Archive for the 'Howard’s Travels' Category

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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.

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[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.)

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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.

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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

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Maybe, in the heat of evening, comes a wind from Mexico,
Laden with the heat of seven Hells,
And the rattler in the yucca and the buzzard dark and slow
Hear and understand the grisly tales it tells.

– Robert E. Howard, “The Grim Land” (AMTF1.178; CL2.218-219)

From 1930 until his death, H. P. Lovecraft fiction bears no mention of Spain or Hispanic peoples, aside from a very brief note on the pre-Columbian cultures of Central and South America in “Out of the Aeons,” which Lovecraft had ghostwritten for Hazel Heald:

Von Junzt implied its presence in the fabled subterrene kingdom of K’n-yan, and gave clear evidence that it had penetrated Egypt, Chaldaea, Persia, China, the forgotten Semite empires of Africa, and Mexico and Peru in the New World.

The mention to K’n-yan is reference to the Spanish narrative in Lovecraft’s “The Mound,” ghostwritten for Zealia Brown Reed Bishop in 1930, but which failed to find a publisher in the pulps. It is unclear if Lovecraft ever sent Robert E. Howard a copy of the manuscript for that story; though Lovecraft hinted at it. (AMTF1.41) Certainly it would not have been unusual for Lovecraft to have passed around the manuscript to his friends, or even the typescript that R. H. Barlow prepared in 1934—but if that is the case, there is no record of it.

The interest in Lovecraft’s “The Mound,” and whether or not Howard read it, is in part due to parallels with two of Robert E. Howard’s own stories written after they began corresponding, “The Horror from the Mound” (1932) and the unfinished “The Valley of the Lost” (“Secret of Lost Valley”). The Texan’s output after his correspondence with the Gent from Providence is notable for taking a Lovecraftian turn, whence came the prototypical Cthulhu Mythos stories including “The Black Stone” (1931) and “The Thing on the Roof” (1932); a story or two generally inspired by one of Lovecraft’s yarns would not have been out of the question.

P1050070“The Valley of the Lost” (“Secret of Lost Valley”) lacks the form of “The Mound”—lacks even a mound, as the entrance to a subterranean world is a cave in the eponymous valley. Yet it does have an intrepid explorer, descending into a netherworld where a strange, sorcerous race yet dwells, reanimating the bodies of the dead to serve them, just as the people of K’n-yan did. The Old Ones of Howard’s tale bare a close similarity to those in “Worms of the Earth” (1932) and Howard’s other “Little People” tales, which suggests that the story was written around the same time.

For all that, besides the name “The Horror from the Mound” bears little obvious influence. The mound in question is obviously much smaller than the one in Lovecraft’s Oklahoma, and holds a very different and almost prosaic kind of horror: a Spanish vampire. There is a narrative similarity in that protagonists in both Howard and Lovecraft’s tale uncover a narrative, written in Howard’s case by the poor Mexican farmer Juan Lopez, providing a history for the secret of the mound that dates back to the days of the Conquistadors—indeed, both going back to Coronado’s fruitless march north looking for the golden city of Cíbola. There, the similarities end.

Coronado is mentioned in two more of Howard’s unfinished tales, “Nekht Semerkhet” and “The Thunder-Rider.” Both feature ancient wizards and strange people with terrible powers that lived north of the Aztec empire at the time of the European conquest, with reference to both Aztecs and Spanish. In outline, they bear a gross similarity to some of Howard’s Conan tales, notably “Red Nails” (1936). “Nekht Semerkhet” indeed features one of Coronado’s hidalgos, Hernando de Guzman, who is decidedly more worldly and sanguine than Lovecraft’s polyglot Pánfilo de Zamacona:

Spanish blood was no more sacred than the blood of other races; blood was only blood, and he had seen oceans of it spilled: Spanish blood, English blood, Huguenot blood, Inca blood, Aztec blood – the royal blood of Montezuma ripping from the parapets of Tenochtitlan – blood running ankle-deep in the plaza of Cajamarca, about the frantic feet of doomed Atahualpa.

The idea of an ancient precursors to contemporary peoples, even or particularly alien populations with strange powers and degenerate descendants surviving in out-of-the-way places was not uncommon in Howard’s weird fiction, and it formed an alliance of theme with some of Lovecraft’s stories. So in “The Black Stone” (1931) there is a reference to a monument in the Yucatan, and especially in “The Thing on the Roof” (1932):

It is a very curious temple, no more like the ruins of the prehistoric Indians than it is like the buildings of the modern Latin-Americans. The Indians in the vicinity disclaim any former connections with the place; they say that the people who built that temple were a different race from themselves, and were there when their own ancestors came into the country. I believe it to be a remnant of some long-vanished civilization which began to decay thousands of years before the Spaniards came.

Other half-forgotten temples and civilizations would be encountered in Howard’s fiction. In “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” (1931), the Irish adventurer Turlogh Dubh O’Brien would be saved from one by a Spanish captain, Don Roderigo del Cortez of Castile, sailing against Moorish corsairs. Yet another occurred in “The Isle of Pirate’s Doom,” and a third in “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance,” the pirate Black Vulmea, scourge of Spaniards in the era of buccaneers, comes across a forgotten temple where it is claimed a great treasure is hidden—and in the sequel, “Swords of the Red Brotherhood” (originally a Conan tale, “The Black Stranger”), Vulmea searches for the lost jewels of Montezuma, which Cortez supposedly failed to loot.

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However, we saw the town, and it’s worth seeing alright, especially to anyone not familiar with Spanish style architecture. It’s much like towns I have visited in old Mexico, with the exception that it is much cleaner and neater. In cleanliness it compares with any town I ever saw. The native population is, of course, predominantly Mexican. Or as they call them out there, Spanish-Americans. You or I would be Anglo-Americans according to their way of putting it. Spanish-American, hell. A Mexican is a Mexican to me, wherever I find him, and I don’t consider it necessary for me to hang any prefix on the term “American” when referring to myself.

– Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, July 1935 (AMTF2.872; CL3.352-353)

The summer of 1935 saw Robert E. Howard and his friend Truett Vinson driving through New Mexico, and in his lengthy letter to Lovecraft describing the journey, he took especial interest in the difference exhibited by the Hispanic populations in New Mexico, Old Mexico, and Texas:

The town itself is interesting enough in a conventional sort of way, and I may have said, much resembles the towns of Old Mexico, but is cleaner, and more law-abiding. It doesn’t have, for instance, or at least we didn’t see any of those dives so popular in Mexican border towns, where naked prostitutes of both sexes and various Latin races first dance before the customers, then copulate with each other, and then indulge in various revolting perversions for the entertainment of the crowd, which is generally made up of tourists.

The State seems predominantly Catholic and Mexican. We went into the capitol and I made a point of counting the Mexican names among the legislators. The legislature wasn’t in session at the moment, but each man’s name was fastened to his desk on a placard. The majority were Mexican. Chavez, Otero, Bacca, Roybal, especially Chavez, are the names which appear most frequently in the population. There seem to be as many Chavez’s in New Mexico as there are Gonzaleses in South Texas. I might also add that the State capitol looks about as big as a good-sized Texas county-courthouse. Speaking in general, the Mexican population of New Mexico seems much further advanced, more prosperous and better educated than the Mexican population of Texas and Oklahoma. There are plenty of school-houses, and the Mexicans we saw seemed quicker, more intelligent in general than those in my own State. I admit it seemed strange to me to see Mexicans being treated on the same footing as white people. You can certainly tell the difference in the bearing of Mexicans, Indians, negroes and other dark races the instant you cross the Texas line. Texas, whatever its virtues or faults, is a white man’s state, and that fact is reflected in the manner of the non-white races. They know their place. (AMTF2.875; CL3.356-357)

This examination of a new Hispanic population prompted Lovecraft to ask questions and offer his own experiences of different Hispanic groups he had encountered in Florida:

Your observations on New Mexico as a whole are extremely interesting—revealing an environment in some respects absolutely unique. I suppose that nowhere else in the United States is the Spanish-speaking element so numerous. In Florida a great many of the St. Augustine families linger on—Sanchez, Ponce, Segui, Usina, etc.—but they are without exception English-speaking…although still Catholic in religion. In the end, the New Mexican Spanish-speakers will probably be Anglicised—such being the general trend whenever a foreign region is incorporated into the continuous fabric of an Anglo-Saxon land. It was so in Florida—and has proved so with the French in Louisiana. […] Puerto Rico stays Spanish partly from such patriotic resistance and partly because its unsettled territorial status and West Indian insularity hinder the natural. By the way—is New Mexico legally bi-lingual as Quebec is—so that legal notices, official signs, etc. have to be in both English and Spanish[?] […] Regarding the Spanish-speaking population of New Mexico—isn’t it a fact that the better elements of it are really different from the low-grade ¾ Indian peon stock usually known as Mexican? I had an idea that the high-grade population of the Spanish Southwest—N. M.—Arizona—California—was pretty surely European in blood, and that in New Mexico it has survived without much change. That would surely create an element vastly different from the greasy peon stock—a group of solid middle-class Spaniards well-born and well-descended, and just as racially Aryan, though in a Latin way, as we are. Such a population could hardly mix much with the typical Mexicans. As you know—the newly appointed U.S. Senator from N.M. is a Chavez. Am I wrong in this impression? I’ll admit that I haven’t any specific documentary evidence to back it up—but I merely picked up the notion somehow. I may remark that the Spanish of St. Augustine come most emphatically under this head. They are all pure European white—no mixture of any sort having affected them. They are now, of course, freely intermarrying with the Anglo-Americans—have been, indeed, since the advent of U.S. rule in 1819. Florida is as much a white man’s state as Texas—with a rigid colour-line against niggers, and with the tribal, swamp-dwelling Seminoles utterly separate—but the ancient Genevors and Garcias and Menendez’s of St. Augustine are so proudly and obviously pure white that no one begrudges them a place on the right side of the line. This perfect equality does not, however, hold good for their fellow-Spaniards from Cuba, who are beginning to immigrate into southern Florida. Except in Key West, which was always half-Cuban, the Spaniard from the West Indies occupies about the same place that the omnipresent Italian occupies in the north. He uses the white man’s compartments in stations, coaches, etc., but is definitely regarded as a foreigner. The Cuban negro and mulatto, of course, is segregated with other blacks. Just now Miami is worried about its growing Cuban colony. It used to be extremely Anglo-Saxon; but as Cuba gets more turbulent and Key West gets more poverty-stricken, more and more Cubans flock to the South Florida metropolis. Tampa has an enormous Cuban quarter (very quaint—I’ve explored it) called Ybor City. (AMTF2.888-889)

Lovecraft was more prone than Howard to use the somewhat outdated terms mestizo and mulatto (and even more archaic terms like quadroon in some letters), and neither word appears in any of his surviving letters, though mulatto appears in Howard’s unfinished tales “The Last War” and “The Hand of Obeah.” For that matter, Howard only uses the term “colored” once in his letters, in an early epistle to Lovecraft (AMTF1.44; CL2.76), though that would have been a popular and accepted term during the 1930s to refer to any and all persons not considered “white.” The distinction, in terms of the Hispanic populations of Florida and the Southwest, at least as far as Lovecraft saw it, was in terms of assimilation: he held the belief that white Europeans of different nationalities could, by denying their own culture and accepting American culture, be assimilated as Americans. The “Anglicisation” of the Spanish families in St. Augustine, in adopting English and American customs, was seen by Lovecraft of proof of this belief. Howard replied:

You are probably right in assuming that the Latin population of New Mexico will eventually be Anglicized. But it will be a slow process, for migration into the State is comparatively sparse, and probably more than balanced by the drift of Latins from Mexico. To the best of my knowledge New Mexico is legally bi-lingual, though all the highway signs I remember seeing were in English. As for that matter, you could say the same for San Antonio, as far [as] the store signs are concerned. You ask concerning the different classes of Latin New Mexicans. Of course, I wasn’t there long enough, and didn’t see enough of New Mexican society to make any positive statements about conditions. But the higher class New Mexicans are undoubtedly of a purer and superior stock than the ordinary peons—more Spanish blood and less Indians. But I doubt (though I can’t swear to it) if the upper classes in New Mexico are as purely Spanish as those of Florida. It must be remembered that New Mexico was colonized, not directly from Spain, but from Old Mexico, where an intermingling with Aztec strains had already been going on for some years; that for many years New Mexico was an isolated region with little chance of contact with other European colonies; and that the region’s native Indians were peaceful and semi-civilized, offering no great barrier to the mixing of their race with the conquerors. I have an idea that the Spaniards of early New Mexico mixed a great deal more with the Indians than did those of Florida. However, there is probably a strong Anglo-Saxon strain in many of the better families, for in the early days of American rule, a good many Americans settled there, first as traders and trappers, later as soldiers and cattlemen, and married Mexican women. By the way, the first European colony in Texas, Ysleta, was settled by people from Santa Fe, fleeing an Indian revolt in 1680. (AMTF2.900-901; CL3.381-382)

In a following letter, discussing the ethics and moralities of the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (with its parallels to the European conquest of the Americas), Lovecraft perhaps unknowingly tied in this notion of assimilation and cultural autonomy—the idea that different national cultures, which were in part dependent on race, should maintain themselves apart without mixing—with Howard’s old fantasy of the conquest of Mexico:

As a whole, Mexico has enough of an established Hispanic civilisation to win it a place in the instinctively favoured category, but that is not true of all its parts. When at various times the U.S. took sections of its southern neighbour, these sections were among the least settled and civilised—hence the gradual Americanisation. But if we were to conquer the entire country in some future war, it seems certain that the intensively developed central area containing the capital would be granted a cultural autonomy like that enjoyed by Puerto Rico. (AMTF2.930)

It is perhaps fitting that in this letter, which is essentially the last word on the subject in Howard and Lovecraft’s correspondence due to Robert E. Howard’s suicide soon after, Lovecraft for the first and only time in these letters uses the word “Hispanic” to describe the peoples they had been discussing, off and on, since 1930.

Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

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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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Weird-Tales-July-August-September-and-October-1936-issues565

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two-Gun Howard and the Western Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purchase of Burns Book and How Howard Used It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comparison Chart

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

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

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

 Historical Corrections and Burns’ Book

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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2010-06 Texas 178

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.

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In a letter to Harold Preece, written in August of 1928, shortly after Preece had taken up residence in Waco, Howard mentions one of his sources for books:

Waco’s a Hell of a town, isn’t it? Likely you’ve discovered Von Blon’s bookstore already. The Prussian has some good books sometimes.

The photo above was taken by Gary Romeo for his excellent essay “In Search of Cimmeria.” Romeo travelled Texas in Howard’s footsteps some years back and had this to say about Von Blon’s:

Waco was also the home of a popular area bookstore, Von Blon’s. REH is known to have purchased several books there. The store was located at 416 Franklin Street.  Today a music store fills the building. There was a devastating tornado that hit Waco in 1953. Several of the downtown area businesses were destroyed. Franklin Street was relatively unscathed; and of course, the Alico Building survived, although it swayed as much as 6 feet during the tornado.

Back in Howard’s day, the Von Blon Bookstore was an important place in the college town of Waco. Both public school and Baylor College students, along with facility members, depended on von Blon’s as a source for school books and research materials. The bookstore sold new, used and rare books, along with school supplies such as Crayons, paper, pencils, etc. Additionally, von Blon, was quite skilled at tracking down rare books requested by his customers. In those days, Texas did not provide any textbooks to schools, so all students had to provide their own. Of course, more traditional books and periodicals of interest to the general public could be found at Von Blon’s as well.

provdtThe original Von Blon’s operated from 1916 to 1938. His first bookstore was in the basement of the old Provident Building, which was previously known as the Peerless Building. Then he moved to 413 Franklin and operated there for a period of time. Next von Blon moved his business across the street to 416 Franklin, and later moved the bookstore a couple of doors down to 408 Franklin. Von Blon always wanted to open his store on Austin Avenue (the main drag in Waco in those days), but it was just too costly for him to do so.

Avery Festus von Blon, Sr. was born in Upper Sandusky, Ohio on November 8, 1888. Around 1914, von Blon moved from Ohio to San Antonio. He was working as a switchman for a railroad when he met his wife to be, Lena Janek. The two married in 1916 and after a short honeymoon, the pair moved to Waco where von Blon began his career as a bookseller.

Prior to marrying von Blon, Lena lived with and worked for the Moos family, who owned and operated the H. A. Moos bookstore on Commerce Street in San Antonio. The Moos, gave the von Blons some books to get them started and they brought the merchandise with them to Waco.

In the early days of the bookstore, von Blon needed extra income and worked as a switchman for the Katy Railroad and later for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad. Von Blon and his wife ran the bookstore themselves, occasionally hiring someone to help out during busy seasons.

The couple soon started a family, with Lena giving birth to three sons. Their first son, Avery Festus von Blon, Jr. was born on September 15, 1918, followed by Henry Moss, born on April 25, 1920 and John Herman, born on June 26, 1923. Sadly, Henry, the middle son was born with an autoimmune disease and died on February 15, 1924.

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Von Blon’s bookstore was not the only bookstore in Waco. During the early to mid-thirties the city had a larger population than Austin. His competitors included Norman H. Smith who operated a store located on Austin Avenue that stocked mainly stationary and office supplies, but also carried textbooks, Ida Rand ran a bookshop on South Fourth Street, the Hill Printing and Stationery Company operated a rental library and there were other bookstores in town as well.

As was the case with everyone else in the country, The Great Depression took its toll on the von Blon family business. In 1938 he filed for bankruptcy and closed the bookstore, which was then back in the Provident Building, its original 1916 location. Reportedly, von Blon took the loss of his bookstore pretty hard.

Von Blon and his wife returned to the book business in the  early 1940s, moving to San Antonio and operating a used bookshop at several locations, first on La Salle Street and later moving to St. Mary’s Street.

On September 30, 1953 von Blon succumbed to aplastic anemia. He was 64 years old. His wife Lena moved back to Waco around 1957 and lived there until 1996 when she passed away at age 103. The von Blons are buried side by side in Waco’s Rosemound Cemetery.

Von Blon

This entry filed under Harold Preece, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.

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In the letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated December 5, 1935, Howard gives his friend the rundown on the last leg of The Panhandle Trip and provides some background on one of the many places he lived before the family settled in Cross Plains:

Next morning we turned south, a hundred or so miles to San Angelo, traversing a rugged and rather barren country I hadn’t visited since we lived in that region, more than twenty years ago. We passed through Bronte, where we were living when the Orient railroad came through there, and which I, at least, hadn’t seen since we moved away. It was named for the noted author, when founded by a colony of English, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but they starved out or were absorbed by the hard-bitten native settlers, who shortened the pronunciation to one syllable. We ate breakfast in San Angelo, which is about 105 miles from Cross Plains, and reached home shortly after noon, having driven nearly 1000 miles in about three days.

railroad_(Medium)_YU8IOThe Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway was completed through the area in 1907, though reportedly the first train did not run until 1909. I.M. Howard’s listing in the 1909 American Medical Directory gives his residence as Bronte. TGR blogger Rob Roehm and his dad are always on the hunt for bread-crumb trails left by the Howards as they moved around Texas during their “wandering years” while Howard was still a small boy. A visit by Rob and his dad to the Coke County Courthouse is recorded here.

Located in east central Coke County, Bronte was founded in the late 1880s and as Howard notes above, the town was named for the English novelist Charlotte Bronte. It all began when Cattle baron J.B. McCutchen drove a herd of cattle into the area from Santa Anna in 1889. Soon other hardy settlers followed, including Dr. W. F. Key, who actually founded the town. The town’s first buildings were built with lumber which was brought in on wagons from Ballinger.  Early on the town had two names before Bronte was selected — Oso and Bronco. However, the the post office nixed Bronco to avoid confusion with another town. By 1890 Bronte had a post office, two churches and a school. Its population was 213 in 1900. In conjunction with the completion of the railroad tracks in 1907, Bronte was moved a mile to be near the track so it could become a shipping point on the railroad line. It would be two more years before the first train came through. In September 1908 Howard was only two years when Doc Howard hung out his shingle in the town. They were only in Bronte for a little over a year before moving on again. By 1910 the town had grown to a population of 635, with a number of businesses, including two cotton gins, a bank, and a newspaper (the Enterprise, established in 1906). Today Bronte is a thriving little town — the size of Cross Plains — with a population of just under 1,000.

This family trip was a throwback of sorts to the “wandering years.” By all accounts, it was a pleasant diversion for the Howards and a brief respite from their day to day lives and worries. Little did they know time was running out for the family and that fateful day of June 11, 1936 was eleven months down the road.

Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

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