Archive for May, 2015


“Well, now, the Emperor Charles has given them Malta, and all the rent he asks is one insignificant bird per annum, just as a matter of form. What could be more natural than for these immeasurably wealthy Knights to look around for some way of expressing their gratitude? Well, sir, that’s exactly what they did, and they hit on the happy thought of sending Charles for the first year’s tribute, not an insignificant live bird, but a glorious golden falcon encrusted from head to foot with the finest jewels in their coffers. And — remember, sir — they had fine ones, the finest out of Asia.” Gutman stopped whispering. His sleek dark eyes examined Spade’s face, which was placid. The fat man asked: “Well, sir, what do you think of that?”

“I don’t know.”

The fat man smiled complacently. “These are facts, historical facts, not schoolbook history, not Mr. Wells’s history, but history nevertheless.”

— Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Dashiell Hammett’s famous detective novel was published in 1930, while Robert E. Howard’s “The Shadow of the Vulture” first saw print in the pages of  The Magic Carpet Magazine for January 1934. As Don Herron wrote of REH, “He came into the fiction magazine scene virtually on Hammett’s heels.”  The glorious jewelled falcon that everybody in Hammett’s novel – and the legendary film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor – is chasing, was fashioned by slaves of the Order of Saint John in 1530.

Gottfried von Kalmbach, a former Knight of Saint John, and the hell-for-leather adventuress Red Sonya, were an active partnership in that year, following the 1529 siege of Vienna. They had not only survived, they had sent Sultan Suleyman their defiance and the head of his fiendish henchman, Mikhal Oglu, the Akinji leader known far and wide as the Vulture. Suleyman had failed to take Vienna and left thirty thousand of his soldiers dead outside its inadequate walls. Gottfried particularly enjoyed that knowledge. For him it partly compensated for the loss of Rhodes, and the bloody defeat at Mohacs in Hungary.

More importantly still, it meant that Suleyman would not conquer Austria and then move against Gottfried’s own homeland, Bavaria.

haseki-huerrem-sultan-roxelaneThis was splendid, but Gottfried knew the Sultan would now reckon it a matter of pride to destroy him. As for Sonya, she held a similar conviction about her sister, now the Sultan’s favourite, Roxelana, Haseki Sultan, also known as Khurrem the Joyous, the Laughing One. To Sonya she was a slut. They had been girls together, when Roxelana was Alexandra Lisowska, daughter of a priest; Sonya knew her ruthlessness and malice. Besides, it would seem desirable to her to have her relationship to the red-haired warrior woman remain secret, and nothing holds secrets better than a grave.

They turned their faces west.

Their first halting place was the Holy Roman Empire – actually, as has been pointed out again and again, an empire of the German states, then ruled by Charles V. The Archduke of Austria, Ferdinand, was Charles’s younger brother – and Gottfried despised him. The big drunkard entertained hopes of making some sort of peace with his father, who considered him a disgrace to their ancient line. He travelled with Sonya to the von Kalmbach castle near Regensburg in Bavaria, hoping his conduct at the Battle of Mohacs and at Vienna would make a difference.

It did not. Gottfried’s father, Graf Rudolph von Kalmbach, would not see him and said that Gottfried might be fed in the castle kitchen if he so desired, since the Graf “had never refused beggars.” Sonya, for perhaps the only time in her wild life, kept her temper and humbled herself before the old man, pleading with him to relent and at least see his scapegrace youngest son. She assured him that whatever else Gottfried had done, he had borne himself in battle like one of his breed, at Vienna and elsewhere. Never, at any time, had he shown himself to be any sort of weakling, coward or traitor.

“I am somewhat pleased by that, at least,” Rudolph said. “He may not have wholly forgotten that he carries von Kalmbach blood, but he was guilty of murder while still a youth, and when I sent him to redeem himself as a Knight Hospitaller, he broke his sacred vows again and again before they degraded him and struck his name from the Order’s rolls. If he had fought at Armageddon and slain the Devil, I could not forgive him those faults.”

Sonya did not upbraid him. He had received her and spoken her fair. He said nothing about her morals, or even looked askance at her, much less called her a camp follower and worse, as some men had – not that they lived long afterwards. She saw past his harsh face to the grief Gottfried had caused him. She thought him obdurate and cruel, but clearly it was no good. She could not move him.

When she rejoined Gottfried, she found him completely, silently sober – in him a more disturbing sign than if he’d been wrecking a tavern, roaring drunk. His mother and brothers had not seen him either. His sister Verene was the only one who did, braving their father’s displeasure.

MHB90654Gottfried and Sonya departed for Italy. They had both been there before – Sonya in Milan, where she had saved the Duke of Burgundy from Louise of Savoy’s assassins, and Gottfried at the sack of Rome, where Burgundy had died. This time they visited the Republic of Genoa, a first for both of them. Shortly after being thrown out of the Order of St. John, Gottfried had incurred the wrath of the great Genoese admiral, Andrea Doria, but since then Doria had changed his allegiance from the French king to the Emperor Charles. In the light of his deeds at Vienna, Gottfried had hopes that Doria would let bygones be bygones.

That legendary fighting seaman had become the greatest power in his home republic since Gottfried last crossed his path. Then, in 1524, Andrea Doria had been serving the French king Francis I, as commander of his Mediterranean fleet. He had ordered Gottfried von Kalmbach to be summarily hanged if taken, the Bavarian having plundered a Genoese ship. Since then Doria had become disenchanted with the French monarch’s meanness, like the Duke of Bourbon, and when his contract with France expired, in 1528, he entered the service of Francis’s foe, the Emperor Charles.

He had once helped place his native city under French domination. Now, with the help of some leading citizens, he briskly kicked the French out, establishing Genoa as a republic once more, under the aegis of the Empire. By the time Gottfried and Sonya arrived, Andrea Doria had reformed the constitution and ended the factional strife which weakened the city – a major achievement – by creating a new ruling class from the city’s main aristocratic families, twenty-eight “Alberghi” or clans. He declined the rule of Genoa, but the council appointed him “perpetual censor”, in the ancient Roman meaning of the title and not the modern one; the officer responsible for the census, and to an extent for state finances. Genoa awarded him two palaces, and the title “Liberator and Father of His Country” in addition.

Gottfried and Sonya found the city buzzing with news of the Bavarian’s former Order, the Hospitallers or Knights of St. John. The Emperor Charles had offered them a new base on his possession, Malta. His only conditions were that they devote themselves to fighting the Turks, which was their raison d’etre anyway, and garrison Tripoli in North Africa. The rent for the Maltese Islands was to be purely nominal; a falcon each year.

Kniphausen-HawkThe Knights decided to show their appreciation with, as Gutman tells Spade in The Maltese Falcon, a magnificent golden bird crusted with the finest jewels.  Naturally they kept the nature of the first tribute to the Emperor Charles a close secret.  So far as almost everybody knew, they were despatching an ordinary live peregrine falcon to Charles’s court.  Such would all subsequent rent-falcons be, and delivered to the Emperor’s Viceroy in Sicily, but not the first, priceless, one.  That was going to Genoa in the Knights’ own galleys.  Philippe Villiers de L’Isle Adam, the Grand Master, knew quite well that Sicilian Viceroys as a rule were incompetent, crooked, or both.

The payment was due on All Saint’s Day – November 1st – which was imminent.  The frustrated Turks had quit the siege of Vienna on October 14th the year before. Gottfried and Sonya had taken a well-deserved holiday after Vienna and the miserable visit to Ratisbon, getting to know each other and build their relationship, in bed and out.  They arrived in Genoa about a year after the siege of Vienna was lifted and the falcon was about to be delivered.

Andrea Doria was among those who knew about the jewelled bird. A great personage, a great fighting seaman, and a friend of the Emperor (now) he was asked to deliver it to Charles’s court after the Order’s galleys brought it to Genoa. He agreed. But upon hearing that Gottfried von Kalmbach was in the city, with his warrior mistress Red Sonya, Doria jumped to the conclusion that they knew about the jewelled falcon themselves – doubtless through indiscreet friends in the Order – and were planning an audacious theft. He had Gottfried hurled into prison.

Gottfried thought it was a matter of his attack on a Genoese merchant ship in 1524. He pleaded his recent brave services to the Emperor Charles’s brother at Vienna and asked for leniency. Not a spiteful fellow, and loving brave men even they were vagabonds and rogues, Andrea Doria felt inclined to issue a pardon on account of Vienna and Mohacs, but he still suspected Gottfried of designs on the falcon. He decided von Kalmbach would be safer in a dungeon until the bird was delivered, and that sweating it out a little would do his character no harm.

BarbarossaHe was right to fear for the security of the falcon, but he had looked in the wrong direction. On Malta itself, in the workshops where the gemmed golden bird had been wrought, someone had betrayed the secret in hopes of reward. The corsairs of Algiers knew about it – specifically, the greatest of them all, Khair-ed-Din, whom the Christians called Barbarossa (Redbeard). “Khair-ed-Din” was an honorary title meaning “Goodness of the Faith”, but his personal name was Khizr. His older brother Aruj, who died in 1518, had been known as Barbarossa before him. They and their other sibling Ishak had wrested Algiers from the Spaniards in 1516, and founded the corsair state which would still be a menace in the 18th century. In 1519 Khair-ed-Din, the last surviving brother, defeated a Spanish-Italian army that came to retake Algiers, and he raided Sardinia, Italy and Spain throughout the 1520s.

He wanted the falcon for a pirate’s reasons, but he had become a statesman too. Based on Malta, the Knights could curtail his raids and even threaten Barbary. If Barbarossa seized the falcon, their first year’s rent to Charles, and it became a trophy in Moslem hands, the Order’s humiliation would be intense. The Emperor might even doubt they were worthy of his support, and change his mind about giving them Malta.

Sultan Suleyman, of course, would be delighted.

Aflame with predatory, violent energy even though he was past fifty now, Khair-ed-Din led a squadron of pirate galleys eastward, past Sardinia into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The Knights of St. John had begun their voyage to Genoa with the falcon, in a squadron of their own galleys, rowing up the east coast of Sicily through the Straits of Messina. From there they followed the Italian coast to Naples and the port of Rome, Civitavecchia. (After the Sack of Rome in 1527, Pope Clement VII had been forced to cede Civitavecchia to the Empire.)  Upon setting forth again, the Knights found themselves beset by Barbarossa in a no-quarter sea fight.

Red Sonya in the meantime had not been passive or idle. She spied, bribed, threatened, committed assault, and for all we know, seduced, to spring Gottfried from prison. She had friends at the Sforza court of Milan, less than eighty miles north of Genoa, from her eventful months there in 1525, and they may have assisted. Gottfried knew about the jewelled falcon by then. Andrea Doria had told him about it while questioning him, thinking it would do no harm since he fully meant to keep the German under lock and key until the falcon reached its proper destination.

andrea-doria-piombo-smallThere was a Venetian galley in port. Sonya had paid its captain to take them out of Genoa when he departed; he was bound for Crete and then home. Andrea Doria nearly burst when he heard that Gottfried had escaped, with the information he had, and set out in pursuit with a full squadron of galleys, in person.

The Venetian galley’s captain had a guilty conscience over many dealings with the Barbary corsairs. Seeing the ships following hard, and the standard of Andrea Doria at the forefront, he supposed they were after him. Had he known Gottfried and Sonya were the admiral’s quarry, he would have handed them over – or tried, despite the casualties it would have meant – but they didn’t enlighten him. Racing across the Tyrrhenian Sea, they ran straight into the desperate fight between the Knights of Malta (carrying the falcon) and Khizr Khair-ed-Din Barbarossa himself.

The knights were getting the worst of it. The Barbary galleys, with a single bank of oars each, also carried a cannon at the bow and a swivel gun on each side. At the stern was an enclosed roofed area to shelter the company of Janizaries (a hundred or more) that a corsair galley usually carried for a boarding action. The Knights too were expert sea-fighters, with a fleet of galleys, but in this instance they were somewhat outnumbered, and up against Barbarossa.

Sbonski_de_Passabon-Galeasse_a_la_voileGottfried had encountered the veteran corsair before. Before he was twenty, Gottfried had been in a sea-fight against a squadron of galleys Khair-ed-Din commanded, and now he faced the master of Algiers again. The Venetian captain, seeing the sort of battle that faced him, gave orders to turn and flee, but Gottfried countermanded the order with a sweep of his huge broadsword. The captain fell dead. The Venetian galley, under new command, went into the thick of the fight with Andrea Doria’s squadron close behind.

The result was a furious, no quarter combat, the Maltese and Genoese galleys against the Barbary corsairs, with Gottfried and Sonya in the middle. Not even in his years with the Order had the huge German known a sea-fight so savage, on which so much depended. Sonya had seldom trod the reddened deck of a galley, but she had still known fierce water-borne fighting, in her Cossack days. The Cossacks had already begun raiding across the Black Sea in their low, keelless longboats, called chaika (seagulls) which carried about seventy men each, moved very swiftly, and were hard to see before they came to grips with their prey. Sonya had participated in several such forays.

Laureys_a_Castro_-_A_Sea_Fight_with_Barbary_CorsairsAs on the walls of Vienna, she fought beside Gottfried, with Turkish arrows hissing in the air and Turkish matchlocks barking death. The Janizaries hurled their grappling irons, which thudded and bit into timber, and then they sprang to the attack, their scimitars and spears spilling red. Gottfried’s great two-handed sword dealt death, severing arms and splitting heads, while Sonya’s Cossack sabre opened limbs with wounds that emptied her foes of blood in moments, or cut throats to the spine with lethal drawing cuts. Even mail coifs and steel casques failed against her wicked expertise. She blinded men with a stroke across the face, or caved in wind-pipes through mail with the back of her sword. When Turks went down under her feet, she, like Gottfried, ruthlessly stamped out their lives. When she or he met difficulties, the other was always there to give aid.

In the end, wounded, gasping, they saw the Algiers galleys withdraw across a growing gap of reddened water. The Knights and Andrea Doria combined had been too much, for once, even for Barbarossa. The incomparable prize of the jewelled falcon remained with the Knights, and was duly delivered to Charles. It did vanish in the end, and many covetous people searched for it, a prize that had become a legend. Men were still killing for it in the twentieth century, as Dashiell Hammett records.

But in the sixteenth, Andrea Doria had to acknowledge he would never have arrived in time if he had not been pursuing Gottfried and Sonya so hotly. He paid his debt by letting them go. They probably troubled the waters between Spain and North Africa for a while, in the Venetian galley, with a crew of slaves freed from Barbary oar-benches. They may have perished together in another sea-fight, or made their restless way from the Mediterranean to the Baltic, or even crossed the Atlantic to Brazil and Mexico.

Wherever they went, this much is sure. They raised hell, and they lived before they died.

Artwork by Jim Silkie and others.

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Ten

This entry filed under Don Herron, Howard's Fiction.


Pre-orders are now being accepted for issue number 18 of The Definitive Robert E. Howard Journal. This is an extremely limited edition of 150 copies, so don’t procrastinate if you want a copy.

The new issue will make its debut at Howard Days on June 12th. If you can’t make it to Cross Plains, you can pre-order it beginning today. Orders will ship in late June. Price per copy is $21.00, plus $4.00 for U.S. shipping and handling. Overseas orders require additional postage, so email inquiries here for the overseas shipping rates.

Contents include:

A full color cover by Bob Covington featuring Cormac Fitzgeoffrey, inside front and back covers featuring scenes from “The Black Stone” by Bryan “Zarono” Reagan and a back cover by Stephen Fabian.

“The Cobra in the Dream” by Robert E. Howard, illustrated by Charles Fetherolf

“Iron Man Roll Call” by Chris Gruber, illustrated by Clayton Hinkle

“A Farewell to the Old West – The End of the “Old Frontier”—Robert E. Howard’s ‘Old Garfield’s Heart’” by Dierk Guenther, illustrated by Richard Pace

“The Hyborian Sage: Real-World Parallels Between Howard’s Essay and Modern Discoveries” by Wm. Michael Mott, illustrated by Robert Sankner

“Worms of the Earth: A Bran Mak Morn Portfolio” by Michael L. Peters

“Not Your Ordinary Gun-Dummy: The Western Heroes of Robert E. Howard” by James Reasoner, illustrated by Terry Plavet

“The Poetry Contest” by Rob Roehm

“Conan der Ubermensch” by David Scherpenhuizen, illustrated by Bill Cavalier

As stated above the price is $25.00, which includes U.S. postage and handling.

To order, pay with PayPal:

When Isaac Howard decided to study medicine, he was following a family precedent. His uncle J. T. Henry, a great favorite of Isaac’s mother, Eliza Howard, was a distinguished physician who was graduated from the University of Nashville in Tennessee in 1883. In practice near the Arkansas-Missouri line, Dr. Henry became a role model for his nephew Isaac, who doubtless sought Dr. Henry’s advice and may have studied under him.

Physicians of that day often welcomed their kin as medical students. Such associations with older physicians afforded young would-be doctors opportunities for observation, access to medical books, and such didactic sessions as the preceptor thought necessary in exchange for the apprentice’s help in maintaining the dispensary, cleaning the office, and tending the horse and buggy if there was one. After a few years, when the older man deemed his candidate worthy, he would issue him a certificate to practice medicine. For an ethical man with strong family ties, the certification by a kinsman would be a real throwing of the torch.

Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register gives its first listing of “I. Howard” in 1896 as practicing in Forsyth, Missouri, in Taney County, just over the Missouri line, a short distance from his uncle’s home in Bentonville, Arkansas. It is unclear whether Isaac Howard apprenticed himself to his uncle or whether Dr. Henry had passed him on to another doctor in Forsyth. The dates suggest the former. If Isaac Howard had left Texas in the early nineties, when he turned twenty-one, he could have finished his training and been ready to set up his own practice by 1896.

The young physician did not long remain in Missouri. Perhaps he was homesick. Whatever his reasons, on April 19, 1899, Isaac M. Howard of Limestone County, Texas, was examined by the State Board of Medical Examiners in Texarkana, Texas, and awarded a certificate of qualification to practice medicine. Then he went home.

—L. Sprague de Camp, Dark Valley Destiny

Readers of the Two-Gun blog might remember my post from 2012, “Isaac M. Howard in the 1800s,” wherein I discovered that the “I. Howard” mentioned above couldn’t have been our Isaac Howard because that doctor also appeared in the 1886 edition of Polk’s, which is much too early for our Isaac to be practicing medicine. This removes the only piece of evidence that might place Isaac near his Uncle J. T. Henry at that time; though it’s still possible he received his training there.  This has pretty much become an accepted part of the biography. To wit:

By 1891, Isaac Howard had decided that he was not cut out to be a farmer. He left the family farm, sold his share in the property to his brother, and decided to practice frontier medicine.

Isaac’s medical education, a combination of on-the-job training, apprenticeship to his uncle, himself a doctor, and attendance at a variety of schools, lectures, and courses, would spread out over the next four decades. His initial training took four or five years, and allowed him to practice medicine as early as 1896. From that time on, Dr. Isaac Howard moved frequently from place to place, venturing as far out as Missouri and back to the family farm in Limestone County again.

—Mark Finn, Blood and Thunder

That J. T. Henry was a doctor is well established; that Isaac M. Howard apprenticed under him, not so much. While I am not a fan of speculation, I recently ran across not one but two doctors who, in my opinion, make more sense as possible trainers of Dr. Howard. So, as long as there’s no proof either way, I’ll throw my speculations out there too.


Robert E. Howard said that his family moved to Texas in 1885. The earliest I can place them there is 1889. According to a “Widow’s Application for Pension” filled out by Isaac’s mother in 1910, Isaac’s father, William B., died “near Mt. Calm, Texas, on 3rd day of August in year of 1889.” While William’s death in Texas contradicts de Camp’s version, it agrees with Robert E. Howard’s account in an October 1930 letter to Lovecraft:

My branch of the Howards came to America with Oglethorpe 1733 and lived in various parts of Georgia for over a hundred years. In ’49 three brothers started for California. On the Arkansas River they split up, one went on to California where he lived the rest of his life, one went back to Georgia and one, William Benjamin Howard, went to Mississippi where he became an overseer on the plantations of Squire James Harrison Henry, whose daughter he married. In 1858 he moved, with the Henry’s, to southwestern Arkansas where he lived until 1885, when he moved to Texas. He was my grandfather.

There is a document dated 1885, but it wasn’t recorded until 1898, so I’m a tad skeptical. The document is basically a contract between Isaac Howard and his brother David Terrell Howard of Prairie Hill, Texas, in Limestone County. Dave agrees to purchase Isaac’s land in the county and has ten years to pay for it, starting in 1885. How a 13-year-old Isaac managed to possess that land is a mystery. De Camp speculates that it was Grandpa James Henry’s originally, and James did die in 1884, a fairly prosperous guy, so that’s reasonable, but there’s no mention of Texas land in his Arkansas will.

On November 6, 1893, Isaac’s sister Willie married William Oscar McClung in Limestone County. They moved to Indian Territory shortly thereafter, but probably not before attending brother Dave’s wedding on November 12 (or possibly December 12). This is where things get interesting.


Dave’s bride was Fannie Elizabeth Wortham (seen above quite some time after her marriage). From 1894 to 1919, the couple would produce 12 children. This isn’t so unusual when you figure that Dave had eight siblings and Fannie had seven. We’ll get back to one of Fannie’s siblings in a minute, but first, let’s look at her dad, Mortier (or Mortimer) LaFayette Wortham.

Born in Tennessee in 1822, Wortham moved to Texas while in his early 20s. He shows up on an 1846 tax list in Harrison County, east Texas. He appears to have hooked up with an unknown lady and had at least one child, John, before she died or left. The 1850 Census has an “L. M. Wortham” who is farming with the Martin family in Harrison County. He has with him “J. Wortham,” who is 2 years old. No wife is mentioned.

The 1860 Census of Anderson County has the now 12-year-old John, with father “L. Wortham,” joined by wife “E. Wortham” (the former Elizabeth Chaffin). The senior Wortham’s profession is listed as “Doctor.” On a pension application, Elizabeth says that she married Mortier in 1855. Her family had been in Texas since at least 1843, in Anderson County, which is two counties east of Limestone, with Freestone County in-between.

On March 6, 1862, “M. L. Wortham,” of Palestine, Anderson County, reported for infantry duty in the Confederate Army, Company K, 22nd Regiment, under Colonel R. B. Hubbard. It looks like he served all over the place, doing some time in Louisiana and Arkansas, before returning to Anderson County. He shows up on an 1868 voter registration list there.

“M. L. Wortham” appears on the Anderson County tax rolls for 1861, 1865, 1867, 1869, and 1870. While there are several Worthams on the lists throughout the 1880s, our guy doesn’t appear; this is probably because he had moved to Limestone County, where he and the family appear on the 1880 Census. His profession there is listed as “Farming.” The 1890 Census was mostly destroyed by fire, but in 1891 Mortier is back on the tax lists in Anderson County, appearing as “Dr. M. L. Wortham.” So, Dave Howard’s soon-to-be father-in-law went back to medicine just before his daughter’s marriage. How convenient for Dave’s younger brother, who just happened to be interested in the medical profession.

[A quick, non-chronological note: On Fannie Wortham Howard’s 1960 death certificate, her father is identified as “Dr. W. M. Wortham”; on another daughter’s 1932 death certificate, he is identified simply as “Dr. Wortham.”]

And there’s more. When the Howards arrived in Texas they settled in around Mount Calm, which is in Hill County, but right on the line with Limestone County. They soon spread into Limestone, in the little community of Delia, which is close to Prairie Hill. The 1900 Census has Dave Howard’s growing clan listed with the Prairie Hill inhabitants. One of those was John C. Clark, who was married to another of Mortier Wortham’s daughters and happened to be, you guessed it, a doctor.


Born in 1847 in Jamaica to English parents, Clark was living in Texas by the end of the Civil War. He married Louisa E. Wortham in 1877 and was living in rural Limestone County at the time of the 1880 Census, where he is listed as a “Physician.” The 1890 edition of Polk’s Medical and Surgical Registry has him as the only doctor in Prairie Hill, with no report received in answer to their inquiry regarding his graduation from medical school. This probably means that he didn’t attend a school, but was trained by another doctor . . . perhaps his father-in-law?

So, in the early 1890s we’ve got a young Isaac Howard, purportedly not interested in the family business of farming. He’s got a doctor uncle in far-off Arkansas who seems to be doing pretty well for himself, and his older brother Dave marries into a family with at least two doctors, one of whom is practicing in the very town in which they live, the other in a nearby county. [I say “at least two” because one of Mortier’s sons, James Franklin Wortham, is identified as a doctor on an family tree, but there is no documentation provided to support that claim and I haven’t looked into it yet.] And right around this time, the mid-1890s, Dave is paying for Isaac’s land. Hmm, I wonder what Isaac was doing with the cash?

Meanwhile, brother Dave purchased some more land in 1897 from Gussbaum and Morris, whoever they were. Then, the 1885 document was filed for record on January 15, 1898, and on February 12, 1898, Isaac Howard filed a quit claim, closing the land deal with his brother. The next time Isaac M. Howard appears on paper it is as a doctor. As de Camp said, a year later, “on April 19, 1899, Isaac M. Howard of Limestone County, Texas, was examined by the State Board of Medical Examiners in Texarkana, Texas, and awarded a certificate of qualification to practice medicine. Then he went home.”

The first place he appears is Freestone County, where he registered his new credentials on July 20, 1899. Right next door to Limestone, this makes sense, but, as long as I’m speculating, let me go a step further. On a recent trip to Groesbeck, the county seat of Limestone, I asked about their Medical Register—the book that lists the doctors who had registered their credentials in the county. Isaac M. Howard was not listed in that book, but the book only went back to 1907. Turns out the older records were destroyed by fire. So I’ll bet Isaac did indeed go home—right back to Limestone County, then to Freestone. But again, that’s just speculation.

Dr. Howard next appears up north near Indian Territory in Montague County, where his uncle, George Walser, was living. I have no idea if the two had any contact at this time, though I would think it odd if they didn’t. Dr. Howard registered in the county on May 30, 1901. This appears to be just before Isaac started practicing in Petersburg, just across the Red River in Indian Territory, and not far from where his sister Willie had moved after marrying Oscar McClung. The doctor couldn’t have spent too much time in Indian Territory, though, he had a date with destiny back in Texas, Palo Pinto County, where a certain lady named Hester was spending time with her siblings in Mineral Wells.


Vienna was the one Christian island in a sea of infidels. Night by night men watched the horizons burning where the Akinji yet scoured the agonized land. Occasionally word came from the outer world – slaves escaping from the camp and slipping into the city. Always their news was fresh horror. In Upper Austria less than a third of the inhabitants were left alive; Mikhal Oglu was outdoing himself. And the people said it was evident the vulture-winged one was looking for someone in particular. His slayers brought men’s heads and heaped them high before him; he avidly searched among the grisly relics, then, apparently in fiendish disappointment, drove his devils to new atrocities.

— Robert E. Howard, “The Shadow of the Vulture”

Suleyman the Magnificent, called by his own people Kanuni, the Lawgiver, King of Kings, the Possessor of Men’s Necks, Shadow of Allah Dispensing Quiet in the Earth, before the wretched and inadequate walls of Vienna in 1529, was fit to be given yet another title – the Apoplectic with Frustration. The garrison of Vienna, outnumbered four or five to one, had not broken before the onslaught of Suleyman’s army. The Turkish army!  The greatest on earth!  Without doubt the best organized, it also boasted the finest artillery and perhaps the finest engineers. Its skilled, mobile and daring light cavalry was feared by everybody except the Cossacks. Its main infantry corps – the janizaries, the Sultan’s fanatical slave-soldiers – was the toughest and most relentlessly disciplined since the Roman legions. The Turkish advantage was not one of mere numbers.

And yet Vienna held out, under the valiant command of Count Salm, a tried soldier seventy years old. Half the days of October had passed. Suleyman’s promise that he would eat his breakfast on the city’s walls by the end of September had been thrown back in his teeth, with a mocking joke by the defenders. Attacks from without and treachery from within had failed alike.

lal295662What was more, even the Janizaries, “the terror of their enemies, and not infrequently of their masters” had begun to break. An army, even of the Janizaries, marches on its stomach. Suleyman had expected Vienna to fall quickly. For that reason, and also because bringing provisions across the sodden morass that was Eastern Europe in 1529 had great difficulties, rations were low. Janizary troops on the verge of mutiny were prone to showing it by overturning the large food kettles in the midst of their camps. Nor could they obtain food from the devastated country of Austria. Mikhal Oglu and his Akinji had been a little too bloodily efficient. Other supplies, like warm clothing, were just as short, and the season was late, the weather murderously chill. Besides, the army had carried out three major assaults, and the Koran required no more of the Faithful, in defense or attack.

Robert E. Howard, as usual, gives a succinct and vivid verbal picture of the situation. “Suleyman drove his men as relentlessly as if he were their worst foe. Plague stalked among them, and the ravaged countryside yielded no food. The cold winds howled down from the Carpathians and the warriors shivered in their light Oriental garb. In the frosty nights the hands of the sentries froze to their matchlocks. The ground grew hard as flint and the sappers toiled feebly with blunted tools. Rain fell, mingled with sleet, extinguishing matches, wetting powder, turning the plain outside the city to a muddy wallow, where rotting corpses sickened the living.”

SuleymanThe command – and the Janizaries, on the promise of plunder and the immediate payment of a thousand aspers to each soldier – agreed to mount one more all-out onslaught on Vienna’s patched, repaired, staggering ramparts. If it failed, they would raise the siege. Suleyman promised, as Howard recounts, “Thirty thousand aspers to the first man on the walls!”

Gottfried von Kalmbach fought like a demon in the breach by the Karnthner Tower. He battled endlessly with his great two-handed sword as “maddened faces rose snarling before him” and “at his side a slim pantherish figure swayed and smote, at first with laughter, curses and snatches of song, later in grim silence”. One way or another it was the final fight, as Gottfried and Sonya both knew. In the end, exhausted and half conscious, dead on his feet, Gottfried was pulled from the breach by the hands of Nikolas Zrinyi, who told him to go and sleep, for the Turks had been beaten off. “For the time being, at least.”

Gottfried staggered through the streets of Vienna, mazed from a sword-stroke that had split his helmet in the fighting. Offered a cup of wine (his everlasting weakness) he was struck from behind by the traitors in the city and taken prisoner. An Armenian merchant and his son, the men who had blown a mine from inside beleaguered Vienna, they planned to hand him over to Mikhal Oglu. Fortunately for Gottfried, Red Sonya found him in time, “her face drawn and haggard … her boots slashed, her silken breeches splashed and spotted with blood.”  She struck down the father with her empty pistol and almost throttled the son. By this blogger’s count it made the third time she had saved von Kalmbach from certain death. In her merciless fury she was about to blow out the son’s brains before his father’s eyes, but while she primed her pistol they were interrupted by the bells of Saint Stephen’s cathedral. They had not sounded since the siege began.

“The bells of Saint Stephen!” cried Sonya. “They peal for victory!”

Vienna-Karnthner-gateIt was true. The final great attack of the 14th had failed like the others. The Turkish officers, including the Vizier Ibrahim in person, had driven the soldiers to the walls with scourges and scimitars. Not even a fresh breach opened at the Karnthner Gate by the explosion of two mines – the breach in which Gottfried and Sonya had been fighting — was enough to give the attackers the city. The heroism of the defenders had not broken. Two men, a Portuguese and a German, who had quarreled and been resolved to fight a duel in the morning, instead fought the Turks side by side until they were both wounded, one with a shattered left arm, one with his right disabled. They guarded each other’s sides and fought on until both were killed, their dispute forgotten. Count Salm, at about two in the afternoon, was hit by a falling stone brought down by Turkish cannon fire. It shattered his hip. At his age he failed to recover from the injury, which would have been severe even to a young man, and he died some months later. But he had won. “It was not written that the Turk should rule beyond the Danube.”

Gottfried and Sonya may be fictional. The courage and resolution of the real life defenders, Salm, Roggendorf, Philip the Palgrave, Bakics, Zrinyi and Hagen, was no less incredible than theirs. And Mikhal Oglu was not fictional either, let it be remembered. Neither are his atrocities.

The former knight of Saint John and the former Cossack girl (I’m certain she had been, though REH doesn’t spell it out for his readers) can stand as symbols of Vienna’s defense. From “a sagging shattered roof” they surveyed the frustrated Turks making ready to withdraw. One last horror was still to be perpetrated, though. Breaking camp, the Janizaries made huge fires out of their huts, their remaining forage and the supplies they could not carry with them, any and all unnecessary baggage, and then hurled their prisoners – those who could not march, the aged and the children – into the roaring flames. Those not burned were hewn apart or impaled. Even Gottfried, who had seen his complete share of terrible work, was appalled.

“Judgment Day in the morning,” he muttered, awed.

Sonya, seeing Mikhal Oglu among the Turkish host, spat blistering curses against “ … the bastard, that made Austria a desert! How easily the souls of the butchered folk ride on his cursed winged shoulders!”

Red Sonja of Rogatino by Abe PapakhianThen she conceived an idea, and rushed down with Gottfried to their two traitor prisoners. They missed seeing, as Howard writes, “Nikolas Zrinyi and Paul Bakics ride out of the gates with their tattered retainers, risking their lives in sorties to rescue prisoners.”  While this was occurring, Sonya offered the Armenians their lives if the father, with his son as a hostage, would take a message to Mikhal Oglu. The youth’s father, Tshoruk, did as he was bidden. He found the Vulture and told him that Gottfried “ … fell from his horse, riding to attack the rear-guard, and lies with a broken leg in a deserted peasant’s hut, some three miles back – alone except for his mistress Red Sonya, and three or four Lanzknechts, who are drunk … ”

The Vulture took the bait. Indeed, he leaped at the chance to regain the favor of Ibrahim, who had been more than displeased at Mikhal Oglu’s failure to bring him Gottfried’s head. “For a lesser man,” as REH tells us, “that might have meant a bowstring.”  It probably would have. Taking twenty men, Mikhal Oglu turned back, as “the wind sobbed drearily among the bare branches.”  And rode into the ambush Gottfried and Sonya had set, announced by the roar of fifty matchlocks firing as one.

That wasn’t the way Mikhal Oglu really died. However, he did not survive the siege of Vienna long. REH wrote in a letter to Lovecraft, on November 3rd, 1933:

Thank you very much for the kind things you said about the yarns in Magic Carpet. ‘Alleys of Darkness’ isn’t much of a yarn, but I do like ‘The Shadow of the Vulture.’ I tried to follow history as closely as possible, though I did shift the actual date of Mikhal Oglu’s death. He was not killed until a year or so later, on the occasion of a later invasion of Austria, in which the Akinji were trapped and destroyed by Paul Bakics.

Well, one of the heroes of Vienna’s defense did get him at last, which is justice. And compressing events into a shorter period to move the story faster, more dramatically, is a frequent device. Shakespeare did it all the time. Besides, and importantly to telling the story, it gives the final scene immeasurably greater impact, as Suleyman celebrates what he has proclaimed a “victory” in Istanbul. Those few who haven’t read “The Shadow of the Vulture”, and who don’t like spoilers, should quit the website at this point!

Suleyman has announced that “the Austrians having made submission and sued for pardon on their knees” he will leave them in possession of their fortress. All the splendor and magnificence of the Sublime Porte is on display. Largesse is scattered. Foreign envoys marvel. Suleyman recalls his many victories and reflects that “men would forget that a handful of desperate Caphars behind rotting walls had closed his road to empire.”

jeffrey-jones_the-sowers_ny-zebra-books-1975_01-600x851Then comes the gift brought by “a rider of the Adrianople post.”  Opened before the Sultan, it holds a note, “To the Soldan Suleyman and the Wezir Ibrahim and the hussy Roxelana, we who sign our names below send a gift in token of our immeasurable fondness and kind affection,” with the signatures “Sonya of Rogatino and Gottfried von Kalmbach.” And when he sees what the package contains, Suleyman feels “his shimmering pretense of triumph” slip away. “His glory turned to tinsel and dust.”

I wondered in a previous post whether Roxelana ever knew that the red-haired fighting woman Red Sonya was her sister. She must have done. Roxelana was so deep in intrigue, which centered on the harem anyway, that she always knew everything that went on. She would have known what Gottfried and Sonya’s insolent missive said, word for word, and “Sonya of Rogatino”, not to mention the insult “hussy”, could have left her in no doubt.

Roxelana would not have been likely to tell her husband the Sultan that the woman who delivered such an affront, now a companion of the German who had wounded him at Mohacs, was her sister!  She might well have wished Sonya, and Sonya’s identity, buried in a swift anonymous grave. And Sultan Suleyman must have vowed Gottfried’s death again, more forcefully than ever.

Gottfried and Sonya, fully aware of it, decided to leave Austria for the western kingdoms of Europe and leave no forwarding address. What their relationship had become by then is a little ambiguous. A German lanzknecht had told Gottfried, early in the siege of Vienna, “She’s no man’s light o’ love.”  That was probably true. Then. The traitorous Tshoruk had referred to Gottfried “and his mistress, Red Sonya,” but that could have reflected his own belief, not the fact. However, we can take it that Robert E. Howard, who created the pair, knew the exact situation. One of his letters to H.P. Lovecraft, dated March 6th, 1933, included the sentence, “They may not seem real to the readers; but Gottfried and his mistress Red Sonya seem more real to me than any other character I’ve ever drawn.”

Sonya doubtless liked his prowess and fighting spirit. But part of the attraction seems to have been a half-exasperated, half-protective feeling that the big drunken lug needed looking after. She told him as much after hauling him out of the Viennese moat when a dozen Turks were chasing him, edged steel ready. “I see you need a wiser person to keep life in that hulking frame.”  When Gottfried, baffled, cried “But I thought you despised me!” Sonya snapped back, “Well, a woman can change her mind, can’t she?”

I believe that makes things pretty clear.

Artwork by Jeffrey Jones, Abe Papakhian and Others.

Read Part One, Part TwoPart Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, Part Seven, Part Seven, Part Eight, Part Nine, Part Eleven

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


I know, I know. Howard Days is still coming up and here is a post about PulpFest 2015. This year the convention takes note of the 125th anniversary of HPL’s birth. It is always a good idea to plan ahead, so if you are thinking about attending this major Summer pulp convention, here are the particulars from the PulpFest website:

PulpFest, also known as “Summer’s Great Pulp Con,” returns to the beautiful Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus, Ohio for its 44th edition. It will begin on Thursday, August 13th at 6 PM with four hours of early-bird shopping in the dealers’ room, located on the hotel’s third floor. You can learn how to become an early-bird or a dealer by visiting our registration page. To reserve a room at the Hyatt Regency, click “book a room.” PulpFest 2015 will run until 2 PM on Sunday, August 16th, when our dealers’ room will shut its doors.

Beginning with its first convention in 2009, PulpFest has annually drawn hundreds of fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials to Columbus, Ohio where it is currently based. Planned as a successor to Pulpcon, the new convention took on the name PulpFest and sought to widen the focus of the annual confab. Although centered around pulp fiction and pulp magazines, PulpFest was founded on the premise that the pulps had a profound effect on American popular culture, reverberating through a wide variety of mediums—comic books, movies, paperbacks and genre fiction, television, men’s adventure magazines, radio drama, and even video and role-playing games. The summertime destination for fans and collectors of vintage popular fiction and related materials, PulpFest seeks to honor pulp fiction by drawing attention to the many ways it had inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, and other creators over the decades. Click on the PulpFest history button at the bottom of the home page to learn more about the convention’s development.

As 2015 marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of author H. P. Lovecraft – the “Edgar Allan Poe of the 20th Century” and “The Copernicus of the horror story” – PulpFest will be celebrating his life and his work. In addition to programming on the author’s celebrated Cthulhu Mythos, we’ll also examining his relationship with Weird Tales, the pulp magazine where the bulk of his fiction was published.

PulpFest 2015 will also be paying tribute to Ned Pines’ Standard Magazines, better known as “The Thrilling Group.” Along with Street & Smith, Popular Publications, and the Frank A. Munsey Company, Pines’ line was one of the leading publishers of pulp magazines during the early twentieth century. We’ll be spotlighting a wide array of the company’s magazines, examining the Standard hero, detective, western, adventure, and sports pulps as well as their line of comic books. Click on our schedule and programming buttons for additional details.

Although the focus of PulpFest 2015 will be pulp magazines and related materials, visitors will also find vintage paperbacks, digests, men’s adventure and true crime magazines, first edition hardcovers, series books, dime novels, original art, Big Little Books, B-movies and serials and related collectibles, old-time-radio shows, and Golden and Silver Age comic books for sale in its 15,800 square-foot dealers’ room, located in the Regency Ballroom. In addition to attracting some of the leading collectibles dealers from across the United States and Canada, PulpFest also plays host to a wide array of contemporary publishers including those who reprint material from the old pulps as well as publishing houses dealing in contemporary genre fiction.

At PulpFest, you’ll find science-fiction books and magazines, detective and adventure pulps, westerns, original cover art and interior illustrations, stacks of digest magazines, vintage paperbacks and comic books, unique films, and much, much more! You’ll be entertained and informed by countless presentations and panels featuring leading pop-culture experts. You’ll see old pals and meet new friends. You can even join FarmerCon, the convention dedicated to Grand Master of Science Fiction Philip José Farmer. You’ll find all this and more at PulpFest, “Summer’s Great Pulp Con!”

You’ll find additional details about PulpFest by exploring our website. To be added to our mailing list for our annual newsletter, please send your name and address to David J. Cullers or to 1272 Cheatham Way, Bellbrook, OH 45305. Please let him know whether you want our member or dealer newsletter. You can also reach PulpFest by dialing 863-606-8878 and leaving your name and a phone number where you can be reached.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning now to attend PulpFest 2015 and join hundreds of pulp fiction fans at the pop-culture center of the universe!

And as the case every year, there will be a good sized contingent of Howard Heads on hand to hang out with.


This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Howard Fandom, News, Weird Tales.

TheKid1Few American lives have elicited more tales, rumors, and folklores than that of Henry McCarty. I would go so far as to say that of all the famous Americans who have lived such a short life span—two meager decades—McCarty has the most amount of words written about him. He perhaps has also influenced more authors than any other old west figure. And despite all this, he remains one of the most elusive figures of the old west. So who is Henry McCarty? History knows him as one Billy the Kid. The foremost scholar of Billy the Kid, Frederick Nolan, claims that “Few American lives have more successfully resisted research than that of Billy the Kid.” (Nolan 3). Evidence for this lies in the fact that The Kid did not receive serious scholarly attention until nearly 100 years after his death.

Why is that? What makes Billy the Kid so fascinating that for the better part of the 20th century his life has resisted serious research and remained in the mainstream arena of folklore and myth? No scholar of the Kid seems to have a definitive answer to that question. It might simply be that facts are not as exciting as the mysterious. Regardless, from the late 1950s to the present day reliable research, scholarly articles, books, and historical documents have been written and uncovered. Granted, the myths are still there and they make for wonderful movies and exciting novels but we now live in what should be considered a more enlightened era with regard to our understanding of The Kid.

There was a long period of time where scarcely a word was written or spoken about Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County Wars. This span occurred between the death of the infamous sheriff (Pat Garrett) who killed Billy the Kid in 1908 until 1925 when Harvey Fergusson raised the question in an American Mercury article, “Who remembers Billy the Kid?” Apparently, the Kid’s reputation had faded and Fergusson wondered why (Nolan 295). All this would soon change in 1926 when Walter Noble Burns published The Saga of Billy the Kid, and the Kid would once again be thrust into the limelight of folklore and myth. This was the very book that sparked interest in the mind of a young boy who would later become the premier scholar of Billy the Kid studies, Frederick Nolan. However, Walter Noble Burns, with his flamboyant style and highly exaggerated account of Billy the Kid, would also influence a series of western writers of the early to mid twentieth century. One in particular was a popular pulp fiction writer from Cross Plains, Texas named Robert E. Howard. Although the focus of Howard’s writing had pretty much been the fantasy and action adventure genres, Burn’s book would ultimately set Howard in a new direction.

It is no secret to Robert E. Howard aficionados that Howard had a serious interest in the Old West. This interest became so predominant toward the latter years of his life he shifted his writing career in the direction of publishing western stories and even proclaimed in correspondence to August Derleth:

I’m seriously contemplating devoting all my time and efforts to western writing, abandoning all other forms of work entirely; the older I get the more my thoughts and interests are drawn back over the trails of the past; so much has been written, but there is so much that should be written. (Howard Letters 2:  372)

In studies regarding Robert E. Howard’s western writing career there is no definitive timeframe or specific cause that pushed Howard in the direction of western tales. Howard had written Westerns in his earlier years and sporadically throughout his fantasy and action adventure years, but what made him tell Derleth that he wanted to devote all his time to western writing? Chances are there is no single factor or date but rather a series of events that hinged upon at least one thing—Walter Noble Burn’s book The Saga of Billy the Kid.

americanmythmaker012315-199x300Walter Noble Burns was born October 24th, 1872. As a teenager he became a junior reporter for the Louisville, KY Evening Post. (Nolan 295). This led Burns into a fairly long career as a writer and reporter which eventually led him to Chicago where he would work for both the Chicago Examiner and Chicago Tribune. It was his work with the Tribune that would launch him into his most famous research and work. In 1923 Burns would visit New Mexico to interview  various people who were still alive during the Lincoln County Wars and the days of Billy the Kid. This research would ultimately end up in Burns’ book The Saga of Billy the Kid (from here on known as SBK).

SBK was the definitive book about Billy the Kid’s life until the late 1950s and early 1960s when scholars took pen in hand and began seriously researching the Lincoln County Wars. Today SBK is considered nothing but a novel work on the Lincoln County Wars. It has all but been dismissed as exaggerations, myths, and fun folklore. Regardless, from 1926, the year SBK was published, to the early 1960s, Burns’ work set the tone for movies, western pulp stories, dime novels, and even magazine articles about Billy the Kid.

When SBK was published it quickly became a national best seller, rivaling the sales of other popular books of its day. In just a few short months Nolan explains, “[Burns’] book topped the bestseller list on the newly formed Book of the Month Club, whose judges—among them Dorothy Canfield, Heywood Broun, and William Allen White—proclaimed it to be full of ‘the vivid reality of the moving pictures without the infusion of false sentiment and . . .melodrama. It was, they felt, ‘a chronicle such as the Elizabethans wrote and read.” (Nolan 296).

coef75529299c776fdf87bb3907c5dd55d3Regarding the book’s accuracy nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, those whom Burns had interviewed (all close friends of Billy the Kid or spouses of those who rode with him) declared the book to be nothing but exaggerated stories and false facts. George Coe who was so disturbed by the contents of Burns’ book wrote a more accurate account of his time spent with The Kid. But, unlike Burn’s book, Coe’s work drifted into obscurity.

Despite the protests of the Lincoln County War witnesses whom Burns interviewed, and despite their own written accounts attempting to counter Burns’ book, SBK continued to sell widely. Then the film rights for Burns’ book were bought by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and would soon be made into a major motion picture, setting those exaggerations, myths, and folklores into motion for several decades to follow. But as important, Burns’ book would soon be absorbed into the western pulps and dime novels from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Writers such as Max Brand, Luke Short, Zane Grey, Edwin Corle, and Robert E. Howard, would all be influenced by Walter Noble Burns’ book.

TheKid2Robert E. Howard certainly owned a copy of The Saga of Billy the Kid. Howard mentions the book in a July 1935 letter to H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, Howard quotes from the book in that letter using details about the Lincoln County Wars that correspond with details from SBK. And, even though Burns’ book is not mentioned by Howard until that July 1935 letter to H.P. Lovecraft, there is enough evidence to demonstrate that Howard owned and used Burns’ book quite a few years prior to it being mentioned in that letter. But when, approximately, did Howard purchase Burns’ book and why is it  important to know that approximate time frame?

I think there were three factors in Howard’s life that caused him to slowly gain a serious interest in frontier and old west history. First, the purchase of Burns’ book was one of, if not the strongest factor to shift Howard’s interest toward the old west. Two, around this same time Tevis Clyde Smith, one of Howard’s close friends, began research on local western frontier history. And three, changes in pulp markets and writing trends were occurring. Because of all these factors Howard began an ongoing effort from this approximate timeframe to the end of his life to break into the western pulp fiction market.

Two-Gun Howard and the Western Tale

Robert E. Howard always had a healthy interest in gunfighters and the Old West. At age 15 Howard created a western gunfighter by the name of Steve Allison (Glenn Lord 72). This character would later be revived in 1933, in the middle of Howard’s shifting interests toward western stories and western history. But the fact that Howard had created such a character at such a young age is quite telling. It at least demonstrates his interest in western motif’s and characters all the way back to his teenage years. The first story Robert E. Howard ever submitted for professional publishing was to a magazine called Western Story. The story was titled “Bill Smalley and the Power of the Human Eye” and as Howard scholar Rusty Burke points out:

Although the story is a tale of the North Woods, it is nevertheless interesting that his first professional submission was to a magazine of western fiction.  (Burke introduction xi)

TheKid3This story was submitted for publication in 1921 and although it was rejected, for a few years afterward Howard spent time not only writing more western style tales but also submitting them to various places for publication. In 1922 “‘Golden Hope’ Christmas” and “West is West” were both submitted to and published by the Brownwood High School newspaper called The Tattler. With these Howard saw moderate success and pay. Then, in 1924 Howard submitted another western story titled “44-40 or Fight” to Western Story magazine. Again, they rejected his story. However, that same year the newly established pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales accepted the work that would essentially launch Howard’s career—“Spear and Fang.” With the promise of publication to his first real national magazine, and Howard’s stories “The Hyena” and “The Lost Race” accepted by that same magazine in December 1924, Howard’s attention fell almost solely on the fantasy and action/adventure market. The market that Howard would use to launch his writing career.

From 1924 to 1928 there is no record in correspondence or otherwise of Howard writing a western story. The closest thing to a western or pioneer/historical work Howard would attempt to write and actually publish during this “quiet” period is his short essay titled “What the Nation Owes the South,” picked up by the Brownwood Bulletin in 1926. And that essay is not actually a western even though it deals with frontier/Civil War type issues.

TXbrowncocshe-lg_previewThen, in 1928 two western stories surfaced: “Spanish Gold on a Devil Horse” submitted to Argosy and Adventure (both rejected the story) and “Drums of Sunset” submitted to The Cross Plains Review (which accepted the story), the local newspaper in Howard’s hometown of Cross Plains, Texas. The former story is interesting because it is actually set in a fictional version of Cross Plains called “Lost Plains,” and deals with actual regional places and issues.  I draw attention to these details because around this time one of Howard’s close friends, Tevis Clyde Smith, began to interview locals, visit Courthouses, and dig up historical documents on local frontier life. By autumn of 1930 Smith began to submit articles to local newspapers (Roehm introduction xxii). On several occasions Howard would join his friend on these outings.

In mid 1929 Howard wrote a story titled “The Extermination of Yellow Donory.” It is the first record we have where Howard mentions Billy the Kid. Howard seems to have used Burns’ description of The Kid to describe his own character, Joey Donory. Even though Billy the Kid is small, Burns’ paints him in such a light that he ends up being larger than life despite his actual stature. In that same vein Howard writes:

Born and bred in an environment where men were large and imposing, his [Joey Donory] lack of size was bad enough, but his handicaps were more than physical.

“An’ it ain’t so much me bein’ thataway. Most of the real bad hombres wasn’t so big. Lookit Billy the Kid; no bigger’n what I be.” (Burke, 38)

In his description of Billy the Kid and other gunfighters Burns’ writes:

He [Billy the Kid] was five feet eight inches tall, slender, and well proportioned. He was unusually strong for his inches, having for a small man quite powerful arms and shoulders.

. . . It may be remarked further, as a matter of incidental interest, that the West’s bad men were never heavy, stolid, lowering brutes. (Burns 59 & 60, emphasis mine)

It’s interesting how Howard compares the size of his main character, Joey Donory, to that of Billy the Kid using similar phrasing as Burns did in his work. Burns goes on to detail how other men, such as Pat Garrett, were tall, large, etc. but Billy due to his size, speed and accuracy with a gun, equaled himself among these larger men. This is just a small example of how Howard used Burns’ book. I will also demonstrate that Howard took details directly out of Burns’ book when he discussed the life of Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County Wars in several of his letters to H.P. Lovecraft.

The Purchase of Burns Book and How Howard Used It

There is no definitive date for when Robert E. Howard purchased SBK. In fact, there is no definite place either. The only two bookstores Howard mentions in his letters are Argosy, located in New York City, and Von Blon’s Bookstore in Waco, Texas. It is well known that Howard ordered many of his books through the mail. I think if he bought SBK from Argosy it would have been between late 1928 and early to mid 1929. Howard was certainly ordering books from Argosy at that time because, in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith from early April 1930 Howard declares,

The Argosy pipple [sic, intentional due to the joking nature of the letter] enrage me highly by their damned discriminating attitude. I haven’t gotten their latest catalogue no more as nothing, They always send their other customers theirs before they send me one. (Howard Letters 1: 30)

The language in this letter, their latest and always, clearly seem to indicate that Howard had been ordering from Argosy for some time.

TheKid4If Howard bought Burns’ book from Von Blon’s then it is likely that he purchased the book before writing “The Extermination of Yellow “in 1929. As I have demonstrated above, the mention of Billy the Kid and the similar phrasing with SKB would place a date prior to mid-1929.  But it should also be noted that Howard was buying books from Von Blon’s much earlier than 1929. In as letter to Harold Preece dated August 1928, Howard mentions Von Blon’s Bookstore. “Waco’s a Hell of a town, isn’t it? Likely you’ve discovered Von Blon’s bookstore already. The Prussian has some good books sometimes.” Once again the language indicates that Howard had shopped there before.

With the dates of these letters and the clear indication that Howard was shopping from both bookstores for some time, either location is a strong candidate. Even so, the date of “The Extermination of Yellow Donory” and it’s mention of Billy the Kid certainly help provide an approximate time frame of when SKB was purchased, between early 1928 to mid 1929, two to three years after its initial publication. By September 1930 Howard declares to his friend, Tevis Clyde Smith, that he is going to write “a history of the early Texan days sometime, entitled: An Unborn Empire or something like that.” (Howard Letters 2: 68). In that same letter Howard asks Smith if he can use some of his articles for research and reference. This is crucial because just a few months later, January 1931, in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, Howard writes about the Lincoln County Wars using the same writing style as Burns in SKB, and providing details that he could have only known through Burns’ book. What this indicates is that Smith’s research on the western frontier coupled with SKB are already setting in motion the change that will take place in Howard’s interest and writing direction. And this is all occurring between 1928 and 1931.

In between the two letters mentioned above (one to Smith, the other to HPL) Howard mentions Billy the Kid in another letter to Lovecraft dated October 1930. Howard is discussing James Franklin Norfleet. He details their meeting each other, describes Norfleet’s physical features, and then compares him as a gunman to Billy the Kid, along with other gunmen such as John Wesley Hardin, Sam Bass, and Al Jennings. He then waxes eloquently about gunfighters and their mannerisms and characteristics. And even though the topics during this period of correspondence between Howard and Lovecraft predominantly circle around the Celts, or Romans, or medieval and ancient civilizations, Howard always manages to turn the conversations back to Texas, frontier life, cattlemen, gunfighters, or the old west.

There is no question that from this point, October 1930, Howard is demonstrating a dominant interest in Billy the Kid, the Lincoln County Wars, and the Old West. And by January 1931, Howard is actually using the details from Burns’ book in that particular letter to H.P. Lovecraft. In fact, the names, events, details, and descriptions are used in such a manner that it makes me think that Howard actually had the book in front of him as he wrote the letter. Below is a chart that compares Howard’s letter to Lovecraft and certain details from the burning of McSween’s home during the Lincoln County Wars.

Comparison Chart

Not only does Howard keep the sequence used by Burns, but the details are, for the most part, the same. And, in subsequent letters to Lovecraft when the Lincoln County Wars are brought up, Howard uses Burns’ book to tell the story. In these same letters more frequent discussions about the west, Texas history, and gunfighters ensue. Examples of this can be seen in his letters dated February 1931 in which Howard discusses John Chisum, the Lincoln County Wars, and The Kid; June 1931 Howard discusses the types of guns that won the old west; August of 1931 Howard discusses Texas frontier history at great length; December 9, 1931 Howard discusses Kit Carson and Bigfoot Wallace; May 24, 1932 Howard discusses Bill Hickok and Billy the Kid; August 9, 1932 Howard discusses Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, etc. This trend continues in his letters until it culminates in a trip Howard took with his friend Truett Vinson to New Mexico, in the summer of 1935. By then Howard is all but completely focused on writing western stories.

TheKid5Even though Robert E. Howard had sporadically written and published western stories from his first submission in 1921 to the end of his life, several prominent Howard scholars place Howard’s transitional interest of the old west and western stories at the same time as Tevis Clyde Smith’s publication Frontier’s Generation in March of 1931. Based on the evidence above, I propose a revised transitional date: in the late 20s, around late 1928 to early to mid-1929. And while Smith’s research and publication played an important role in Howard’s transition, I think Burns’ book, The Saga of Billy the Kid is the key factor that caused Howard’s transition. In fact, I think the influence Burns’ book had on Howard cannot be overstated. Especially since Howard seems to adopt Burns’ writing style in several of his western stories. Research and proof of which I’ll reserve for another time and another paper.

Based on the above dates, correspondence, and the progressive build up of western stories written and published from 1928 to Howard’s death in 1936, and a few years beyond, there is a clear trend of Howard shifting his interest toward the Old West and western stories. It’s just a matter of time before Howard will take this interest and apply it to his storytelling, breaking full swing into the western markets.

 Historical Corrections and Burns’ Book

While Walter Noble Burns’ account of Billy the Kid certainly had a interesting impact on writers of the mid-20th Century, it left a false historical wake that would not be corrected until over 30 years after its initial publication. With renewed interest from scholars about Billy the Kid in the late 50s and early 60s, various facts, myths, and folklores would soon be corrected. From the 21st century, we certainly have the advantage of looking back over history and seeing where errors were made, watching how they were corrected, and moving forward with better information.

Of course, Robert E. Howard did not have that luxury. He was informed about Billy the Kid from the various circulated myths, exaggerated tales, and erroneous facts that were merely highlighted by Burns’ book. On the one hand, this had a positive effect on his writing. Howard wrote with this exaggerated tone, used exaggerated facts, and painted his western stories in such a way as to make them far more interesting than merely dry facts and events. On the other hand, a lot of what Howard wrote about Billy the Kid was just erroneous. This being the case, anyone who reads Howard’s letters where he discusses Billy the Kid, should take those letters with several grains of salt. While they are quite interesting to read, and read like a good story, they are wrought with erroneous details that Howard borrowed from Burns.

Even so, were it not for Walter Noble Burn’s book The Saga of Billy the Kid, I do not think Howard would have developed the way he did when it came time for him to settle into regularly writing his western stories. Not that Burns was the sole influence on how and why Howard wrote westerns, but the impact Burns’ book had on Howard’s western writing can certainly be seen. I also think that Burns’ book played the key role in Howard’s interest of the old west and western tales. An interest that ultimately led him to declare to his longtime correspondent, H.P. Lovecraft, in a letter dated May 13, 1936, about a month before Howard’s death, “I find it more and more difficult to write anything but western yarns.” (Howard  Letters 3:  446)


Burke, Rusty. Introduction. The End of the Trail: Western Stories. Lincoln: U of Nebraska, 2005. Ix-Xviii. Print.

Burns, Walter Noble. The Saga of Billy the Kid. Garden City, NY: Garden City, 1926. Print.

Coe, George W. Frontier Fighter: The Autobiography of George W. Coe Who Fought and Rode with Billy the Kid. Ed. Doyce B. Nunis. Chicago: Lakeside, 1984. Print.

Derie, Bobby, comp. The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard: Index and Addenda. Plano, TX: Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2015. Print.

Herron, Don, ed. The Dark Barbarian: The Writings of Robert E. Howard: A Critical Anthology. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1984. Print.

Howard, Robert E. The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Ed. Rob Roehm. Vol. 1-3. Plano, TX: Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2007. Print.

Howard, Robert E. Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works. Ed. Rob Roehm. Plano, TX: Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2009. Print.

Howard, Robert E. Western Tales. Ed. Rob Roehm. Plano, TX: Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2013. Print.

Lord, Glenn, ed. The Last Celt: A Bio-Bibliography of Robert E. Howard. West Kingston, Rhode Island: Donald M. Grant, 1976. Print.

Nolan, Frederick W. The West of Billy the Kid. Norman: U of Oklahoma, 1998. Print.

Smith, Tevis C. So Far the Poet & Other Writings. Ed. Rob Roehm and Rusty Burke. Plano, TX: Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2010. Print.

Smith, Tevis Clyde. Frontier’s Generation: The Pioneer History of Brown County, with Sidelights on the Surrounding Territory. New and Enlarged ed. Brownwood, TX: Moore Printing, 1980. Print.

Wallis, Michael. Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008. Print.

Be sure and visit Todd’s On an Underwood No. 5 blog. He has recently updated the blog’s look and will be adding a lot of first-rate Howard content there in the coming weeks and months.