“The many batterings took their toll at last, however, and Grim was knocked out by Sailor Burke, a hard-hitting second-rater who stepped off a ship to turn the trick. Grim’s heart was broken.”

Howard was fascinated with Joe Grim, and the above passage from “Men of Iron” might have some readers wondering who this Sailor Burke really was. The photo to the left shows Mr. Burke a few years after his knockout feat, but he’s still in pretty good shape, except if you look closely you can see that his nose is a little flattened, undoubtedly broken at least once.

Never a champion, this welterweight/middleweight fought some tough competition, and that includes a few heavyweights. He took on Jack Johnson in 1907, and there are reports he even stood up against Jess Willard in 1916, and in the fight right before the Grim battle he knocked out hard-hitting Peter Maher in the second round.

Of course Joe Grim faced a few decent men in his time also. Joe Gans came nearest to stopping the tough Italian whose real name was Severio Giannone, but the “Old Master” couldn’t quite put the sleeper on him. Peter Maher, Luther McCarty, Tommy Burns and Bob Fitzsimmons all stepped into the ring with Grim, and they went home frustrated with their inability to knock him out, although they knocked him down plenty of times.

It seems Grim’s big drawing card was that nobody had ever KO’d him and he had fought well over two hundred opponents. So sometimes Joe would step into the ring and give a little speech before the fight, bragging about how tough he was and that there was no man alive who could keep him off his feet.

This is what he did on the night of the 21st of May, 1906, when he put foot on canvas and squared off against Sailor Burke. The first round was tame but in the second Burke floored Grim, however the Italian was up and made it to his corner a bit groggy when the bell sounded. The crowd, perhaps in a playful and sarcastic mood shouted that they wanted to hear another speech from Grim, but they were denied. The third round saw Grim going down, like usual, about seven times, and he staggered to his feet, like usual, to continue fighting. However, the last knockdown saw Grim stay down, unable to rise, and that wasn’t usual. Burke had indeed done what was needed to “turn the trick” and Grim’s heart was undoubtedly broken. Those wishing to read the entire article of the fight need only to go here.

This entry filed under Howard the Pugilist.

Some time in the summer of 1929, probably around the time his friend Clyde Smith graduated from college, Robert E. Howard moved to Brownwood. According to Smith’s “Adventurer in Pulp,” Howard spent “several months” in the town while “he worked at his writing.” Since you don’t need to write letters to someone who lives in the same town, there are no letters from Howard to Smith from late-July until late-December 1929, when Howard wrote that he was back “doing business at the old stand” in Cross Plains.

During this period there are a few items from the Cross Plains Review that help to pinpoint the time that Howard lived in Brownwood. An August 9th report states that “Lindsey Tyson visited with Robert Howard, at Brownwood, the past week-end,” and another on November 1, “Robert Howard returned to Brownwood Monday after spending several days with his parents, Dr. and Mrs. I. M. Howard, here.”

While there are no letters to Smith from this period, at least one letter, to Thrills of the Jungle Magazine, survives. The letter is addressed “816 Melwood Ave., Brownwood, Texas.” The same address appears at the top of the typescript for “The Voice of the Mob”; clearly this is where Howard roomed in 1929.

As with the other Howard locations in Brownwood, nothing of the Melwood address remains. In 2010, the back portion of the Quality Body Works shop (top) occupied the location of Howard’s former rooming house. In Howard’s time, Austin Avenue did not go through; it terminated one block east at Booker Street. When Austin was widened and converted into a major thoroughfare, the home was destroyed. While doing some research on one of Clyde Smith’s former girlfriends, Gladys Brannan, I discovered that she had spent some time in the boarding house at 816 Melwood Avenue in 1923. This sparked my curiosity. What follows is more than anyone needs to know about 816 Melwood Avenue.

The Prism (Howard Payne’s student newspaper before Yellow Jacket): December 1, 1916

Brownwood Bulletin: March 8, 1918
I SHALL BE in Brownwood several days during which I must sell my new strictly modern 2-story residence, 816 Melwood Ave. To induce a quick sale I will take $600 less for the property than the price for which I have heretofore been offering it. Phone R-884.—A. E. Baten.

Brownwood Bulletin: March 27, 1918
B.Y.P.U. Social
Saturday the B.Y.P.U. of the First Baptist church enjoyed a social evening at the home of Mrs. D. L. McDurmitt, 816 Melwood Avenue.
The affair was in the nature of a welcome to the new members and a “get together” of the old members. A few visitors were welcomed guests. Pleasant indoor as well as outdoor games were planned for entertainment and the entire evening was one of pleasure. A short business session was held, as is the custom at the monthly meetings. Ice cream and cake gave refreshment to about fifty.

Brownwood Bulletin: May 23, 1918
FOR RENT—Nicely furnished, cool comfortable bed rooms; references. Apply 816 Melwood Avenue. Phone R-998.

Brownwood Bulletin: March 5, 1919
When somebody decides to move in Brown wood, something is usually started. Here is an illustration:
J. T. Allen has purchased the home at 816 Melwood Avenue, formerly occupied by Dr. R. L. Howell and family. When he got ready to move in Dr. Howell had to move out, and here is what happened: W. A. Robertson and family moved to the former Allen residence,
702 Coggin. Prof. T. H. Taylor and family moved into the house formerly occupied by Mr. Robertson at 1008 Fisk Avenue. That gave Dr. Howell his chance, and he moved to the home formerly occupied by Prof. Taylor, at 1419 Coggin Avenue.

Brownwood Bulletin: February 27, 1920
FOR RENT—one nicely furnished room, and two unfurnished rooms; all upstairs. 816 Melwood Avenue, phone J-623.

Brownwood Bulletin: February 25, 1921
FOR RENT—Three furnished bed rooms and sleeping porch with wide hall, front and back porch, all modern conveniences, upstairs. Can be used for light housekeeping. 816 Melwood Ave. Phone J-623.

1921 City Directory:
Latta, Ollie P, clk Adams Cash & Carry Grocery, rms 816 Melwood av
Patterson, Hellene Miss, student, h 816 Melwood av
Patterson, John P, student Howard Payne College, h 816 Melwood av
Patterson, John W (Fannie M), r 816 Melwood av

1923 City Directory
Pattersons still there, Helene at Howard Payne
Boatright, Roy W (Jessie) clk Adams Cash & Carry Grocery rms 816 Melwood av
Brannan, Gladys O student Howard Payne College rms 816 Melwood av
Brannon, Joy Miss student rms 816 Melwood av
Craven, Burnice Mrs student Howard Payne College rms 816 Melwood av
Cravens, Henderson L (Burnice) student Howard Payne College rms 816 Melwood av

Brownwood Bulletin: December 22, 1923
CHRISTMAS TREES—50 cents and 75 cts, come and get them.—816 Melwood Avenue. Phone J-623.

Brownwood Bulletin: August 25, 1924
FOR RENT—Three furnished apartments and one unfurnished apartment; each with glassed-in sleeping porch. Will consider renting my fourteen room house. Well located.
816 Melwood; Phone J-623.

1925 City Directory
Pattersons still there
Brown, Gladys Miss student r816 Melwood av
Burson, Chester clk Mallow’s Drug Store rms 816 Melwood
Harris, Hattie Miss sten J M Radford Grocery Co rms 816 Melwood av
McFadden, Henry C truck driver McCullough Gro Co rms 816 Melwood av
Parker, Mary S Miss student rms 816 Melwood av
Severe, Ed (Nellie) rms 816 Melwood av
Smith, Mary Miss student rms 816 Melwood av
Tanner, Leonard student rms 816 Melwood av
–Under “Boarding Houses” and “Furnished Rooms”: Patterson J W 816 Melwood av

Brownwood Bulletin: January 1, 1926
Personal Mention
Mr. and Mrs. Paul S. Byrom of Whitney are here on their wedding trip and are guests of Mr. and Mrs. W. K. Byrom, 816 Melwood Ave.

Brownwood Bulletin: September 14, 1926
WANTED—Roomers and boarders. Excellent meals. nicely furnished rooms.—816 Melwood Avenue. Phone 1022.

1928 City Directory
Alexander, Forrest student Howard Payne College r816 Melwood av
Allen, Eltie J lab Prairie Pipe Line Co r816 Melwood av
Farmer, Roy C (Mary L) oil driller r816 Melwood av
Jaynes, Clyde T (Jettie L) reprmn Top Wheel & Body Wks r816 Melwood av
Linton, Arth G oil driller 816 Melwood av
Peters, Edith Mrs. furn rms 816 Melwood av r do
Rice, Walter H formn Prairie Pipe Line Co r816 Melwood av
Schupp, Norman J lab Prairie Pipe Line Co r816 Melwood av
Westbrook, Virgil lab Prairie Pipe Line Co r816 Melwood av
–Uder “Furnished Rooms”: Peters Edith Mrs. 816 Melwood av

1929-30 City Directory
Alton, Frank lino opr Brownwood Bulletin r816 Melwood av
Binnion, J Ernest printer Brownwood Bulletin r816 Melwood av
Burton, Jesse B driller r816 Melwood av
Cox, Marvin A lino opr Brownwood Bulletin r816 Melwood av
Cross, C Patk r816 Melwood av
Haines, Jack granite clk Brownwood Marble & Granite Wks r816 Melwood av
Howlett, J Knox r816 Melwood av
Keeler, Bernard appr Brownwood Bulletin r816 Melwood av
Keeler, Mertie E (wid John E) h816 Melwood av
Keeler, Norma Miss r816 Melwood av
Keeler, Wilma E Miss student r816 Melwood av
McIntire, Thos W driller r816 Melwood av
Russell, Roy eng r816 Melwood av

In a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, circa January 1934, Howard was educating the Gentleman from Providence on the ways of the west:

Of course, this rule works both ways. Men have been killed in the country in which they were born and raised, because they either could not or would not change their ways and adapt themselves to changing conditions. Sheriff Bill Tilghman met his death in that manner. He was the best law officer Oklahoma and Kansas ever had, to my mind. He killed only as a last resort. It was he who captured the famous Bill Doolin; and the outlaw admired him so much that he once prevented one of his men (Red Buck, or Weightman, a cold-blooded murderer) from shooting Tilghman in the back, when they had the drop on him. In 1924, when Tilghman was an old man, he accepted the job of marshal in an oil-boom town in Oklahoma, though warned by his friends that he was up against a brand of criminal he did not understand — the modern gangster rat. There was a Federal prohibition enforcement agent drunk and raising hell up and down the streets, and Tilghman, after urging him to go away quietly, arrested him bare-handed; and then, after disarming him, made the mistake of turning his back on him; the Federal officer, having gotten his training in civilization, drew another gun he had concealed, and shot Tilghman in the back. I often think of that contrast: Doolin, the outlaw, the bandit, robber, and killer, striking down Red Buck’s rifle, and exclaiming: “Would you shoot a brave man in the back?” And the civilized officer, himself sworn to uphold the law, shooting down an old man from behind with no more warning than a copperhead.

Howard’s Texas was populated with good men, bad men and some that were a bit of both. Two-Gun Bob was spot on with his account of the old time criminal versus the modern day bad man, but he somewhat embellished the death of Tilghman to make his point. But he did get the incident with Doolin right.

William Doolin was Arkansas-born; sometime in 1858 (the exact date is unknown). He was born on a homestead near the Big Piney River approximately thirty-five miles northeast of Clarksville.

Doolin’s father, Michael “Mack” Doolin was a sharecropper, raising three daughters and one son after death of his first wife in 1850. He soon married thirty-six-year-old Artemina Beller, and son William was born in 1858, followed by a daughter named Tennessee in 1859. William stayed near the family homestead until he turned 23 when he left to seek his fortune.

Looking for work, he went west in 1881 to Oklahoma and was hired as a cowhand by Oscar D. Halsell to work on his huge ranch. Halsell took a liking to the young man, taught him to write and do simple arithmetic and eventually made him an informal foreman on the ranch. Doolin worked for several other ranchers in the next decade and he was widely considered trustworthy and capable.

Doolin’s first run-in with the law came in the summer of 1891 while working as a cowpuncher on the Bar X Bar Ranch. Several of the cowhands, including Doolin, thought it would be a good idea to celebrate the 4th of July holiday by riding into Coffeyville, Kansas and throwing a party. The group was enjoying a keg of beer when the law showed up. Kansas was a dry state. When the lawmen tried to confiscate the beer, there was a shoot-out, resulting in two officers being wounded. From that day on Doolin was a wanted man. During this period, Doolin and his friends rode with the Dalton Gang from time to time. Doolin also held something of a Robin Hood image. He was well liked by many, and he and his gang received considerable aid in eluding the law.

Doolin went on to form “The Wild Bunch,” which was also known as the “Doolin–Dalton Gang” or the “Oklahombres.” In addition to Doolin, other members of the gang included George “Bittercreek” Newcomb (aka “Slaughter Kid”), Charley Pierce, Oliver “Ol” Yantis, William Marion “Bill” Dalton, William “Tulsa Jack” Blake, Dan “Dynamite Dick” Clifton, Roy Daugherty (a.k.a. “Arkansas Tom Jones”), George “Red Buck” Waightman, Richard “Little Dick” West, and William F. “Little Bill” Raidler.

The origin of Doolin’s gang came about after a botched train robbery carried out by the Dalton Gang in Adair, Oklahoma Territory. The crime occurred on July 15, 1892, resulting in the death of two guards and the wounding of two townspeople. One of the townspeople died the following day. Bob Dalton decided to split the gang before going on the run, telling Doolin, Newcomb, and Pierce to return to their hideout in Ingalls, Oklahoma Territory. It was a lucky break for the trio because on October 5, 1892, the Dalton Gang would be wiped out in Coffeyville, Kansas.

On that fateful October morning, five members of the Dalton Gang (Grat Dalton, Emmett Dalton, Bob Dalton, Bill Power and Dick Broadwell) rode into the small town of Coffeyville. The Daltons had a bold objective in mind – to rob two banks simultaneously

But problems plagued the outlaws from the outset of their plan for financial security. A hitching post where they intended to tie their horses had been removed due to road repairs. The gang was forced to hitch their horses in a nearby alley — a fateful decision. Also, since Coffeyville was the Dalton’s hometown, two of the Daltons wore false beards and wigs. Of course, the locals quickly saw through the disguises — the gang was recognized as they crossed the town’s wide plaza, split up and entered the two banks.

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

In my last post I expressed my disappointment in Frank Owen’s short story, “Singapore Nights,” which had appeared in the first issue of Oriental Stories. This dissatisfaction kind of bothered me, because Howard seems to have liked Owen, and had respect for his fellow pulp author’s writing ability. So, to be somewhat fair, I journeyed to the February-March Oriental Stories (this issue also included Howard and Tevis Clyde Smith’s “Red Blades of Black Cathay”) and read Owen’s “Della Wu, Chinese Courtezan.” Owen must have liked his story—he used it to title his 1931 collection Della Wu, Chinese Courtezan: and Other Love Tales.

I was hoping this yarn would give me a different view of Owen, and it did. I thought this tale was very good, much better than “Singapore Nights.” It’s a simple, leisurely paced story dealing with revenge, and while I gave a synopsis of “Singapore Nights,” I won’t be doing the same with this yarn. Read this one for yourselves, I hope you’ll like it.

In the Oriental Stories letters column—“The Souk”—Farnsworth Wright declares that the Howard and Smith tale took first place and “Della Wu” tied for second with S. B. H. Hurst’s “William.” The most entertaining letter mailed into “The Souk” that issue came from Henry S. Whitehead, one of the most talented writers to ever work for Weird Tales. He writes that “Red Blades of Black Cathay” is one of the best action-adventure yarns he’s ever read, and ends up calling it “a real corncracker!” But it’s what he writes about Owen’s tales that is really interesting, declaring that “Della Wu, Chinese Courtezan” is far better than “Singapore Nights” or “The China Kid” (which had appeared in the December-January 1931 issue), and he says that these two stories were “utter pieces of junk.” He further states that “Della Wu” is “delightful, well-written, and has back again the curious little lambent flame which made one or two of his earlier productions so acceptable.” Even Wright expresses surprise that Owen’s tale ended so high in the reader’s polls, stating that it isn’t really an “action-adventure” story.

I was pleased enough by Owen’s tale to pick up a copy of the Gnome Press Porcelain Magician (1948) which has a few of this author’s stories for Weird Tales. I also did a little research on Owen before writing these posts and was surprised to learn of one of his pseudonyms.

Anyone who has ever paged through old issues of Weird Tales will be familiar with the name “Hung Long Tom.” Beginning in 1930 Hung Long penned a number of poems for Weird Tales, Oriental Stories and Magic Carpet Magazine. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database informed me that Hung Long Tom was in reality Frank Owen.

Not wishing to get too crass I wonder why in the world Owen picked that cognomen. Hung Long Tom seems like a name that would be encountered in a bad Chinese pornographic movie, not in the pages of a pulp magazine in the thirties. So, because I can always erect and stretch a theory beyond all probability I remembered that D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was released in 1928 and then underwent all kinds of censorship. The lady’s lover, Oliver Mellors, has a name for his sexual appendage—he calls it “John Thomas.” So I’m wondering if it’s at all possible that Owen was sticking up for a censored fellow writer by creating the name Hung Long Tom, an inside joke-reference to John Thomas. Then, to further complicate everything, I remembered that a pseudonym Farnsworth Wright used was Francis Hard, and while this is supposedly a tip of the hat to his maternal grandmother, I’m not so easily persuaded. Never know what might get uncovered when you’re digging into old pulp magazines.

This entry filed under Farnsworth Wright, Tevis Clyde Smith, Weird Tales.

One of the interesting things about looking into the lives of Robert E. Howard’s contemporaries is finding out that some of the things a certain biographer described as odd were actually fairly common. Take, for instance, the fact that Howard’s mother stayed with him while he attended high school away from home in Brownwood. De Camp uses this to help paint Howard as a “momma’s boy,” but articles from the Brownwood Bulletin show that this practice wasn’t all that uncommon. For example, the Curtis brothers from Rising Star, both future editors of the Yellow Jacket and going to school in Brownwood, also had to share rooms with their mother. It even appears that Hester spent at least one week back in Cross Plains while Bob was in Brownwood alone. This may have happened more than once.

Another thing that much has been made of is Bob’s bachelorhood. De Camp, at least, thinks it strange that a thirty-year-old was unmarried. If Tevis Clyde Smith, who had been married twice before he turned thirty, is the yardstick, then yes, Howard was strange, but when you look at his other friends, he fits right in. Truett Vinson, a year older than Bob, didn’t get married until 1949. Austin Newton, also a year older than Bob, not until 1940. Austin who? Read on.

Beginning in the spring of 1978, L. Sprague de Camp began a conversation with Austin Newton of Monahans, Texas. Born on August 6, 1905, and raised in Cross Cut, Newton had known Howard during elementary and high school. He told de Camp that he and Bob Howard played cowboys and Indians, went fishing and hiking, etc. Bob had a great imagination, read a lot, and knew plenty about boxing. The boys sparred on occasion. He described Mrs. Howard as “refined and well-read,” and stated that Doctor Howard was considered a fine physician; Newton’s brother was even named after the doctor. Newton also provided a few details about the Howards’ home near the cemetery in Cross Cut, the school the boys attended, and other little details of life in the backwoods of Brown County where his father, Oscar, ran a family farm.

In 1919, after four years in the vicinity of Cross Cut, the Howards moved to Cross Plains, leaving Newton as the only student in the upper grades at the Cross Cut school. Like Cross Plains High, the Cross Cut school only went as far as the tenth grade, so Newton and Howard were reunited in Brownwood, where they both went to pick up the extra year of schooling required for college admittance; however, according to Newton, the boys were unable to renew their friendship. Newton was interested in athletics, Howard not so much. In the school’s yearbook, Newton is listed in the “Latin and Science Course; D. L. S. ’23; Basket Ball ’23; Base Ball ’23; Heels Club.” He is mentioned in a few articles from the school’s paper, The Tattler, as well (reprinted in School Days in the Post Oaks). We all know what happened with Bob Howard after his graduation from BHS, but what about Austin Newton?

Following his May 1923 graduation from BHS, Newton went to school at the newly opened McMurry College in Abilene. What follows is all the information I’ve found on Newton from various newspapers and yearbooks. The listings are formatted as follows:

Publication – date
“Article title”: “Quote from article” [or summary of relevant portion.]

The War-Whoop [student paper of McMurry College] – Oct. 19, 1923
“The Philomathians Have Good Program”: [Newton takes part in a debate: “Resolved that a chicken can roost on a round pole better than on a square pole.” Newton was on the affirmative side. No winner was declared.]

“Ministerial Council Meets”: [. . .] Scripture reading by Austin Newton. [. . .]

The Totem [McMurry yearbook] – 1924
[Newton is a member of the Philomathian Literary Society and the student council, also on the football, basketball, and baseball teams.]

The War-Whoop – May 3, 1924
“Opera Tues. Night Draws Large Crowd”: [Newton in the chorus.]

“Five Students Given Exam. At Baird Meeting”: “Five ministerial students and members of the Life Service Band here took the examination for license to preach in this conference.” [Including Austin Newton.]

The War-Whoop – May 24, 1924
“Indian Head Club Holds Stag Party”: [. . .] “Austin Newton was the honor guest, being asked to attend because of his efforts to make every team. Newton came out for football, baseball and basketball. Although he did not make letters in either sport, he never missed a practice and did his best when he knew there was no chance for reward.” [. . .]

“Freshmen Lose Close Baseball Contest Here”: [Newton plays centerfield after freshmen challenge sophomore and academy classes; they lost 9 to 8.]

The War-Whoop – Oct. 4, 1924
“Year’s Work Begun by the Philo Men”: [The Boy’s Philomathian Literary Society elected Austin Newton sergeant-at-arms.]

The War-Whoop – Oct. 18, 1924
“College League Extends Invitation to Studes”: [Austin Newton chosen for Fourth Department.]

The War-Whoop – Nov. 8, 1924
“Effulgent Effusions”: “Applications will be made for Carnegie medals for Robert Young, ‘Red’ Barnett, Anthony Hunt, John Bailey, and Austin Newton. These stalwart young men traveled the four hundred miles to Alpine and back in the college ford. To our minds this is the greatest feat of bravery since Washington crossed the Delaware. Also none of the preachers along uttered one word of profanity.”

The Totem – 1925
[Quote with Newton’s photo (at top of this post): “If matters go badly now, it will not always be so.” Listed with Philomathian Society, Volunteer Life Service Band, Indian Head Association, football, basketball, and baseball.]

The War-Whoop – May 16, 1925
“Personals”: “Leo Tucker of Ovalo spent the weekend with Austin Newton.”

The War-Whoop – Nov. 14, 1925
“Quartets Are Selected Friday”: On November 6 Austin Newton tried out for the school’s quartet. He didn’t get it.

The War-Whoop – Dec. 19, 1925
“President Hunt Serves as Toastmaster”: [3rd Annual Football Banquet] “President J. W. Hunt, in his superb and inimitable style, was the able toastmaster for the occasion. He introduced first the man who ‘is so fortunate as to be named after two distinguished men,’ Austin Newton, who toasted, with apologies to Kipling, and from an Indian’s viewpoint, the Pep Squad and the Band.” [. . .]

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Robert E. Howard had a powerful interest in the desperadoes of his native southwest. “I could fill a thick volume of such disconnected bits and still not exhaust my chaotic store,” he wrote to H.P. Lovecraft in June 1931. I’ve found that passion expressed again and again in his letters, and used them for material in a few posts I hope he’d have approved. There was “Murder Ranches and Gunmen,” “Silver and Steel – Bowie’s Mine,” and the recent two-parter on the lethal Hendry Brown, in his day one of Billy the Kid’s offsiders.

REH certainly viewed with a blend of fascination and horror the career of John A. Murrell. His letter – the June 1931 missive mentioned above, to Lovecraft – describing it, contains some of his most eerie and evocative writing outside his horror stories. Perhaps even including those:

John A. Murrell was a hellbender, in Southwest vernacular. He planned no less than an outlaw empire on the Mississippi river, with New Orleans as his capital and himself as emperor. Son of a tavern woman and an aristocratic gentleman, he seemed to have inherited the instincts of both, together with a warped mind that made him as ruthless and dangerous as a striking rattler.

Time for a caution to the reader, concerning the difficulty of sorting out legend and exaggeration from fact. John Andrews Murrell became a legend of murderous evil. Perhaps a long bow has been drawn with regard to the number of his followers – more than a thousand, it was said – and his victims, at least a hundred of whom he was supposed to have killed himself. The man denied to the end of his days that he had ever been guilty of murder. He was certainly a systematic horse thief and slave stealer, and he operated along the notoriously bloody and crime-ridden trail of the Natchez Trace. Thus, how far he can be believed when he says he was never a killer, is problematic.

Let’s start with the verifiable bit. He’d been born sometime in 1804 in Tennessee, third son of a completely respectable Methodist minister, Jeffrey Murrell – and you couldn’t, in those days, get much more respectable than being a Methodist. His mother Zilphia, nee Andrews, had been the daughter of a prosperous Virginia planter. Again, that was both genteel and accepted. She hadn’t been “a tavern woman” all her life; she inherited the inn from her parents. John A’s ancestors on both sides came from the state’s early landed families. Not a lawbreaker or ne’er-do-well in generations.

The moral decline in the family began with Zilphia. She managed the inn (near Columbia, Tennessee), since her preacher husband was often away giving sermons. Jeffrey Murrell didn’t think his wife was decorous enough for a clergyman’s partner, it seems, since he commanded her (without much effect) to “quit walking the way she did, hips swinging and breasts undulating, and long thighs molding themselves against her skirt with each step.” That’s from the 1985 book, The Devil’s Backbone: The Story of the Natchez Trace, by Jonathan Daniels, and I’ve quoted it, naturally, for its salacious effect. As the cliché goes, “ … and now that I’ve got your attention … ”

Poor old Jeffrey didn’t know the half of it. To put it bluntly, the voluptuous Zilphia was a bigger harlot than Rahab. She was also a thief to match any in Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar, and she taught her four sons to assist her. Male travelers with bulging purses were given the come-on by “Mom Murrell,” and she would whore with them while William, her eldest, or another son, took their coin, watches, and anything else worth having. They weren’t likely to complain later. It would have meant admitting in court that they’d paid the preacher’s wife for sex, and “Mom Murrell” would surely have denied it with a scandalized face, backed by her kids, well coached to appear wild with outrage at the slur on their mother’s honor.

All Jeffrey Murrell’s sons turned out to be worthless. William was a mean, miserable lump of malice, and a coward besides. He deserted his wife and kids in the 1820s. She petitioned for divorce. Not-so-sweet William became a schoolteacher between 1820 and 1824, at Salem Church School in Houston County, Tennessee. After he’d whipped one of his young students, the boy’s mother hurled rocks at him with Biblical vim, and then came after him with a pitchfork. The craven William ran out of town. Having drifted to Maury County, he turned forger, for which he was caught, arrested and fined. What happened to him after that is unknown. It’s possible — but not confirmed — that he joined a counterfeiting ring in Arkansas.

The second brother was James. He perjured himself on John’s behalf in 1823. The following year, he was charged with counterfeiting but acquitted. Maybe the siblings had the talent in common. Mark Twain, in Chapter 29 of his Life on the Mississippi, says that “Murel’s” gang was a highly organized group of “robbers, horse-thieves, negro-stealers and counterfeiters.” (Emphasis mine.)

As for James, he apparently decided to straighten out. He headed for Louisiana and married, in 1827, Mary McBride, a blacksmith’s daughter. I suppose we can hope he treated her well, if only from fear of her father’s muscle. At least she got a handsome man. The Murrells were a strikingly good-looking family. The notorious John had a splendid appearance, and his sister, Leanna Murrell (one of three or four girls) was both a beauty and a superb dancer.

That’s by the way, though.

The youngest brother, Jeffrey junior, proved another complete no-hoper. He “was arrested in Williamson County in 1828 on charges of keeping a whorehouse.” (The Life of John A. Murrell by Gordon P. Bonnet.) A female reprobate named Polly Staggs was charged beside him. Later in 1828 Jeffrey married a Mary Staggs – perhaps Polly’s sister, or Polly herself under an alias. Then he turned to fencing stolen goods, but he doesn’t seem to have been collared by the law again.

John, the Murrell who acquired the most dreadful record, was trained as a thief while still small, like his brothers. Growing older, he grew worse. He was first arrested in 1822, when he would have been about sixteen. Along with William and James he was charged with “riot.” They were supposed to have entered and damaged the house of a man named Thomas Merritt, making truculent threats. The following year, John graduated to stealing a horse, a form of crime that was to become one of his specialties later. This animal was a mare that belonged to a neighbor. James testified under oath that John had been with him, asleep in their room, when the crime occurred. He was caught in the lie. Released on bond into the custody of his father and uncle, John failed to appear in court, which left his relatives holding the bag.

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

It’s always interesting to read how Robert E. Howard felt about some of his fellow pulp writers. Browsing through A Means to Freedom, the Lovecraft-Howard correspondence, I came upon a reference to Frank Owen and his appearance in Oriental Stories  from October-November 1930. In a letter to Lovecraft Howard writes “I’ll admit I was disappointed in Owens’ story in the first issue…He seems to have written it hurriedly and without making much attempt at realistic portrayal.” The story was titled “Singapore Nights,” and it captured the cover spot.

For years I’ve noticed that Owen had appearances in Weird TalesOriental Stories and Magic Carpet Magazine, but I’d never read anything by him, so I decided it was time to see just how good this Owen guy was. I lugged my Girasol Complete Oriental Stories  off the shelf and got down to business. My initial reaction, upon completion of the tale, was that Howard was being kind to Owen, because I think “Singapore Nights” is a real stinker.

This story introduces us to Richard Varney, an American who lands in Singapore and is instantly swept up into the shadowy intrigue of the Orient. Varney runs afoul of a Mr. Isaacs and these two instantly become enemies with Isaacs declaring that Varney dislikes him because of his Jewish heritage, which I felt was kind of a strange thing to interject into the tale.

Soon we make the acquaintance of Dolores Cravat, who is about as pretty a girl as you’d ever want to meet, and of course Varney is smitten with her, but she’s just a little coy at first. Her father has died and we discover that she is to come into a rich inheritance only after she is married. The executor of her father’s estate is Mortimer Davga, a villain who wants her (and the money) for himself, and will do everything he can to block her marriage to anyone else.

Our hero Varney steps in and manfully offers himself as a groom candidate—with Dolores insisting that the marriage will be broken off as soon as she gets her dough and is free of Davga, because she doesn’t want to hold Varney to what she thinks is a bad bargain. He accepts, they get hitched, and she is suddenly kidnapped by Davga and Varney takes off in pursuit.

He journeys to the kidnapper’s house and finds, to his astonishment, that Davga is really Mr. Isaacs! I was surprised also, because I’d have thought that Singapore was way too big a place for such a coincidence. The fur starts to fly and Varney triumphs over Mr. Isaacs/Mortimer Davga and Dolores now admits she really is in love with Varney and so the marriage will continue—another surprise. At the very end of his story Owen informs us that Varney, who throughout this tale has been portrayed as being somewhat down on his luck, just recently came into an inheritance himself and is as rich as his new bride. Life is good, story is bad.

After the reading I turned to “The Souk”—the letters column for Oriental Stories—to see what the public thought of “Singapore Nights.” Wallace West, another Weird Tales writer, stated that Owen’s story, “though it was not so long on plot construction, captured the full flavor of the Orient.” E. Hoffmann Price, a man who knew a thing or two about penning Oriental stories, lists off his favorites—with no mention of Owen. However, there is no reference by Price to Howard’s story “The Voice of El-Lil,” which had also appeared in the first issue. A Mrs. Virginia Warner wrote in to express her pleasure at the magazine and she adds that she is saving Owen’s story for last, as “a special treat.” I wonder if she was as disappointed as I was.

But the Owen story is not yet done. In a letter to Lovecraft from December 1930 Howard expresses his opinion that even though he found the initial issue “slightly disappointing,” he is sure that with writers like Price, Owen and Otis Adelbert Kline, Oriental Stories  “bids fair to show more originality than the average magazine dealing with the East.” I respect Howard and his opinions very much, and, so knowing that one story does not an author make, I skipped ahead to the February-March issue and read Owen’s “Della Wu, Chinese Courtezan,” to see if this story was as bad, in my judgment, as “Singapore Nights.” More on Owen, and this tale, in my next post.

This entry filed under H. P. Lovecraft, Weird Tales.

It was 30 years this month that Charles Saunders’ first Imaro novel hit the street as a DAW paperback. By then I had been reading Imaro stories for five years, having read my first Imaro yarn in Gene Day’s Dark Fantasy magazine. A number of those early gems from DF were incorporated into this first Imaro volume. We owe the late Gene Day a debt of gratitude for giving Imaro his start. Over on the blog portion of his website, Charles has posted on this monumental occasion:

Imaro and I had come a long way to reach that peak moment. I’d first conceived the character 10 years before, and stories of his adventures had been published in small-press magazines and mainstream-press throughout the second half of the 1970s. DAW publisher Donald A. Wolheim had encouraged me to write an Imaro novel, but that didn’t lessen my anxiety as I awaited his decision on whether or not my novel would be published.

I didn’t know it then, but my Illyassai friend and I had a long way to go after that momentous day at my mailbox. We’ve reached other peaks, but we’ve had the chance to climb out of some deep valleys as well. After all these years, though, we are still standing on a new mountaintop. with the first four Imaro novels in print and another on the way.

A number of folks, including yours truly, Joe Bonadonna, Milton Davis, Valjeanne Jeffers, David C. Smith and others, have contributed our thoughts to Charles’ blog post celebrating this important milestone.

Charles is working on a fifth Imaro novel and has several other projects either in the works or recently published. I you have not read Imaro, you are missing out on a first fate sword and sorcery series that, like Howard’s Conan canon, has stood the test of time.

This entry filed under Charles R. Saunders, News, Sword & Sorcery.

Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft were frequent correspondents while both – along with Clark Ashton Smith – were steady writers for Weird Tales. Lovecraft, of course, created the Cthulhu Mythos with its grotesque alien super-beings from beyond, often worshipped as gods by misguided or degenerate humans. Howard and Smith, also of course, added references to the beings of the Mythos and the ghastly Necronomicon to their own stories, as well as inventing other bizarre books of occult, forbidden lore. (Like Smith’s Book of Eibon.)

REH, to judge by a letter he wrote to Tevis Clyde Smith around September 1930, for a little while thought there might actually be real cults of Cthulhu and the other entities Lovecraft created, worshipped in odd places in the real world. He had encountered references to them in the writings of a Dr. De Castro and thought they were independent allusions. Lovecraft set him straight instead of kidding him along. REH wrote ruefully, “I got a letter from Lovecraft wherein he tells me, much to my chagrin, that Cthulhu, R’lyeh, Yuggoth, Yog-Sothoth, and so on are figments of his own imagination.”

Lovecraft, as quoted by Howard, had written:

The reason for its echoes in Dr. De Castro’s work is that the latter gentleman is a revision-client of mine – into whose tales I have stuck these glancing references for sheer fun. If any other clients of mine get work placed in W.T., you will perhaps find a still wider spread of the cult of Azathoth, Cthulhu, and the Great Old Ones.

The Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred is likewise something which must be yet written in order to possess objective reality. Abdul is a favorite dream-character of mine – indeed, that is what I used to call myself when I was five years old and a transported devotee of Andrew Lang’s version of the Arabian Nights. A few years ago I prepared a mock-erudite synopsis of Abdul’s life, and of the posthumous vicissitudes and translations of his hideous and unmentionable work Al Azif (called – some blighting Greek word – by the Byzantine (something) Theodoras Philetas, who translated it into late Greek in A.D. 900!) – a synopsis which I shall follow in future references to the dark and accursed thing. Long has alluded to the Necronomicon in some things of his – in fact, I think it is rather good fun to have this artificial mythology given an air of verisimilitude (?) by aside citation.

Howard joined in the game with a will. He created Unaussprechlichen Kulten, also known as the “Black Book” or Nameless Cults, written by the German von Junzt, who was evidently a devotee of the Necronomicon before he ever produced his own damnable occult work. In REH’s story “The Children of the Night”, one of the characters remarks that von Junzt was among the few people “who could read the Necronomicon in the original Greek translation.” As for von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, it was “regarded as the ravings of a maniac.” Von Junzt had “spent the full forty-five years of his life prying into strange places and discovering secret and abysmal things.” (“The Thing on the Roof”)

Since he was found strangled in a barred and bolted room in the year 1840, he must have been born in 1795. (The dates REH gives for his life in “The Black Stone” confirm that.) The battle of Waterloo was fought when he was twenty, and the Napoleonic Wars had raged all over Europe during his boyhood. He perished so weirdly when, in England, Queen Victoria had sat on the throne for three years, and only just married her cousin, Prince Albert. In the U.S.A., Martin van Buren, former Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson, was the nation’s eighth president – during the worst financial depression it had seen until then. More relevantly, Edgar Allan Poe, then aged thirty-one, had just had his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque published. He would have appreciated von Junzt.

The German’s death occurred six months after he had returned from “mysterious” travels in Mongolia. Nameless Cults had been first printed in Dusseldorf in 1839. He’d probably been absent in Mongolia at the time, so whatever he discovered there – and which may have precipitated his death – it wouldn’t have been recorded in his magnum opus. We’re informed in “The Black Stone” that he worked unceasingly on a manuscript for months before his death. That probably did deal with the results of his last journey. When he was found strangled in that locked and bolted room, the papers had been shredded and scattered about, perhaps by the same “taloned fingers” that had throttled him. His closest friend, who was unwise enough to spend hours piecing the rags of torn paper together and reading what was written on them, promptly burned them and committed suicide with a razor.

The narrator of “The Thing on the Roof” says of a dubious scholar who has approached him for a favor, “He might almost as well have asked me for the original Greek translation of the Necronomicon, making it clear that this is so rare as to be unobtainable. Even von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, we’re told in “The Black Stone”, has only half-a-dozen copies of the original, unexpurgated German edition remaining in the world, and that was published in the age of print, in the nineteenth century. The Necronomicon, on the other hand, was translated into Greek and re-titled by a Byzantine scholar circa 950 CE. At least H.P. Lovecraft assured his readers of this in his “History of the Necronomicon, which he wrote in 1927. He should have known.

It was originally in Arabic, and known as “Al Azif.” According to Lovecraft’s (fictional) history of the book, its author was “a mad poet of Sanaa, in Yemen, who is said to have flourished during the period of the Ommiad caliphs, circa 700 CE.” During his last years he lived in Damascus. It was there that he wrote “Al Azif.” He died or disappeared in 738. There are “terrible and conflicting” versions of his end. One 12th-century biographer of his wrote solemnly that he had been seized in daylight by an invisible monster and eaten alive before a crowd of witnesses.

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While preparing the text for the upcoming Lone Scout of Letters, a collection of material honoring Herbert C. Klatt, I managed to get a hold of one of his relatives. She provided some great data as well as the contact information for another Klatt relative. Through their willingness to share information and photos, the Klatt collection has grown in size and scope, and should answer just about all the questions any Howard fan might have about the gent from Aleman, Texas. (His graduation program from the Aleman school is seen above.)

While certainly interested in items relevant to Klatt (especially the pictures), I was, of course, primarily interested in finding out if any of his papers survived, especially letters. On April 26, 1925, Truett Vinson wrote to Clyde Smith and told him that “H. Klatt is now corresponding with Robert.” In his May 27, 1925 letter to Smith, Klatt himself says, “It seems that I know you as well as I do Truett. So many references to you in Truett’s and Bob’s letters.” From this point until Klatt’s death in May 1928, a stream of letters flowed from Howard’s typewriter in Cross Plains to Klatt’s farm in Hamilton County.

On July 7, 1925, Howard asked Smith, “Did Klatt ever write you? He owes me a letter, too.” And there are several other mentions of Klatt sprinkled throughout the surviving correspondence. There’s also the post-Christmas 1925 visit that Klatt made to Brownwood, immortalized (and fictionized) in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. Also at this time, Klatt was corresponding with Harold Preece and, later, Booth Mooney. While it would be fantastic if Howard’s letters to Klatt survived, I don’t doubt that Preece’s and Mooney’s letters mentioned Howard a time or two. And what about Vinson? By all indications, he and Klatt had been writing to each other since as early as 1923. Klatt’s relatives might be sitting on a gold mine of Howardian information!


While both of the relatives I spoke to were uncertain about what, if any, of Klatt’s papers were kept after his death, both were certain of one thing: they were lost by 1944. That April, a tornado ran through Hamilton County and left the Klatt’s two-story, “German designed” house upside down in the yard. (The photo above was taken in nearby Pottsville after the same storm went through.) Klatt’s mother survived the storm by clinging to a crab-apple bush outside. Herbert’s room had been upstairs, and the tornado scattered everything. For weeks afterward, neighbors would drop off items that they’d found in the fields. If Herbert and his family had saved the letters from his contemporaries, the storm did not.

So, another dead end. I don’t know where the single Howard letter to Klatt that we have came from—perhaps it was a draft that found its way into his trunk—but I know we won’t be getting any others. I am happy, though, to have met such nice Texas folks who were willing to share what they know about Herbert C. Klatt.