Archive for August, 2013

Belle Starr on her horseBelle Starr was born Myra Belle Shirley on February 5, 1848 on a little farm near Carthage, Missouri. She received a classical education and was a competent pianist. Starr was on track to lead an ordinary and respectable middle-class life. But fate stepped in when the Civil War started and forever changed her life. The war ruined her father’s business as a Carthage innkeeper and took the life of her brother Edwin. Devastated and penniless, the family left Missouri for Texas and a fresh start.

In Texas, the young Starr fell in with a group of badmen the likes of Cole Younger, a member of the James-Younger gang that was infamous for a string of daring bank and train robberies. Starr and Younger were a couple, but her relationship with him was short-lived, and in 1866 she married  Jim Reed, a family acquaintance from Missouri who had served as a Confederate guerilla. They had their first child, a daughter named Rosie Lee Reed (nicknamed “Pearl” by her mother), in September of 1868. Even though she was a new mother, she was apparently fine with her husband’s outlaw reputation and even became his partner in crime by 1869. Starr joined Reed in his outlaw way — stealing cattle, horses, and money in the Dallas area. Riding her mare, “Venus,” wearing velvet skirts and plumed hats, Starr played the role of “The Bandit Queen” to the hilt for several years. Like Bass, she had a song named after her — written by the great folk singer Woody Guthrie.

In 1871 the couple had a son named James Edwin “Eddie” Reed. Like his parents, he was an outlaw – convicted of horse theft and receiving stolen property in July 1889 and sent to prison. His sister Pearl, became a prostitute to raise money for his release. She did achive her goal, eventually obtaining a presidential pardon for him in 1893. Pearl was spurned by Eddie when he found out how she had earned the money that freed him from prison. After his stint in jail, Eddie was a reformed man and became a police officer. He was killed in a shootout in December of 1896. As for Pearl, she made a good living in prostitution, operating several bordellos in Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas from the 1890s to World War I. She died peacefully in Douglas, Arizona on July 6, 1925 with no one knowing her true identity.

Jim ReedIn April 1874, Reed robbed the Austin-San Antonio stagecoach and relieved the passengers of about $2,500. A dead-or-alive bounty of $7,000 was placed on his head and he went into hiding. But lawmen found Reed outside of Paris, Texas on August 6, 1874. He was captured, but shot to death by a deputy sheriff while trying to escape from custody.

After a brief fling with Bruce Younger, Belle married a Cherokee Indian named Sam Starr on June 5, 1880. The pair settled on communal tribal land in the Cherokee Nation, at a place called Youngers’ Bend — known today as Eufaula, Oklahoma. During the early 1880s their cabin provided a hideout for outlaws. Belle made no apologies for what and who she was, once telling a Dallas newspaper reporter: “I am a friend to any brave and gallant outlaw.”

In 1882, Belle and Sam were brought up on charges of horse theft filed against them by one of their neighbors in the Indian Territory. Both were found guilty and in March 1883, Judge Parker (known as ‘The Hanging Judge”) sentenced them to a year in the House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan While in prison, Belle proved to be a model prisoner, however Sam was more incorrigible and did his time assigned to hard labor.

Leaving prison, the corrupt couple quickly resumed their lives of crime. Belle was charged with robbing a post office while dressed as a man; somehow she managed to get herself acquitted of the crime. In 1886, Belle lost Sam when he was killed in a gunfight with a Bureau of Indian Affairs Police Officer named Frank West. At a dance hall near the Canadian River, an intoxicated Sam approached Officer West and accused him of shooting his horse. He then pulled his pistol and shot West in the neck. Even though mortally wounded, West was able to return fire, killing Sam. The gunfire ended the happiest period in Belle’s life and her carrer as the famed “Bandit Queen.”

Blue Duck & Belle StarrDuring the last several years of her life, Starr of her life had a trio of outlaw lovers with colorful names: Jack Spaniard, Jim French and Blue Duck. Eventually she married a Creek Indian named Jim July, an outlaw who was 15 years younger than her. In January of 1889, July was arrested for robbery and summoned to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to face charges. Belle accompanied her young lover for part of the journey but turned back before reaching Fort Smith. Upon returning to her land, she summoned her two wayward children to live with her in a cabin she shared with July before he went to trial.

On February 3, 1889, Starr was riding home from a friend’s house, rounding a small hill, when she was ambushed, taking a shotgun blast to the head. After she fell off her horse, the shooter came out of hiding and  shot her again to make sure she was dead. She suffered fatal wounds to her head, neck, back, shoulder and face from the twin blasts.

When she was killed, she was alone on the Oklahoma plains with no one to witness her demise. However, there were several suspects, including both of her children. But the most likely candidate appeared to be Edgar J. Watson, a sharecropper who worked her land. Watson was fugitive, with a bounty on his head for murder he committed in Florida — and Starr was aware of his criminal past.

Watson was arrested and put on trial for Starr’s murder, but nothing came of it and he was ultimately acquitted. Thus the ambush and murder of Starr has entered the annals of Western lore as “unsolved.” As for Watson, he returned to Florida in 1891 where he allegedly killed a man in self-defense over a land dispute. The next year he bought a sugar plantation and became a businessman with a dubious reputation. He was gunned down by locals in 1910 after committing yet another murder.

While Bass did pass away on his birthday, Starr actually died on February 3, 1889 — just two days before her birthday — but heck that’s close enough.

Read Part One

This entry filed under Howard's Texas.

Blackburn home 1911

So I’m trying to get ready for the big San Antonio hoo-ha next week. I’ve already done just about everything I can think of that’s Howard-related in Alamo-town, but I still need to take care of a little business on Thursday morning before hitting the convention center, and, since I’ll be out and about, I figured I should probably get a picture of the former home of Allen M. and Florence Blackburn. Who are they? Here’s de Camp in Dark Valley Destiny:

Bob and Truett rode to Brady, where they changed to the bus that ran from San Angelo to San Antonio, with a stop for lunch at Fredericksburg. They stayed for several days with Mrs. Howard’s friends the Allen M. Blackburns in San Antonio. Bob enjoyed his first sight of this most picturesque of all Texan cities, through which runs a channeled stream whose banks are always decked out as if for a fiesta. The boys attended movies and prizefights, one of the latter being an open-air affair in the city and the other held in Fort Sam Houston. Save when Mr. Blackburn gave them a tour of the city in his Ford, they got around town by streetcar.

Now, where de Camp got this information isn’t mentioned; there’s no footnote or other attribution. I’d guess it came from Vinson himself; after all, he is listed as one of many people who “contributed enormously in rounding out this picture of the Howard family and the world in which they lived.” Anyway, any friend of Hester’s is worth looking into, and if Bob Howard stayed there, I want a picture.

I haven’t done all that much looking for the Blackburns, but here’s what I know. Florence Antoinette Underwood was born in Mississippi in 1859 and moved to Texas with her family in 1869. She landed in Bexar County around 1911 (and the Howards spent some time there in 1910, hmm). In 1913 she married James Smith Tisdale, who died four years later, October 20, 1917. The 1918 city directory lists Florence as a widow, still living in the house at 217 Warwick Blvd. that she shared with her husband.

Allen M. Blackburn was born on January 27, 1859, in Illinois. He married Mary Jane Doke in Indiana in 1883. The couple had two children before Mary Jane died, February 17, 1902 in Mobile, Alabama. Mr. Blackburn drops off the record for a decade, but reappears in the 1913 San Antonio city directory, living on S Flores Street and working as a painter. The 1922 directory has him “retired” and living on West Commerce. Florence is still at 217 Warwick. Things are a bit different in the 1924 directory: there is no listing for Florence, but Allen is listed as a “paperhanger” at her address, 217 Warwick. The 1926 directory has them both sharing the address, as well as Allen’s last name. They lived in that house well into the 1930s. Florence died in 1938 and Allen died ten years later.

Blackburn home 1912

With the address in hand, I did a Google Earth search and found nothing. Warwick Blvd. doesn’t exist anymore. So I searched around until I found a Sanborn map of San Antonio from 1912. It doesn’t have that address, the house wasn’t built yet, but it shows the location of Warwick Blvd. in relation to other streets. Using this, I was able to determine that Warwick Blvd. is now East Highland Blvd. And with that information, I went back to Google Earth. Unfortunately, Kent Pl. and everything east of it now lies buried under the massive intersection of Interstate Highways 10 and 37. The “street view” does show some fine old houses, though, but none that I need a picture of. So, one less stop for me to make on Thursday. I hate it when that happens.

Blackburn home 2013

REH Display-HRC03

Well, Two-Gun Bob has made it to the big time — he has a display of his writings and publications at the Harry Ransom Center. As noted in my previous post, the Center acquired the Glenn Lord Collection of Howard’s typescripts. Here is a blurb from the official press release:

Howard maintained a regular correspondence for six years with fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft, and the two debated the merits of civilization vs. barbarianism, cities and society vs. the frontier, the mental vs. the physical and other subjects. Some of this correspondence is preserved in the collection.

Other highlights in the collection include Howard’s hand-drawn map of Earth in the Hyborian Age, the setting for his Conan stories; original typescripts of works such as “The Hour of the Dragon” and “The God in the Bowl”; and a handwritten draft of his play “Bran Mak Morn.”

Lord became a collector of Howard’s work in the 1950s and amassed the world’s largest collection of Howard’s stories, poems and letters. Lord served as the literary agent for Howard’s heirs for almost 30 years, and his collection was used as the source text for almost every published Howard work appearing in books and magazines between 1965 and 1997.

The materials will be accessible once processed and cataloged. Two cases of Howard materials will be on display in the Ransom Center’s lobby through Sept. 3.

REH Display-HRC02

Whether it is a coincidence or not, this display runs concurrently with Worldcon 71, which has a heavy emphasis on REH in its program line-up. Austin is pretty darn close to San Antonio, so it is certainly worth a little side trip if you are attending the convention and have the time to see this fantastic display of Howardia.

Excellent news story on YouTube about Glenn, REH and the collection donated to the Harry Ransom Center.

Photos courtesy the Harry Ransom Center.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATwo weeks from tomorrow, Worldcon 71 kicks off in the Alamo City. The event is being hosted by LoneStarCon 3 and, of course, will have a large number of Robert E. Howard panels and programs on the schedule. And the Howard events even get a jumpstart on the convention with a bus trip to Cross Plains to visit the Howard House Museum the day before Worldcon officially starts!

The Wednesday bus tour, hosted by Rusty Burke and Mark Finn, is virtually identical to the one from the 2006 World Fantasy Con. Acting as your guides, Rusty and Mark will be pointing out places of interest along the way. Once in Cross Plains, the first stop is the historical Robert E. Howard House Museum, next is a lunch break, and lastly a quick tour of the Cross Plain Public Library and downtown Cross Plains, and then it’s back on the bus for the return trip to San Antonio. While the trip takes twelve hours, you’ll find the time will fly by since you will be riding in a luxury bus, which should have a DVD player, so there’s a good chance you’ll see The Whole Wide World on the way back, plus Mark will have some Violet Crown Radio Players CDs with him to entertain you as well.

As for the Howard related panels and events beginning Thursday the 29th of August, here is the rundown:

Worldcon REH-Themed Panels

Note: This does not include the panels that are about larger topics that would include REH, such as the Texas Gothic panel and the Weird Texas Author panel. Nor does it include other panels that Howardists will be on. This is the list of concentrated REH panels.  The Worldcon Robert E. Howard program is three times the size of the program at the 2006 World Fantasy Convention.

Thu. 12:00 – Thu. 13:00, Location: 008A
The First Barbarian of Texas: Conan the Cimmerian (Literature, Panel)

Thu. 13:00 – Thu. 14:00, Location: 101B
You Don’t Know Jack about Bob: What’s New in Robert E. Howard Studies (Authors, Panel)

Fri. 10:00 – Fri. 11:00, Location: 102B
Beyond the Barbarian: Robert E. Howard’s Other Heroes (Literature, Panel)

Fri. 13:00 – Fri. 14:00, Location: Conference 1 (Rivercenter)
Barbarian Days: Starring the BNFs of Howard Fandom   (Screening)

Fri 16:00 – Fri. 17:00, Location: 102B
Two-Gun Bob: The Somewhat True Tales of Robert E. Howard (Panel)

Fri. 18:00 – Fri. 19:00, Location: Exh A – Literary Beers
The Robert E. Howard Poetry Slam! (Poetry, Open Mike)

Fri. 20:00 – Fri. 21:00, Location: 006B (160AV)
Nameless Cults: Robert E. Howard’s Horror Stories (Literature, Panel)

Fri. 20:00 – Fri. 22:00, Location: 007CD
The Whole Wide World (Authors, Film / Video) (Screening)

Sat. 10:00 – Sat 11:00, Location: 007CD
The Weird Western: A Celebratory Explanation (Literature, Panel)

Sat. 12:00 – Sat. 13:00, Location: 102B
The Howard Boom: Barbarians, Fanzines, and the 1970s (Fannish, Panel)

Sat. 15:00 – Sat. 16:00, Location: 003B
The Poetry of Robert E. Howard: The Dark Bard of Texas (Poetry, Panel), (Academic/Poet)

Sat. 17:00 – Sat. 18:00, Location: 006B
Robert E. Howard: The Weird, West, and Worms (Academic, Talk)

Sun. 13:00 – Sun. 14:00, Location: 102A
The Wild, Weird, and Wonderful Westerns of Robert E. Howard (Literature, Panel)

Sun. 18:00 – Sun. 19:00, Location: 006A
Robert E. Howard at the Ice House (Literature, Panel)

Mon. 13:00 – Mon. 14:00, Location:102A
“An Age Undreamed Of…”: World Building with Robert E. Howard (Literature, Panel)Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center

The convention is being held in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, located in downtown San Antonio and just a short distance from the world famous River Walk. The Convention Center has two halls (each over 120,000 square feet), large ballrooms, and scores of smaller meeting rooms. The Marriott Rivercenter and Marriott River Walk are the host hotels, with the nearby Hilton Palacio Del Rio handling the overflow of guests. You can enjoy the Rivercenter Mall with dozens of shops and restaurants, along with other venues for food and shopping situated on the River Walk. The mall, hotels and convention center are linked by the Paseo del Rio (River Walk), a portion of the San Antonio River.

It is going to be a Labor Day weekend to remember for Howard Heads, with a who’s-who’s of Howard aficionados in attendance and participating on the panels.

Eight of the nine boxes containing Howard's typescripts.

Eight of the nine boxes containing Howard’s typescripts in the holding area for new acquisitions at the Harry Ransom Center.

On Friday, July 26th, I was privileged to be among the select few present at the pretigious Harry Ransom Center on the University of Texas Campus in Austin when the Lord family formally donated the 14,000 pages of Robert E. Howard typescripts Glenn had collected throughout his lifetime. To say it was a momentous occasion would be an understatement. The entire collection fit into nine boxes (eight of which are shown above) and contains stories, poems and letters. In addition to Glenn’s wife Lou Ann, son James, daughter Glenda and his three living granchildren, myself, Jack and Barbara Baum, Rusty Burke, Mark Finn, Paul Herman and Dennis McHaney were also in attendance.

Left to right: Damon Sasser, Mark Finn, Jack Baum, Barbara Baum, Dennis McHaney, Glenda Felkner, Lou Ann Lord, Danielle Smith, Rusty Burke, Paul Herman, Stephen Cupples, Ryan Smith and James Lord.

Twenty years before his death, Glenn Lord was pondering what to do with his massive collection of original Howard typescripts when he would eventually pass away. That was 1991 and Paul Herman was attending law school at the University of Texas and while visiting with Glenn one day, Glenn asked Paul what he should do with his vast collection, which included thousands of pages of Howard’s original manuscripts. Glenn considered the Houston Public Library. While the library is a fine organization, it is not a world-class archival facility. They wouldn’t know what to do with such a valuable and rare collection. A light bulb went off above Paul’s head and he suggested the Harry Ransom Center. While he had never been to the facility, he knew of it and they work that was done there to preserves valuable, historical items. So he got in contact with Dr. Richard Orem, who was and still is the head librarian for the Center. What is the Harry Ransom Center you may ask? Here is a brief description from the Center’s Wikipedia webpage:

The Harry Ransom Center is an archive, library and museum at the University of Texas at Austin, specializing in the collection of literary and cultural artifacts from the United States and Europe for the purpose of advancing the study of the arts and humanities. The Ransom Center houses 36 million literary manuscripts, 1 million rare books, 5 million photographs, and more than 100,000 works of art. The Center has a reading room for scholars and galleries which display rotating exhibitions of works and objects from the collections.

Paul asked Dr. Orem if he knew who Robert E. Howard was. Dr. Orem replied he did and further stated the Center had a collection of his books. Then Paul asked him if he had ever heard of Glenn Lord. Dr. Orem replied in the affirmative and said the Center had a set of The Howard Collector. Next Paul laid out the proposal for Glenn to donate the Howard typescripts when he passed on. Dr. Orem enthusiastically agreed and arranged for Paul to take a behind the scenes tour of the facility. Impressed, Paul soon returned with Glenn and they were given the grand tour. And so it was settled – when the time came, Howard’s typescripts would be donated to the Center, preserved and maintained for future generations to view, study and use for scholarship.


Rusty going through one of the nine boxes that was brought up from the holding area while myself and Ben Friberg look on. Luckily Ben had his camera with him in case Rusty tried to pull a Sandy Berger.

Well, that time has come. The formal announcement was made today and soon Howard fans and scholars will have complete access to Howard’s manuscripts.


Typescripts for “Guns of the Mountains” and “Nekht Semerkeht.”

It took a bit of doing to get the boxes of typescripts ready to donate, as described by Paul over on the Robert E. Howard Forums, but the collection is right where it belongs — saved for posterity just as Glenn wished it to be. An invaluable legacy that will live on forever.

Here is a video from Austin television station KXAN on the donation of the Lord collection to the Harry Ransom center filmed by Ben  Friberg.

Photos courtesy Barbara Baum, the Harry Ransom Center and Dennis McHaney.


You have built a world of paper and wood,
Culture and craft and lies;
Has the cobra altered beneath his hood,
Or the fire in the tiger’s eyes?


You boast you have stilled the lustful call
Of the black ancestral ape,
But life, the tigress that bore you all,
Has never changed her shape.

Robert E. Howard, Untitled

The conflict between civilization and barbarism was a very old theme before REH approached it – or Burroughs, Jack London, Rider Haggard, or Kipling. It’s present and powerful in the Gilgamesh Epic from ancient Sumer. Gilgamesh, lord of the city of Erech (Uruk) rules over it “like a great wild bull.” He’s strong and arrogant beyond the power of anybody, even the gods, to master. He offends the pride of the goddess Ishtar by turning down her sexual advances, and then adding insult to injury by listing her many treacheries and “abominable deeds” towards her former lovers. She asks her father Anu, the sky-god, to send his servant the “Bull of Heaven” to devastate Gilgamesh’s city – but the invincible Gilgamesh kills the heaven-bull instead. (Well, he’s part man and part god himself.)

Con10Roy Thomas borrowed the Bull of Heaven for Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian comic. “Beware the Wrath of Anu” came just before the issue that adapted “Rogues in the House”, and featured a gigantic Minotaur-like supernatural beast, the “avenger the god Anu sends”. In REH’s original story, the scoundrelly priest, both fence of stolen articles and spy for the police, who “worked a thriving trade both ways” was indeed a votary of the god Anu. Thomas tied the heaven-bull from the ancient epic in with Conan very neatly and produced a damned good story too – expanded from a single paragraph in “Rogues in the House”, sticking scrupulously to the spirit of REH. And Barry Windsor-Smith’s topnotch art complemented the script superbly.

Okay. Maybe I’m being fulsome here. But there has been so much complete garbage produced in the way of REH pastiches … it’s nice to remember the better stuff.

The gods decided to produce a match for Gilgamesh, to humble his inordinate pride. Aruru, goddess of creation, forms a being from clay and saliva – the wild man Enkidu. His whole body was shaggy with hair, and –

He knew neither people nor settled living,
but wore a garment like Sumukan.
He ate grasses with the gazelles,
and jostled at the watering hole with the animals;
as with animals, his thirst was slaked with (mere) water.

Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet I

Enkidu and Gilgamesh meet in an epic wrestling match. They become friends and comrades, and travel together to the great cedar forest, where they overcome and kill the monstrous guardian of the cedars, Humbaba. But then Enkidu sickens and dies, which plunges Gilgamesh into melancholy fear of death; after all, if the only equal he has ever met has now perished like an ordinary man, it means Gilgamesh’s fate will be the same.

Gilgamesh is the archetypal mighty man of the city, Enkidu the mighty man of the wilderness – a mythic version of the nomad chieftains who live with their flocks of animals and drink water like them, having no settled homes. Akkadian literature from the time of the Ur III kingdom speaks of the Amorite tribesmen in the region of Syria and Canaan in similar terms. The tone is disparaging, to say the least.

The MAR.TU who know no grain… The MAR.TU who know no house nor town, the boors of the mountains … The MAR.TU who digs up truffles … who does not bend his knees (to cultivate the land), who eats raw meat, who has no house during his lifetime, who is not buried after death …

Doubtless the Amorites were just as scornful of soft, corrupt city men.

REH probably had read the Epic of Gilgamesh – or at least knew of its content. He mentioned a crooked “priest of Anu” in “Rogues in the House”, and he set a story in ancient Sumer – “The House of Arabu”, originally published as “The Witch From Hell’s Kitchen”. It featured a western barbarian fighting for a Sumerian city-state as a mercenary captain.

a feast unknownPhilip Jose Farmer created a “clash of the titans” which may have been partly inspired by the Gilgamesh Epic, in his novels A Feast Unknown, The Mad Goblin, and Lord of the Trees. Doc Caliban (Doc Savage), the super-hero of the metropolis, is pitted against and then allied with his equal, Lord Grandrith (Tarzan) the super-hero of the wilderness. Clearly, it’s an ancient, powerful theme, and one which can always be reworked and presented again.

REH had certainly read the early Tarzan novels. And it’s well known that he admired and was influenced by Jack London’s work. I’m with him there, too. Who isn’t? Migawd, but that man could write!

Jack London’s novel The Star Rover has a theme of reincarnation, and in certain of its chapters there are episodes that may have inspired some of REH’s stories. The novel as a whole had to be one of the sources of Howard’s James Allison tales. London’s protagonist, Professor Darrell Standing, learns to relive his former incarnations while being “jacketed” in the dungeons of San Quentin, where he is doing life for murder. “ … I killed my fellow professor,” Standing says. “The court records show that I did; and for once I agree with the court records.” REH’s James Allison lives a life (in his present body) nearly as restricted as solitary in prison, due to constant illness. But in past lives he has been a mighty Nordic warrior again and again.

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Sam Bass Wanted Poster

Wanted posters back in the days of the Old West could get downright personal.  In addition to being branded a “notorious badman,” it appears Sam Bass was also labeled “a poor dresser” and would not be a likely candidate for Project Runway. In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. January 1931, Howard gives HPL a taste of an old campfire song called “The Ballad of Sam Bass.” 

“Sam Bass was born in Indiana, that was his native home,
And at the age of seventeen, young Sam began to roam,
He first came out to Texas, a drover for to be,

And a kinder hearted fellow, you seldom ever see.
Sam used deal in race stock, one called the Denton Mare;
He matched her in scrub races and took her to the Fair.
Sam used to coin the money, and he spent it just as free,
He always drank good whiskey, where-ever he might be.”

Sam’s exploits shook the country, but he fell at Round Rock, outnumbered and surrounded by a vengeful posse, and already his fame has faded.

Here, in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, August 9, 1932, Howard relates the tale of another dangerous outlaw, Belle Starr (known as “The Bandit Queen”):

And Belle Starr, the most famous woman-desperado of all the West — what sagas could be sung of her! Many the times she came into my aunt’s millinery shop in the old Indian Territory, to purchase expensive and exclusive types of apparel fresh from the states. A handsome, quiet speaking, refined woman, my aunt said — she was of aristocratic blood, and natural refinement, for all she’d kill a man as quick as a rattler striking. It’s a curious coincidence that two of the Southwest’s most famous outlaws — Sam Bass and Belle Starr — were killed on their birthdays. Sometimes I feel as if the shotgun blast from the brush that mowed down Belle Starr, forecast the doom of the wild, mad, glorious, gory old days of the frontier. She was more than the wicked woman pious people call her — more than merely a feminine outlaw — she was the very symbol of a free, wild, fierce race. Will Rogers, in jest, spoke of erecting a monument to Belle Starr. Oklahoma could do worse. Whatever she was or was not, she symbolized a colorful and virile phase of American evolution.

Sam Bass came into this world on July 21, 1851 near Mitchell, Indiana. At the age of 18 he struck out on his own, and found his way to Denton County, Texas. There he was employed as a farmhand and teamster by Sheriff W.F. “Dad” Eagan. But Bass quickly tired of working for someone else and become owner of a one-man racing stable as a side job. He acquired a fleet filly that became known as the “Denton Mare” and entered the horse in numerous races in North Texas and won most them. This fast racehorse earned Sam enough money for him to quit his job with Sheriff Eagan (who would later become one of his pursuers) and retire to become a gentleman of leisure, living a life of horseracing, gambling and saloon patronizing.

edward-borein-the-cattle-drive-original-size-15x20From Denton, Sam moved to San Antonio, continuing the high life and eventually formed a partnership with Joel Collins, a bartender. The two drove a herd of cattle north for several cattlemen, where they sold them — most likely in Kansas. They were supposed to return to Texas after the sale to pay the cattlemen their share. Instead the pair took all the money ($8,000) and headed to Deadwood, South Dakota. Once there, they gambled away most of it and with what little was left, Bass and Collins set up a freighting business, but wound up going broke. So they did what a lot of restless men did in those days — they turned outlaw, forming a small gang, which consisted of themselves, Tom Nixon, Bill Potts, Jim Berry, Jack Davis, and Robert “Little Reddy” McKimie.

The gang started out robbing stagecoaches near Deadwood, but this endeavor brought them far less money than they expected. The group was further soured on the stage robberies after McKimie killed a driver, which led to his expulsion from the gang. Looking for a big score, the outlaws turned to the more lucrative business of train robbery. The gang set their sights on a Union Pacific passenger train in Big Springs, Nebraska. The outlaws, led by Bass, robbed the train of what was then a fortune — $60,000 in newly minted twenty-dollar gold pieces, and took $1,300, along with four gold watches from the passengers.

After splitting the loot into shares, the bandits decided to split up and head in different directions Bass made his way back to Denton and his old stomping grounds, disguised as an itinerant farmer. Bass quickly assembled a new gang began a crime spree of robbing stagecoaches and trains, including one from the Texas and Pacific Railroad outside Dallas. In between holdups, Bass hid in the heavily wooded area of rural Denton County, aided by locals who considered him a “Robin Hood” of sorts. Some wondered about what happened to Bass’ impressive cut of the Big Springs train heist since he jumped back into a life of crime without taking a break. This fueled treasure-hunter legends about hidden gold in the “Sam Bass Cave” for years. In between robberies, The Lacy House Hotel on the Denton Square was a favorite,  frequent and safe rest stop for Bass. Like the rural residents of Denton, the hotel owners were known to harbor and aid their beloved outlaw hero during what came to be known as “The Bass Wars.”

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


My leopard eyes are still untamed,
They hold a darksome light –
A fierce and brooding gleam unnamed
That pierced primeval night.

                                       Robert E. Howard, “A Word From the Outer Dark”

Robert E. Howard appeared to think that all civilizations, in the end, must fall to barbarians. In  a letter ca. December 1930 to H.P. Lovecraft, he observed glumly of the contemporary situation as he viewed it:

… the choice seems to lie between fascism and communism – both of which I utterly detest. And doubtless the world will eventually … sink back into barbarism – if any humans are left alive after the next war. And since the inevitable goal of all civilization seems to be decadence, it seems hardly worth while to struggle up the long road from barbarism in the first place.

In this context, the Dominic Flandry stories created by Poul Anderson are worth a mention.  Anderson was a master of rip-roaring adventure in his own right, and while he valued civilization he appreciated barbarian fortitude and barbaric virtues too.  (See The Broken Sword and his Harald Hardrada trilogy.)  But Flandry’s universe more than any other of Anderson’s embodies the conflict between civilization and barbarism – with Flandry, despite his irony and world-weariness, firmly on the side of civilization, with all its flaws.   He’s a naval intelligence agent, a James Bond of the future, but more complex, and essentially Gallic, not English.

Poul Anderson's Flandry of TerraThe Terran Empire has had its day.  “We’re hollow, and corrupt, and death has marked us for his own,” Flandry says to a young woman from a frontier planet.  But the Empire’s great opponent, the Roidhunate of Merseia, while it still possesses barbaric youth, strength and force as a culture, is more of a ruthless despotism than the Empire.  Yet it enjoys the support of the masses.  Even a dictatorship, in the end, must.  “Shouting hurrah, and worse, sincerely meaning it, when Glorious Leader rides by,” Flandry observes to his telepathic opposite number, Aycharaych.  Ironically, Archaraych himself is ultra-civilized, a member of the ancient, cultivated race of Chereionites, even though he serves the Merseians.  Flandry sometimes reflects to himself that Aycharaych resembles an ancient icon of a Byzantine saint, and Byzantine culture was long a byword for ultra-civilized, mannered decadence – in fact dismissed by English-speaking  historians as without significance, despite lasting a thousand years and bequeathing its religious orthodoxy to Russia.   The Byzantines were also stereotyped as given to amoral, treacherous intrigue.

The Merseians are still essentially barbaric.  They received advanced science from the human race, too early in their development, and have since become a menace.  The warlords of their fighting clans – now techno-industrial as well – work together because they have the Terran Empire to oppose.  Without this common enemy, they would probably turn against each other and seek power at the Roidhunate’s expense, as warlords characteristically do. 

Personally,” Flandry reflects, “I enjoy decadence … but someone has to hold off the Long Night for my lifetime, and it looks as if I’m elected.”

In the preface to his really fine retelling of Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, Anderson writes of the Dark Ages, “It was, in Europe at least, a raw era.  Cruelty, licentiousness and rapacity ran free.  Heathen rites bloody or obscene were a part of daily life … If nothing else, we need a reminder today that we must never take civilization for granted.”

REH wasn’t far from that view himself, in some ways.  His letter of November 1932 to H.P. Lovecraft, quoted at more length last post, said, “For the world as a whole, civilization even in decaying form, is undoubtedly better for people as a whole.”  He also conceded that, for him as he was in the twentieth century, a child of civilization, a barbaric existence would have been “the sheerest of hells … unfitted as I am for such an existence.”

It’s true that civilization is fragile, and when it reaches the point where it can’t or won’t defend itself against the savages, its time may be running out.  It can also rot from within, grow somnolent and lazy, and fall even without barbarians to pull it down.  The Ottoman Empire looks like a perfect example.  Blessed with organization, ruthless discipline and powerful, determined rulers for centuries, it reached its height under Suleiman the Magnificent in the sixteenth century.  His successor was known as Selim the Sot.  The decline was steady after that, and by the eighteenth century the Ottoman State was deservedly known as “the sick man of Europe.”

The Decadence of the Roman EmpireThe Roman Empire has been accused by moralists of falling because it was “decadent”.  Well, its citizens did stop assuming responsibility for the defense of their nation, and the legions became filled with recruits from the barbarian frontiers while the Italians bred lived on the dole or went to the games – “bread and circuses”.  But a greater reason why it fell was its vast extent.  It was simply too huge to hold together.  The soldiers garrisoning the ends of the Empire – Britain in particular – felt more loyalty to their generals than to the central government.  Carausius, Magnus Maximus, Constantine III  and others, all made their bids for power from Britain or Gaul.  The invading Goths and Franks merely finished what those rebel generals had started.

As for “decadence” and “softness”, when the Romans were at their most depraved, corrupt and decadent by our standards, in the first century BCE and the first century CE, they conquered the known world of their time.  Let’s accept Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410 CE (an arbitrary date) as marking the fall of the Western Empire.  That was about a hundred years after the Empire had become officially Christian, and the new religion – presumably – had improved morals a lot. 

Besides, civilization is more resilient than Howard seemed to believe.  Rome, in the western half of the empire, may have fallen to the barbarians – but to a large extent these folk occupied it rather than destroyed it.  Without the people they had conquered, they couldn’t organise or administer their conquered lands.  Within a few generations, they adopted the Christian religion and spoke languages based on Latin.  The Vandal Kingdom was overthrown again by the Byzantines under the Emperor Justinian.  Then it was conquered again when Islam came overwhelmingly out of Arabia, but the Arabs needed the more civilized folk of Egypt, Syria and Persia to establish their caliphates and administer them (little as they ever trusted Persians).

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