It is hard to believe the annual Howard Days celebration of Robert E. Howard, his life and writings is just two weeks away. By now everyone who’s going has their travel plans and reservations made. But it is not too late. If you are sitting on the fence about whether or not to make the pilgrimage to Cross Plains, hop off that fence and get the ball rolling. If you have been following Jeff Shanks’ Howard Days blog, then you are aware of all the featured attendees and the Guest of Honor, Patrice Louinet. The REHupa website has a full schedule of events, as well as information on the Silent Auction, which is especially important this year to raise the funds needed to give the Howard House Museum a long overdue restoration. To further help the cause, I’ll be donating some very special items for the Gift Shop to sell. And if my printier is not fibbing, the Gift Shop will have the new issue of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur print journal in stock. Hell, that alone is worth the trip!
Archive for May, 2014
The centerpiece of every issue of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur is the art folio. For the upcoming issue number 17, Bob Covington has drawn four outstanding illustrations of Howard’s Desert Heroes. In addition to El Borak, Kirby O’Donnell and Steve Clarney, Lal Singh is featured and not one, but two Yar Ali Khans.
The issue is slated for publication next month, so keep checking back here for payment and ordering details, which will be posted soon. This illustration is just a tidbit of the great artwork and essays to come, not to mention a rare Howard story, in the pages of the new issue of The Definitive Robert E. Howard Journal.
Following his graduation from Brownwood High in May 1923, Robert E. Howard went home to Cross Plains and worked on his writing; he also worked at a few odd jobs. By the spring of 1924, he was working at a tailor shop, but this wouldn’t last long; another shop had opened in Cross Plains, the third, and he hadn’t “made very much money lately.” (REH to TCS April 21, 1924)
Despite his seeming lack of cash, Howard visited the American Legion convention in Brownwood early in the summer. In a June 19 letter to Clyde Smith, he says, “I looked all over the convention for you but didn’t see you. There were quite a few drunks there but all I saw were good-natured drunks. I didn’t see a single fight. Speaking confidentially, though, you ought to have been up in the Cross Plains band headquarters. Oh, boy, talk about hilarity. I’ll tell you about it when I see you.”
Also that June, Howard tried to trade up in employment, as he explained to Smith in the same letter: “I was promised a job in Brownwood, quit my job in the tailor shop here, then the guy went back on it. Leaves me without a job. I’ve been heaving freight at the depot some but there’s not much money in it.”
While Howard was working, some of his friends and neighbors had been off pursuing their educations. That June, Tom Ray Wilson came home from nearby Coleman where he had been going to school and Renerick Clark, with whom Howard had tried to launch a radio station two summers ago, came home from A & M College, where he “finished this year with high honors.” Besides these items of a perhaps more personal nature, Howard was no doubt aware of the local news that the town was buzzing about: the new oil rig that was being erected northwest of town and the speaker from the Ku Klux Klan who spoke on June 1st, both of which were reported on in the Cross Plains Review (CPR) for June 6: “R. G. Brown, of Atlanta, Ga., Klan lecturer, spoke here Saturday night in the interest of the Klan. The Review is informed that about 25 members were added to the local organization. One hundred men attended the meeting it is stated.”
The paper also began running a serial, The Lord of the Thunder Gate by Sidney Herschel Small, which Howard may have read.
At the end of the month, June 27 and 28, the town of Burkett had its big picnic, which featured “Candidate speaking, Rodeo, ball games, Merry-go-round, Klan speaking and parade.” (CPR 1924 June 13). As a former resident with friends in the area, Howard may have attended (though in his June letter to Smith he says that picnics “get on my nerves”). The July 4 Cross Plains Review had a page-one write-up on the event under the headline “Big Crowds Attend Picnic at Burkett”:
The big two-day picnic at Burkett last Friday and Saturday drew thousands of people both days. Cross Plains was well represented Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night the Klan staged a spectacular parade followed by a lecture on Klan principles, by Rev. Wright of Plainview. And Saturday night, A. V. Dairymple Anti-klan speaker, who spoke here Saturday afternoon, lectured there. Both speakers were given a good hearing. Other attractions featured at the picnic were baseball games, rodeo performances, the Merry-Go-Round, and candidate speakers.
A few weeks later, July 16-17, it was Cross Plains’ turn for a picnic. The July 11 CPR reported that it would feature a “Big Round-up, Free for all Prize contest, Merry-Go-Round, Big Ferris Wheel, the Whip, general assortment of amusements by the famous H. B. Poole Shows, candidate speaking which will include a number of prominent state men and good music by the best band in Texas its age—The Cross Plains C of C Band.” Our man Robert Howard even invited Clyde Smith to attend in his June letter:
But if you want to see real drunkenness, come to the Cross Plains picnic. Why can’t you come and stay with me and attend it? It’s July 16 and 17. Of course as a source of entertainment it isn’t much, usually a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel and a few dozen booths of various kinds. But there’s always a lot of drunks and usually several fights. Oh, yes, they usually have a rodeo too. They have it in a big enclosure surrounded by tow sacking or something and it’s amusing to watch the efforts of the officers to keep kids from sneaking in. Sometimes, too, they have prize-fights. I haven’t attended the picnic much the last few years, they get on my nerves, but if you’ll come over and stay with me we’ll take it in, maybe.
Whether or not Smith made the trip is unknown—the 16th and 17th were a Wednesday and a Thursday in 1924—but we do know that Howard saw a friend that week: his former Burkett buddy, Earl Baker. The July 25 Cross Plains Review had these two items: “Earl Baker of Ballinger visited Robert Howard last week” and “Alma Baker spent Wednesday and Thursday in Cross Plains, guest of Mrs. I. M. Howard.” The same edition of the paper tells us what Howard did after the picnic, whether or not he actually attended it:
If not in July, we know that Smith visited Cross Plains at least once that summer. An item from the August 23 Review says that “Clyde Smith of Brownwood was a week end guest of Robert Howard.” The same paper reports that “Dr. and Mrs. Howard and son visited in Brownwood Tuesday.” Perhaps they gave Smith a ride home.
And there was still time for one more trip that summer. No one can know when the Howard family first planned its trip to south Texas, but the August 8 edition of the Review had the following, which may have piqued Dr. Howard’s interest:
Cross Cut, Texas, 7, 29 24.
Mr. Editor Review:
I am moving with family to Weslaco, Texas, Hidalgo Co., to contract a farm home on land I bought one mile southeast of town the first of the year, where I have a fine cotton crop being gathered on 23 acres and I am to get 1-4 of the cotton. It is estimated to make one to two bales of cotton per acre.
Mrs. A. L. DeBusk also bought 41 acres and that too in cotton. We expect to place all eventually in grapefruit orchards. I expect to buy more of this cheap land, as it is being taken fast. I will only be there one week, then return to move 25th of August.
I am not selling any thing here, as I think lots of the mineral rights on my holdings in and near Cross Cut. Will see you some more,
W. A. Prater.
Whether or not the Howards knew those involved with the above prospecting, by early September they had traveled south. On September 7, Howard sent Clyde Smith a letter/illustrated poem from Weslaco, Texas. Two days later, September 9, opening exercises for the fall term at Howard Payne College began; Howard was enrolled at the Howard Payne Academy that term—perhaps he missed the opening. On September 19, the Review had the following item:
With that, summer was over. Two months later, Robert E. Howard made his first professional sale.
When researching Robert E. Howard and those around him, every once in a while you run into conflicting “facts,” like the different birth dates for Howard himself. This past January, my dad and I were in Texas looking for Howard’s uncle on his mom’s side, William Vinson Ervin, and ran into one of those discrepancies.
At some point I’ll put all the information I’ve got regarding W. V. Ervin into an article or blog post, but for today, all that one needs to know is that W. V. appears to have been a fairly big shot in the city of Big Spring, where he started a newspaper, The Enterprise, and lived with his family beginning in late 1898. As we have seen, the Howards visited the Ervins in Big Spring at least once.
Anyway, the November 11, 1927 edition of the Big Spring Herald ran the following:
DEATH CLAIMS W. V. ERVIN
William Vinson Ervin, Sr., aged sixty-seven years, one of our long time residents and highly esteemed citizens was claimed by death at the family home south of Big Spring at four o’clock Monday afternoon, Nov. 7. Mr. Ervin had been ill for a number of years and had traveled over a great portion of the state the past four years in the hope of regaining his health. He had been seriously ill for months past at his home here.
Mr. Ervin is one of the best newspaper men in Texas. He was former owner and editor of the Big Spring Enterprise and played a big part in the task of converting West Texas from a cowman’s paradise to an agricultural section. When he conducted a newspaper in Big Spring away back in the 1900s, it was not popular to boost the agricultural possibilities of this section but he stuck to his prediction that Howard County was destined to become the farmer’s paradise. He was for better churches and schools and never lost an opportunity to aid these great moral and educational forces.
He was a most worthy citizen from every standpoint: big hearted, kindly, and ever ready to aid the needy. He was a faithful husband, a fond and indulgent father and loyal and true to his friends and many hearts are saddened by his death.
Funeral services were conducted at the First Christian Church, of which he was a staunch and faithful member, by the pastor, Claude Wingo, at five o’clock Tuesday evening and the remains were laid to rest in Mt. Olive cemetery.
He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, W. V. Ervin of this city, J. R. Ervin of Dalhart, Misses Lesta and Maxine Ervin of Dallas. Two brothers, C. E. Ervin of Shawnee, Okla., Wynton Ervin of Oklahoma City; two sisters, Mrs. M. A. Mitchell of Gainsville, Texas, and Mrs. I. M. Howard of Cross Plains, Texas, and three half-sisters, Mrs. W. P. Searcy of Exeter, Mo., Mrs. S. H. Doyel, Exeter, Mo., and Mrs. Grover Baker of Roger, Ark., also survive.
To the relatives who mourn for their loved one is extended the heartfelt sympathy of the many friends in this community.
I had visited Mt. Olive Cemetery before and found W. V.’s sister, Alice Comer, but couldn’t locate W.V.’s grave at that time. So this January, dad and I stopped in at the cemetery’s office and they explained why I hadn’t found the burial site: W. V.’s grave has no headstone. I found this strange, mostly because Ervin was a big name in the city, at least I thought he was. They gave us the location of his grave and off we went. In the photo that heads this post there is a light gray headstone on the left (one of W. V.’s sons, Frank Wynton Ervin, who only lived two years) and a dark gray headstone on the right. Cemetery records say that W. V. Ervin occupies the empty space between those two stones.
After leaving the grave yard, we hit the county courthouse. There, I grabbed a copy of W. V.’s death certificate. If anyone can decipher the cause of death, I’d sure like to know what it says.
Before W. V.’s death, and certainly after it, the remaining family sort of scattered, and by the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, some of them had landed in Jefferson County, on the Gulf Coast, and others in Harrison County, east of Dallas. It is there that we find the fact that does not fit.
On the 1930 Census form for the town of Marshall, we find W. V.’s son, William V. Ervin, Junior, working as a clerk at a railway office. He is listed as the son of the head of household: William V. Ervin, Senior, a man who supposedly had died two years before. True, there are problems with the listing, both of their ages are wrong, for example, but not too wrong, and as Hester Howard’s example shows, one didn’t have to be truthful on the Census. This, and the lack of a headstone, could it be?
I know, I know, I’ve probably watched too many episodes of CSI, and these two Ervins are not related to the ones I was looking for. But wouldn’t it be cool if Robert E. Howard’s uncle faked his own death for some mysterious reason?