallas by Mrs. McCarson.” (The Ferris Wheel, 24 Jun 1899). This is very much the Hester Jane of the 1890s we are now used to seeing: an independent woman, spending her time between her father’s house in Missouri and visits to various relatives and friends.

1899-06-24 - Ferris Wheel - HJE

Mrs J. T. McCarson, aka Lesta Ezzell, would remain a close friend until Hester Howard’s death, though it is of course difficult to estimate the frequency with which the two women saw or wrote each other. By 1935 at the latest, the McCarsons had relocated to Brownwood, quite close to the Howards. When the Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection was set up, among the books donated was Louis Paul’s The Pumpkin Coach (New York, The Literary Guild, 1935), inscribed as follows: “This little book is dedicated | in kind memory of our | deceased friend Robert E. | Howard. | Mr. & Mrs. J.T. McCarson | Brownwood, Texas.”

The man who was probably Hester’s suitor, Frank Ezzell, brother to Ida Ervin and Lesta McCarson, was born 30 April 1870. He was thus exactly the same age as Hester Jane. Probably wanting to walk in his father’s footsteps, he had decided to go for journalism, and had found work in 1893 as an employee of his brother-in-law, William Vinson, when the latter had bought the Ferris Sentinel. It was Frank Ezzell who, some time later, had had the idea to change the name of the newspaper to the Ferris Wheel, and it was he again who had bought the paper from William Vinson (see “The Story of Ferris”). No wonder then that Lesta’s wedding was covered so lavishly in the local paper: her own brother was editing and publishing it.

ferris ferris2

On the 1900 census, Frank Ezzell is found living at the house of his sister Lesta, in Ferris, in the very house Hester Jane had spent six weeks in the year before. It is of course tempting to think that this is where and when a romance could have developed.

Frank Ezzell would never marry and he would die in 1947.

He was everything Annie Newton Davis described him to be, except that he was not from Goldthwaite: young, ambitious, successful, an eligible bachelor. His name was indeed Ezzell, and thanks to the family connection, there were many occasions for Hester to meet the man, to cultivate a relationship and, later, after Hester had married Isaac Mordecai, as many occasions to receive news about him. If Hester Jane truly regretted marrying a “poor country doctor” and spent her life regretting her decision, it mustn’t have been pleasant to live with such a constant reminder. Frank Ezzell had disappeared from the surface of Hester Jane’s life only.

And it was while Hester Jane was spending some time in Mineral Wells, where she was looking after a relative suffering from tuberculosis, “the curse of the Ervins,” that Isaac Mordecai Howard entered her life.

Or so the story went.

[Next installment here]


Today is the 107th anniversary Howard’s birth. While there was no formal celebration in Cross Plains as in recent years, each fan remembers REH in his or her on way on this day — many read their favorite Howard story while enjoying an adult beverage. But no matter how you do it, the main thing is to remember the man and his writing.

Howard didn’t specifically mention his birthday too often in his letters, but in a letter to Argosy All-Story Weekly in the Spring 1929 (published in the July 20, 1929 issue) Howard writes a little about himself:

I was born in Texas about twenty-three years ago and have spent most of that time in various parts of my native State. My family has been prone to follow booms, and I have lived in oil boom towns, land boom towns, railroad boom towns, and have seen life in some of its crudest and most elemental forms.

I spent a great deal of my earlier childhood on a ranch, and in the way of occupation have done a great many things, such as riding the range, packing a surveyor’s rod, working on farms, and in law offices, writing up oil field news for various Texas and Oklahoma papers, and working in a drug store.

I have always had two main hobbies, boxing and reading, and as I grew out of boyhood the latter crystallized into a desire to write. Circumstances kept me out of the ring, which is probably a good thing for my health in general, but my desire to write materialized—to an extent anyway!

I have been selling stories since the age of eighteen and I am unusually proud and glad to have placed “Crowd Horror” with this magazine, for I have been a reader of Argosy for years—since before the combining of Argosy with All-Story. I suppose I have every Argosy I ever bought, for I have a stack of back numbers about four feet high.

Sincerely yours.

Robert E. Howard

Of course, on another biographical note, Patrice is in the middle of his trip down the road to Dark Valley, which will debunk the de Camp myth that REH lived there when he was a newborn. So while we all wait for Patrice’s next chapter, let’s take some time to remember Two-Gun Bob and wish him a Happy Birthday!

Art credit: REH Tribute by John Buscema

Of Truth and Suicide

[This series of essays begins here]

Before tackling the question of Hester Jane’s love life, we need to take a detour back to Denton County, and from there to Cooke and Callahan, since we are now in a position to clear up a very important element of the first post in this series, re: Hester Jane Howard’s exact knowledge of her family history. As seen in the previous installment, it was in Denton County that G.W. Ervin had been investing quite some money in real estate and mineral rights. Fifty years down the road, these mineral rights resurfaced, in an episode full of ghosts and of lies revealed, and that would end with a suicide.

On September 1st, 1927, Alice Wynne died in Exeter, MO, aged 79. She was buried with her husband G.W. Ervin in Maplewood Cemetery, Barry County.

A few weeks earlier, on July 11, 1927, a woman named Marilda C. Mitchell, appeared before F. M. Savage, Cooke County Commissioner. Marilda, widow of David Lynn Mitchell, was actually Marilda Caroline Ervin, the first child born of George W. and Sarah Jane Ervin’s union.

Born 1850 in Tishomingo, Marilda had followed her parents to Hill County, where she had married David Lynn Mitchell on 06 December 1868, in  the small town of Aquila. The couple appear in the 1870 census in Hill County, next to the Ervins, but they soon left Texas for Arkansas (perhaps accompanying the Ervins there if there is any truth to their short out-of-state jaunt), then Tennessee, and eventually back to Texas after a few years. Marilda’s husband died in 1898 in Cooke County, and she would remain in that area of Texas until her death.

Ten children had been born to G.W. and Sarah Jane Ervin. Three of those had died young. Then, in 1899, Robert T. Ervin, the promising banker from Galveston, succumbed from a heart attack aged 32. Christina C. followed in 1907 and Georgia Alice in 1915. In the summer of 1927, only four of the ten remained alive, though William Vinson Ervin had been in bad health for quite some time, and would die on 07 November. Christopher C. Ervin was alive and well, but he was far from the family, having lived in Oklahoma for many years. The last two daughters were Marilda Caroline and Hester Jane.

It is difficult to say whether Hester and Marilda had kept in touch over the years, or even if they were close. But in the summer of 1927, they obviously acted in unison. A few weeks after Marilda paid a visit to the Cooke County Commissioner, Hester Jane Howard did the same thing in Cross Plains, on August 11, 1927, three weeks before Alice’s death.

Paul V. Harrell, Notary Public – who would later be one of Mrs. Howard’s pall-bearers, and the man suspected to have destroyed Robert E. Howard’s will in 1936 at Dr. Howard’s insistence – thus consigned the following declaration to paper:

Before me the undersigned authority on this day personally appeared Mrs. Hester Ervin Howard, known to me to be a trustworthy person who on being by me duly sworn upon her oath, states:

That Affiant was the daughter of G.W. Ervin and wife Sarah J. Ervin, both of whom are deceased; that she is the wife of I.M. Howard, that G.W. Ervin and wife Sarah J. Ervin were married about the year 1849; that there were born to them seven children from said marriage who were living at the time of the death of Mrs. Sarah J. Ervin [the deceased were John P. Ervin, David D. Ervin and Lizzie Ervin]; and that two other children were born to them without having married and without issue [actually, all of them had married and all had had children]; that Mrs. Sarah J. Ervin died before her husband and that her husband married again and only five children were born of said marriage and that G.W. Ervin the father of the affiant is now deceased; that G.W. Ervin and Sarah J. Ervin died intestate and that there was no administration upon the estate of either of them and no necessity for any.

[Follows here the list of acquisitions]

That said land was not sold during the marriage of the parents of Affiant but was sold after the death of Affiant’s mother and after G.W. Ervin’s marriage to the second wife; that Affiant understands that all the mineral rights in said land were reserved in G.W. Ervin and were not conveyed by said deed; that said minerals have never been conveyed but are still the property of the heirs of G.W. Ervin and his wife Sarah J. Ervin; that Affiant claims a 1/14 interest in said minerals inherited from her mother and a 1/24 interest inherited her deceased father.

Mrs. Hester E. Howard.

Denton Co Documents-03

Marilda Ervin’s claim was of a similar one, though not as well documented. In other words, the two sisters had decided to go after the mineral rights of their deceased father. I let everyone draw their own conclusions as to Hester and Marilda’s intentions, actions and timing. Their attempts to regain some rights didn’t meet any success, or were not pursued.

Ervin, Marilda - ObitThe health of the aging Marilda was apparently not good. Less than two years later, in the spring of 1929, she was admitted at St. Paul’s sanitarium in Dallas, where she was treated for involutional melancholia. On 14 July 1929, on the occasion of a brief return to her home, Marilda Ervin slit her throat in her bathroom. She died in the ambulance on her way to St. Paul’s. She was Robert E. Howard’s aunt. Her obit mentioned all her children and grandchildren, but only one sibling: Hester Jane Howard (as “Mrs. Esther Howard of Cross Plains”).

The one question that needed a definite answer in the first essay in this series was the extent to which Hester Jane Howard was familiar with her own family history. Had she given wrong information to her son and husband simply out of ignorance? Given the numerous contacts between family members, Hester’s frequent visits to relatives, and now the very detailed account she gave to Paul Harrell, the answer makes little doubt: Hester Jane Howard knew her family history perfectly well. And in trying to appear younger than she really was in the eyes of her husband, and maintaining that lie after her son was born, she had unwittingly given the latter a warped image of his family history. Howard chose not to see or acknowledge seeing the obvious, and this in turn, must have led him to wonder what was being kept from him, and why.

Some others of Hester Jane’s siblings would play a very important role in the years that separated her from the day she would meet Isaac Mordecai Howard. And it was though one of them, her brother William Vinson, that she would meet the first man she would fall in love with.

[Next installment here]

This entry filed under Hester Jane Ervin Howard, Howard Biography.

Of Railroads and Men

[This series of essays begins here]

George W. Ervin, his wife Sarah Jane and their seven children arrived in Texas in 1866, settling either immediately or rapidly in Hill County, where their eighth child, Robert T. would be born on 30 January 1867. In the four years that would elapse before Hester Jane’s birth, in July 1870, G.W. Ervin would lose his father, Robert Ervin (05 June 1800 – 19 September 1869) and one son, John P. Ervin (29 Dec 1856 – 11 Oct 1868). Since Robert Ervin died in Hill County, there are strong chances that G.W. and his father were living under the same roof. Jane Ervin, his mother, would remain with her son until her death, on 10 August 1887. George W. Ervin’s eldest daughter Marilda (born 13 Nov or Dec 1850) married John P. Mitchell on 6 December 1868, in Hill County, too.

At the time of the 1870 census, G.W. Ervin’s household was as follows:

G. W. Ervin, (born 09 Nov 1830, Rowan County, NC, declared himself as a farmer); Sarah Jane Ervin, (supposedly born 09 May 1832, TN, but unverified); Jane Ervin (née Tennison, G.W.’s mother, born 15 May 1806, Rowan Co, NC).

And the children:

Christina C. Ervin (born 24 Dec 1852, Tishomingo Co, MS), Christopher C. Ervin (born 26 Apr 1855, Tishomingo Co, MS), William Vinson Ervin (born 12 Jan 1860, Tishomingo Co, MS), Georgia Alice Ervin (born 17 May 1862, Tishomingo Co, MS), David D. Ervin (born 09 Feb 1865, Tishomingo Co, MS), Robert T. Ervin (born 30 Jan 1867, Hill Co, TX).

To which should be added Hester Jane Ervin (born 11 Jul 1870, but not mentioned on the census because it only covered those born on or before June 1st), probably named after her grandmothers (Martha) Esther (Mason) and Jane (Tennyson).

The Ervins in Shady Grove.It is unclear when exactly the Ervins left Hill County. A 1872 document mentions them in Shady Grove, Arkansas, but it is difficult to say whether they were arriving, leaving, or just visiting. Howard has his grandfather operating a store in Fayetteville in the late 70s, so maybe G.W. Ervin did manage a store for a while there, (but earlier than what Howard thought). At any rate, the family wouldn’t stay out of Texas for very long.

In late 1873 at the very latest, but probably quite earlier than that, G.W. Ervin relocated to Dallas. No longer a farmer, no longer operating a store (if he ever did), George W. had become a businessman. Everything that would happen to him during the next twelve years of his life would be connected, not to whippoorwills, but to the Dallas & Wichita Railroad.

The Dallas & Wichita Railroad had been formed in 1871 with the object of building a commuter line from Dallas to Lewisville, Denton County, but the Panic of 1873 shut it down before any real construction was done. It was given new life in the months that followed when J.W. Calder of Nevada bought its debts, and a new board of eight directors was elected on January 5, 1874. Several prominent men were among them: Calder himself, of course, but also John Calvin McCoy, and former Dallas Mayor Henry S. Ervay. George W. Ervin was one of those eight men.

George W. Ervin would remain on the board for the next several years, but it was only indirectly that his position would prove beneficial to him, as was probably his intention from the beginning. He had been engaged for some time in real estate (he appears as “real estate agent” in a 1875 Dallas directory, and several maps of an area of Dallas connected with the future railroad are captioned as “Ervin’s addition to the City of Dallas,” with sometimes a “GW” added in front of the name to identify the man). More than a railroad man, G.W. Ervin was a real estate dealer. A few weeks later, in May 1874 at the latest, another important connection was made when fellow director Henry S. Ervay helped a man named Marcellus Pointer sell some real estate belonging to G.W. Ervin. Marcellus Pointer would also soon become involved with the Dallas & Wichita Railroad, until 1878 that is, when Calder was murdered. Marcellus Pointer was one of three men accused of the murder, but he was acquitted, (this affair evidently caused the D&W RR, already not in so brilliant shape, to go definitely under.) But it was not for that reason that Marcellus Pointer would play an important role in G.W. Ervin’s future life. It was because of his niece.

As G.W. Ervin’s affairs were gaining momentum, his wife Sarah Jane died on June 2nd 1874, “after a lingering illness” (Dallas Daily Herald obit, 03 Jun 1874). She had given birth to a tenth child on April 6 or 16, a girl named Lizzie who would survive her mother by only one day. Hester Jane Ervin, not even 4, had just lost her mother.

Alice Wynne (1871)

Alice Wynne (1871)

Less than a year later, on April 14, 1875, G.W. Ervin took Alice Wynne for his second wife. Alice Wynne had recently arrived in Dallas from Mississippi, and was the daughter of Joel Echols Wynne and Martha Ann Pointer, sister to Marcellus Pointer. G.W. Ervin’s private and professional life were becoming intricately laced.

Shortly after his marriage, G.W. Ervin decided to relocate in Lewisville, Denton County, where he would buy and sell land and lots over the next few years. He moved there in the second half of 1875, evidently capitalizing on the railroad company in the hope of making a fortune when the train would eventually make it to Lewisville, but he was also thinking beyond that, or rather below:

We had the pleasure of meeting in our office yesterday, Colonel G.W. Ervin, of Denton County. Colonel E. has an immense coal deposit on his lands, and of course awaits the advent of the Dallas and Wichita with great interest. (The Dallas Daily Herald, 22 May 1877)

The present indications are that there will be most enough in Denton County to fatten every hog in the state… G.W. Erwin writes to the Monitor from Lewisville, Denton County, as follows: “I am making good progress developing my mineral deposits, and the indications prove more favorable daily. Good miners and experts pronounced the indication for coal, lead and copper as fine as they ever saw. The surface shows iron, then comes slate, thin layers of cannel coal, which burns well, then lead, silver and copper. Oil indications are pronounced as good as in the famous Pennsylvania oil region, and our shaft is now 36 feet deep and progressing well. (The Galveston Daily News, 16 April 1878)

There is much talk here of the mineral resources of Col. Ervin, of the Lewisville hotel. It is believed that capitalists could come here and make millions out of them. (The Dallas Daily Herald, 18 August 1880)

The 1880 census does indeed indicate “keeps hotel” as GW’s profession, but this was evidently not his primary source of income, far from it. The ex-farmer from Mississippi was now making serious money.

The Ervin house in Lampasas

The stately Ervin house in Lampasas

By the time he relocated to Lampasas, sometime between late 1885 and 1887, Alice had given G.W. Ervin three new children: Coralie (1876), Jessie Florence (1880) and Annie (1882). Two more, the last ones, would be born soon: Winton (1886) and Lulu (1887). Of the children born of Sarah Jane, only William Vinson, Georgia Alice, Robert T. Ervin, and Hester Jane remained, raised by Alice, probably helped by G.W.’s mother. G.W. Ervin eventually moved to Exeter, Missouri, in 1890, where he would spend the last ten years of his life, dying there on 21 May 1900.

The Exeter house, with three Ervin daughters and an unknown male.

The Exeter house, with three Ervin daughters and an unknown male.

G.W. and Sarah Jane’s second child, Christina C. had married a Dr. Lou Thomas. The couple left Texas and moved to Indian Territory around 1884, settling near Fishertown, close to Muskogee. One of their first visitors there was her brother William Vinson Ervin, who wanted to become a physician (before he opted for journalism). G.W. Ervin very likely followed, though the newspaper entry inexplicably has him as “Dr. Phillips from Dallas,” though his identity is obvious. Dr. Lou Thomas died sometime between 1885 and 1891. On June 16, 1892, Christina married John Oliver Cobb, a prominent merchant of Muskogee, a wedding which was, according to the local newspaper, “somewhat a surprise to their friends, though it was not wholly unexpected.” The newlyweds spent some time traveling during their honeymoon, spending some time in Arkansas, and at the Ervins in Missouri.

Hester's autographIt was there that Hester Jane met Christina’s husband for the first time. Coralie, GW Ervin and Alice Wynne’s eldest daughter, kept an autograph book, and Christina and JO Cobb wrote a few words in it on 22 August 1892. On the same day, Hester Jane did the same, quoting Shakespeare: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Famous lines from Macbeth that Hester’s son would put to good use when he would write the Solomon Kane story “The Blue Flame of Vengeance,” 37 years later.

In December, it was Hester’s turn to pay her sister a visit in Muskogee, where Christina had “been quite sick with la grippe.” Hester caught sick in turn and was stuck at her sister’s home for a few weeks at least. (For more on C.C. Ervin and Dr. Lou Thomas, see Rob Roehm’s “Ervins in Oklahoma“)

Years later, Howard would write: “My mother was not content in Missouri, and she spent much of her time in Texas, with various relatives. Incidentally, she spent most of the year of 1894 in Muskogee, in the old Indian Territory. An older sister had married a cowman who lived there, and my mother stayed with them.”

It is difficult to say whether Hester did stay a year at her sister’s, but Cobb, a wealthy merchant, was anything but a “cowman.” Howard also wrote: “My mother used to live in Oklahoma […] You can’t fool her about Indians. But she didn’t know any of these strong, silent, noble savages. Those she knew were dirty, thieving rascals who came around at night, stealing, burning, murdering. She saw terrible things when she was a girl. She saw white people tortured and murdered. She knew of young girls being kidnapped by Indians.”

Hester Jane seems to have been genuinely frightened by Indians, but if what we can reconstruct of her stay in Muskogee is any indication, she was much more a witness of courtroom battles than anything else: John Oliver Cobb went all the way to the Supreme Court to prove that his first wife was part-Cherokee (so he could himself become a Cherokee citizen by marriage, and hence set up a very profitable business in Indian Territory). The legal battle between him and the Cherokees lasted for years. In the meantime Cobb’s first wife had died and he had remarried with Christina, Hester Jane’s sister.

From left to right: Wynne Ervin, probably Sally Wynne, Lulu Ervin, Hester Jane, unknown, Coralie Ervin.

From left to right: Wynne Ervin, probably Sally Wynne, Lulu Ervin, Hester Jane Ervin, unknown, Coralie Ervin, ca 1894 or 1895.

Hester may have spent the full year 1894 with her sister, or she could have been alternating her stays in Missouri with visits to her siblings, which seems to sum up what she did from 1892 to 1903. She was obviously enjoying a life that must have been as pleasant as it was financially comfortable: her father was a rich man; Cobb was a rich merchant, William Vinson was becoming a successful journalist, her brother Robert T. Ervin was a promising banker who had married the daughter of one of the wealthiest men of Galveston…

And what was bound to happen probably happened during one of those visits. Hester Jane Ervin fell in love.

Not with Isaac Mordecai Howard.


With special thanks to my partner-in-Ervin-research Terry Baker, who supplied me with some information on the Dallas & Wichita Railroad and all the photos on this page.

[Next installment here]

This entry filed under Hester Jane Ervin Howard, Howard Biography.

A Question of Age

For Hester Jane Ervin, the road that led to Dark Valley (see Introduction to the series of articles here) began before her birth, in Hill County, TX, where her father, George W. Ervin, Robert E. Howard’s maternal grandfather, settled in 1866, at the end of the Secession War, leaving Tishomingo County, Mississippi, his home since 1839, 1841 or 1842, depending on the sources. The six feet one, gray-eyed “Colonel” Ervin (or Erwin) as he was nicknamed, had married Sarah Jane Martin (daughter of, probably, Thomas and Martha Esther [née Mason] Martin [both abt. 1798, SC – after 1865, TX]).

Robert and Jane Ervin, G.W.’s parents, had sold their land in Tishomingo in 1851, eventually settling in Texas in 1859, which may explain G.W. Ervin’s decision to move to the Lone Star State.

GW Ervin POWHoward had a profound admiration for his grandfather’s exploits, a Confederate veteran (and, briefly, P.O.W., see photo on the left), a man who “rode for four years with Bedford Forrest,” “was accounted the strongest man in his regiment and one of the strongest men in Forrest’s command. He could cleave a man from shoulder to waist with a single stroke of his saber,” [he] “loaned money, dealt some in cattle; he bought a sheep ranch, but, in the midst of a cattle country, with hired men running it, it was not a success. He wandered over into western New Mexico and worked a silver mine not far from the Arizona line” where “old chief Geronimo once stole a bunch of [his] horses.” We have no reason to doubt any of these anecdotes, probably handed down the family (and perhaps exaggerated in the (re)telling(s),) with the exception of the New Mexico epîsode which smacks of the spurious and is quite likely an invention, given G.W. Ervin’s chronology (detailed in the next installment). But for a man as interested in genealogy as he was, Howard’s inability to present the correct chronology of his grandfather’s days in Texas with any accuracy is more than surprising. To Howard Phillips Lovecraft, he thus gave this highly melodramatic – and entirely imaginary – account of George W. Ervin’s departure from Dallas, in a ca. December 1930 letter:

Colonel Ervin once owned a great deal of property in what is now a very prosperous section of Dallas, and might have grown with the town, but for the whippoorwills. They almost drove him crazy with their incessant calling, and though he was a kindly man with beasts and birds, and killed men with less remorse than he killed animals, in a fit of passion one night, he shot three whippoorwills; it was flying in the face of tradition and he quickly regretted it, but the damage was done. According to legend, you know, human life must pay for the blood of a whippoorwill, and soon the Colonel’s family began to die, at the average of one a year, exactly as the old black people prophesied. He stuck it out five years and then, with five of his big family dead, he gave it up.

His account in the semi-genealogical essay “The Wandering Years” (1933) is much more down-to-earth, but here again, there are several errors and almost nothing is correct in terms of chronology:

In 1866 [G.W. Ervin] came to Hill County, Texas. […. ] He was a planter, not a cattle man. […] He prospered on his broad rich lands. Children were born to him and his wife. There, in 1876, just three years after the last Comanche raid in Central Texas, my mother, Hester Jane Ervin, was born. But my grandfather, though he prospered, was restless, like most men of his time. He sold some of his land, gave the rest to settlers to build a town upon it. And with his family he moved on. He halted at Fayetteville, Arkansas, in the late ’70s, and opened a store. […] Colonel Ervin throve in his merchant adventure, but he did not stay there long. 1880 saw him back in Texas, on a farm in Denton County, which lies just north of Ft. Worth, and south of Red River. Thence he moved to Dallas. A boom town was on in Texas; cities were growing. The Colonel went into the real estate business, and was successful. But the low Trinity River land were unhealthful, and in 1884, he moved again, this time southwestward to Lampasas, in the cattle country.

The chronology of G.W. Ervin’s life in Texas as recounted by Howard is such a hopeless jumble that one can’t even begin to see how he could be so wrong, the more so with his mother living under the same roof as he. Unless she was the reason for this hopeless jumble…

George W. Ervin

George W. Ervin (unconfirmed)

The discovery that Hester Jane Ervin was a full six years older than her son believed her to be is one of most important elements unearthed by the de Camps in the course of their research for Dark Valley Destiny:

Mrs. Howard could not have been born in 1876 [as indicated in “The Wandering Years”] because by that time her mother had been dead for two years. Her husband must have consciously entered into the deception about her age, because Mrs. Howard’s death certificate, based on information supplied by Dr. Howard, records her birth date as July 11, 1874. Even this modification is incorrect. Hester Jane’s mother died of complications attendant upon the birth of her last child, Lizzie Ervin, on June 2, 1874. Mrs. Howard’s tombstone, however, carries the correct date, 1870. [pgs. 22-23]

Unfortunately, this was also the element they chose as a keystone to their biography:

This discrepancy in ages seems such a small, inconsequential thing that it is hardly worth mentioning except for Mrs. Howard’s attitude about it. Mrs. Howard was older than Dr. Howard, who was born in 1871. In those last months of her life, when she confided in this age difference to Miss Merryman, her nurse, Mrs. Howard’s admission was in the nature of a confession. Since in those days a wife was ideally five years younger than her husband, Mrs. Howard and her husband invented the polite fiction that led their son Robert wrongly to believe in this difference between his parents’ age. […]

It is important to note that this deception is but one of the many small fictions maintained by the family, which, taken together, gave young Robert a distorted view of reality. In this case it was a small distortion of little importance, easy to maintain because of Robert’s isolation from the Missouri branch of the family; but the effect of such untruths, if they are accepted as fact, is the same as that of a delusion. Given Mrs. Howard’s assumed birth date, the details of the family history did not add up. Robert’s only choice was that of a person bound to a delusional system: he adjusted the facts to square with his belief that his mother was five years younger than her husband. [pgs. 22-24]

While the de Camps’ discovery was a capital one, they blew it out of all proportions to back up their theory of a “delusional system,” clearly adjusting the “facts” to fit their preconceived ideas, even when there was no fact at all…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Man is greatly molded by his surroundings. I believe, for instance, that the gloominess in my own nature can be partly traced to the surroundings of a locality in which I spent part of my baby-hood. It was a long, narrow valley, lonesome and isolated, up in the Palo Pinto hill country. It was very sparsely settled and its name, Dark Valley, was highly descriptive. So high were the ridges, so thick and tall the oak trees that it was shadowy even in the daytime, and at night it was as dark as a pine forest – and nothing is darker in this world. The creatures of the night whispered and called to one another, faint night-winds murmured through the leaves and now and then among the slightly waving branches could be glimpsed the gleam of a distant star. Surely, the silence, the brooding loneliness, the shadowy mysticism of that lonesome valley entered in some part into my vague-forming nature. At the mouth of the valley stood a deserted and decaying cabin in which a cold-blooded and midnight murder had taken place; owls called weirdly about its ruins in the moonlight, and bats flitted about it in the twilight.

Howard was apparently sincere when he wrote the above in an October 1930 letter to HP Lovecraft. He expressed similar feelings in a poem titled “The Dweller in Dark Valley,” which concludes: “I go no more to Dark Valley which is the Gate of Hell.” In my “Hyborian Genesis” (in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, Del Rey, 2003), I make the case that Conan’s gloomy homeland Cimmeria and Howard’s Dark Valley were closely linked in the author’s mind. In short, there is no denying the psychological importance of Dark Valley in Howard’s psyche.

This probably explains why Catherine and Lyon Sprague de Camp chose the place as the title for their much-maligned biography of Howard: Dark Valley Destiny. Born in so sinister and haunted a region, Howard’s life could only be tragic, its dark conclusion foretold from the very place where he was born. Here are the opening lines of the De Camp’s first chapter of Howard’s life:

Robert Ervin Howard was born on January 24, 1906, in Peaster, Texas, a village in Parker County, ten miles northwest of Weatherford and thirty-five miles due west of Fort Worth. The Howards at that time lived in Dark Valley, a community of some fifty souls in Palo Pinto County, near the Parker County border, but Dr. Howard had taken his wife to Peaster, a larger settlement, in the adjacent county, as her confinement drew near. He wished, presumably, to ensure adequate medical facilities for her lying-in, as well as the services of Dr. J. A. Williams, the physician who attended Mrs. Howard on the birth of her only child. [p. 18]

Not being a Texan, and not even an American, I have long been in the habit of getting a map when discussing anything pertaining to Howard and his family, and his/their various moves/visits/etc. Which gives us this:

Peaster-Dark Valley

There is of course no question that Dark Valley was a very small community, and thus that it would have been wise on the part of Dr. Howard to find a larger place for his wife to give birth. But a mere look at the map above shows that Peaster makes absolutely no sense here. The de Camps probably sensed they were on shaky ground, timidly implying that Dr. Williams was perhaps a close colleague/friend of Dr. Howard, which he wasn’t: he was simply one of the physicians of Peaster. If Dr. Howard wanted to “ensure adequate medical facilities” for his wife, Peaster would not have been his first choice, but more likely the much larger Weatherford. Or even halfway from there, Mineral Wells, where physicians would be numerous.

And since we know for a fact that Howard was born in Peaster, the only – startling – conclusion that suggests itself is that Dr. Howard didn’t bring his wife from Dark Valley to Peaster simply because the Howards didn’t live in Dark Valley in the first place…

Go to Part 1


As a child I crossed the South Plains, not in a covered wagon indeed, but in a buggy, in what was about the last big colonization movement in Texas—the settlement of the Great Plains. (I did go down the Nueces in a covered wagon.) I also saw the beginning of the development of the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

After reading the above, from Howard’s newly rediscovered letter to Dime Sports, I got to wondering about a few things. The “South Plains” comment refers to Howard’s time in Gaines County—Seminole, to be precise—in 1908, but the other items are pretty vague. What else did Howard have to say about the Nueces River (pictured above)? The only other mention of the river comes from his circa October 1930 letter to H. P. Lovecraft:

But the old Texas is gone or is going fast. All the plains are fenced in, where in my childhood I’ve ridden for a hundred miles without seeing a foot of barbed wire. I can’t remember when I’ve heard a coyote. And one of my earliest memories is being lulled to sleep in a covered wagon camped on the Nueces River, by the howling of wolves.

When they built Crystal City twenty years ago in Zavalla county, some forty miles from the Mexican Border, the wolves came howling to the edge of the clearings. The woods were full of wildcats, panthers and javelinas, the lakes were full of fish and alligators. I was back there a couple of years ago and was slightly depressed at the signs of civilization which disfigured the whole country.

Looking at the map that heads this post, it’s pretty clear that anyone going “down the Nueces” would probably stop at Crystal City for supplies and/or human contact. So, if we can figure out when the Howards were in town, we can conclude when they went down the river.

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In an undated letter to an unknown recipient, Howard says of Crystal City (seen above) that it’s “a fair-sized town now and growing all the time. I lived there when the first store went up during its earliest boom.” No help with the date there, but in the letter to Clyde Smith that I recently tacked a “circa June 1928” date on, Howard says that he “was here twenty years ago when there was only one store in Crystal City—just beginning to build.” This comment would put his earliest trip to Crystal City in 1908, if I dated the letter correctly. Of course, he could easily be rounding the “twenty years ago” comment up or down. It’s fairly common for people to say “twenty years” when the actual number is nineteen or twenty-one. But there’s still another reference, this one from Howard’s circa August 1931 letter to Lovecraft:

I remember, very faintly, the fall of a meteorite in South Texas, many years ago. I was about four years old at the time, and was at the house of an uncle, in a little town about forty miles from the Mexican Border; a town which had recently sprung up like a mushroom from the wilderness and was still pretty tough. I remember waking suddenly and sitting up in bed, seeing everything bathed in a weird blue light, and hearing a terrific detonation. My uncle—an Indian—had enemies of desperate character, and in the excitement it was thought they had dynamited the house.

The description of the town here matches Howard’s description of Crystal City above, and his “about four” comment indicates that he was there in 1909 or 1910. We also know who that uncle was: William Oscar McClung, the husband of Doc Howard’s sister, Willie. In L. Sprague de Camp’s biography of Howard, he says that “Fanny McClung Adamson [Willie’s daughter] remembers that ‘Uncle Cue,’ as his nieces and nephews called Isaac Howard, was a frequent visitor to Crystal City.” However, in the interview transcript housed at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Adamson says, “The only time I ever met him [Doc Howard] and knew him, I was sick.” She then describes an episode of chicken pox she had while living at Crystal City with her parents, adding that “We must have moved there in 1908 and it was either 1909 or 1910 when [Doctor Howard] was there.” I’ll leave the frequency of his visits alone for now, but it seems pretty clear that the Howards were in Crystal City sometime in the 1909-10 range. Let’s see if we can narrow that down a bit.

According to Jane W. Griffin, Doctor Howard registered in Seminole on September 14, 1908 [UPDATE: According to a Bexar County document, Dr. Howard registered in Bronte, Coke County, on that date, not Gaines County], and had been practicing in the area since at least February of that year. His next appearance on paper is his signature on a January 19, 1909 birth record from Bronte, over in Coke County. He’s in Bronte until at least August 27, 1909, when he signs his last birth record for the county and drops off the record until January 1910, when he sent a change of address to the Journal of the Texas State Medical Association from Bronte to Poteet and  filed for record in Atascosa County, post office address Poteet. In a letter to his sister-in-law, Mrs. W. P. Searcy, November 7, 1936, Dr. Howard says, “I well remember when Robert was only four years old we spent the winter in San Antonio and the spring months in Atascosa County, some thirty miles south of San Antonio.” Robert Howard turned four in January 1910. So, the question is: What were the Howards doing in the fall of 1909? I’m guessing they were going “down the Nueces” and visiting in Crystal City.

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Have another look at the map above. About 150 miles due north of Barksdale, off the map, is a little town in Coke County called Bronte. I speculate that when the Howards left there in the late summer or early fall of 1909, they traveled south and went down the Nueces River in a covered wagon to Crystal City. After visiting the McClungs in the fall of 1909, they continued following the river as it meandered east toward Corpus Christi. After about 80 miles, in McMullen County, they left the river (or perhaps joined the Atascosa River) and went north another 80 miles to winter in San Antonio, the county seat of Bexar County, where de Camp says Doctor Howard registered on January 8, 1910. The doctor’s letter mentioned above says that the Howards spent “the spring months [of 1910] in Atascosa County, some thirty miles south of San Antonio.” After that, they appear to have traveled to Palo Pinto County, far to the north, where they were recorded on the U. S. Census, which was enumerated on May 16, 1910. Again, this is speculation; however, if this isn’t when the river trip occurred, there wasn’t much time left in 1910 for another. On December 20, 1910, the McClungs sold their land in Crystal City (below), practically an entire city block, and headed off to Arkansas.

1910 McClung