Archive for July, 2014

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What you say of the pre-historic African race is most interesting and thought-inspiring, and I hope future research throws more light on the past. I feel a deep pity for that people – living in peace and friendliness – an unwarlike and pastoral race – and suddenly confronted by a horde of black slayers as rude and merciless as they were strong. It must have been a slaughter rather than a war, and it’s a damned pity that the Boskop people didn’t have some Aryan traits to stiffen their spines and train their hands in fighting. I hate to think of white people being wiped out and enslaved by niggers. How do you suppose these people got there in the first place? Did they wander down the coast until they came to a country that suited them, or do you suppose their trek took many generations as they slowly shifted southward?

Letter to H.P. Lovecraft, circa February 1931

I’m concerned that the above passage, with its obviously racist attitudes, is going to turn many potential readers off immediately. Some may say, “Oh blimey not another big discussion about REH’s racism in the offing,” while others with just as much justification may growl, “What bigoted crap!” and ignore the post right there.  This blogger thinks the subject has value, first because the subject of Boskop Man has gained a new lease of life lately, and second because I’ve never believed we should forget how recently bigoted crap like the above was acceptable in the most polite (white) drawing-rooms.

The whole idea of Boskop Man as a separate race began in 1913, when a couple of farmers found an ancient skull at Boskop in the Transvaal. The skull was rather big, its cranial capacity greater than normal, but it wasn’t complete and the estimate made at the time that its capacity would have been 1800 ccs had a margin for error – 1700 to 2000. Remember, this was 1913 and anthropology was a raw discipline still. The nineteenth-century pseudo-science of phrenology (assessing intelligence and character from the shape of the head) was having a revival in the early twentieth. London psychiatrist Bernard Hollander was its most influential proponent in England. His books The Mental Function of the Brain (1901) and Scientific Phrenology  (1902) were widely read by the middle classes and laymen as well as professionals.

Other large skulls were discovered in South Africa, along with greater numbers within the usual range. The latter were ignored. Any large skull from the region was labeled “Boskopoid”. Before long the enthusiastic belief prevailed that a separate race (or even species) had existed in the Transvaal between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago, characterized by large crania and small faces with childlike features.

boskop-skull-comparisonRobert Broom named the supposed species Homo Capensis. Broom, a paleontologist, made a new estimate of the skull’s capacity at 1980 ccs, against the modern average of 1400. But the original skull’s thickness made its precise capacity hard to assess, and in any case there are modern human beings whose brains have a volume of 2000 ccs. It’s big, but not unheard-of. And phrenology put in its ten cents’ worth at once. Arthur Conan Doyle was a believer. Not being a member of the Baker Street Irregulars, I can’t recall which Sherlock Holmes story it was, but Doyle had Holmes deducing, from an unknown man’s hat, just about everything about him except the details of his sex life – and he pronounced that the man was intellectual. Watson, as usual, asked how the deuce he could know that, and Holmes placed the hat on his own head, where it settled down to his nose. “It is a question of cubic capacity” he explained. “A man with so large a head must have something in it.”

Some ideas that were taken for granted back then seem pretty quaint now.

Raymond Dart, the man who discovered and reported on the Taung skull in the journal Nature, had taken an interest in the Boskop skulls before that, and written to Nature about them too – in 1923. It was a respectable and serious subject at the time. Naturally, being a bit sensational, the idea of an ancient race with large brains and large intelligence to go with it was grabbed by tabloid newspapers, pseudo-scientists and interested amateurs. It became linked with half the favorite myths of the time from prehistoric super-civilizations to racial superiority.

20224-004-AD967DEFBy the early 1900s, “scientific” racism was a strongly entrenched attitude. It served to justify colonialism for one thing. Herbert Spencer wasn’t a scientist – he was a philosopher and political theorist, and one of the best arguments against Plato’s ideal of the “philosopher king” this blogger knows. He invented the phrase “survival of the fittest” and thought it should apply to human society. Madison Grant, a lawyer and strong believer in eugenics, crusaded for the elimination of “undesirables” and certain “race types”. In 1916 he wrote The Passing of the Great Race. Grant argued that the basically Anglo-Saxon and Nordic stock of the U.S.A. was being undermined by non-Nordic immigrants. I’m happy to report that it was largely ignored when it first appeared and never became a best seller, but it reflected widely held views just the same. (H.P. Lovecraft was nauseated by the mix of nationalities in New York and inveighed against its “mongrel hordes.”)

The African continent and its history was often an issue. Great Britain and other colonial powers found scientific racism a useful tool to justify conquest – the “White Man’s Burden” and so forth. In southern Africa the “White Man’s Burden” often consisted of a considerable weight in gold and diamonds. In southern Africa, too, the impressive stone-built ruins of Great Zimbabwe became a subject of hot dispute. One typical comment comes from J. Theodore Bent’s The Ruined Cities of Mashonland (1896): “… it is a well-accepted fact that the Negroid brain never could be capable of taking the initiative in work of such intricate nature.”  The Rhodesian government later tried hard to discourage journalists and scholarly writers from publishing any work to the effect that Bantu peoples did in fact construct Great Zimbabwe. It didn’t want this known. Along the same lines, some anthropologists from Europe rejected the idea that the Yoruba people of West Africa had really created the very fine bronze work characteristic of that culture. They didn’t believe them capable of it and assumed white artisans had produced the lost-wax bronze sculptures, sometimes even claiming the hypothetical whites had been refugees from Atlantis. Amazing how Atlantis finds its way into nearly every half-baked theory.

ValleyOfWorm-bw-wt2-34I haven’t read the letter from H.P. Lovecraft, to which REH was responding above. But Howard’s letter suggests that there were theories current in the early 1930s to the effect that the Boskop People must have been white. With high intelligence, what else?  And peaceful, friendly, and pastoral. Either Lovecraft theorized that they had been wiped out by ferocious black tribes moving into their territory, or he came across the idea in the course of his voracious and eclectic reading. Howard wrote a number of stories, those of James Allison’s many reincarnations especially, with the theme of restless white tribes wandering far across the world. He was fascinated by the idea, and as he wrote to Lovecraft in another letter (June 1931)  “What you say of the unfortunate Boskops interested me greatly … ”  He evidently believed they had been whites, but couldn’t have been Nordic Aryan whites like those in his story “The Valley of the Worm” or else they would have won the conflict.

Advances in anthropological knowledge since then pretty much assure us there never was any such conflict – or any distinct Boskopoid race. If there had been, the Boskopoids surely wouldn’t have been “white.” The region then was inhabited by remote ancestors of the Bushmen and Hottentots. There wouldn’t have been any Negroid tribes in the area to slaughter them, either. Not ten thousand years ago. Even granting that, they would have been hunter-gatherers as peaceful as the Boskopoids, most likely. Neither group would have been “pastoral”.  The crude beginnings of agriculture might have existed in Syria and Mesopotamia that early, and the domestication of sheep and goats, but nowhere on the African continent.

LEOne of the best known essays on the Boskop People was Loren Eiseley’s “The Man of the Future” in his 1958 collection of essays, The Immense Journey.  Eiseley thought that the Boskops were intelligent beyond any norms today, had childlike faces under their large crania, and were Negroid in general appearance. Eiseley concluded, pretty much as Howard and Lovecraft had done twenty-seven years before, that the Boskops perished in “a desperate struggle to survive among a welter of more prolific and aggressive stocks.”

He published his book at a time when the notion of Boskop Man was being shelved as disproven. Ronald Singer wrote his book, The Boskop ‘Race’ Problem, at the same time as Eiseley’s The Immense Journey, and it was published the same year. He (Singer) reviewed the evidence as it existed in his day. He reached the conclusion, that, “It is now obvious that what was justifiable speculation (because of paucity of data) in 1923, and was apparent as speculation in 1947, is inexcusable to maintain in 1958.”

The idea died hard, though. In fact it hasn’t died at all. Two contemporary neuroscientists, Gary Lynch and Richard Granger, published a book of their own on the subject in 2008. The title is Big Brain: The Origins and Future of Human Intelligence. The authors are distinguished and able men in their own field, and the neuroscience part of their book is probably well worth reading, accurate and informative. But they are NOT anthropologists or specialists in evolution. Although I haven’t read their book, if the enthusiastic review on Amazon.com gives a fair capsule description … they’ve stumbled on that aspect.

Lynch and Granger aren’t responsible for some of the responses to their book online, either. Discover Magazine headlines “What Happened to the Hominids Who May Have Been Smarter Than Us?” (The Brain, 2009 issue.)  The article hints at “rapid evolutionary changes” and reminds us that such faces “are often attached to ‘alien abductors’ in movies.”  It adds that the Boskops are now “almost entirely forgotten” and suggests this is because “the very fact of an ancient ancestor like Boskop, who appears un-apelike and in fact in most ways seems to have had characteristics superior to ours, was destined never to be popular.”  The word “fact” used twice in the same sentence on such an iffy subject, is typical. So is the insinuation of a cover-up.

Clearly we’re no less ready to buy doubtful theories now than people were in the ‘thirties.

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

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Between 900 and 1150 CE, Chaco Canyon was home to an accomplished and highly organized people. It lies in north-western New Mexico, not far south of Farmington. In our day it’s a national historical park because of the archaeological remains to be found there. Jared Diamond gives a chapter of his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive, to the Chaco Canyon culture.

Now Diamond is an impressive bloke, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction and twice winner of the Science Book Prize. He might not think much of my mining his work for tie-ins to a pulp writer’s fantasy story, but just the same, Chaco Canyon is part of REH’s fabulous southwest and its history. It’s also hard to resist as a place of origin for that mysterious person Ghost Man (“Old Garfield’s Heart”). Whether alive or dead as normal people understand the terms, Ghost Man was around the southwest for hundreds of years. He knew the conquistador Francisco Coronado in the mid-sixteenth century, and made an appearance in the Texas oil boom days of the twentieth, to take back the borrowed heart of an ancient god. He may have been far older than that.

Suppose that while he was mortal flesh and blood, he belonged to what we call the Anasazi culture. To quote Diamond, “The Anasazi did manage to construct in stone the largest and tallest buildings erected in North America until the Chicago steel girder skyscrapers of the 1880s.”  Their heyday began around 600 CE and lasted – perhaps – until 1200. They passed at about the time Genghis Khan was conquering Asia.

PII_housingThe first farmers to inhabit Chaco Canyon lived in underground pit houses. After a hundred years they were – independently – developing architecture in stone. They had the numbers, the social organization and the techniques finally to create stone buildings five or six stories high, with hundreds of rooms. The roof supports were made of logs five yards long and weighing as much as seven hundred pounds. The living apartments were built around open plazas and large underground chambers called kivas, which seem to have developed from the primitive pit houses and to have been used for worship and magical ceremonies. They may be circular or square. Usual features are a bench around the wall, a central fireplace, a vent in the wall, and a small hole (“shipap”) in the floor. The shipap to the Pueblo peoples is a symbol of the passage through which the first human beings left the Underworld and reached the upper earth.

The greater kivas in Chaco Canyon were built between 1000 and 1100 CE – the latter date roughly the time of the First Crusade in Europe.  Besides having considerable accomplishments in architecture, the people of Chaco Canyon observed the movements of celestial bodies and kept records of them. In the center of the canyon, on Fajada Butte, they carved a “Sun Dagger” on which a band of sunlight passing between two slabs fell precisely at the time of the Winter Solstice. The Summer Solstice is marked by a groove in the wall of the Great Kiva. The Anasazi of Chaco Canyon also recorded the unique occurrence of a supernova in the year 1054 CE. The light of that colossal conflagration had been travelling through space for four thousand years before it reached the Earth. It first became visible on July 10th, 1054, and its radiance was so bright – even after dispersing so widely — that it could be seen with the naked eye at midday, six times brighter than Venus. It stayed visible for 23 days. The remains of that exploding star are known to us today as the Crab Nebula, in the constellation Taurus. If it had been a hundred light-years away from us instead of four thousand, earthly life would have been devastated. Probably no human beings would have survived.

Below the West Mesa of Chaco Canyon, the Anasazi left what appears a definite record of the supernova, a panel containing three large symbols – a large star, a crescent moon, and a handprint. Just below these symbols, in a separate panel, is a depiction of what appears to be a comet – three concentric circles, with great red flames trailing from it. That very probably records an appearance of Halley’s Comet, since there was one, only a few years after the supernova.

Gonar from "Kings of the Night" by Michael L. PetersI’m assuming that Ghost Man lived then and was the foremost priest-magician of his people. His supernatural and natural knowledge would have included movements of the heavenly bodies. Perhaps it was even Ghost Man who painted the depictions of the supernova and comet on the rocks below West Mesa. Perhaps he even performed the ceremonies that allowed him to evade the ordinary human limitations of life, death and time while the supernova blazed in the sky. He doesn’t seem unlike the Pictish wizard Gonar, the white-bearded ancient who aided Bran Mak Morn against the Romans. Bran says with only partial irony to the Gaelic prince Cormac of Connacht (“Kings of the Night”) “He claims direct descent from that Gonar who was a wizard in the days of Brule the Spear-slayer who was the first of my line. No man knows how old he is–sometimes I think he is the original Gonar himself!”

If he really was, then he’d have survived tens of thousands of years and two world-wide cataclysms, the one that destroyed Atlantis and Lemuria, and the one that ended the Hyborian Age. Ghost man’s eight or nine hundred years would have been picayune compared with that. His powers and knowledge might have been comparable with Gonar’s, though – and he certainly was sufficiently close to the red man’s ancient gods to have been able to borrow the heart of one on request.

If Ghost Man was originally a priest of the Anasazi, in Chaco Canyon, then his culture passed away circa 1200 CE. What caused its decline is a bit outside the topic of these posts, but it appears to have suffered from environmental problems combined with the usual unfair distribution that always arises when a society turns into an empire. Chaco Canyon became the centre of a mini-empire, not a huge one like Rome’s, but its problems of transport and communication were comparable after a while. Warfare, rivalry over water sources, even cannibalism, occurred before the end. Ghost Man presumably left before then, seeing the writing on the wall, and took his wisdom to less advanced peoples.

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

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In a lengthy letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated December 5, 1935, Howard details a trip he took with his parents to the Texas Panhandle. It was likely the final family vacation the Howards took. Howard mentions in the letter it was a 400 mile drive from Cross Plains to Amarillo. While it was a long drive, Howard stretched it out a bit — the distance was closer to 300 miles using highways existing in 1935. The trip actually happened in late July 1935 and one of the goals of the drive was to see if the higher altitudes of the Panhandle would improve Hester’s health.

I think I sent you some pictures of the Panhandle. My parents and I went to Amarillo in the latter part of July. None of us had ever been to that city, and I wanted to see if the high altitude, 4500 feet, might help a persistent cough that had been bothering my mother. Those upland plains are monotonous to look at, but the atmosphere whips fresh blood and new life through the veins; at least it always did with me. We ate our dinner at the little town of Post, a few miles this side the Cap Rock.

PostTexasAlgeritaHotel1916TOPtbThe town where the Howard family stopped for dinner, Post, Texas, was the utopian vision of breakfast cereal baron and troubled genius C.W. Post. Post purchased 200,000 acres of ranchland to establish his ideal city in 1907. Originally named “Post City,” it sits on the fringe of the caprock escarpment of the Llano Estacado, the southeastern edge of the Great Plains. C.W. Post founded The Double U Company to develop the town. Double U built a number of quaint houses and other structures, which included the Algerita Hotel, a gin, and a textile plant. He hoped to create an oasis in the beautiful High Plains of Texas. But two issues wrecked havoc with his plans — lack of water and the dry, hot weather. As the old real estate saying goes, “location, location, location” and Post picked a less than ideal location to build his town. Still he did not give up, going so far as to use dynamite to summon rain — with no luck.

Every street in Post was lined with trees and landscaping and both liquor and brothels were prohibited. The settlers had the option of renting or buying houses and farms from Double U. Post had a post office, which began in a tent during the year of Post City’s founding. By 1909, the town had a school, a bank and a newspaper. The city continued to grow and prosper when the railroad reached the town in 1910. “City” was dropped from the name of Post City when it was incorporated in 1914, the same year C. W. Post passed away. When it was incorporated, Post had a population of 1,000, ten retail businesses, a dentist, a physician, a sanitarium, an apartment building and a number of churches, including Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian houses of worship. Over the years the town has flourished and is a thriving community of 5,300 people today.

Isaac, Hester and Robert continued their trip north to Lubbock and Plainview. Once they passed Lubbock, they were farther north than they had been before.

Read Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five

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Robert E. Howard was nothing if not versatile. He wrote boxing stories, oriental adventure, detective stories, horror, westerns, pioneered heroic fantasy – and the weird western genre.  “The Horror From the Mound,” “The Dead Remember,” “The Man on the Ground” and “The Valley of the Lost” are examples. And there is the current springboard, “Old Garfield’s Heart,” firmly in the weird western genre and rooted in REH’s much-loved southwest, Texas particularly. Its background includes the Comanche Wars, Ewen Cameron and Jack Hays’ exploits, San Jacinto, the Lipan tribe, and Coronado’s expedition.

The “Old Garfield” of the title is a tough Texas pioneer, “the first white man to settle” in the narrator’s part of the country. He’s inexplicably – by natural means – long-lived and vital, despite his great age. The narrator’s grandfather had arrived in 1870, and according to him Jim Garfield had been living in his log cabin then, and has not perceptibly aged since. (The story was published in 1933. It mentions “a bootleg joint” so it is clearly set during Prohibition, the Roaring Twenties or early ‘thirties.)

Battle of San JacintoGarfield claims to have fought at the Battle of San Jacinto (1836) and been with Ewen Cameron on the ill-fated Mier Expedition (1842), which ended with the captured Texans being forced to hold a death lottery, drawing from a pot of mixed black and white beans. Cameron drew a white one and should have been spared, but in Garfield’s words, “The Mexicans shot him. Damn ‘em!”  He rode with Texas Ranger captain John Coffee “Jack” Hays (REH spells it “Hayes”), probably against the Comanches and almost certainly in the Mexican-American war of 1846-48. Garfield might also have been at the Battle of Plum Creek in 1840. That was actually more of a running fight, with Comanches under Chief Buffalo Hump trying to get back to their West Texas home ground with an immense amount of plunder they were reluctant to leave behind – the reason they were overtaken.

Garfield turns out to be long-lived and notably hard to kill because of the assistance of a mysterious Lipan Indian known as Ghost Man. Garfield tells the local medico that Ghost Man was, or is, “the Lipan priest of the Gods of Night” and also refers to him as a “witch-doctor.” He adds that the Lipans “dwelt in this country before the Comanches came down from the Staked Plains and drove ‘em south across the Rio Grande. I was a friend to ‘em.”

The narrator’s grandfather verifies part of that account. He assures his grandson that in the early 1870s, he and Garfield were in a fight against a raiding party of Comanches, and Garfield took a thrust from a lance that ripped through his chest and split his heart. “Nobody could live after a wound like that.”

OldAn old Indian suddenly appeared, making the peace sign, and for some reason none of them could explain, the white men didn’t shoot him, even though their blood was hot and raging after the fight. The Indian – Ghost Man – asserted that he was an old friend of Garfield’s and wanted to help him. Although that seemed well beyond possibility, they allowed him to try, and in the morning “Jim Garfield came walkin’ out of the mesquite, pale and haggard, but alive.”  His terrible wound had closed and begun to heal. And like the narrator’s grandfather, the local doctor, whose next birthday will be his fiftieth, says that he has known Garfield all his life, and “he hasn’t aged a bit.”

Garfield explains that he first met Ghost Man on the Rio Grande, when he (Garfield) was riding with Ewen Cameron. He had saved Ghost Man’s life from the Mexicans once. Whether that was really the case, or whether Ghost Man was truly alive – or dead – as ordinary human beings understand the terms, is uncertain. Still it appears he had cause to be grateful to Garfield, and came when Garfield needed him.

It doesn’t seem certain that Ghost Man was really a Lipan, either. My post “Silver and Steel: Bowie’s Mine” discusses the Lipans, and just as REH’s weird western story says, the Lipans were driven from the southern Great Plains by the Comanches. They played a considerable part in Texas history during the 18th century, when the area was ruled by Spain. The Lipans were briefly allied with the Spanish against their Comanche enemies, but that relationship soon fell apart.

It’s interesting that Garfield mentions the Pueblos. The Native American Pueblo culture covered the area where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado join. Part of the original Lipans’ home was in New Mexico. The Pueblo culture was ancient. And Ghost Man was far older than even Garfield, as the story makes clear. Garfield says, knowing he won’t be believed, “I’ll tell you this much – Ghost Man knew Coronado.”

coro4Francisco Vázquez de Coronado was a conquistador who led an expedition in 1540-42 from Mexico through (what are now the states of) Arizona, New Mexico and northern Texas into Kansas. If Ghost Man knew Coronado, then he was at least three hundred years old when Jim Garfield first met him. At least. Not surprisingly, the doctor reacts with a testy, “Crazy as a loon!”

Coronado’s expedition was a landmark in the history of the southwest. It began as a search for the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. Coronado, governor of the province of new Galicia, had sent Friar Marcos de Niza on an expedition from Compostela. Niza came back excitedly telling stories of a fabulous golden city atop a high hill, apparently as large as the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had been, and wealthy beyond belief.

Wealthy, eh?  Gold, eh?  Ahhhhhh . . .

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, Howard's Texas.