Archive for the 'Hester Jane Ervin Howard' Category

1905-rand-mcnally-web

Before getting too far into this, have a look at the section of a 1905 Rand-McNally map above. On the left is Palo Pinto County; near the center of the northern edge is a place called Christian, where a young doctor I. M. Howard practiced in the early 1900s. He also practiced in several nearby communities: Graford, just below Christian about five miles to the south; Oran, about five miles to the east; Whitt, just over the Parker County line to the east of Oran (the little circle next to the vertical “Creek”); and Peaster, Robert E. Howard’s birthplace, about ten miles southeast of Whitt and 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth (off the map to the right). The distance from Christian to Peaster is 25 miles, as the crow flies. On today’s roads, interested travelers can tour all of these tiny towns in one or two hours.

__________

[For a peek at Dr. Howard’s movements before the 1900s, look here.]

After a brief stint in the Indian Territory, where he had most likely gone to help out his favorite sister, Willie, Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard (IMH) returned to Texas, where his Physician’s Certificate was filed for record in Palo Pinto County on January 8, 1902. Polk’s Medical Register and Directory for 1902 has him in both Petersburg, Indian Territory (which I assume is a holdover from a previous notification), and Graford, in Palo Pinto County, population 19. He is the only doctor listed there. The 1904 edition has him still in Graford, but the population has grown to 24, one of that number being another doctor, J. M. Patterson.

But the Polk’s directory doesn’t tell the whole story, and maybe not even the correct story. I’m guessing that the 1902 mention at Graford is probably correct, but by the middle of 1903, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Christian, not Graford, which would make the 1904 listing another holdover. Polk’s does list one F. R. Bowles practicing in Christian in 1902 (population 50) and 1904 (population 90), but no IMH. The Standard Medical Directory of North America for 1903-04 lists both IMH and Bowles at Christian. It also adds that IMH was “licensed by examination without college diploma” and began his career in 1899.

And, since the good doctor was listing his address as Christian up to November 21, 1904, it’s safe to assume that that is where he and Hester Jane Ervin made their first home together after their January 12, 1904 marriage. (Today, the only remnant of that town is a road sign, “Old Christian Rd,” about five miles north of Graford.)

2013-06-04-013-web

There are no documents to testify where the Howards were from December 1904 to May 1905, but we can hazard a few guesses.

During that time, the number of medical schools in Texas was expanding and Dr. Howard picked up his diploma from Gate City Medical College, over in Texarkana, on May 1, 1905. While “the founders of these schools had the best intentions to offer bona-fide instruction in medical science, [. . .] they had too few resources. Most of them ceased operations or were absorbed by other schools within a short time.” Gate City was closed in 1911 when it was caught selling diplomas, but I think it’s safe to assume that IMH spent a little time in Texarkana before being awarded his. [1]

Also during that time, the newlywed Howards approached IMH’s older brother, David Terrell Howard, about adopting his youngest son. Wallace Howard told L. Sprague de Camp that Dr. and Mrs. Howard, “they come to mama and papa and wanted to take me and raise me as their, their foster son.” [2] David Howard was farming in Limestone County at the time, some 125 miles southeast of Christian, and had quite a large family (six children in 1904, and 12 before he was finished having children in 1919). In 1977, Wallace Howard wondered if he “wouldn’t have been better off” going with the doctor, but nothing came of the plan and before the summer of 1905, Hester would have known that she was pregnant.

Another possibility is Dark Valley, a few miles southwest of Graford. In July 1977, L. Sprague de Camp interviewed Florence Green, who was close to 100-years-old at the time. In his notes, de Camp writes that “Hester and I. M. Howard came from Christian miles away to Dark Valley as a young married.  They lived for several months with Mrs. Green who had a house a few feet away from the creek.” According to Green, the Howards stayed with her until their own place was built, “a little ways down the creek from the Green’s” and when it was time for Hester to give birth, “She went to Peaster, a much bigger town in those days, 1906, and some buggy ride away—a day’s journey—to have the child.” After Robert’s birth, the family returned to Dark Valley for a while, but “[t]hey moved away while Robert was a babe in arms—meaning anywhere from 1-2 years of age.” [3]

There are some problems with Green’s account. There is no record of the Howards buying any land in the vicinity of Dark Valley Creek; why build a home on property they did not own? Mrs. Green also, apparently, didn’t think it was relevant that it was Dr. Howard who recorded the birth of her daughter in 1907 (where he listed Graford on the Record of Birth); at least, it doesn’t show up in de Camp’s notes. Also, in Dark Valley Destiny, de Camp says, “During her pregnancy, Hessie was all smiles and laughter, forever joking with her neighbors, but she never left her husband’s side. She traveled with Dr. Howard wherever he went” (pg. 32), information that must have come from Green, but how would she have known this when, shortly after receiving his diploma, Isaac Howard registered his credentials over in Parker County on May 12, 1905, and his name begins appearing on birth and death records that same month? Hester would only have been about one month pregnant at the time. And Peaster wasn’t the first place they went to in Parker County.

1905-05-23-whitt-parker-web

On May 23, 1905, Dr. I. M. Howard filed a “Report of Death” for a two-day-old child. The doctor’s address is listed as “Whitt.” The 1904 Polk’s directory lists three doctors in Whitt and sets the population at 430, same as the 1906 edition; none of the listed doctors is IMH.

Shortly after his arrival in Whitt, Dr. Howard appears to have partnered with one of those other doctors, J. D. Pickens, as their names appear together frequently on birth and death records in June and July. The last birth record filed by Pickens/Howard is dated July 19; all of these records list IMH’s address as Whitt. After that July 19 filing, the record goes quiet until August 16, 1905, when Dr. Howard was awarded a “Certificate of Registration” from the Texas Board of Pharmacy indicating that he had “given satisfactory evidence that he is a Qualified Pharmacist.” After that, he moved to Peaster.

From late September to just after Christmas 1905, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Peaster. Like Whitt, Peaster already had a doctor or two. In fact, besides J. A. Williams, the doctor who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth, there was also a Dr. J. M. Blackwell, with whom Dr. Howard planned to share office space, as reported in “Peaster Items,” from the Weatherford Weekly Herald for October 19, 1905: 1905-10-19-peaster-items-weatherfordweeklyheraldp5

All three doctors appear in the 1906 edition of Polk’s, which has the population of Peaster pegged at 240. (A July 8, 1921 article in the Cross Plains Review announced Blackwell’s arrival in the area and says that he “comes well recommended for his work. He is an old time friend of Dr. I. M. Howard of this place, and a former partner with him in the practice of medicine.”) All of which begs the question: Why was it Williams and not IMH’s partner, Blackwell, who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth?  If you’ve read this far, you probably already know the story. The Howards celebrated REH’s birthday on January 22, 1906, but, probably due to a delay in filing, Williams reported the birth as January 24. He filed the document on February 1st.

The last known sighting of the Howards in Peaster is a notice from the February 19 column, “Peaster Pencilings,” which appeared in the February 22, 1906 edition of the Weatherford Weekly Herald: “Dr. Howard is boasting of the only boy baby of Peaster in 1906.” After that, the trail is cold until a May 31, 1906 “Report of Birth” places him back in Graford, which is probably only where he received mail, since he was no doubt living in Dark Valley at the time.

All of the above makes the following paragraph from Dark Valley Destiny a bit shaky:

Robert Ervin Howard was born on January 24, 1906, in Peaster, Texas, a village in Parker County, ten miles northwest of Weatherford and thirty-five miles due west of Fort Worth. The Howards at that time lived in Dark Valley, a community of some fifty souls in Palo Pinto County, near the Parker County border; but Dr. Howard had taken his wife to Peaster, a larger settlement in the adjacent county, as her confinement drew near. He wished, presumably, to insure adequate medical facilities for her lying-in, as well as the services of Dr. J. A. Williams, the physician who attended Mrs. Howard at the birth of her only child. [pg. 18]

Patrice Lounet pointed out the biggest problem with this a few years ago: “If Dr. Howard wanted to ‘ensure adequate medical facilities’ for his wife, Peaster would not have been his first choice, but more likely the much larger Weatherford. Or even halfway from there, Mineral Wells, where physicians would be numerous.” [4] But if not for medical attention, then why?

In a 1977 interview with L. Sprague de Camp, Wallace Howard explained it this way: “The Howards are a moving people.” [5] And I can’t do much better than that. IMH seems to have been constantly on the look for greener pastures, and he never shied away from a dramatic move. Being a doctor himself, and having a partnership with another doctor (even though his partnerships never lasted for long), makes the “adequate medical facilities” argument seem a bit thin. I’m more inclined to believe that IMH saw an opportunity there that just didn’t pan out.

I’m fairly confident that one of the reasons IMH came to the Palo Pinto-Parker region in the first place was the railroad: “The Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern completed twenty-five miles from Weatherford to Mineral Wells in 1891. That year the company owned two locomotives and ninety cars. In 1895 it earned $15,561 in passenger revenue and $38,070 in freight revenue. The line was bought by the Texas and Pacific Railway Company in 1902,” the same year that IMH arrived. [6] And once the mainline was complete, the competition for spurs off of that line began, with rumors and speculation being reported in area newspapers every week; there was even some wild talk of turning the road into “a great transcontinental line” [7]. Of course, nothing quite so grand happened; however, “Construction of an extension of the line to the city of Oran was completed in 1907, and on to Graford the following January.” [8]

weatherford-mineral-wells-northeastern-web[Map courtesy of Abandoned Rails]

It may have been these rumors and speculation that encouraged IMH to begin purchasing land in Palo Pinto County. On October 11, 1905, while living in Peaster, Dr. Howard purchased part of lot 1, block 7 in the town of Oran for $50. This must have been a simple investment since, as we have seen, after leaving Peaster the Howards settled in Dark Valley. IMH listed his residence as Graford on birth and death notices from May 31, 1906 until at least May 5, 1907. But he may have been planning a move even before then.

On January 19, 1907, he purchased Lot 6 in Block 54 of the town of Oran for $45. Then, on May 25, 1907, he spent $200 for lots 7 and 8 in Block 7. A few weeks later, June 14, 1907, IMH and wife Hester sold “the North East one fourth (1/4) of Block Seven (7)” for $300. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the Howards. Not long after that, if not before, the family was living in Oran. From August to December 20, 1907, IMH lists his address as Oran. The week before Christmas, he re-filed his credentials in Palo Pinto County to correct a transcription error in his initials from “S. M.” to the correct “I. M.” Two weeks later, he was in Big Spring, way over in Howard County. The West Texas adventure had begun.

 

NOTES

1: Handbook of Texas Online, D. Clayton Brown, “Medical Education,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/sfm02.

2: De Camp, L. Sprague:  “Notes on Interview with Wallace C. Howard in Mart, Texas, 7/22/77,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

3: De Camp, L. Sprague: “Notes from  interview with Mrs. Green and visit to Dark Valley with Mr. John Dean McClure,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

4: Louinet, Patrice: “The Long Road to Dark Valley—Introduction,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.rehtwogunraconteur.com/the-long-road-to-dark-valley-introduction/

5: De Camp, L. Sprague:  “Notes on Interview with Wallace C. Howard in Mart, Texas, 7/22/77,” unpublished, housed at HRC.

6: Handbook of Texas Online, Chris Cravens, “Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern Railway,” accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/eqw08.

7: “Doing Our Best,” The Daily Herald. (Weatherford, Tex.), Vol. 7, No. 218, Ed. 1 Monday, September 24, 1906.

8: The Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Northwestern Railroad Depot, photograph, 1990?; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth29853/: accessed September 11, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Pub

rehfence

This is the date 110 years ago when The World’s Greatest Pulpster was born. On January 22, 1906, Hester Ervin Howard and Dr. Issac Howard became the proud parents of a baby whom they named Robert Ervin Howard. REH was off to a humble start, being born the small town of Peaster, Texas. At the time the Howards were living in the isolated community of Dark Valley. So Dr. Howard moved Hester from Dark Valley (in Palo Pinto County) to the larger town of Peaster in Parker County to give birth. Patrice Louinet posted a series of posts on Howard’s early years, his family history and Dr. Howard and Hester’s relationship. The series is called “The Long Road to Dark Valley.” Patrice will soon add additional chapters to the series.

As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, let’s take a look at gifts Howard typically received on his birthday. This excerpt is from a letter written by Howard to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. July 1933:

My own library was generally the largest in the place I lived, but it was small. I generally was given a book on Christmas and on my birthday. Occasionally between times a book was bought.

Back in Howard’s day, during the Great Depression, gifts were usually simple items, like the books he mentions receiving — items that served a purpose and weren’t extravagant.

Now, 110 years after his birth, Howard has gifted all of us with many volumes of his writings. Some things never change. Books were important to Howard throughout his life and books written by him are just as important to us.

So on this auspicious occasion, I’m going to crack open a few of his books and read my favorite Howard stories. Heck, I’ll also crack open a bottle of Maker’s Mark to add to my reading enjoyment of yarns by The World’s Greatest Pulpster.

Happy Birthday, Bob!

rel

2.  The Stigma of Tuberculosis

In addition to the pain, the horrific TB operations and the endless monotony of the sanitarium, tuberculars also suffered from the stigma of contracting TB.

The National Library of Medicine notes: “During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tuberculosis (TB) was the leading cause of death in the United States and one of the most dreaded diseases known to mankind. Until Robert Koch’s discovery of the disease-causing tuberculosis bacteria in 1882, many scientists believed that TB was hereditary and could not be prevented. Doctors offered few effective treatments. A new understanding of TB in the bacteriological era not only brought hopes for a cure but also bred fear of contagion.” (Tuberculosis NLM)

For people who had TB, interstate travel was restricted, employment was sometimes denied, and forced confinement to state hospitals and public sanatoria were allowable measures used to protect the public. “Lungers need not inquire” was a sign that was commonly displayed in the windows of boarding houses and hotels that refused to rent to people who appeared to have TB. Beginning in the 1890s and persisting through the 1930s, having TB became such a disgrace that many infected people chose to keep the disease a secret from everyone, including family. (Dyer 56)

Stories of stigma often began at the moment of diagnosis when the new patients immediately offered a lengthy, defensive and apologetic explanation of how and why they contracted tuberculosis:

Overwork was a primary reason. But one young man who kept regular hours and did not overwork, was asked by his mother “Where did you get it, son?” as though it were a sexually transmitted disease. (Rothman 228-29)

Once they were diagnosed, tuberculars became outcasts and lepers in society.

Patients confirmed the wisdom of hiding the disease…Families and confidants were as secretive as the sick themselves. They told friends that family members were taking a much needed rest or vacation or cited other physical ailments to account for sudden departures. (Rothman 212)

When the public learned TB was an airborne germ, the resulting fear and panic produced many laws against tuberculars.

In addition to their own debility, isolation, and possible death, consumptives had to contend with the anger and prejudice of a phobic society. They were shunned, evicted and refused treatment by doctors and nurses…Consumptives and suspected consumptives alike feared for their jobs…Some town fathers suggested that tuberculars be compelled to wear bells around their necks, as medieval lepers had. These frightening stories made consumptives feel outcast, humiliated and helpless. These factors, along with the knowledge that one was a constant danger to oneself and others could make the alienation extreme. Consumptives were urged to live alone. Massachusetts passed a law stating consumptives must sleep alone unless their companions were also consumptives. Even pets were commonly denied them. They were to curb any desire to give or to receive affection; kissing, and even shaking hands was discouraged…Tuberculosis was added to the list of eugenic defects that could disqualify couples from marrying…As one doctor put it, “Marriage of consumptives is often the deliberate creation of a pest house.”  There were mentions of having to obtain physical certificates attesting that family histories did not contain feeblemindedness, tuberculosis, drunkenness, epilepsy and insanity. Still others mentioned the possibility of sterilizing consumptives.” [emphasis mine] (Ott 113-115)

Since one of the characteristic symptoms of TB is the hacking cough, it’s difficult to believe that people who were close to Hester did not guess her illness. For those who were aware of the TB symptoms, this could be one of the reasons REH and his father had difficulty hiring women to care for Hester and do the housework.

Woman after woman we hired and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, [emphasis mine] though my father and I did most of it. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)

While the public feared being infected by tuberculosis, the tuberculars who were shunned and outcasts feared “local, state and federal laws put into place to further isolate them. The spread of tuberculosis concerned everyone. “By 1930, 90,000 people a year still died from the disease in the United States.” (Ryan 28)

The legal rights of both the public and the tuberculars were debated.

How far the government could go to carry legal measures designed to control tuberculosis and not infringe upon the natural rights of American citizenship was the question for public officials trying to control the spread of the disease…Over the first decade of the twentieth century the campaign to educate the public gained momentum and as its message spread throughout the country, so did the fear of associating with persons who had contracted tuberculosis. (Rothman 190)

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Fear won and many of the laws brought on further discrimination. When in 1893, tuberculars were required to register with the State of New York, (Rothman 213) Insurance companies  gained access to the list and cancelled or refused insurance based on it. (Rothman 188) By 1901 six states had some kind of reporting law.” (Ott 129) And, these brought on even more laws.

By 1908 eighty-four cities required both registration of the tubercular and disinfection of lodgings, procedures that led to discrimination in housing and employment. Landlords refused to rent to the tubercular, insurance companies refused to insure them, [emphasis mine] employers refused to employ them plus there were laws preventing them from working in dairies and bakeries and as school teachers. (Rothman 189) There were also efforts to ban travel by tuberculars and while no state enacted such legislation, fear and hostility did not prevent discrimination by private parties. Boardinghouse and hotel owners turned away the sick and town fathers reimbursed railroads who gave a homeless tubercular a lunch basket and a one-way ticket back home. Western doctors did their part to restrict the flow of travel to the west for those seeking a cure, “When will our professional brethren in the East learn that to send advanced cases to the West with no financial means to enable them to supply themselves with that food and environment that really forms a most important part of climatic treatment, is not only a sin of omission, but one of commission. (Rothman 191)

Another compelling reason for hiding a diagnosis of TB was the fear of mandatory confinement.

Public health officials had recourse to one final weapon in their campaign to control contagion: the power to confine anyone found liable to jeopardize the health of others. The goal was to commit persons with tuberculosis to a special facility until they were no longer a menace to public health. The primary goal was to confine the poor but the legislation extended to include anyone not meeting the standards set by the public health authorities. (Rothman, 191-92)

Read the rest of this entry »

Steins

Despite an abundance of newspapers that are available online, there are still several collections that can only be accessed in the old-school fashion: ass-in-seat in front of a microfiche reader. As I prepared for Howard Days this year, I called around to the local libraries in the towns I was going to visit to see if they had any. Two libraries said they had what I was looking for, though when I actually showed up at the Mount Calm library, I learned that my phone contact had been mistaken. So, I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived at the second location: Lampasas.

Why Lampasas? Well, I’d already been there when researching Howard’s stay in the “old rock hotel” that was “as much fort as hotel” (REH to HPL, ca. May 1935; see my piece in The Cimmerian, vol. 5, no. 5, Oct. 2008), but that was before my slide into genealogy and minutia. In the same 1935 letter, Howard also says that Lampasas is “where my mother spent her girlhood.” And then there’s this, from his December 5, 1935 letter to HPL, “my grandfather had owned a sheep-ranch in the adjoining county of Lampasas in those days [post-Civil War].”

Add to the above the following bit from Howard’s family history, “The Wandering Years”:

A boom was on in Texas; cities were growing. The Colonel [Howard’s grandfather, G. W. Ervin] went into the real estate business [in Dallas], and was successful. But the low Trinity River lands were unhealthful, and, in 1884 [sic.], he moved again, this time southwestward to Lampasas, in the cattle country. Lampasas had been a frontier town in the early ’70s. It was still a cow town, as well, on account of its mineral springs, a health and pleasure resort, the foremost of its sort in the state, before the rise of Mineral Wells.
[. . .]
My grandfather possessed the restlessness of the age. He loaned money, dealt some in cattle; he bought a sheep ranch, but, in the midst of a cattle country, with hired men running it, it was not a success. He wandered over into western New Mexico and worked a silver mine not far from the Arizona line.

That last part about the silver mine has never been verified (until now), but Howard also mentions it in a couple of letters: circa December 1930, to Lovecraft, “Colonel George Ervin came into Texas when it was wild and raw, and he went into New Mexico, too, long before it was a state, and worked a silver mine—and once he rode like a bat out of Hell for the Texas line with old Geronimo’s turbaned Apaches on his trail”; and again in a circa January 1933 letter to August Derleth: “Geronimo once stole a bunch of my grandfather’s horses, and chased him away from the silver mine he was working; chased him with the aid of a mob of his turbaned warriors, of course, that being a job that took a goodly gang of men, whether red or white.” Most of which sounds like family legend, but the Lampasas connection definitely required another visit, especially since the local librarian indicated that they had copies of the Lampasas Leader from the 1880s—only available on-site.

The Roehm party arrived Monday afternoon and got to work. We hit the courthouse first and found several land documents; then we headed over to the library. I gathered the available fiche and parked in front of the reader. I was there until closing time and continued the search when they opened the next morning. What follows is a summary of the Ervins’ time in that fair city.

The earliest document I found is dated January 9, 1886, when Hester would have been 15-years-old. On that day, G. W. Ervin, “of the County of Lampasas,” purchased three lots in that “portion of the town of Lampasas known as the Lampasas Springs Company’s first addition to the town of Lampasas.” He appears to have purchased these lots outright for the tidy sum of “fifteen hundred dollars to us in hand paid”—there is no indication of any installment payments due at a later time. The Ervins had arrived.

The next document is another land purchase, dated May 31, 1886. This one appears to be an investment, with $1,500 as down payment, another $1,000 due on June 1, 1887, and “the further sum of six hundred and fifty dollars to be paid on the first day of May A.D. 1892,” not including interest. For this, Ervin picked up “an individual one half interest” in “part of a three league survey” that included a pile of lots in Lampasas.

Next up is a December 23, 1886 document in which Ervin and a partner, L. J. Amos, sell part of the May 31 purchase for $2,156, in installments. That same day, Ervin purchased two more lots in the Lampasas Springs Company’s addition from the said Amos for $1,000, “in hand paid.”

Next on the timeline is an obituary found online from the Galveston Daily News:

MRS. JANE ERVIN
LAMPASAS, Tex., August 11.—Mrs. Jane Ervin, the mother of G. W. Ervin, died here yesterday and was buried today. Mrs. Ervin was born in North Carolina eighty-one years ago, and has been a resident of Texas for twenty-eight years. She was an exemplary Christian and lived an honored and happy life.

On December 3, 1887, over in Temple, Texas, the Temple Daily Times (also found online) had the following item: “G. W. Ervin, of Lampasas is in the city.” What his business there was is a mystery. I guess I’ll have to go back to Temple at some point and have another look.

Another land document was filed in Lampasas on March 6, 1888. In this one, G. W. and wife Alice, “for and in consideration of an individual half interest in six hundred and forty acres of land” in Palo Pinto County, sell the two lots he had purchased from Amos on December 23, 1886.

The library’s collection of newspapers is full of holes, as far as dates are concerned, so there may have been notices concerning the Ervins before this November 24, 1888 item from the Lampasas Leader: “Col. G. W. Ervin left Monday on a business trip to Dallas, Denton and other points in North Texas.”

And then there’s this December 1, 1888 mention of Hester’s brother, Robert:

1888 12-01 RTEx
I struck pay dirt with the next Leader item, April 20, 1889, which confirms the mining claim: “Col. G. W. Ervin left here Tuesday for Stein’s Pass, New Mexico, to look after his mining interests at that point.” The May 25, 1889 paper announced his return: “Col. Ervin returned Wednesday from Stein’s Pass, New Mexico, where he has been for the past six weeks looking after his mining interests and brings good reports of the mines.”

The July 6, 1889 edition has more news: “Col. G. W. Ervin left here Thursday on a business trip to North Texas and will go on to Oklahoma before returning.” Several of Ervin’s children by his first wife lived or had lived in the Indian Territory at that time. So, it appears, did his former partner, Mr. Amos, who is listed as being from Oklahoma City on the December 7, 1889 document in which he sold G. W. some more land in Lampasas.

A month later—January 16, 1890—G. W. sells a bunch of land for $2,000, “in hand paid by my wife Alice Ervin, the same having been paid out of the separate estate of my said wife received by her from her father.” Said father, Joel Echols Wynn, had died on January 1, 1885, in Arkansas. I’ve got a copy of his will around here somewhere.

That fall, it appears that G. W. had had enough of Lampasas. On October 20, 1890, he sold his original land purchase to a lady from Ohio for the sum of $2,500, to be paid in installments. Here ends the Lampasas paper trail, but I wasn’t quite finished with this mine business. After all, I had to drive through New Mexico to get home.

But before the road trip home, I did a little digging online and found an article in the El Paso Times that had somehow escaped my frequent searches. Dated July 17, 1888, it provided a helpful date for the upcoming courthouse dig:

1888 07-17 GWE in ElPasoTimes p1b

With all of this information in hand, the Roehm party stopped in Lordsburg, New Mexico, on the return trip. We visited the site of Stein’s Pass (now a ghost town called, simply, Steins) and the courthouse, where the following document was discovered.

1888 06-05 GWE in NMx

1888 06-05 GWE in NMx2

And here ends the trail.

This entry filed under Hester Jane Ervin Howard, Howard Biography.
picMarlin_TorbettSanatoriumBethesdaBathHouseMajesticHotel

Torbett Sanatorium in Marlin, Texas

Tuberculosis Operations

On December 5, 1935, REH wrote to H. P. Lovecraft about his mother’s condition:

About the middle of November my mother’s health became so poor we took her to the Torbett Sanatorium in Marlin, Texas, where more than a gallon of fluid was drawn off her pleura. She stayed at Marlin two weeks. (Roehm REH Letters 3-388)

Just a few months later, in another letter to HPL, dated February 11, 1936, REH again discusses his mother’s illness and her trips to the hospital.

After our return from Marlin we stayed at home for about two weeks, and then my mother’s pleura filled again, and we took her to a hospital in San Angelo, 105 miles southwest of Cross Plains… Her condition is very bad and she requires frequent aspirations, which are painful, weakening and dangerous. (Roehm REH Letters 3-415)

The difficulties of removing fluid from the pleura is confirmed when Novalyne asks REH if the operation on his mother was successful.

He shook his head. “She’s suffered so much…and she has tried to keep it from interfering with my life. She’s very brave.” (Price Ellis 194)

From the descriptions given by REH in his letters, the types of operations that Hester underwent were the painful aspirations and perhaps the Artificial Pneumothorax (Lung Collapse Therapy) which by the mid-1930s had become a more popular solution for pulmonary TB. And, if the symptoms of tuberculosis were difficult to read, some of the procedures performed on TB patients are straight out of one of REH’s horror stories.

Aspirations

The aspirator, a needle and pump-syringe device for drawing off fluid or gas by suction, was also popular. According to a sarcastic observer in the Medical Record, “The aspirator replaced the stethoscope as the medical novelty of the day.” (Ott 26) With aspiration, physicians cautiously began to explore treatments actually inside body cavities. The limitation of thoracentesis (a procedure to remove fluid from the space between the lining of the outside of the lungs—pleura—and the wall of the chest) was that it was directed at the secondary effects of already established disease processes. Thoracentesis was not preventive; it was a fix but not a cure. There were interesting ethical debates about when and how often to aspirate the chest…By the 1890s advocates of thoracentesis generally agreed that in cases of empyema (inflammation with pus) one should aspirate as early as possible…(Ott 66)

Artificial Pneumothorax (Lung Collapse Therapy)

This procedure was based on the work of Robert Koch whose research concluded that the “tubercle bacillus was a strict aerobe: it could survive but not grow and multiply without a generous supply of oxygen. Operations were aimed at resting the affected lung or lungs by reducing the patient’s ability to take a full breath” (Ryan 28):

Because the two pleural sacs enclosing the two lungs do not communicate with each other, one whole lung can be collapsed, without affecting the other, by repeatedly injecting air into the potential cavity between the lungs and the chest wall. (Dormandy 250) This was the oldest and most common of the operations. Some patients promptly felt better, lost their fever and coughed less and the tubercle bacilli disappeared from their sputum. No longer a hazard, the patient could recover at home or return to work. The lung was kept in semi-collapsed position by weekly or biweekly refills. This procedure was not for patients with scar tissue that prevented the collapse. Complications included infection, coughing up blood, and even sudden death. (Bates 286) The rationale for this operation is that if rest benefited the patient, it would also benefit the lung. (Ott 95)

The Artificial Pneumothorax procedure required weekly or biweekly refills and hospitals equipped to do this were quite a distance away. However, Hester could have undergone these treatments during one of her hospital or sanitarium stays.

In the letters above, REH mentions taking his mother to Marlin for aspirations and then when she needed another in two weeks, they took her to San Angelo where she stayed for six weeks.

If she was receiving the Artificial Pneumothorax procedure, this would have been the routine Hester endured. Patients were given morphine the night before.

[T]heir chest was pierced under local anesthesia, usually Novocain. In Hungary, Arpad Toth, the consumptive poet who had the treatment in the early 1930s wrote that though the needle prick in the skin did not hurt and the morphine had in any case induced a happily drowsy state, the needle entering the pleura felt like being kicked by a mule: “There was a crunch, a stab and a prayer, O God, let me die quickly. The real pain began a few hours later (after the anesthetic had worn off and the operator had departed.) It was sharp and unresponsive to drugs and kept patients awake. (Dormandy 261)

And if the pain and suffering from one of these treatments wasn’t enough, according to REH’s letters Hester had several aspirations done over a period of two or more weeks.

Although aspirations became a common procedure for TB, they weren’t without risks

The technique was both dangerous and painful. Many things could go wrong including perforation of the lung, stomach, heart or liver, or in the case of an accidental puncture of the pulmonary vein, instant death. The procedure could be frightening as well as exhausting for a patient. Some had adverse reactions such as horrible pain, fever and hallucinations (Ott 97-98).…By the turn of the century, putting a needle into the chest under local anesthesia to aspirate an effusion or pus from the pleural cavity had become well established as a useful and sometimes even life-saving procedure but the intervention was not without risk. The main difficulty lay in distinguishing the location of the pleural cavity. This was done by tapping on the chest to find the pleural cavity or the areas in the lung where the breath was absent. (Dormandy 205)

By 1921 good x-ray machines were available to make the location of the pleural cavity more accurate; however, not many tuberculosis centers or doctor offices had access to x-ray facilities.

In 1949, Gosta Birath of Sweden wrote one of the last comprehensive reviews of the Collapse Theory: “The pneumothorax needle was the most dangerous weapon ever placed in the hands of a physician.” (Dormandy 351) By the 1930’s, artificial pneumothoraces were being performed, often in incompetent operations in tens of thousands of unsuitable cases and the results were predictably dismal.”  It might be thought that the patients or their families would rebel, but the opposite was true. Almost anything active was better than just waiting and hoping. (352)

And survival of these procedures and the disappearance of symptoms did not mean the tuberculosis was cured.

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Hester Jane Ervin Howard with Robert’s dog Patch outside the Howard home in Cross Plains, Texas, ca. 1924.

1. The Shadow of Tuberculosis

Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s death certificate states she died of tuberculosis on June 12, 1936. A puzzling diagnosis and difficult to understand when TB is never referred to in any of the letters written by either her son, Robert E. Howard or her husband, Dr. Isaac M. Howard.

To understand why it is not mentioned by REH and his father, it’s essential to know about tuberculosis, its history, causes, symptoms, pain and suffering and especially the stigma and fear that surrounded it.

A Short History of TB

The girl sits propped up on pillows. Her face has become almost transparent. She turns towards the window. Cold winter sunlight streams in. Faint dashes hint rather than depict her eyes; yet the wistful gaze is miraculously caught. Her orange hair glows against the white linen of the bedclothes. A green curtain billows into the room. Next to her the mother’s head is sunk on her chest, hardly more than a shadow. It is the image of inexpressible grief…This is the picture of Sophie Munch, aged fourteen…a few months before her death from tuberculosis. [Two years later Munch’s mother also succumbed to the same disease.] Painted by her brother Edvard, it is one of the graven images of what was for millions a personal experience. (Dormandy Introduction)

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A Sick Child by Edvard Munch, who also painted The Scream

A thousand million people died of tuberculosis in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. (Ryan 3) Nor was it a new disease. Paleontological records tell us symptoms of tuberculosis appeared in a Neolithic grave near Heidelberg dated at 5,000 BC during the Stone Age, as well as in the spines of Egyptian mummies. (4) The disease was already established in mainland Europe by 2,500-1,500 BC and it is likely it came to England about a thousand years later. (6) TB even predates Columbus in the new world where it has shown up in the skeletons of Native Americans and Peruvian mummies as well as in the bones found in countries around the world, including Japan. (8) In fact, “Dr. John Stanford, who has spent his life studying TB, believes that the tuberculosis germ is very ancient, and may well have fought for its survival in the primeval mud of the earth at the very beginnings of time.” (Ryan 6)

Tuberculosis was called by many names: phthisis, consumption, wasting disease, weakness of the lungs, graveyard cough. (Dormandy 22) During the late nineteenth century there was a growing fear the disease might destroy European civilization. (Ryan 8)

It is a remarkably enduring disease. Once it arrives in a community, it stays. (6) By mid-seventeenth century, one in five deaths was due to consumption, which is an older and rather more descriptive name for the pulmonary form of TB. As a result, it became known as the “White Plague of Europe.” (7) Although the death rate had been declining since the 1840’s in the year 1900, the world’s death rate from tuberculosis was about seven million people a year with fifty million more openly infected and at least half the world population had come into contact with it. (Ryan 8)

There were popular misconceptions about tuberculosis, even as late as the 1970s and 80s. According to L. Sprague de Camp, a Robert E. Howard biographer and author of Dark Valley Destiny,

Tuberculosis is a strange disease. Relatively rare today, in 1900 it was second only to pneumonia as a major cause of death. Whenever people move about a lot, whenever there is crowding, unhygienic living conditions, poverty, or privation, tuberculosis becomes epidemic. (de Camp 32)

De Camp’s statement that TB was second to pneumonia as a cause of death is incorrect. In the early 1900s, it was the primary cause in the USA for many years. (CDC “Leading Causes of Death”) He was also wrong that it was an epidemic.

Unlike most epidemic diseases, TB did not sweep through a city or region and then disappear for several years. TB was endemic – it was a debilitating constitutional illness to which people succumbed slowly over a period of years, infecting and being re-infected, leaving the afflicted compelled to stop work, enter hospitals or sanitariums, and lie and dissemble for self protection. (Ott 6)

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Above is a depiction of TB statistics in Kentucky during WWII. Below are two examples of the Christmas Seals campaign for fighting TB. Both of these were probably familiar to the Howards in Cross Plains.

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1924 Christmas Seals Campaign

 

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Christmas Seals Campaign, ca. 1935

Tuberculosis Infection

Dr. Frank Ryan in The Forgotten Plague: How the Battle Against Tuberculosis was Won and Lost, explains how the body reacts to TB and how some survived while others did not.

We are infected by the germ that causes tuberculosis in two ways, either by inhaling it in the air we breathe, or by swallowing it food or drink. Inhalation is the commonest way in which it gets into our bodies, taking in bacteria which are suspended in dried dust or in tiny droplets. If a tiny colony on a culture plate contains in excess of a billion tuberculosis germs, consider the numbers of germs flung into the air by the single cough of an infected patient. Unlike AIDS, which is spread only by sexual penetration or by intravenous injection of blood products, tuberculosis is contracted simply by the act of breathing. Everybody is therefore susceptible. (Ryan 17-18)

But it is the pulmonary form of the disease which is by far the commonest and it was in this form that tuberculosis blighted the lives of billions of people. What happens is basically simple if dreadful. The bacteria inhaled in water droplets settle in the periphery of the lung and grow very slowly until they form a small local collection, like a cheesy boil. From this boil, the continuing infection spills over into nearby small airways and forms more of these tiny boils. It was the appearance of these small cheesy collections (like little tubers) which, in the early nineteenth century gave rise to the modern name, the disease in which you find tubercles in the lung or tuberculosis. This replaced the much older and more descriptive name, consumption…From this primary infection in the lungs, several things may happen. (Ryan 19)

In many, the first infection is fought off by the body. The white cells mop up the bacteria and the abscess is walled off from the rest of the lung by a fibrous shell. But our white cells have difficulty disposing of these ingested bacteria. That waxy shell can be as impervious to the digesting chemicals of our white cells as it is to acid, and tuberculosis has the horrifying ability to eat our white cells themselves from the inside and to grow and multiply while actually within the cells. In order to contain the disease, our body decides to accept stalemate and just wall it off. If we succeed, we lull ourselves into a false sense of security: we tell ourselves that we are cured. But tuberculosis remains alive within the fibrous shell and can burst out into life-threatening virulence at any time in the infected person’s subsequent life. (Ryan 19-20)

Where tuberculosis is common, most of the population will encounter germs when they are children. Yet here we discover another of its mysteries: the majority wall it off when it is still just a spot on the lungs and they never know they were infected. But if the body fails to contain it, which is the case in about ten percent of people, the disease continues to invade the lung tissue about it. (Ryan 21)

How tuberculosis infects the body is shown in the following chart:

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Tuberculosis Symptoms

A cough that refuses to go away; perhaps a sudden agonizing pain on breathing that marks the beginning of pleurisy; exhaustion, an unrelievable breathlessness, the appearance of bright red arterial blood in the persistent foul sputum. In others, death arrives in one fell moment; for example when an abscess in the lung or intestine erodes into a major artery. (Ryan 22)

Tuberculosis patients lost weight, were overwhelmingly tired, at times felt overwhelmingly irrational and exuberantly gay, and were anemic. (Dormandy 220)

Tuberculosis could not only be transmitted to another person, it could easily infect other parts of the body. It wasn’t a simple disease that affected everyone in the same way. Almost no organ or tissue in the body was immune.

TB starting in one area of the body could be transmitted to other areas. Once the TB patients began coughing up the TB bacteria, they became contagious and had to be isolated from other non-tubercular persons. As the germ was coughed up, it often lodged in the throat, causing TB laryngitis, which in its last stages reduced speech to a hoarse, agonizing whisper…If the TB germ was swallowed, it could cause overwhelming nausea, almost impossible to alleviate. The patient’s breath often became foul smelling. Abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea would be added to the already suffering patient…If the infected material went in the opposite direction, it could impinge on the pleura and start TB pleurisy. This was one of the most feared complications. Not only coughing but the taking of every breath became painful…Disturbed nights turned into nightmares: no pain-killer, not even laudanum or later, morphine, could entirely cope with the pain. The spread of the disease in this way could lead to the dreaded tuberculosis meningitis. (Dormandy 221)

One of the most lethal complications occurs when pus spills into the blood stream and quickly spreads to every organ in the body. Or, it spreads from the lungs or bowel and causes great pain and suffering elsewhere. In the skin and soft tissues it causes disfiguring sores and abscesses; in the internal organs such as the bladder and kidneys it causes an agonizing inflammation…In bones it settles into a protracted and gnawing destructive cavitation and the pus eventually finds its way through the soft tissue to the skin. Tuberculosis has the capacity to infect every internal organ from liver to brain, from the fingertips to the delicate structures of our eyes. (Ryan 23)

Even today, without effective treatment, sixty percent of sufferers will be dead within five years of the onset, their bodies wasted to skeletal proportions, their minds lucidly aware of the life that is being taken from them [emphasis mine]. (Ryan 23-4)

A look at the various types of tuberculosis and how they infect the body.

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According to Dormandy, pulmonary tuberculosis was the most common form. (22) The Medical Dictionary definition states:

[P]ulmonary tuberculosis is TB that affects the lungs. Its initial symptoms are easily confused with those of other diseases. An infected person may at first feel vaguely unwell or develop a cough blamed on smoking or a cold. A small amount of greenish or yellow sputum may be coughed up when the person gets up in the morning. In time, more sputum is produced that is streaked with blood. Persons with pulmonary TB do not run a high fever but they often have a low-grade one. They may wake up at night drenched with cold sweat when the fever breaks. The patient often loses interest in food and may lose weight. Chest pain is sometimes present. If the infection allows air to escape from the lungs into the chest cavity (pneumothorax) or if fluid collects in the plural space (pleural effusion) the patient may have difficulty breathing.

The symptoms for pulmonary TB according to The White Death also included “A harsh cough, hoarseness or loss of control of the voice, an audible wheezing, shortness of breath on exertion and coughing up of blood.”… Dormandy then adds “In 80 percent of the cases this form of tuberculosis was fatal in five to fifteen years[emphasis mine]. (22)

Hester Jane Ervin Howard’s Symptoms

REH’s letters do not indicate any symptoms of wheezing, shortness of breath or coughing up of blood. However, comparing the excerpts from his letters describing his mother’s symptoms against those of tuberculosis, the list is impressive.

Night sweats. On May 13, 1936, REH wrote to H. P. Lovecraft:

She started sweating in January and it’s just the last few days that there has been any appreciable lessening of it. Many a night she had to be changed six or seven times, and that many times a day—sometimes more. Woman after woman we hired and they quit, either worn out by their work, or unwilling to do it, though my father and I did most of it. (Roehm REH Letters 3-460)

Pleurisy—one of the most feared complications was mentioned earlier in the same letter.

She seemed to be improving a little when she had an attack of acute pleurisy on her right side, which until then hadn’t been affected. My father handled that, and she was definitely on the mend, although the sweats never ceased, when in the early part of April we had the worst dust storm I ever saw in my life, and she developed pneumonia.” (3-459)

Also present was the characteristic weight loss.

She is very weak and weighs only 109 pounds—150 pounds is her normal weight and very few kinds of food agree with her; (3-459)

The signature cough was mentioned in the December 5, 1935 letter to HPL.

My parents and I went to Amarillo in the latter part of July. None of us had ever been to that city, and I wanted to see if the high altitude, 4500 feet, might help a persistent cough that had been bothering my mother. (3-382)

From these descriptions plus the aspiration treatments she underwent, (Part 2 “Tuberculosis Operations”) it is probable Hester Jane Ervin Howard contracted pulmonary tuberculosis—a type of TB that “was chronic and even intermittent, with seemingly miraculous remissions and startling improvements followed by terrible relapses.” (Dormandy 22)

The bacterial cause of tuberculosis was discovered by Robert Koch in 1882 who found that it grew and divided much slower than normal bacteria. (Ryan 16) Koch had shown that the tubercle bacillus was a strict aerobe: it could survive but not grow and multiply without a generous supply of oxygen. (Dormandy 221)

After Koch’s discovery the “diagnosis now depended on the presence of the tubercule bacillus in the sputum, not the hollowness of the cough or the loss of weight.” (Rothman 17)

Hester’s diagnosis would have been confirmed by medical tests. No records of any such tests have been discovered. The only written confirmation of her diagnosis is in her death certificate (See right hand column about half way down.) It reads: “chronic ulcerative tuberculosis anemia”

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Note: that the term “senility” on her death certificate was used in that era to designate old age rather than lucidity. It appeared often on death certificates of elder persons.

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In 1936, regular readers of Weird Tales must have thought Robert E. Howard was having a good year. In the first seven months, Howard had serials or stories in six issues, of which two were voted the best story in their issues, and in July he had the cover, illustrated by Margaret Brundage. Even in May, when Howard didn’t have any stories in the issue, the Eyrie was filled with praise and criticism for the conclusion to Howard’s long serial-novel, The Hour of the Dragon. The announcement of his suicide the next month came as a shock, as shown by the outpouring of memorials and remembrances from his fellow pulpsters and fans. Yet behind the scenes, all was not well between Robert E. Howard and Weird Tales.

wrights_shakespeare_library_1935_n1Never a large operation, the Great Depression had taken its toll on the Unique Magazine. The bank that Weird Tales used reportedly closed and never reopened. (WTS 85) Various ventures failed to turn a profit: The Moon Terror (1927), an anthology, didn’t sell through until the 1940s; an effort at radio dramatizations ceased in 1930; a new weird pulp, Strange Stories, never materialized; Oriental Stories (later The Magic Carpet Magazine) did, but the oriental tales ended in 1934, taking with them another market for Robert E. Howard, and “Wright’s Shakespeare Library” (illustrated by Virgil Finlay) of 1935 likewise didn’t pan out. Writers were offered 1¢ per word—double the standard pulp rate—to be paid on publication; as was common at the time, the publisher usually retained all copyrights on the story, unless the writer specified “North American serial rights” only. However, by 1935 the magazine was badly behind on its payments to certain authors, most notably Robert E. Howard, and had been for some time.

The Howards too were hard-hit by the Depression. As a country doctor where cash was scarce, Dr. I. M. Howard was often forced to accept barter for his services. (CL2.450, 3.307) In 1932, Fiction House, publisher of Fight Stories and Action Stories suspended publication—this ultimately caused Robert E. Howard to acquire an agent, Otis Adelbert Kline, who broke Howard into new markets for a commission, though Howard kept Weird Tales as a market he had built up himself. (CL3.404) Some of these ventures, like the adventures of Breckinridge Elkins in Action Stories, proved a success. Others, like the Conan the Cimmerian novel The Hour of the Dragon, written for British publisher Denis Archer, didn’t pan out, and Howard eventually sold the 70,000-word novel to Weird Tales in December 1934 or January 1935, to be serialized in 1936. (CL3.255, 302)

Dr. HowardBetween January and May of 1935, matters came to a head. Weird Tales owed Howard $860 for stories published; unable or unwilling to pay the whole amount on publication, the company had settled on sending “half-checks” every month—these would, from notes on payments received that Dr. Howard kept in a ledger, appear to be half-payments for stories (i.e. if a story sold for $150, a half-check would be $75) (CLIMH358-373, CL3.306). The Howards depended on the steady income for medical expenses. Hester Jane Howard, long suffering from tuberculosis and associated illness, required surgery to remove her gall-bladder and reduce adhesions from an appendicitis operation, and the wound later developed an abscess; being far from major cities and hospitals, these operations required lengthy trips and stays away from Cross Plains. (CL3.306, 309) At a time when the Howards needed it most, Weird Tales missed a payment.

In May of 1935, Robert E. Howard sent a letter to Farnsworth Wright begging for money. (CL3.306-308) There was no reply, and in desperation Howard sent a letter to his agent, asking “Is Weird Tales still a legitimate publication, or has it become a racket?” (CL3.309)

It was a fair question; other pulps had treated their writers as badly or worse, with Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories having a particularly poor reputation in the circle of Weird Tales correspondents, and Howard was far from the only writer for Weird Tales in a similar predicament. E. Hoffman Price noted of his own situation:

It is only fair that the most W.T. owed me at any time was never in excess of $300. This peak was achieved only because of a two-parter, and a short. They were not favoring me. When their indebtedness reached a certain point, they got no more scripts from me. My production went to cash customers. Belatedly, Howard, on his own initiative, adopted the same approach. (BOTD 72)

Other writers also noted that backlog of payments got so bad that some payments were made more than a year after publication. (CLIMH 178)

At the time, the staff at Weird Tales consisted of William Sprenger, the business manager; B. Cornelius, the printer, majority shareholder, and treasurer; and Farnsworth Wright, the editor who did everything else, from art layout to writing ad copy. Of the three, Howard had direct dealings with both Wright and Sprenger (though none of the latter’s letters survive), and it is likely that Sprenger made the ultimate decision as to whom would be paid and how much; certainly he signed some of the checks. (CLIMH 79) After Robert E. Howard’s death, Wright responded to Dr. Howard’s criticism of their business:

I must correct the impression that I or anyone else connected with Weird Tales “put in our pockets” the money that was due your son during the period when Weird Tales was in the throes of the depression. Fact is, I often did not know from one month to the other whether I would receive any money at all from the magazine; and I often received nothing (a serious condition, with my wife and son Robert to take care of); and it has been years since I received more than a fraction of the salary I used to get. […] Your son understood this state of affairs with the magazine, for both Mr. Sprenger and I explained it to him in our letters. (CLIMH 103-104)

The rumors that Wright went without a salary added something to the myth of Weird Tales in later decades, though E. Hoffmann Price, who visited Wright and the WT office in Chicago, poo-pooed the idea, and later even claimed:

A good many years after this dialog, I learned from an employee of the bank which had handled W.T. funds from the beginning and on until another outfit bought the magazine, that the publisher had money by the ream. The outfit had always pleaded poverty, and had found the “Great Depression” a handy device to exploit writers who could not, or fancied that they could not write salable yarns for any other than W. T. (BOTD 72)

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I was digging through some old REHupa mailings the other day and noticed something that might be of interest. Back in 2010, one of the side trips I took on the way to Howard Days was a little excursion to Marlin, in Falls County, Texas. Robert E. Howard spent lots of time in Marlin on multiple occasions. His May 9, 1931 letter to Clyde Smith is addressed from Marlin, as is the earliest letter we have of Howard’s. At the end of that June 8, 1923 letter, Howard tells Smith, “A letter addressed Robert E. Howard, 508 Coleman Street, Marlin will reach me or should, also one addressed Ali Akbar, 508 Coleman Street Marlin, Texas, should reach me.”

The big draw back then was the town’s natural hot springs. What could be better for Hester Howard’s tuberculosis than the healing waters at Marlin? The Howards were apparently such frequent visitors at the Torbett Sanatorium (above) that Bob became friends with Doctor Torbett’s nephew, Thurston. Thurston’s mother even wrote a letter to Strange Tales’ editor Harry Bates praising Howard’s work. Anyway, my main goal in 2010 was to find out about this 508 Coleman address. I had heard that it was the address for the Torbett Sanatorium, but that turned out not to be the case.

Just past the downtown area, on the north side of Coleman Street, are some pretty old houses—two-story affairs, most in need of some paint, and all with impressive trees and shrubbery growing in abundance. This is an old neighborhood. The homes on the south side are equally old and shaded by greenery, but these houses are much smaller, boxy little bungalows. The one pictured below has 508 above the door. [CORRECTION: A previous version of this post said “208” here. That was a typo. It’s 508.]

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That certainly isn’t the Torbett Sanatorium. But what would the Howard’s be doing in a little place like that? Just down the street, back toward town, the “Marlin Health Spa Apartments” provided the answer.

Modern visitors rent those apartments on the cheap to be near family members in the nearby hospital. They are more “homey” than a hotel room and come with small kitchens and laundry facilities. This is no doubt what 508 Coleman Street was in 1923: a convenient rental for families wanting to spend time in the healing waters.

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After my trip, I found a bunch of postcards for Marlin somewhere online. One of them was for the “Buie Clinic and Marlin Sanatarium Bath House.” The postcard was stamped on July 17, 1929. The inscription on the back reads as follows:

Dear Birdie and Family,
We left Houston last Friday morning at 6 a.m. arrived here 1 p.m. I like this place fine. John drinks lots of the water and is taking the baths every day. We came here in our car and the country here is beautiful. Our address is Mrs. [Something], 508 Coleman, Marlin, Tex.

That’s right, 508 Coleman. This appears to confirm that back in the 1920s, 508 Coleman was a place for short stays in Marlin, and provides another touchstone for the obsessed Robert E. Howard fan.

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1919 Lesta

Last winter my dad and I drove to Texas for the gazillionth time. One of our stops was at Coke County, where the Howard family lived in 1908-09 in the little town of Bronte. Besides hunting for the Howards, I was also looking for Ervins—Hester Howard’s brother, William Vinson Ervin, to be specific. So we spent some time at the county seat, a town named Robert Lee.

W. V. Ervin is perhaps best known, when he is remembered at all, as the father of Robert Howard’s cousins Maxine and Lesta (image above from the 1919 El Rodeo, the Big Spring High School yearbook). W. V. appears to have been a big shot in the town of Big Spring, over in Howard County, where he located with his family in 1898 and where the Howards visited in 1908. But before Ervin settled there, he was all over the place: Albany, Ferris, Lampasas, and—of all places—Robert Lee in Coke County.

I already knew that our man had lived in the county because of a transcription I’d found on a genealogy website. According to the transcript, a “W. V. Ervin” was named as claimant on a “Tabulor Statement of Indebtedness” ($45) dated February 8, 1892, claim #84 in Minutes of Accounts Allowed, Volume 1. Also transcribed were parts of Marriage Book 1, 1890-1900 which has Ervin marrying Miss Ida Ezzell, though no date is mentioned (but based on the dates before and after, the marriage should have been late in 1891). So, as long as we were going to the Robert Lee courthouse, a little extra digging for Ervins wouldn’t hurt.

And, if you’ve been paying attention to this here blog, you may recall a series of posts by Patrice Louinet entitled “Long Road to Dark Valley.” In part 4 of that series, Patrice added a few nuggets to my knowledge and a name to my list of inquiries: Ezzell. Here’s the relevant passage:

On December 8, 1891, [Hester’s] younger brother William Vinson married Ida Ezzell in Coke County. She was the daughter of Samuel R. Ezzell (1834-1910), a preacher and newspaper publisher. Relocating to Ferris, Ellis County, William V. launched his own career as a publisher, buying the local newspaper, the Ferris Sentinel, in 1893. He sold his share in 1898 to move to Big Spring, Howard County, where he began publication of the Big Spring Enterprise. He would remain a newspaperman until his death in 1927.

This information is background to Patrice’s primary aim in that post, the revelation that W. V.’s business partner in Ferris, the son of Samuel Ezzell, was most likely the man that Hester Howard was in love with and wished she had married instead of Dr. Howard (this according to Cross Cut native Annie Newton Davis’s 1978 interview with de Camp). So, while in Coke I should probably look for Ezzells, too.

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While there is not much left of Robert Lee, it does have a Ford dealership (or maybe it was Chevrolet), a tiny library, and a café—and the county courthouse, of course. We spent some time at all of those places. First stop was the library. As is typical of most of the small town libraries I’ve been to in Texas, the librarian was very friendly and wanted to be helpful; unfortunately, my area of interest is pretty narrow. After quickly exhausting the scant genealogical materials she had, we looked into the county histories. One of them, in an essay about the county newspaper, added a bit of information:

The first issues were called The Coke County Democrat, of tabloid size, four columns and consisted of four pages. Warren and Edgar were the first publishers followed by Warren and Matthews. A short time later, it was Brady and Shores, then J. S. Brady bought Shores’ interest. The paper changed publishers and editors often in the early years. Brady moved the plant to Robert Lee when the county seat was moved from Hayrick and the paper was renamed The Coke County Rustler. The dateline was May 9, 1891 with Brady and W. V. Ervin as proprietors.

That nugget, from a book simply entitled Coke County and put together by the Coke County Book Committee in 1984, led us to another book, From the Top of Old Hayrick: A Narrative History of Coke County, compiled and written by Jewell G Pritchett (which we found later at the Midland library), and which added an Ezzell wrinkle:

The first paper was called The Democrat, but it was soon changed to Coke County Rustler. The Coke County Rustler was a predecessor to the Robert Lee Observer, and the issue of April 4, 1891, was published with Hayrick, Texas, as dateline, S. R. Ezell [sic.], Editor and Publisher. One month later, May 9, 1891, it was published with Robert Lee, Texas dateline, with J. S. Brady and W. V. Ervin as publishers.

So W. V. “launched” his newspaper career a bit earlier than we had thought. And over at the courthouse, we learned that W. V. had also tried to make money the way his father had, with land.

1891 Marriage 1

Besides Doc Howard’s medical registration, I also got copies of W. V. Ervin’s marriage record (click above) and several land deals, all in the town of Robert Lee. S. R. Ezzell made a couple of land purchases in Coke County, too (March 18 and December 17, 1891), but I didn’t pull the records. Anyway, in chronological order, here’s what I’ve got for W. V. Ervin in Coke County:

1891 May 9, publisher of Robert Lee Observer.
1891 Dec. 8, marriage to Ida Ezzell recorded.
1892 Jan. 30, purchased lot 5 in block 73, town of Robert Lee, for $75.
1892 Feb. 8, named as claimant on a “Tabulor Statement of Indebtedness,” $45.
1892 Dec. 13, sold lot 5 in block 73 for $25.
1893 Oct. 12, purchases the Ferris Sentinel, presumably he has left Coke County.
1894 June 16, R.T. Ervin (W. V.’s brother), of Wharton Co., sells W.V. Ervin, of Lampasas, for $500, lot 13 in town of Robert Lee, Coke Co. (filed for record July 14).
1894 Sept. 15, W. V., of Ellis Co., sells Samary Ezzell, of Lampasas Co., lot 7 in block 13 of town of Robert Lee, Coke Co., for $500. (filed for record Sept. 24).
1896 Feb. 7, Samary Ezzell of McLennan Co. sells W. V. Ervin of Ellis Co. lot 7 in block 13, town of Robert Lee, Coke Co., for $500.
1896 April 7, W. V. of Ellis Co. sells Mrs. G. E. Webb of Coke Co. lot 7 in block 13, town of Robert Lee, Coke Co. for $125.

In a May 1, 1897 announcement in the Ferris Wheel (formerly the Ferris Sentinel) readers learned that “the partnership heretofore existing between the undersigned has been dissolved, Frank Ezzell having bought the interest of W. V. Ervin and will continue the publication of the paper,” though “Ervin & Ezzell, proprietors” continued to appear in the paper for months afterwards.

By March 1898, he had set up a new publishing venture in Shackelford County, the Albany Enterprise. This endeavor, however, didn’t last the year. On September 16, 1898, The Albany News reported that “W. V. Ervin packed the Enterprise plant and left last Friday morning for ‘greener’ fields.” On September 30, the News reported the first issue of the Enterprise out of Big Spring. The November 12, 1898 Ferris Wheel ran the following:

1898 11-12 Ferris Wheel

The December 3, 1898 edition of the Ferris Wheel has this item: “The Cake [sic.] County Rustler has this to say about our former partner and his paper: ‘Col. W. V. Ervin, once owner of this paper, [publishes] one the best weeklies on the Texas & Pacific.’”

Now settled in Big Spring, the Ervins had three more children: daughters Lesta (1902) and Maxine (1906), and a son, Frank Wynton (1903), who only lived two and a half years. And it is there in Big Spring that W. V. Ervin would live out the rest of his days, perhaps.

Amarillo

Continuing north, the Howards reach Amarillo as Howard relates the journey in a letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated December 5, 1935:

We got to Amarillo well before sunset, having driven nearly 400 miles since morning. My mother had not regained her strength from her operation, but she stood the trip remarkably well. Amarillo is a town of some 43,000 people, and extremely modern and up-to-date, though somehow it doesn’t seem like a typical Texas town. It had a remarkable growth, springing from a small village to about its present size in just a few years. It spreads over an amazing territory, but, like most West Texas towns which have grown up since the beginning of the machine age, it has broad, straight streets, easy to drive on, and is very clean in appearance. It may some day be the biggest city in the State, if the Great Plains are ever developed as they should be. With its close proximity to the “Bread Belt of the Nation” it has great possibilities as an industrial center.

Howard gives a pretty good description of Amarillo, however the actual altitude is 3,600 feet, not the 4,500 feet Howard mentions elsewhere in his letter. A minor point — I am not sure the health benefits, if any, would be affected by the difference.

sanbornhouseActually Amarillo was founded twice. First in April 1887 by J. T. Berry, who named it Oneida. Then a year later, Henry B. Sanborn,  the Texas sales agent for barbed wire, and his partner Joseph Glidden bought up thousands of acres of land a mile east of Oneida and created a new town they named Amarillo, and Sanborn became the “Father of Amarillo.” Sanborn was savvy enough to realize the original town site was built on low ground and would be predisposed to flooding during torrential rainstorms that were common in the area. Sure enough, in 1889 heavy rains almost flooded the original town site out of existence and motivated many residents to move to Sanborn’s new location. Around 1890 the railroads came to the town. By the late 1890s Amarillo had become one of the world’s largest cattle shipping points and the population grew larger as more and more jobs were created. Amarillians also proclaimed they were the helium capital of the world for having one of the country’s most productive helium fields. Amarillo’s economy continues to thrive on cattle along with agriculture, oil and natural gas. Little wonder it is the largest city in the Texas Panhandle.

There was an odd incident in Amarillo three years before Howard’s visit involving an inmate in the county jail that might be the first instance of a suicide vest being denoted. The man’s name was A.D. Payne, a prominent attorney in Amarillo. Here is an account of the incident from the Amarillo Sunday News-Globe, August 31, 1930:

A.D. Payne of Amarillo, accused of murder in a June 27 car bombing that killed his wife and injured his 11-year-old son, blasted his chest out with “some kind of infernal machine” while housed in the Hutchinson County jail. Payne had most of his cell mates move to another cell before he committed suicide with a self-inflicted blast. Payne was believed to have smuggled nitroglycerin into the jail.

Payne had plead insanity in the killing of his wife, partly because of financial problems and an extramarital affair. But he never got his day in court, instead choosing to go out with a bang.

During the time the Howards took their trip, Amarillo was a favorite tourist destination with its easy access by being the location were highways of 60, 66, 87 and 287 merged. This hub of highways made Amarillo a major tourist stop. The city had a number of hotels, tourist camps, motels, restaurants and souviner shops. But as the depths of the Great Depression set in, the city — like the rest of the country — suffered economically.

Canadian RiverEarly the following morning, the Howards rose early and took a drive out to the Canadian River to have a look what Howard described as “…a treacherous, turbulent river, running through shallow, rugged canyons. In some places dry canyons parallel the main bed, cut out by overflows, or caused by the river changing its course.” They then drove the 25 miles back to Amarillo for breakfast before driving southward back toward Cross Plains.

I doubt if just spending one night in the higher altitude of Amarillo would provide any therapeutic relief for Hester — a longer stay might have — but the trip did allow the family some stress free time together. It was a brief respite from the dark days ahead for the Howards.

Read Part One, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five