It is hard to believe the annual Howard Days celebration of Robert E. Howard, his life and writings is just two weeks away. By now everyone who’s going has their travel plans and reservations made. But it is not too late. If you are sitting on the fence about whether or not to make the pilgrimage to Cross Plains, hop off that fence and get the ball rolling. If you have been following Jeff Shanks’ Howard Days blog, then you are aware of all the featured attendees and the Guest of Honor, Patrice Louinet. The REHupa website has a full schedule of events, as well as information on the Silent Auction, which is especially important this year to raise the funds needed to give the Howard House Museum a long overdue restoration. To further help the cause, I’ll be donating some very special items for the Gift Shop to sell. And if my printier is not fibbing, the Gift Shop will have the new issue of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur print journal in stock. Hell, that alone is worth the trip!
The centerpiece of every issue of REH: Two-Gun Raconteur is the art folio. For the upcoming issue number 17, Bob Covington has drawn four outstanding illustrations of Howard’s Desert Heroes. In addition to El Borak, Kirby O’Donnell and Steve Clarney, Lal Singh is featured and not one, but two Yar Ali Khans.
The issue is slated for publication next month, so keep checking back here for payment and ordering details, which will be posted soon. This illustration is just a tidbit of the great artwork and essays to come, not to mention a rare Howard story, in the pages of the new issue of The Definitive Robert E. Howard Journal.
Following his graduation from Brownwood High in May 1923, Robert E. Howard went home to Cross Plains and worked on his writing; he also worked at a few odd jobs. By the spring of 1924, he was working at a tailor shop, but this wouldn’t last long; another shop had opened in Cross Plains, the third, and he hadn’t “made very much money lately.” (REH to TCS April 21, 1924)
Despite his seeming lack of cash, Howard visited the American Legion convention in Brownwood early in the summer. In a June 19 letter to Clyde Smith, he says, “I looked all over the convention for you but didn’t see you. There were quite a few drunks there but all I saw were good-natured drunks. I didn’t see a single fight. Speaking confidentially, though, you ought to have been up in the Cross Plains band headquarters. Oh, boy, talk about hilarity. I’ll tell you about it when I see you.”
Also that June, Howard tried to trade up in employment, as he explained to Smith in the same letter: “I was promised a job in Brownwood, quit my job in the tailor shop here, then the guy went back on it. Leaves me without a job. I’ve been heaving freight at the depot some but there’s not much money in it.”
While Howard was working, some of his friends and neighbors had been off pursuing their educations. That June, Tom Ray Wilson came home from nearby Coleman where he had been going to school and Renerick Clark, with whom Howard had tried to launch a radio station two summers ago, came home from A & M College, where he “finished this year with high honors.” Besides these items of a perhaps more personal nature, Howard was no doubt aware of the local news that the town was buzzing about: the new oil rig that was being erected northwest of town and the speaker from the Ku Klux Klan who spoke on June 1st, both of which were reported on in the Cross Plains Review (CPR) for June 6: “R. G. Brown, of Atlanta, Ga., Klan lecturer, spoke here Saturday night in the interest of the Klan. The Review is informed that about 25 members were added to the local organization. One hundred men attended the meeting it is stated.”
The paper also began running a serial, The Lord of the Thunder Gate by Sidney Herschel Small, which Howard may have read.
At the end of the month, June 27 and 28, the town of Burkett had its big picnic, which featured “Candidate speaking, Rodeo, ball games, Merry-go-round, Klan speaking and parade.” (CPR 1924 June 13). As a former resident with friends in the area, Howard may have attended (though in his June letter to Smith he says that picnics “get on my nerves”). The July 4 Cross Plains Review had a page-one write-up on the event under the headline “Big Crowds Attend Picnic at Burkett”:
The big two-day picnic at Burkett last Friday and Saturday drew thousands of people both days. Cross Plains was well represented Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night the Klan staged a spectacular parade followed by a lecture on Klan principles, by Rev. Wright of Plainview. And Saturday night, A. V. Dairymple Anti-klan speaker, who spoke here Saturday afternoon, lectured there. Both speakers were given a good hearing. Other attractions featured at the picnic were baseball games, rodeo performances, the Merry-Go-Round, and candidate speakers.
A few weeks later, July 16-17, it was Cross Plains’ turn for a picnic. The July 11 CPR reported that it would feature a “Big Round-up, Free for all Prize contest, Merry-Go-Round, Big Ferris Wheel, the Whip, general assortment of amusements by the famous H. B. Poole Shows, candidate speaking which will include a number of prominent state men and good music by the best band in Texas its age—The Cross Plains C of C Band.” Our man Robert Howard even invited Clyde Smith to attend in his June letter:
But if you want to see real drunkenness, come to the Cross Plains picnic. Why can’t you come and stay with me and attend it? It’s July 16 and 17. Of course as a source of entertainment it isn’t much, usually a merry-go-round, a Ferris wheel and a few dozen booths of various kinds. But there’s always a lot of drunks and usually several fights. Oh, yes, they usually have a rodeo too. They have it in a big enclosure surrounded by tow sacking or something and it’s amusing to watch the efforts of the officers to keep kids from sneaking in. Sometimes, too, they have prize-fights. I haven’t attended the picnic much the last few years, they get on my nerves, but if you’ll come over and stay with me we’ll take it in, maybe.
Whether or not Smith made the trip is unknown—the 16th and 17th were a Wednesday and a Thursday in 1924—but we do know that Howard saw a friend that week: his former Burkett buddy, Earl Baker. The July 25 Cross Plains Review had these two items: “Earl Baker of Ballinger visited Robert Howard last week” and “Alma Baker spent Wednesday and Thursday in Cross Plains, guest of Mrs. I. M. Howard.” The same edition of the paper tells us what Howard did after the picnic, whether or not he actually attended it:
If not in July, we know that Smith visited Cross Plains at least once that summer. An item from the August 23 Review says that “Clyde Smith of Brownwood was a week end guest of Robert Howard.” The same paper reports that “Dr. and Mrs. Howard and son visited in Brownwood Tuesday.” Perhaps they gave Smith a ride home.
And there was still time for one more trip that summer. No one can know when the Howard family first planned its trip to south Texas, but the August 8 edition of the Review had the following, which may have piqued Dr. Howard’s interest:
Cross Cut, Texas, 7, 29 24.
Mr. Editor Review:
I am moving with family to Weslaco, Texas, Hidalgo Co., to contract a farm home on land I bought one mile southeast of town the first of the year, where I have a fine cotton crop being gathered on 23 acres and I am to get 1-4 of the cotton. It is estimated to make one to two bales of cotton per acre.
Mrs. A. L. DeBusk also bought 41 acres and that too in cotton. We expect to place all eventually in grapefruit orchards. I expect to buy more of this cheap land, as it is being taken fast. I will only be there one week, then return to move 25th of August.
I am not selling any thing here, as I think lots of the mineral rights on my holdings in and near Cross Cut. Will see you some more,
W. A. Prater.
Whether or not the Howards knew those involved with the above prospecting, by early September they had traveled south. On September 7, Howard sent Clyde Smith a letter/illustrated poem from Weslaco, Texas. Two days later, September 9, opening exercises for the fall term at Howard Payne College began; Howard was enrolled at the Howard Payne Academy that term—perhaps he missed the opening. On September 19, the Review had the following item:
With that, summer was over. Two months later, Robert E. Howard made his first professional sale.
When researching Robert E. Howard and those around him, every once in a while you run into conflicting “facts,” like the different birth dates for Howard himself. This past January, my dad and I were in Texas looking for Howard’s uncle on his mom’s side, William Vinson Ervin, and ran into one of those discrepancies.
At some point I’ll put all the information I’ve got regarding W. V. Ervin into an article or blog post, but for today, all that one needs to know is that W. V. appears to have been a fairly big shot in the city of Big Spring, where he started a newspaper, The Enterprise, and lived with his family beginning in late 1898. As we have seen, the Howards visited the Ervins in Big Spring at least once.
Anyway, the November 11, 1927 edition of the Big Spring Herald ran the following:
DEATH CLAIMS W. V. ERVIN
William Vinson Ervin, Sr., aged sixty-seven years, one of our long time residents and highly esteemed citizens was claimed by death at the family home south of Big Spring at four o’clock Monday afternoon, Nov. 7. Mr. Ervin had been ill for a number of years and had traveled over a great portion of the state the past four years in the hope of regaining his health. He had been seriously ill for months past at his home here.
Mr. Ervin is one of the best newspaper men in Texas. He was former owner and editor of the Big Spring Enterprise and played a big part in the task of converting West Texas from a cowman’s paradise to an agricultural section. When he conducted a newspaper in Big Spring away back in the 1900s, it was not popular to boost the agricultural possibilities of this section but he stuck to his prediction that Howard County was destined to become the farmer’s paradise. He was for better churches and schools and never lost an opportunity to aid these great moral and educational forces.
He was a most worthy citizen from every standpoint: big hearted, kindly, and ever ready to aid the needy. He was a faithful husband, a fond and indulgent father and loyal and true to his friends and many hearts are saddened by his death.
Funeral services were conducted at the First Christian Church, of which he was a staunch and faithful member, by the pastor, Claude Wingo, at five o’clock Tuesday evening and the remains were laid to rest in Mt. Olive cemetery.
He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, W. V. Ervin of this city, J. R. Ervin of Dalhart, Misses Lesta and Maxine Ervin of Dallas. Two brothers, C. E. Ervin of Shawnee, Okla., Wynton Ervin of Oklahoma City; two sisters, Mrs. M. A. Mitchell of Gainsville, Texas, and Mrs. I. M. Howard of Cross Plains, Texas, and three half-sisters, Mrs. W. P. Searcy of Exeter, Mo., Mrs. S. H. Doyel, Exeter, Mo., and Mrs. Grover Baker of Roger, Ark., also survive.
To the relatives who mourn for their loved one is extended the heartfelt sympathy of the many friends in this community.
I had visited Mt. Olive Cemetery before and found W. V.’s sister, Alice Comer, but couldn’t locate W.V.’s grave at that time. So this January, dad and I stopped in at the cemetery’s office and they explained why I hadn’t found the burial site: W. V.’s grave has no headstone. I found this strange, mostly because Ervin was a big name in the city, at least I thought he was. They gave us the location of his grave and off we went. In the photo that heads this post there is a light gray headstone on the left (one of W. V.’s sons, Frank Wynton Ervin, who only lived two years) and a dark gray headstone on the right. Cemetery records say that W. V. Ervin occupies the empty space between those two stones.
After leaving the grave yard, we hit the county courthouse. There, I grabbed a copy of W. V.’s death certificate. If anyone can decipher the cause of death, I’d sure like to know what it says.
Before W. V.’s death, and certainly after it, the remaining family sort of scattered, and by the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, some of them had landed in Jefferson County, on the Gulf Coast, and others in Harrison County, east of Dallas. It is there that we find the fact that does not fit.
On the 1930 Census form for the town of Marshall, we find W. V.’s son, William V. Ervin, Junior, working as a clerk at a railway office. He is listed as the son of the head of household: William V. Ervin, Senior, a man who supposedly had died two years before. True, there are problems with the listing, both of their ages are wrong, for example, but not too wrong, and as Hester Howard’s example shows, one didn’t have to be truthful on the Census. This, and the lack of a headstone, could it be?
I know, I know, I’ve probably watched too many episodes of CSI, and these two Ervins are not related to the ones I was looking for. But wouldn’t it be cool if Robert E. Howard’s uncle faked his own death for some mysterious reason?
He was stained with the blood of the Viking’s band,
His spear had shivered in his hand,
Now he held aloft his crimson brand.
His shield the Viking’s broadsword turned,
Along his arm the keen edge burned.
The red drops followed the slicing steel,
Turlogh cursed in the trumpet peal,
Rose in his stirrups, spurred and smote,
Breaking the shout in the Viking’s throat.
Robert E. Howard, “The Ballad of King Geraint”
The Battle of Clontarf had been decided, but not quite ended. Brian Boru’s Irish warriors had gained the victory. Those of the enemy who survived were running for the shelter of Dublin or retreating to their dragon-ships in the bay. Brodir the Warlock, probably for the first time in his life, had fled earlier in the battle. Now he skulked with a band of Vikings in Tomar’s Wood, looking in rage upon the disaster.
Brodir was hardly the man to accept defeat graciously. He led his fugitives around through the wood to where King Brian’s tent stood behind the battle-lines. This was the man who had rallied the Irish, fought and intrigued his way to the High Kingship, given his people a measure of unity, and brought about this day. Brodir swore he should not live to enjoy it. His fugitives attacked suddenly, cut down the men guarding the royal tent, and burst into it. Brian faced them, tall, white-haired and unafraid. It was Brodir who cut him down. According to the Icelandic Njal’s Saga, he left the scene calling out, “Now let man tell man that Brodir felled Brian!”
The saga also recounts that he was swiftly pursued by a group of vengeful Irish warriors, led by Wolf the Quarrelsome. As stated in the previous post, this blogger thinks that Wolf and REH’s Black Turlogh were the same person; that in some circumstances, Turlogh was known to the Danes by that alias.
Wolf, or Turlogh, pursued Brodir into the woods. He and his men surrounded the Vikings, and caught Brodir alive by hurling masses of green branches on him, then bearing him down by weight of numbers. He was helpless. Turlogh slit open Brodir’s belly and nailed one end of his intestines to a tree-trunk with a dagger. Leading him around the tree until all Brodir’s entrails were drawn out, he brought the warlock to a complete and messy end. Brodir had spilled a lot of blood in Ireland, and also slain Turlogh’s grandfather, the king. He probably died wishing he hadn’t announced his last deed so loudly.
“Brodir’s men were slain to a man,” adds the saga.
The Orkney and Manx Vikings, in retreat, had difficulty reaching their ships. During the gruelling day-long battle, the tide had come in, cutting them off from their vessels. They attempted to swim, exhausted as they were. While Black Turlogh was killing Brodir so ferociously, the other Turlogh, Prince Murrogh’s fifteen-year-old son, chased the fleeing Vikings into the water and hurled himself upon two of them, stabbing them again and again in a battle-fury worthy of his dark cousin. But his dying enemies dragged him under and he drowned.
Three generations of the royal Clan na O’Brien had perished on the same day; Brian Boru himself, his son Murrogh, and grandson, young Turlogh. Most of Brian’s other sons died at Clontarf as well. Donnchad, who had been absent by Brian’s command, keeping many of the Meathmen too busy to join the battle, survived. Malachi of Meath became the High King after Brian, and then Donnchad succeeded him. But even the men who ruled as a result of the battle did not deem it less than appallingly costly.
The losses on both sides were huge. Modern estimates have it that the Vikings lost six or seven thousand men, including all their chieftains, except King Sigtrygg Silkbeard of Dublin, who had not fought. His sons, who did, were now corpses. The Irish lost perhaps four thousand, or one man in seven. The wounded and maimed, as always, would have numbered far more. Black Turlogh might well have said wearily, as REH has him do, “The king has fallen and all his heroes, and though we have freed the land of the foreign chains, we too are but as ghosts waning into the night.” (“Spears of Clontarf”)
So also was Odin. In two of his stories, “The Grey God Passes” and “The Cairn on the Headland.” Howard has the northern god disappear from human ken after that climactic battle. In the former, Odin foresaw his own end with the words, “To each being there is an appointed time, and even the gods must die … ” Conn the escaped thrall, to whom he spoke the words, sees him again, in company with Black Turlogh, after the bloody fighting is done. He does not understand who the mysterious “grey man” is, but Turlogh does.
“It is Odin, god of the sea-people,” said Turlogh somberly. “His children are broken, his altars crumble, and his worshippers fallen before the swords of the South. He flees the new gods and their children, and returns to the blue gulfs of the North which gave him birth. No more will helpless victims howl beneath the daggers of his priests; no more will he stalk the black clouds.” (“The Grey God Passes”)
Odin’s disappearance from the human world is effected differently in “The Cairn on the Headland,” though it still occurs. In that story, his human form receives a fatal wound from a cross-adorned spear on the field of Clontarf, and he is buried under a great heap of stones lest he should ever revive. He mutters while perishing that the touch of “the magic plant – even holly — ” would make it possible. In the twentieth century, it almost happens, but he is frustrated by a ghost and a great saint’s crucifix.
The narrator of ““The Cairn on the Headland,” a modern O’Brien, is the one who reluctantly opens the cairn. His nemesis, a parasitic blackmailer, hopes to find treasure in it. Warning him against the course, O’Brien passionately makes the speech that can best serve to close these posts:
Here on this very plain the Dark Ages came to an end and the light of a new era dawned faintly on a world of hate and anarchy. Here … in the year 1014, Brian Boru and his Dalcassian ax-wielders broke the power of the heathen Norsemen forever – those grim anarchistic plunderers who had held back the progress of civilization for centuries.
It was more than a struggle between Gael and Dane for the crown of Ireland. It was a war between the White Christ and Odin, between Christian and pagan. It was the last stand of the heathen – of the people of the old, grim ways. For three hundred years the world had writhed beneath the heel of the Viking, and here on Clontarf that scourge was lifted forever.
Then, as now, the importance of that battle was underestimated by polite Latin and Latinized writers and historians. The polished sophisticates of the cities of the South were not interested in the battles of barbarians in the remote northwestern corner of the world – a place and peoples of whose very names they were only vaguely aware. They only knew that suddenly the terrible raids of the sea kings ceased to sweep along their coasts, and in another century the wild age of plunder and slaughter had almost been forgotten – all because a rude, half-civilized people who scantily covered their nakedness with wolf hides rose up against the conquerors.
Here was Ragnarok, the fall of the gods!
In a letter to August Derleth, ca. July 1933, Howard details some of his travels through west Texas, including a visit to Paint Rock:
Another town I went through was Paint Rock, in Concho County, so named because of Indian paintings on rock cliffs near the town. It was to John Chisum’s ranch on the Concho River that the survivors retreated after that bloody fight on Dove Creek, where five hundred Texans fought three thousand Comanches for a day and a night, in 1864. It was from Concho County, in 1867, that John Chisum started for New Mexico, with ten thousand cattle, and, though he did not know it, the shadow of the Bloody Lincoln County War, and the stalking phantom of Billy the Kid.
Actually, it was the Kickapoos, a wandering tribe that avoided contact with settlers, often moving their camps to prevent potential confrontations with the Anglos, not the Comanches at Dove Creek.
On January 8, 1865, an estimated 160 Confederates and 325 state militiamen set on a sizable encampment of migrating Kickapoo Indians some twenty miles southwest of the site of present day San Angelo. The Texans were routed after a desperate fight. On December 9, 1864, Captain N. M. Gillintine and a militia scouting party of twenty-three, under the command of the Second Frontier District, discovered an abandoned Indian camp. Gillintine reported that it had ninety-two wigwam sites and was located about thirty miles up the Clear Fork of the Brazos River from the ruins of an old named Fort Phantom Hill. A militia force of 325 men from Bosque, Comanche, Coryell, Erath, and Johnson counties gathered under Captain S. S. Totten. State Confederate troops of the Frontier Battalion were dispatched under Captain Henry Fossett.
From the very beginning the two forces failed to cooperate fully or agree upon a unified command. After bivouacking for two days at Fort Chadbourne for a rendezvous that never took place, Fossett impatiently set out on January 3rd with 161 men and followed a wide trail to the North Concho River and beyond. Four days later his scouts found the Indians, whom they assumed to be hostile Comanches or Kiowas, encamped in timber along Dove Creek. As Fossett prepared to strike, Totten’s delayed militia arrived early in the morning of January 8th. Historians have argued that by then Fossett and Totten should have known that the Indians were peaceful. Depending on that old frontier assumption that all Indians were murderous, the two commanders recklessly formed a battle plan that was later criticized as inadequate and based on poor reconnaissance. The militia, riding horses exhausted from a forced march, were to dismount and wade the creek for a frontal attack from the north. The Confederate troops were to circle southwestward, seize the grazing herd of horses, and attack from the lower side, thus cutting off an Indian retreat.
The attack quickly went badly. Fossett later estimated the Indian fighting force at between 400 and 600. Totten said 600 and charged that Union jayhawkers were among their number. The Indians were in a superior position, in a heavy thicket that gave the well-armed defenders cover, high ground, and a good field of fire. The militiamen were slowed by crossing the creek, heavy briars, and brush. One of the participants in the battle, I. D. Ferguson later recounted the fatal wounding of three officers, including Gillintine, and sixteen enlisted men in the opening minutes. The militia was soon on the retreat and out of the battle.
As for the other group, Fossett’s mounted force quickly captured the Indian horses. He sent seventy-five troops under Lieutenant J. A. Brooks to hit the camp from the south, but they were repulsed by heavy fire that cost them twelve horses. The Confederate troops took positions in the timber and continued the fight; they were caught in a deadly crossfire and split into three groups as the Indians closed in under cover. An Indian counterattack early in the afternoon was repulsed, and the battle continued until almost dark before ending in disorder and confusion. The Indians recaptured their horses and inflicted additional casualties on the Confederates retreating toward Totten’s militia, which was tending to the wounded three miles away on Spring Creek. The battered veterans spent a miserable night, drenched by chilling rain that turned to heavy snow. They remained the next day, cold and hungry, forced to eat some of the horses in order to survive. A casualty count showed twenty-two dead and nineteen wounded. An exact number was never known because many militiamen departed without leave.
Indian casualties were even less certain. Totten said they numbered more than a hundred. Fossett gave a body count of twenty-three. The Indians, after crossing the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, said they had lost twelve in the fight and two more who died after arrival in Mexico.
Carrying their wounded on crude litters strapped between pairs of horses, the Texans retreated eastward on January 11, after retrieving their dead. They found shelter and food at John S. Chisum’s ranch near the confluence of the Concho and the Colorado rivers.
The Kickapoos had been on their way to Mexico to escape the dissension and violence of the Civil War. The battle embittered this peaceful tribe and led to vengeful border raiding from the sanctuary given them by the Mexican government near Santa Rosa, Coahuila. White settlers along the Rio Grande paid heavily for the misjudgments that led to the Texans’ defeat on Dove Creek.
In May of 1873, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie led 377 men of the Fourth United States Cavalry from Fort Clark on a punitive expedition across the Rio Grande. The Kickapoos were taken by surprise; Mackenzie’s troopers killed many of the raiders and captured 40 women and children. This attack ended most of the Kickapoo raids. The army moved their prisoners to Fort Gibson in Oklahoma where they eventually wound up on a reservation. The Mexican Kickapoo remained in the state of Coahuila on the reservation established by the Mexican government.
Before his tent, the firelight playing on his white beard and glinting from his undimmed eagle eyes, sat the great king Brian Boru among his chiefs. The king was old – seventy-three winters had passed over his lion-like head – long years crammed with fierce wars and bloody intrigues. Yet his back was straight, his arm unwithered, his voice deep and resonant. His chiefs stood about him, tall proud warriors with war-hardened hands and eyes whetted by the sun and the winds and the high places. Tigerish princes in their rich tunics, green girdles, leathern sandals and saffron mantles caught with great golden brooches.
Robert E. Howard, “Spears of Clontarf”
The sun rose on the terrible dawn of a terrible day. It would set on a more terrible dusk. Two armies faced each other, more than twenty thousand warriors on each side. The High King of Ireland, Brian Boru, had marched against Dublin, then a Viking town, with the axe-men of his own Dalcassian tribe and the forces of Malachi, king of Meath, a former enemy and doubtful present ally. A long roster of other Irish chiefs supported him, and even a noted Viking warrior from man, Ospak, with – according to Njal’s Saga– ten shiploads of followers. Sigtrygg, king of Dublin, with his Irish mother and uncle, opposed Brian. Their allies included the king of Denmark’s sons with 12,000 followers, Jarl Sigurd of the Orkneys, and Ospak’s redoubtable brother Brodir – both of whom had been promised the hand of Sigtrygg’s mother Gormlaith for their aid.
Sinister supernatural portents galore had preceded this day. Sigurd possessed a great banner bearing a raven, the bird of Odin. It was said to bring victory to the host that displayed it, but every man who carried the banner met death. Brodir, a warlock, had taken omens which indicated that King Brian would win if he fought on Good Friday, but also die, while if the two hosts fought on any other day, the Vikings would be annihilated.
The Njal’s Saga says a man named Daurrod in Caithness had seen the Norns weaving fate on a grisly loom. Within a phantom bower, they worked and sang remorselessly. Daurrod remembered their chant and repeated it later.
This woof is woven
With entrails of men,
This warp is hard-weighted
With heads of the slain;
For spindles we use
Our loom iron-bound
And arrows for reels.
With swords for our shuttles
This war-woof we work …
Mind, maidens, we spare not
One life in the fray!
Brand Gneisti’s son in the Faroe Isles saw a similar vision.
With so many supernatural portents about, it was all but certain Odin himself would appear at the battle. In Howard’s stories, “The Grey God Passes” and “The Cairn on the Headland,” he does, and also before. Conn the thrall meets him on the Irish shore and hears the prophetic words, “Soon you shall witness the passing of kings … and of more than kings.” Conn also sees the Valkyries riding through the sky. Odin later appears in Dublin Castle. In “The Cairn on the Headland” Howard has Odin, “the fiendish spirit of ice and frost and darkness” adopting human form to enter the battle on the Viking side.
Sigtrygg Silkbeard stayed within Dublin during the battle, while his son commanded the extreme left of the host. Beside him were Irish rebels from Leinster, under Maelmordha their king, Sigtrygg’s uncle. Jarl Sigurd of the Orkneys commanded the Viking center. On the right were Brodir of Man’s hardened veterans, about two thousand of them. At least that’s how modern assessments describe the battle array. REH set it out rather differently, with the Viking host “stretching in a wide crescent from Dubhgall’s bridge to the narrow river Tolka which cuts the plain of Clontarf.” The foreign Northmen, the Vikings (presumably the strong force sent by the Danish king) had the centre, “with Sigurd and the grim Broder.” The fierce Danes of Dublin flanked them on one side, “on the other flank the Irish of Leinster with their king Mailmora.”
REH describes the Irish formations as being led by the Dalcassians, “big rangy men in their saffron tunics, with a round buckler of steel-braced yew wood on the left arm and the right hand gripping the dreaded Dalcassian axe against which no armour could stand. This axe differed greatly from the heavy two-handed weapon of the Danes; the Irish wielded it with one hand, the thumb stretched along the haft to guide the blow, and they had attained a skill at axe-fighting never before or since equalled.”
Brian Boru’s eldest son Murrogh commanded them, described by REH as “tall, broad-shouldered, mightily muscled, with wide blue eyes that were never placid.” The chief Dunlang O’Hartigan in the armour that was his lover’s gift went on one side of Prince Murrogh, and on the other the two Turloghs – Murrogh’s fifteen-year-old son, and his cousin Black Turlogh, protagonist of “The Dark Man” and “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth.”
Further, according to REH, behind the Dalcassians came Scots under Lennox and Donald of Mar, and the men of South Munster led by Meathla O’Faelan. The third division comprised the men of Connacht, wildest of the lot, “shock-headed and ferocious, naked but for their wolfskins, with their chiefs O’Kelly and O’Hyne.”
Howard simplified for the sake of making the story move. He didn’t mention Brodir’s brother Ospak, who fought on Brian’s side because he admired the Irish king and had fallen out with Brodir. Ospak was noted for wisdom (according to Njal’s Saga) and led about a thousand mailed Manx Vikings on the Irish right. Also, it appears that the fifteen-year-old Turlogh, Murrogh’s son, was actually on the extreme left with his great-uncle Cuduiligh, at the head of 1500 Dalcassians. And the doubtful, reluctant force from Meath under King Malachi had been stationed in reserve, on the right, some hundreds of yards to the rear.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
Deeds have been done here whereof the world re-echoed. Yonder, in the long ago, when Tomar’s Wood rose dark and rustling against the plain of Clontarf, and the Danish walls of Dublin loomed south of the river Liffey, the ravens fed on the slain and the setting sun lighted lakes of crimson. There King Brian, your ancestor and mine, broke the spears of the North. From all lands they came, and from the isles of the sea; they came in gleaming mail and their horned helmets cast long shadows across the land. Their dragon-prows thronged the waves and the sound of their oars was as the beat of a storm.
Robert E. Howard, “The Cairn on the Headland”
The battle of Clontarf was fought a thousand years ago now – a thousand years by precise count. It was the material of legend, and legend is what it became. The Irish leader, the land’s greatest king, Brian Boru, was past seventy by then and took no active part in the fighting, though his son and grandson did. There were heroes, and traitors, and the wicked, scheming, wanton (but spectacularly beautiful) woman every legend must have – Gormlaith, the much-married former wife of King Brian and mother of his enemy, Sigtrygg Silkbeard, King of Dublin. There was a Viking chief with a literally supernatural reputation, Brodir of the Isle of Man — Brodir the Warlock. A former Christian, he had abjured that religion and turned back to the heathen gods. He possessed a mail shirt no blade or spear could pierce, and wore his black hair so long he could tuck it into his belt.
His brother Ospak, though a heathen too, had become so disgusted with Brodir that he fought on King Brian’s side, just as Maelmordha, King of Leinster, fought with Sigtrygg against Brian. It was hardly an unadorned matter of Irish against Danes, and one of Brian’s allies, Malachi of Meath (another man to whom Gormlaith had been married) had formerly been Brian’s enemy for years. Brian had doubts concerning him, but wasn’t in a position to be choosy.
Complicated? That’s just the simplified outline.
Robert E. Howard was fascinated by Clontarf. One of his stories, written both with and without a supernatural element (as “The Grey God Passes” and “Spears of Clontarf”) features his grim Dalcassian warrior, Turlogh Dubh O’Brien, in both. Turlogh, as any REH aficionado knows, was wild, moody, and hated the Danes, who had ravaged his country for three hundred years, with a passion amounting to madness. “I hate your breed as I hate Satan!” he snarls in “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth,” “The screams of a thousand ravished girls are ringing in my ears night and day! Would all the north had a single breast for this axe to cleave!”
“The Cairn on the Headland,” set in the modern world, looks back to the battle of Clontarf, and even has the narrator dreaming of a former life as an Irish kern who fought there. In Howard’s vision, the power of the Vikings was finally broken at Clontarf, and terrible Odin laid to rest – until the touch of the sacred holly plant should revive him. These are powerful stories, even for Robert E. Howard, and the real event on which he bases them was – never mind the debunkers – mighty enough to ring down the centuries.
For one thing it saw the triumph, and death, of Ireland’s greatest king. For another, it really did settle who would be the masters of Ireland, the Vikings or the Irish. For a third, it was the fiercest, most bloody fight even Ireland had known. For a fourth, it had the natural stuff of heroic legend in it, from the single combat which began the fighting (and resulted in the death of both opponents) to the red aftermath when Brian Boru was cut down in his tent and swift retribution came to his killers. For a fifth, it not only passed into Irish history, legend and song, it found a place in two chapters (155-56) of one of the finest Icelandic sagas, The Burning of Njal.
Does anyone draw a blank at the name of Brian Boru? Not in Ireland, friends. Brian was born in 940 or 941 A.D., the youngest of twelve brothers, all but two of whom were eventually killed in battle. These were not peaceful times. When Brian’s brother Mahon became king of Munster and made a treaty with Ivar, the Viking king of Limerick, Brian took to the mountains in disgust and fought them back and forth in a protracted guerrilla war. He eventually beat them decisively at Sulcheid in 968 A.D., and pursued them right back to Limerick. Finding large numbers of Irish children enslaved there made Brian so furious that he had three thousand Vikings put to the sword as punishment.
He wasn’t just a fighting death-machine. Literate in both Latin and Greek, he played a good game of chess and was a noted harper. His diplomatic and negotiating skills were of a high order. He was married four times, his third wife being the beautiful, unprincipled Gormlaith (Kormlada to the Vikings) and is said to have had about thirty concubines.
Gormlaith had been married to Aulaf, the Viking king of Dublin, long before the battle of Clontarf. Her son by Aulaf was Sigtrygg Silkbeard, Brian’s chief enemy. Fifty and still beautiful as the battle loomed, she was playing Jarl Sigurd of the Orkneys against the dangerous Brodir with promises of marriage to both, with her son’s connivance. “You were born to lure men to their doom,” Brodir rages in “Spears of Clontarf,” and the chief Dunlang O’Hartigan comments, “Strange it is that a woman so fair of form and countenance should have the soul of a devil.” Certainly everybody loves a comely and treacherous she-cat in a story, and often enough the characterization is unfair (as with Lucrezia Borgia) but in Gormlaith’s case it seems to be true enough. Her conspiracies against Brian with her son and brother had been the reason Brian divorced her.
Like E. Hoffmann Price so many years before, Glenn wasn’t exactly sure what he would be getting in 1965 as he began his dealings with Stuart Boland. In Zarfhaana 53 (Feb. 1999), Glenn wrote that “In due course I received either two or three boxes of jumbled papers.” He describes the papers as follows:
There were, if my inventory is close to accurate, some 160 items altogether, counting the items mentioned below. These ranged from a lot of drafts of published stories—they were complete in some cases, or they could be only a page or two. There were a number of unpublished stories and poems, the most striking being the partial ms. of the story L. Sprague de Camp completed under the title of “Drums of Tombalku” (this is the item that Boland catalogued as “daughter of Gazal” earlier.)
There were also a few odds-and-ends like the July 20, 1928 FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM with Howard’s letter predicting (incorrectly) the outcome of the Tunney-Heeney fight[*]; a clipping from the BROWNWOOD BULLETIN about the Kid Dula-Duke Tramel fight (Howard wrote the article), a copy of THE DANIEL BAKER COLLEGIAN, a college newspaper for April 12, 1926, with a poem by Howard and probably less than a half dozen of these exist anywhere (if anyone cares!), a letter from Bernard A. Dwyer, as well as ones from Otis A. Kline, John F. Byrne and Farnsworth Wright. All in all, a very mixed bag, but well worth the costs if only because of some of the oddities.
[*Note: The image that heads this post is a scan of the actual column header from the Star-Telegram that was in The Trunk. Howard's letter, scanned from the same source, is here.]
Then, in a September 3, 1965 letter, Boland sent Glenn some more goodies, which Lord describes as a “large envelope [that] contained, as I found out, carbons of letters written by Dr. Howard after his son’s death. Luckily, these were typewritten by someone and thus there is no problem trying to make out the doctor’s tortured handwriting.” On September 15, 1965, Glenn wrote to Mrs. Kuykendall:
The man in San Francisco who sold me the Howard mss. also sent me, a few days later, about 45 letters from Dr. Howard to various persons written from mid-1936 to early 1937. They mostly concern Robert. Actually these are carbon copies of the letters written by the doctor.
There are several unpublished mss. among the ones I obtained. Some of these are incomplete however. [. . .]
Not long after receiving the first shipment from Boland, Glenn wrote to L. Sprague de Camp, who was then preparing the Conan stories for paperback publication (and fighting with Gnome Press editor Greenberg over copyrights) to inform him of a new Conan story. While this letter, and de Camp’s response, has so far eluded me, Glenn’s follow-up is at hand. One of the items in the mass of papers was a single page, the last, from a then unknown Conan story (“The Vale of Lost Women”). He also discusses where in the “saga” the new Conan story, “Drums of Tombalku,” should go, strategy for dealing with Greenberg, and this:
I believe there is still quite a bit of unpublished REH material, so the single page from the Conan tale might go along with another batch of mss. There were several single pages from mss., and according to a listing made after REH’s death, there were about 75-100 mss. in Dr. Howard’s care. [. . .]
Among the papers I got was a copy of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter,” a carbon of “The Black Stranger” (with synopsis), portions of early drafts of “The Hour of the Dragon” and a carbon of part of “Beyond the Black River.”
[. . .]
No other heroic fantasy tales in the papers I got, although there are a number of unpublished pieces. A couple of fantasies, a couple of other fantasies evidently aimed at GHOST STORIES, two stories and a fragment undoubtedly aimed at TRUE STORIES (Smith says REH did try to crack that market), some sports yarns, a pirate story, a couple of detective tales, a spicy adventure tale, some fragments, either incomplete or unfinished. About a half dozen poems also. I intend to make an inventory listing of the material shortly and will send you a copy for curiosity’s sake.
As 1966 began, Lord and Boland were still going back and forth. In a January 11, 1966 letter, de Camp asks Lord about the single-page Conan story: “I take it that Boland’s diggings have not yet turned up the rest of the story of which you have page 17.”
At some point in late February or early March, Boland and Lord appear to have come to some kind of agreement and Lord was mentioning things in his letters; unfortunately, I only have the responses. Here’s de Camp on March 9, 1966: “Do you mean that Boland has found the rest of the Conan story, of which you had only the 17th and last page, and that its title is THE GOLDEN HORSE?”
And Donald Grant on March 14: “By all means, keep me informed of any new developments on this batch of REH papers. If there is anything included besides Elkins yarns that is suitable for book form, let us give it every consideration.”
On March 15, Glenn wrote to tell Mrs. Kuykendall, “I believe I have uncovered the entire mass of papers sent to Mr. Price back around 1945 and am negotiating to acquire these.” But things were apparently stalled at least into April. Glenn wrote and complained about the situation to de Camp, who responded on April 14: “I judge that in dealing with Boland you, too, have a problem for which there is no solution save Buddhic patience. Has there been any progress on that matter?” But at some point between Glenn’s last letter to de Camp and April 15, the floodgates had opened again. Witness Donald Grant’s April 15 letter to Lord:
Glad to hear that you got the six large boxes of REH material, and the news of “The Castle of the Devil,” the unpublished Solomon Kane story is good indeed. I would like to include that in the first Kane volume, by all means . . . I think if I lived within a thousand miles of you, you’d see me leaning over your shoulder at this new acquisition!
And de Camp on April 20:
I am delighted to hear that the missing Conan story has turned up [. . .] The existence of two versions of the story, of 17 & 21 pp respectively, suggests that Howard wrote one version, tried it out, got a rejection, and did it over to see if he could sell it the second time.
Glenn eventually sent lots of “new” Conan material de Camp’s way, but Conan wasn’t the only character in the boxes. In a letter to Allan Barnard, an editor at Bantam Books who was interested in the Conan stories, Glenn suggests instead the King Kull series, and adds this:
[A]bout two weeks ago, Howard’s complete files of mss., records and other papers came to light—these having been lost since shortly after his father’s death in 1944—and I have been digging through the mass of papers, some six large boxes full, and so far have located at least three (3) unpublished Kull stories. Only one has been located complete but since I am less than halfway through the material, it is possible that the others will be completed and/or that other unpublished stories in the series will be found. I have also located at least two (2) unpublished Solomon Kane stories, but not all of either of them as yet.
Other material in the boxes can be gleaned from Tevis Clyde Smith’s December 31, 1966 reply to a Lord letter:
Bob and I sparred now and then. I don’t know whether we did just before writing Diogenes, or not, and don’t remember if the original of D was mailed to the editors; however, several years after it was written I suggested to Bob that I rewrite the yarn, and he agreed; I did, but didn’t sell the story.
I don’t remember The Golden Caliph. There was one, however, called The Right Hook. This was about the mid-twenties.
From what you sent, I am of the opinion that the novel you mention is the one Bob referred to as Post Oaks and sand Roughs. Do you intend to publish the final version?
And even this wasn’t the end of The Trunk. It would take another year to shake loose Howard’s letters to Lovecraft. In his August 10, 1967 letter to Lord, de Camp says, “I am much interested in learning of the REH-HPL letters. Let me know when you get your hands on them.” Glenn later asks de Camp not to spread the news of the letters around, to which de Camp responds on August 24: “I think I have mentioned the REH-HPL letters to Carter and Scithers, but I’ll pass the word on to them to shut up about it. Is this the same SF source as formerly? Have you gotten to the stage of bargaining for the lot?”
When de Camp wrote again, September 5, Lord appears to have gained possession as de Camp asks, “What was the main source of argument betwixt HPL & REH?” And on September 17, Clyde Smith acknowledged a package from Lord: “Many thanks for the recent mailings: the chapters from the novel, and the copy of the letter Bob wrote to Lovecraft.”
So, by September 1967 the search for The Trunk was over, and it was time for an explosion of new material that we call the Howard Boom. More importantly, Robert E. Howard’s papers had finally found a place where they would be appreciated and shared. Today, thanks to the generosity of Glenn Lord and his family, anyone interested can walk into the Harry Ransom Center and peruse for themselves the contents of the legendary Trunk.
The nominees for the 2014 Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards have been announced by the REHF Board of Directors. The annual awards honor outstanding achievement in Howard Studies and other Howard-related endeavors. The final nominees were selected by Legacy Circle Members from all the Howard-related work made available in 2013. Ballots have been sent out to all members of all levels of membership (Supporting Members, Friends of REH and Legacy Circle Members) via e-mail. The next step is for all foundation members to cast their votes based on the finalists. Members have until April 30 to submit their choices. The winners will be announced at a ceremony during the 2014 Robert E. Howard Days celebration in Cross Plains, Texas, on June 13.
Here are the Nominees for the 2014 Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards:
The Hyrkanian—Outstanding Achievement Print Essay:
ADAMS, ANGELINE B. AND REMCO VAN STRATEN – “Robert E. Howard: The Lost Celt Fortean Times 296, January 2013.
BURGER, PATRICK R. – “’I ’n’ I A-Liberate Zimbabwe’: Motifs of Africa and Freedom in Howard’s ‘The Grisly Horror.’ The Dark Man Vol. 7, No. 1, February 2013.
FINN, MARK AND JEFFREY SHANKS – “Vaqueros and Vampires in the Pulps: Robert E. Howard and the Dawn of the Undead West.” Undead in the West II: They Just Keep Coming, edited by Cynthia Miller and Bowden Van Riper.
SHANKS, JEFFREY – “History, Horror, and Heroic Fantasy: Robert E. Howard and the Creation of the Sword and Sorcery Subgenre” Critical Insights: Pulp Fiction of the 1920s and 1930s.
The Aquilonian—Outstanding Achievement, Periodical:
THE REH FOUNDATION NEWSLETTER – Bill Cavalier, Rob Roehm, Paul Herman
THE DARK MAN: THE JOURNAL OF ROBERT E. HOWARD STUDIES – Mark Hall
The Stygian—Outstanding Achievement, Website:
BREAKIRON, LEE, FRANK COFFMAN, GARY ROMERO, AND SCOTT SHEAFFER REHEAPA The Robert E. Howard Electronic Amateur Press Association (Website and Blog)
LENO, BRIAN, PATRICE LOUINET, ROB ROEHM, DAMON SASSER, KEITH TAYLOR- REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (Website and Blog)
THOM, BILL – Howard Works (Website)
The Cimmerian—Outstanding Achievement for Online Essay:
LENO, BRIAN – “Out of the Shadows—Finally, ‘Kid’ Dula” REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (10 Parts)
ROEHM, ROB – “The Business” REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (13 parts)
SHANKS, JEFFREY – “La Reina de la Costa Negra: The Mystery of the Mexican Conan Comics” An Age Undreamed Of
TAYLOR, KEITH – “Barbarianism Must Always Triumph” REH: Two-Gun Raconteur (3 parts)
The Venarium Award—Emerging Scholar (Vote either “Approve” or “Disapprove”):
PATRICK BURGER – A longtime member of REHupa and the editorial staff of The Dark Man, Patrick had an article published and completed his PhD dissertation on Robert E. Howard in 2013.
The Black River Award—Special Achievement (The following nominees have produced something special that doesn’t fit into any other category: scholarly presentations, biographical discoveries, etc.):
CAVALIER, BILL AND MORGAN HOLMES – For discovering and publishing a previously unknown photograph of Robert E. Howard
FINN, MARK – For organizing the REH presence, including panels and exhibits at Worldcon 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.
FRIBERG, BEN – For filming the panels at Howard Days, editing them, and making them available on YouTube
The Rankin Award—Artistic achievement in the depiction of REH’s life and/or work (Art must have made its first public published appearance in the previous calendar year.):
GIANNI, TOM: Cover art for Pirate Adventures (REHFP), cover art for Fists of Iron, Round One (REHFP), cover art for Robert E. Howard’s Western Tales
GIORELLO, TOMAS & JOSE VILLARRUBIA: Artwork for adaptation of “The Hour of the Dragon” — King Conan: The Hour of the Dragon issues
KEEGAN, JIM & RUTH: Artwork for “The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob”
PACE, RICHARD: For artwork for adaptation of “Men of the Shadows,” Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword
The Black Circle Award—Lifetime Achievement:
Congratulations to the nominees and good luck!