Archive for the 'John Wesley Hardin' Category

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 Regardless, from the late 1950s to the present day reliable research, scholarly articles, books, and historical documents have been written and uncovered.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.

Western TalesWho can forget that great line uttered by Clint Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales, one of the best western movies ever made. Eastwood certainly made his mark and fortune starring in westerns, taking a chance on them when everyone told he was making a mistake by starting his own production company. In fact, he named that company “Malpaso,” which is Spanish for “bad step.”

In general, the genre of the western holds a special place in America’s heart. We are still a relatively young country and the rugged individual of the western hero personifies the protector of the defenseless against greedy, violent men – and even though flawed, the western hero triumphs because of his inherent heroic spirit.

The western held a special place in Howard’s heart as well. He lived in a time when the old west had faded, but yet wrote voluminously about it in his letters — almost as if he wished he’d been born 60 years sooner. The stories of real life gunmen, desperados and lawmen were always on his mind and toward the end of his life, he seemed to be moving more and more in the direction of writing a great western novel. In a letter to August Derleth, written in the middle of October 1934, he mentions a certain western novelette he had just finished writing, “The Vultures of Wahpeton.”

What I feel is one of the best stories I’ve ever written was a 30,000 word Western, the first draft of which I knocked off in two and a half days, but which I have my doubts if anybody will accept it. Yet I feel that if I ever do write anything of lasting merit it will be fiction laid in the early West. Some day I hope to be able to use the life of John Wesley Hardin, either as a biography, or a basis for a historical novel. I rate Hardin along with Billy the Kid and Wild Bill Hickok as the three greatest gunmen who ever lived. I use the word “great” advisably. A gunman of their type had to be more than merely a man whose hand was quicker and whose eye was truer than the average man. He had to be a man of extraordinary intelligence, a practical student of psychology and of human nature, and the owner of a keen analytical mind. I made this point clear in that latest western I mentioned above, though my main character was drawn from Hendry Brown rather than Hardin in that case. Gunmanship was more than a matter of muscular superiority.

Aside from Howard’s “weird westerns” (a subgenre he was a major contributor to), Howard’s straight westerns have not gotten the attention they deserve – fans are more familiar with his humorous westerns featuring Breckinridge Elkins and a few other humorous characters he created. Well, thanks to the REH Foundation Press, the straight westerns are finally getting their due. Western Tales is a definitive book of Howard’s straight westerns. For the first time, all the stories, verse, etc. is collected between two covers and not scattered across several volumes and fanzines, plus there are items previously unpublished in this volume. As usual, Rob Roehm has done an outstanding job of collecting and editing the material. To cap it all off, there is an introduction by the greatest living western fictioneer, James Reasoner, with the whole package wrapped in a cover by Tom Gianni.

The book is due out the in December and would make a fine Christmas present for either you or another Howard or western fan. Here are the contents:

Western Tales
Contents

Introduction

“Robert E. Howard: Western Pulp Pioneer” by James Reasoner

Western Tales

“Drums of the Sunset”
“John Ringold” (verse)
“The Extermination of Yellow Donory”
“Old Faro Bill” (verse)
“The Judgment of the Desert”
“The Sand-Hill’s Crest” (verse)
“Gunman’s Debt”
“The Devil’s Joker”
“The Feud” (verse)
“Knife, Bullet and Noose”
“Law-Shooters of Cowtown”
“Over the Old Rio Grandey” (verse)
“Wild Water”
“Cowboy” (verse)
“The Last Ride” (with Robert Enders Allen)
“The Vultures of Wahpeton”
“Vultures’ Sanctuary”
“Ace High” (verse)
“The Ballad of Buckshot Roberts” (verse)

The Weird West

“The Horror from the Mound”
“The Valley of the Lost”
“The Man on the Ground”
“Old Garfield’s Heart”
“The Thunder-Rider”
“The Dead Remember”

Essays

“The Strange Case of Josiah Wilbarger”
“The Ghost of Camp Colorado”

Miscellanea

“Six-Gun Interview” (Unfinished)
Untitled, “I met him first at the Paradise Saloon . . .”
“The Killer’s Debt” (Fragment)
Three Synopses (“Gunman’s Debt”)
“Wild Water” Timing
“The Devil’s Joker” (Alternate Version)
Untitled Synopsis (“The Vultures of Wahpeton”)

Juvenilia

“A Faithful Servant”
“‘Golden Hope’ Christmas”
“The Sonora Kid—Cowhand”
“The Sonora Kid’s Winning Hand”
“Red Curls and Bobbed Hair”
Untitled, “Madge Meraldson . . .”
Untitled, “The Hades Saloon . . .”
Untitled, “A blazing sun . . .”
Untitled, “The way it came about . . .”
Untitled, “The hot Arizona sun . . .”
Untitled, “Steve Allison settled . . .”
“Brotherly Advice”
“Desert Rendezvous”
“The West Tower”
“Drag” (aka Untitled, “It was a strange experience . . .”)

Notes on the Text

Complete ordering details for Western Tales can be found on the REH Foundation website. While you are there, check out the other available REH Foundation Press books and sign up for a Foundation membership, which entitles you to discounts on the books and other perks.

Robert E. Howard knew and wrote a good deal about the blood feuds of his native Texas, and the old-time range wars that had been fought even before the Civil War. They became still more bitter and intense afterwards. Howard wrote to H.P. Lovecraft in January 1931:

I hope to some day write a history of the Southwest that will seem alive and human to the readers, not the dry and musty stuff one generally finds in chronicles. To me the annals of the land pulse with blood and life, but whether I can ever transfer this life from my mind to paper, is a question. It will be years, at least. Much of the vivid history of the Southwest is lost forever and the breed growing up now looks toward, and apes, the East, caring nothing at all about the traditions and history of the land in which they live.

Lovecraft at times became almost supercilious in his attitude to the violent frontier history of the Lone Star State. Well, much of it had been shockingly bloody, but so had much of England’s history, and Lovecraft admired England and the English to the point of affecting to regret the American Revolution. I’m not one to romanticize gunfights, but the solid fact is that in the old west there were very few activities that were free of physical danger, least of all the cowboy’s. He might meet armed cow thieves or fence cutters any day of his working life. He was understandably not willing to “ride the river” with a pardner who hadn’t shown that he was ready to fight. If he encountered rustlers, Comanches, or crooked lawmen who declared they were going to cut his herd on the excuse that they believed it had been stolen – well, he was better off with a hard-drinking braggart and bully beside him than someone who was yellow.

REH expressed it this way, in the same letter quoted above:

Western feuds have generally been fought over land – cattle – sordid commercial wrangles in outward appearance, but with the underlying reasons of stubborn independent pride. More men have been killed in Texas over fences than for any other one reason. When two men own each thousands of acres, it seems foolish for them to shoot each other to death because one insisted on setting his fence forward a foot or so, doesnt it? But its the old story of ‘the principle of the thing’. And after all, a man cant be blamed for defending what he thinks is his, or taking what he thinks is his. Say you and I own adjoining ranches and I claim that the fences werent run according to the survey. I claim a strip of your land four feet wide and half a mile long. You are just as certain that it dont belong to me. I come in the night and set the fence up four feet. You are patient and not quarrelsome, so you come back the next night and set the fence back where it was. I come again and start moving that fence once more. Well, there’s nothing left for you to do but take your Winchester and start throwing lead in my direction and you’re quite right, too. A man has a right to defend his property. Its not the money value or the grazing value of the land; its the sturdy resolve of the Anglo-Saxon or the Scotch-Irish-American not to be bullied out of his natural rights. And when both contestants are of the same breed, and both absolutely certain they’re right, well, by-standers might as well start ducking, because there’s only one way to settle a row like that, and if its taken to court, it wont do any real good, but merely make feeling more bitter on each side, whichever way the decision goes.

As he observed, land and cattle were the usual cause. Not always, though, and often not the direct cause. The Texas cattle barons of the early 1870s who cursed the Kansas legislators and their quarantine rules had no idea what other problems they were soon to face. Not because of rustlers, Comanches, northern politicians or cowhand unions. Because of one man by the name of Joseph Glidden, tinkering with an apparently harmless coffee mill.

Glidden was a prairie farmer in Illinois. He didn’t invent barbed wire – that was a man named Michael Kelly – but Glidden improved it until it was truly practical. He perfected the barbs, and the means of attaching them to double-strand wire, on a small scale at first, experimenting with a coffee mill. Then he designed machines that could economically mass-produce the wire. He applied for and received a patent in 1874. Other inventors challenged his application in court, but Glidden’s design won by November – not only through his lawyer, but also through its comparative efficiency and the number of sales orders.

Barbed wire across their ranges was about as welcome to the big ranchers as infidels eating pork in Mecca to the faithful.

The clashes between cattlemen and sheepherders on the big ranges had begun at about this time. Like Glidden, the sheepherders had to fight their cases in court as part of the Sheep Wars, and cattlemen had more money. A court case being a contest to see who can afford the best lawyer, the cattlemen mostly won.

Conflict between the two was in fact less intense and violent in Texas than in Wyoming and Colorado – but Texas did have the distinction of hosting one of the earliest such clashes. Shortly before barbed wire was patented, the famous Charles Goodnight’s cowhands met with incursions of sheepmen on that part of Goodnight’s range which comprised the north fork of the Canadian River, in the Panhandle. The clashes were made worse by ethnic prejudice; the sheepherders were Mexicans, and the Texans still remembered the Alamo. In the end, Don Casimiro Romero and Goodnight came to an agreement; sheep would graze on one side of the Canadian River Valley, cattle on the other. That dispute was settled peacefully.

It was in 1875, also, that the Hoodoo War broke out. Or the Mason County War, after the locale in central Texas. That wasn’t settled peacefully.

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We’ve all read countless westerns, as well as seeing them on the big and little screens, in which the rotten predatory cattle rancher who claims the entire range, with a legion of hired guns (or just one really fast one), gets tough on the little people he sees as standing in his way. The classic novel and then movie of the type was Shane. But the hackneyed plot had been played out often enough in the real world, in Colorado, Wyoming, and of course Texas. Robert E. Howard knew the history of those sanguinary feuds and range wars, and he referred to them often in his letters.

In December 1930 he wrote to H.P. Lovecraft:

The fiercest fights were between sheepmen and cattlemen and later between the small farmer and the ranchmen. That last was a bitter war, carried on with neither honor, mercy or human consideration. Ranchmen cut the squatter’s fences, burned his buildings, and frequently wiped out whole families, men, women and children with no more hesitation than Comanche Indians would have shown. In return the squatter stole the ranchman’s cattle and killed them on the sly, fouled the springs, dammed up the streams, dynamited dams on ranchmen’s property, ambushed cowboys and shot them out of their saddles – and made laws. Thats the way they licked the cattlemen – by legislation. They simply swarmed in and took the country, swamping the original settlers just as they, in turn, had swamped the Indians in an earlier age.”

I’d nitpick just one part of that. It doesn’t appear to me that the sheep and cattlemen conflicts, in Texas especially, came much before the big ranchers’ and little farmers’ bloody disputes. The sheep wars principally took place between 1870 and 1900. The famous clashes between Charles Goodnight’s cowboys, and the sheep herders driving their flocks onto his range along the New Mexico-Texas border, took place in the mid-1870s. The small farmers started encroaching on the big cattlemen’s ranges at about the same time, the 1870s, after the Civil War.

In fact the Texas cattle business was started by the Mexicans, with its roots set as early as 1540. The Spaniards had established cattle spreads in Mexico and then pushed their herds northward, looking for good pasture. The first cowboys were Spanish and Mexican “gauchos,” later known as “vaqueros.” They had brought cattle as far north as Texas by 1690. Their commercial value was limited then, and they were left to roam those wide open spaces and breed to their heart’s content. They did, and these feral Mexican cattle between the Neuces and the Rio Grande crossbred with the eastern cattle of the early Anglo settlers in Texas. The result was what some would describe as a hellish bastard animal with horns spanning seven feet or more, an untamed nature, and a frequent infestation of Texas ticks that made it unpopular outside its home state.

As you’d expect of a Texan critter, they were tough. They could survive on the open range where grazing was often marginal or worse. They could come through droughts and blue norther storms still feisty. They were long-lived – if they survived – and their calves could stand and walk sooner after being born than other cattle breeds.

By the early 1800s there were hundreds of thousands of wild longhorns in the region. They weren’t much of a commercial proposition in those days. Beef wasn’t the meat of first choice in the U.S.A. during the early nineteenth century; pork was more popular. Cattle were slaughtered mainly for their hides and tallow. Texas longhorns gave good lean beef from their carcasses but not an immense amount of fat.

The huge spreads that were effectively kingdoms began to appear about that time, in the days when Texas was really wide open and lately freed from Mexican rule, after Sam Houston’s army had thrashed General Santa Ana at San Jacinto in 1836. The biggest ranch ever known, even in the Lone Star State, was founded by Richard King, who had taken a significant part in Texian affairs before he came to own vast tracts of land. Born into a poor Irish family in New York in mid-1824, King was apprenticed to a jeweler as a child, and hated it. The jeweler was a slave-driver and exploiter straight out of a Dickens novel. He (Richard King) scarpered, stowed away on a ship and was welcomed into the crew when they discovered him. From that beginning he became a steamboat pilot by the time he was sixteen. He served in the Second Seminole War in 1842, and after it ended, he operated steamboats in Florida and Georgia for five years.

When the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) broke out over the U.S. annexation of Texas, King and his partner Mifflin Kennedy ferried army supplies on the Rio Grande. King invested his riverboat profits in land in Texas, and from then on continued acquiring it hand over fist. As REH wrote to Lovecraft in January 1931:

How many know of Captain King, who owned the biggest ranch the world has ever seen? It stretched from inland rivers to the Gulf of Mexico and when the country was settled up, it was divided into whole counties. I have seen the old ranch house which cost nearly a million dollars to build, and it looks more like a castle than an ordinary house. How old it is I cannot say, but the great stone stable has a date of 1856 carved over the door, and once cannons were mounted about the building to resist Indian attacks and Mexican raids. It lies adjacent to the little town of Kingsville, a most beautiful town – the prettiest I have yet seen in Texas. The worthy ranch-man was an old sea-captain and I have heard it hinted that, if he followed the same tactics on sea that he did on land, he must have been a pirate.

Years and years ago he was killed by a Mexican vaquero who worked for him, and who, it is said, carried out his orders regarding various men who owned ranches the captain desired. Be that as it may, they died and their ranches were engulfed in the ever growing boundaries of the great ranch. Giant fortunes are not built without intrigue and bloodshed, whether those fortunes be land or gold, or both.

The King Ranch is a legend in Texas. It still exists, is one of the largest in the world, and was officially made a National Historic Landmark in 1961. REH declared that he could not say how old it was, but King apparently saw the land that would become the nucleus of his immense ranch in 1852, when he came to the waters of Santa Gertrudis (Saint Gertrude) Creek, after riding a long way through arid country. He was travelling to the Lone Star Fair at Corpus Christi at the time, and at the fair over drinks, he and a friend of his, Texas Ranger Captain Gideon Lewis (nicknamed “Legs”) agreed to acquire and ranch it. In July 1853 King bought the Rincón de Santa Gertrudis grant for 300 dollars and sold Lewis a half interest in it for 2,000. He was a genuine nineteenth-century entrepreneur and no mistake. Or as one of the Sackett boys observes in a Louis L’Amour western novel, “If a man can buy cheap and sell dear, he naturally ain’t liable to starve.”

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Howard, writing to August Derleth on September 4, 1933, mentions an infamous Texas town and the man who shot and killed John Wesley Hardin, a gunman Howard admired and wrote of often in this letters:

Fort Griffin is a sleepy little village, scarcely big enough to even be called a village, slumbering at the foot of the hill where stand the ruins of the old fort. But once Fort Griffin was the toughest, wildest and woolliest town on this continent, back in the sixties and seventies when it was crowded with cavalrymen, buffalo hunters, gunmen, gamblers, reckless cowboys, horse thieves — the salt of the earth and the scum of the earth mingled in a mad chaos. It was from Fort Griffin that John Selman fled, riding hard from the shadow of the noose, and the writhing, kicking, straining figure against the sky that was his partner Johnny Larney. Empty handed Jonn Selman fled, but not empty handed he came into El Paso many days later. He drove a flock of sheep he had found herded by Mexican boys in the grasslands. Under the menace of his sixshooter they drove their sheep to the breaks of the Pecos river. From there on, Selman acted as his own herder. The cryptic vultures that haunt the thickets of the Pecos could tell the fate of the rightful owners of the flock. Selman sold the sheep for a dollar a head, and he drifted on, into New Mexico and the outlaw rendezvous. Later he returned to El Paso and was an officer of the law for years, during which time he killed the famous John Wesley Hardin. Shortly after that affair, he too was shot down in a private quarrel.

Indeed, as Howard states, Selman was a piece of work. On the evening of Aug. 19, 1895, Hardin was rolling poker dice with a merchant named H.S. Brown in the Acme Saloon. Hardin threw the dice and said, “You have four sixes to beat.” At that moment, Selman walked up behind Hardin and fired a shot into the back of his head. The bullet exited just below the gunman’s left eye. Hardin managed to reach for his gun, but collapsed face first and died before he could clear leather. Selman fired two more bullets into Hardin’s prone body — a third missed — before his policeman son, John Jr., who arrested him, said, “Don’t shoot him anymore, Pa. He’s already dead.”

John Henry Selman was born in Madison County, Arkansas on November 16, 1839. The Selman family moved to Grayson County, Texas in 1858. A few years later, on December 16, 1861, Selman’s father died and the young Selman joined the 22nd Texas Cavalry, fighting as a private in the Civil War. In 1863, he deserted the Confederate Army and returned home only to be arrested and brought back for court martial. Fortunately for him, by that time the war was over, and Uncle Sam was in charge again. John was allowed to return to his family at Fort Davis. Even though he was a deserter, the local townsfolk did not condemn him, but admired him for returning to care for his widowed mother, his three sisters and brother. One odd feature that Selman possessed was his eye color. They were such a light shade of blue, it was hard to tell where the blue began and the white stopped. Some folks even remarked they were a cold gray, soulless color and not blue.

On August 17, 1865, he married Edna Degrafenreid and the couple eventually had four children: John Jr., William, Henry and Margaretta. Selman moved his family to Colfax County, New Mexico briefly before returning to Texas and settling in Fort Griffin, located in Shackelford County. During those days, the town and the surrounding area was known as “Babylon on the Brazos” becasue of the many unsolved killings, rampaging Indians and even bold cougars, one of which got into Selman’s home and attacked one of his children before a family friend, a giant of a man named Hewitt, grabbed the animal with his bare hands and managed to free the child while Selman grabbed a rifle and fired two shots into the beast, killing it. They dragged the cougar’s body outside and measured it – from its nose to the tip of its tail, it measured eleven feet. The whole episode seems like something out of a Breckinridge Elkins story.

In 1877, Selman became a Deputy Inspector for Hides working under fellow Inspector, ex-Shackelford County Sheriff John M. Larn. During this time he crossed paths with several notable gunmen, including Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Dave Rudabaugh, who passed through Fort Griffin. Along with Larn, he fought against rustlers and dealt out vigilante justice in that very wild and dangerous area of northwest Texas. The pair were involved in several shootouts with bandits and outlaws during the period that followed. However, soon Larn and Selman, instead of controlling the area crime, became criminals themselves, rustling cattle, murdering cowboys and otherwise terrorizing the county. On June 24, 1878, vigilantes shot Larn to death in an Albany, Texas jail cell. Larn had been arrested after six hides which did not belong to him had been found behind his house. The vigilantes planned to lynch him, but were unable to break him out of his cell. Even though Selman was out of town at the time, he found himself a wanted man, and was being hunted by the same vigilantes, who were friends with several men who had previously been either arrested or killed by him. Actually, Howard told the story of John Larn (though Howard refers to him as “Johnny Larney”) differently than the historical accounts — Larn was shot to death, not hung.

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The Bloody Lincoln County War was effectively over by the autumn of 1878. It had climaxed in the savage five-day siege of the McSween house in Lincoln, New Mexico, where Billy the Kid and his companions held off the gunmen of the Murphy-Dolan faction until the house was fired by treachery around them. Their employer Tunstall had been murdered some time before, and his partner McSween had died during the siege, shot by Murphy man Bob Beckwith. Four of Tunstall’s “Regulators” made their escape from the burning house one by one at the end, under massive fire from the besiegers. They were Josiah “Doc” Scurlock, Tom “Bigfoot” O’Folliard, Ignacio Gonsalez and Jose Chavez y Chavez. Last to make the perilous dash was Billy the Kid. Like the others, he received covering fire from three of their comrades who had taken positions elsewhere; “Tiger” Sam Smith, who was killed by Apaches two years later, George Coe, and the redoubtable Hendry Brown.

Billy the Kid out of all of them is the only name everybody recognizes today. He’s a western legend, and like many figures of the past who’ve become legendary, the myth-makers have blended his feats and deeds with those of other men, chief among them Hendry Brown. They battled on the same side, were often together in the same fights, were both trigger-fast and deadly, and even resembled each other physically to a degree. Neither was a large man; both were between five foot six and five foot eight, slim, young (Brown one year older than Bonney) and fair in their coloring.

Since many of the fights in the Lincoln County War were mass affairs with a number of combatants on both sides shooting, it’s likely that Billy the Kid received credit for some killings that other men did. Some skeptical modern estimates have Bonney killing only four men in person, one on one, and maybe five others in fights he shared with other Regulators. Well, as this writer mentioned last post, I tend to regard the extreme debunkers (on this matter and others) as Pecksniffian know-alls, but I also recognize that the legend-makers never let facts get in the way of a good story. I might suppose that Billy the Kid shot nine men in personal combat and others in mass firefights, and that the tradition that he’d killed his first man at twelve, with a victim for each of his years when he died at twenty-one, as just that, a tradition – but it’d be sheer guessing, from a man who’s no expert on the south-west’s history. Robert E. Howard knew enormously more, and he wrote that Bonney had “eleven or twelve killings to his name” before he even reached Lincoln County at the age of nineteen.

This is certain. REH regarded Billy the Kid as the greatest western gunman ever. He considered the top three to be Bonney, Hickok and Hardin, with Bonney coming first. As he contended in a letter of May24th, 1932, to H.P. Lovecraft:

If I expressed my opinion as to the three greatest gunmen the West ever produced, I would say – and doubtless be instantly refuted from scores of sources, since you cant compare humans like you can horses – but I’d say, in the order named, Billy the Kid of New Mexico, Wild Bill Hickok of Kansas, and John Wesley Hardin of Texas. The Kid killed twenty-one men in his short eventful lifetime; Hardin had twenty-three notches on his pistol-butt when John Selman shot him down in an El Paso saloon; how many men Wild Bill killed will probably never be known; conservative estimate puts the number at fifty-odd. But Wild Bill had a somewhat softer snap than the Kid, since the quick draw had not attained its ultimate heights when he was at his best.

In the same letter, referring to Pretty Boy Floyd, he says:

He’s being touted as a second Billy the Kid, but deadly as he undoubtedly is, I doubt if he has quite the ability of that young rattlesnake. I consider the Kid the greatest gunman that ever strapped a holster to his leg, and that’s taking in a lot of territory.

REH rated Hendry Brown extremely high, too. In another letter to Lovecraft, written in September 1934, he refers to Brown as “a former partner of Billy the Kid, one of the warriors of the Bloody Lincoln County War, and one of the deadliest gunmen that ever wore leather.” Later in the letter he says, “It was not merely physical superiority that made such men as Billy the Kid, John Wesley Hardin, John Ringo and Hendry Brown super-warriors. It was their razor-edged intelligence, their unerring judgment of human nature, and their natural knowledge of human psychology.” Putting Brown in the same bracket as Billy the Kid, Hardin and Ringo is pretty strong evidence that REH took his gun-prowess seriously. The term “super-warrior” isn’t one that errs on the mild side, either.

With the battle of the McSween house, as stated above, the Lincoln County War had for practical purposes ended. The Regulators who survived were still wanted for the murder of Sheriff Brady – described in the previous post. Billy the Kid, Hendry Brown, John Middleton, Fred Waite and Tom O’Folliard left New Mexico for a while, rustling a herd of cattle and driving it to Tascosa, Texas, where they sold it. (Or by some accounts, a herd of stolen horses, not rustled cattle.) They remained in Tascosa, whoring, gambling and drinking on the proceeds for a time. Billy, growing bored – and remembering the revenge he’d sworn on the surviving members of the “House,” the Murphy-Dolan faction — headed back to New Mexico. Tom O’Folliard went with him. Waite and Middleton didn’t. Hendry Brown opted to stay in Texas and, according to some old (none too solidly verifiable) plains gossip, made a trail drive with one Perry LeFors.

Hendry may have gone to Kansas and then Oklahoma with John Middleton in the first part of 1879. Again, that can’t be solidly supported, but a man named Charles Colcord is supposed to have said that the pair stayed at his camp on the Cimarron River in Oklahoma for some weeks, both in poor shape – Brown ill and Middleton having trouble with his old lung wound. Middleton eventually married Colcord’s sister, so Colcord should have known what he was talking about.

It is definitely known that Hendry Brown drifted back to Texas and worked as a cowboy on George Littlefield’s LIT Ranch in the Panhandle, once again in the vicinity of Tascosa. He worked on other ranches there, though not for long on any of them, as his employers found him more trouble than his abilities as a cowhand were worth. He was “always on the warpath.” It’s consistent with his reputation, and also with what REH wrote about him. “He was like a blood-mad wolf at times … He killed anyone who displeased him – and he was very easy to displease.” Must have taken real early 1880’s Texas nerve to tell him to his face, “You’re fired.”

As best I can ascertain, he moved on from the Littlefield ranch in the autumn of 1880. Then, in a complete turnaround, though one that had been performed before, he became a lawman. One Cape Willingham was then the Sheriff of Oldham County and town marshal of Tascosa. He hired Hendry Brown as his deputy because of his gunfighter’s rep, but turned him off early in 1881 because of his aggressive nature. “He always wanted to fight and get his mane up.” Not really what you want in a deputy marshal. He’s supposed to stop fights.

Brown worked on other ranches here and there. The foreman who was his boss on one of them was named Barney O’Connor. They were to meet again.

Hendry Brown drifted up to Kansas, and in the midwinter of 1881 the city marshal of Caldwell, Meagher, died of gunshot wounds. The Wellington newspaper, The Sumner County Press, took a sniping crack at its neighbor town in its June 29th, 1882 issue, saying that Caldwell was wild and violent because of bad whiskey and prostitutes, made available through the venal city administration. The Caldwell Post fired back on July 6th. It declared, “The editor [of The Sumner County Press] states what he is pleased to call facts, what in reality is a string of falsehoods or mistakes.” It points out that Mike Meagher was killed in a riot, by an outlaw named Talbot, over a supposed insult, “not caused by whisky or women.” Meagher’s successor as marshal, George Brown, had been shot and killed on June 22nd, “in the discharge of his duties. The men who did the killing were not under the influence of whisky or lewd women … They were outlaws and would have made the same play anywhere else in the state.”

Another newspaper not based in Caldwell, the Dodge City Times, declared in November that “The cowboys have removed five city marshals of Caldwell in five years.” The Caldwell Post replied, “We most emphatically deny the charge … ” and went on to assert that only one marshal had been “removed” by cowboys – George Brown – and even his killers had really been escaped convicts posing as cowboys to cover their rustling and other crimes. The outlaw Jim Talbot had killed Mike Meagher. “The other marshals spoken of by the Times were not killed by cowboys, but by male prostitutes, to put it mildly.”

Whether cowboys, outlaws, or male prostitutes, it looks certain that a rowdy and homicidal element existed around Caldwell that made quite pastime of assassinating lawmen. Caldwell, in fact, was to go through fifteen marshals in just six years, between 1879 and 1885. Despite the Post’s denials, wild cowboys just off the cattle drives through Indian Territory must have accounted for the demise of several.

By November 1882, though, Bat Carr had been Caldwell’s city marshal for months, following the murder of George Brown. The citizens seem to have been satisfied with him from the start, since they took up a collection and presented him with a handsome matched pair of six-shooters within a fortnight of his pinning on the badge. The Commercial, Caldwell’s second newspaper, had printed: “Carr is a quiet unassuming man, but there is that look about him which at once impresses a person with the idea that he will do his whole duty fearlessly and in the best manner possible. We have not the least doubt that he will give entire satisfaction . . . ”

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This historical booklet was compiled by James C. White from various sources including Tevis Clyde Smith’s Frontier’s Generation: The Pioneer History of Brown County, with Sidelights on the Surrounding Territory (1931), a 63 page book detailing the early days of Brown County. Of course, Howard had a copy of the book on his bookshelf; beside being written by his friend, Smith’s book also included a chapter on one of Howard’s favorite subjects, John Wesley Hardin.

Published by The Brownwood Banner in 1941, here is a except from the introduction to The Promised Land:

This booklet is not written or published for profit. It is not copyrighted, and quotation from it is not only permitted but invited. It represents the combined efforts of many who have interested themselves in writing the history of the county, including the following, to all of whom our gratitude and obligation is hereby acknowledged: The Rev. F. M Cross, pioneer preacher, from whose book describing pioneer days and conditions we have quoted liberally; Henry Ford, pioneer citizen and banker, whose series of “Calculators” contained much detailed information about the pioneer period; The “History of Brown County” written in 1935 by Professor T. R. Havins of Howard Payne College, after he had spent many months in research work here and in the archives at Austin; Tevis Clyde Smith’s booklet describing many incidents of the pioneer period; personal research work by the late Henry C. Fulleer, once a Brownwood newspaper man who gathered a great deal of information about the early day families of the county; Brooke Smith’s autobiography, published serially in The Brownwood Banner in 1939-40; a voluminous scrapbook kept by Miss Elizabeth Dobbs; miscellaneous clippings from TheBrownwood Daily Bulletin, of articles written while we were editor for that paper; the files of The Brownwood Banner; personal interviews with many pioneers and their descendants; letters and other data offered by scores of citizens; and the records of the Brown County Pioneers Association and many other sources. Clark C. Coursey, editor of The Brownwood Banner, shares with the author whatever credit may be due anyone for compilation of this material.

While Smith’s book is long out of print, you can still find copies of the later editions of the book as Smith published an expanded edition of Frontier Generations in 1980 and in 1982, he reprinted the original 1931 edition with an added index. Of course, many more of his writings can be found in “So Far the Poet…” available from the REH Foundation Press.

Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War are the stuff of legend. Books and movies galore have been made on both subjects, beginning with Pat Garrett’s Authentic Life of Billy the Kid. (This may have been Garrett’s attempt to cash in on his having been the man who shot William Bonney, and not all that authentic.)

Robert E. Howard had a strong interest in the Lincoln County War. His letters to H. P. Lovecraft and others referred often to the lore and history of his native southwest – and, of course, its gunmen. He described the careers of John Wesley Hardin and Billy the Kid in some detail, as well as mentioning Wild Bill Hickok. All three have had so much print devoted to them that I doubt I could add anything.

The notorious Lincoln County War had other warriors than William Bonney fighting it, though in casual memory, movies and comic books he’s often treated as the only one. John Tunstall, whose murder precipitated the war, had employed a number of trigger-fast young cowhands who later became known as the “Regulators.” They took it upon themselves to avenge him. Bonney, “Billy the Kid,” whose real name was evidently McCarty, is the most famous. Others were John Middleton, Jim French, Frank McCabe, Jose Chavez y Chavez, Tom “Bigfoot” O’Folliard – and Hendry Brown. Only one year older than Billy the Kid, he survived him and left New Mexico, but died as violently as Billy (or even more so) in the end. REH describes him as “one of the deadliest gunmen that ever wore leather.”

Like William Bonney, Brown has been immortalized in fiction. Among the best westerns ever written is Guns Up, by Charles Neider – also known by the title, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones. Its main character is an outlaw and gunfighter by that name, a fictionalized composite of Hendry Brown and Billy the Kid, with the action transferred from New Mexico to California. The Marlon Brando movie One Eyed Jacks was loosely based on Guns Up. Neider has his narrator, a member of “Jones’s” gang, make an occasional tongue-in-cheek comment about the relative gun-skill of “Jones,” alias The Kid, and his real-life counterpart, as when he observes, “The Kid would have cut Billy in two … although I’m not here to run Billy down.”

The narrator, as I remember, is called Doc, and there was a real life “Doc” among Billy the Kid’s associates – Josiah “Doc” Scurlock, close pal and brother-in-law of Charlie Bowdre, another Regulator. The fictional Doc in Guns Up speculates as to who was better with a gun, The Kid or Wyatt Earp, and concludes that, “I would have put my money on Hendry. Wyatt was very good … ” but Wyatt, in the narrator’s view, though he had plenty of cold nerve and shot straight, lacked something Hendry Jones possessed; “wild imagination and that made him unpredictable.” As for The Kid compared with Hickok, Doc just says flatly, “ … for two men of that class to have shot it out would have meant certain suicide for both.”

REH pretty plainly modeled a fictional gunfighter of his own on Hendry Brown – Corcoran, in “Vultures of Wahpeton.” Corcoran is hired as deputy by the perplexed sheriff of a mining camp suffering from the depredations of a mysterious and well-informed gang called The Vultures. They enforce silence and anonymity by murder, while they rob both individual miners and gold shipments with impunity. Double-crosses and killings in plenty ensue before the story is resolved. Corcoran, like the real life Hendry Brown, is lethal, lightning fast and savage. At least one situation in the story is taken directly from events REH recounted, in a letter, as having happened to Brown. This excerpt from “Vultures of Wahpeton” describes it:

The racket was coming from the Blackfoot Chief Saloon, a few doors down, and on the same side of the street as the Golden Garter. With a few long strides Corcoran reached the door. But he did not rush in. He halted and swept his cool gaze deliberately over the interior. In the center of the saloon a roughly dressed man was reeling about, whooping and discharging a pistol into the ceiling, perilously close to the big oil lamp which hung there. The bar was lined with men, all bearded and uncouthly garbed, so it was impossible to tell which were ruffians and which were honest miners. All the men in the room were at the bar, with the exception of the drunken man.

Corcoran paid little heed to him as he came through the door, though he moved straight toward him, and to the tense watchers it seemed the Texan was looking at no one else. In reality, from the corner of his eye he was watching the men at the bar; and as he moved deliberately from the door, across the room, he distinguished the pose of honest curiosity from the tension of intended murder. He saw the three hands that gripped gun butts.

After leaving New Mexico, Hendry Brown did a stint as a lawman in Caldwell, Kansas. REH’s letter to H. P. Lovecraft, circa September 1934, refers in detail to an attempt to set Brown up for murder in a saloon. REH recounts:

The way they generally trapped the deputy was to start a commotion in a saloon. Ordinarily the deputy ran in and saw one drunk – apparently – standing in the center of the saloon and shooting at the ceiling, while a large gang looked on from the bar. When the deputy started to arrest the drunk, the lights suddenly went out, and when they were lit again, there was a deputy with several lead slugs through him. But Brown was wise. When the commotion started he didn’t rush in blindly, turn his back on the gang at the bar and collar the drunk. Your real gunman was always a man of keen perceptions and a high order of intelligence. It was not merely physical superiority that made such men as Billy the Kid, John Wesley Hardin, John Ringo and Hendry Brown super-warriors. It was their razor-edged intelligence, their unerring judgment of human nature, and their natural knowledge of human psychology.

Well, that night in Caldwell Brown entered the saloon with his long easy stride, unhurried, unruffled. He seemed to be watching the pseudo-drunk staggering about in the center of the saloon; in reality he was watching the crowd, and the three desperadoes who crouched back among their fellows with their hands on their guns. Without warning and quick as a striking rattler he wheeled and his guns were out and roaring death before the slower-thinking outlaws realized that the new deputy knew their play. They were down, riddled, dead on the floor without a chance to fire a shot in return … Brown stretched the ‘drunk’ on the floor with the barrel of his six-shooter and dragged him off to jail.

That’s precisely how the scene in “Vultures of Wahpeton” ends. Corcoran kills the three would-be assassins before the lights can be doused. Then he knocks the phony drunk on the head with his gun-barrel and lugs him to the hoosegow.

What about the actual person who was the model for Neider’s Kid and REH’s Corcoran, then?

Well, Hendry Newton Brown was born in 1857. Orphaned young, he and his sister were raised on their uncle’s farm in Missouri. Restless, he left home at seventeen and hunted buffalo in Texas. We can suppose he was already fast with a gun, since at that time he killed his first man, though what the circumstances were and even who the man was, is obscure.

He drifted into Lincoln County, New Mexico, in 1876 at the age of nineteen – or perhaps eighteen, since he’d been born in autumn. Lincoln County was a wild place, seething with trouble. The infamous range war about to begin had been brewing for some time. One of its main figures, though he didn’t actually take part in the violence, was the legendary cattle baron John Chisum. He’d been one of the first to send his herds from Texas to New Mexico, and in partnership with those other western legends Goodnight and Loving, he gained contracts to supply the army with beef. In 1876, Chisum was an established and wealthy rancher near Roswell. Yep, that Roswell. His South Springs Ranch was famous for the hospitality any passing stranger could enjoy there. (John Wayne once played Chisum in a movie with that title.) REH wrote to Lovecraft in a letter of February 1931, “Yes, John Chisum was a giant figure of the early days – much, as you suggest, like the hard headed and hard handed barons of medieval days – with the exception that he never did any of his own fighting himself!”

Regarding the Lincoln County War, he outlined its origins to Lovecraft in one paragraph of vivid, succinct wordage:

It “began in a cattle row. Thieves were stealing John Chisum’s cows and being acquitted in the courts. Dolan, Reilly and Murphy were merchants in the town of Lincoln and all-powerful. Murphy ordered his lawyer, McSween, to defend certain rustlers against the charge brought against them by Chisum. McSween refused and Murphy fired him. McSween was engaged by Chisum, prosecuted the rustlers and sent them up the river. Then McSween, Chisum and an Englishman named Tunstall went into partnership and McSween opened a big general store in Lincoln. He grabbed most of the trade and Murphy saw he was being ruined. McSween won a suit against him and for reasons too complicated and lengthy to narrate here, Murphy got out a writ of attachment against McSween’s store and Tunstall’s ranch – the last an obviously illegal movement, since Tunstall owned his ranch apart from the partnership and had nothing to do with the law suit. A posse of some twenty men rode over to attach Tunstall’s ranch. They overtook him in the mountains, shot him down in cold blood, beat our his brains with a jagged rock and left him lying beside his dead horse. That was the beginning of the Bloody Lincoln County War.

Tunstall, as REH said, had been born in England. Murphy and Dolan, business partners in Lincoln, held a dry-goods monopoly until Tunstall and McSween began competing. Brady, the county sheriff, was in the Murphy-Dolan faction’s pocket like nickels and dimes of loose change. Tunstall was apparently a decent, likeable fellow, and at the time of his murder Billy the Kid was working on Tunstall’s Rio Feliz Ranch as a cowboy. According to REH, Billy had liked Tunstall “almost well enough to go straight for him.” He took Tunstall’s murder hard and all hell was unleashed.

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Robert E. Howard wrote quite a number of letters to H. P. Lovecraft.  He admired the New England recluse’s work, of course, and he thought one of the most effective aspects of Lovecraft’s tales was the sense of “place” his fictional New England backgrounds, like Arkham, gave the stories. REH brought a strong sense of “place” to the eerie backgrounds of his own stories, notably “Pigeons From Hell,” which some people think was his best, “The Horror From the Mound,” and “Old Garfield’s Heart.” The last two have a Texas setting, and in a letter to Lovecraft of September 1930, after some speculations on the racial type of the Etruscans and the characteristics of the different Semitic groups, he says in passing:

… I have been repeatedly urged to make an article or tale of a certain murder-ranch which lies several miles west of here, and on which, some thirty years ago, a series of unspeakably ghastly crimes were enacted, and on which skeletons are every now and then found to this day. However, I have not the slightest idea of putting it on paper – more especially as one of the men who committed some of those crimes is still living and at large!

In another letter to Lovecraft, about a month later, he expanded on the subject.

As to the murder-ranch I mentioned, such ranches were fairly common in Texas during an earlier day. The owners would keep a cow-puncher working for perhaps a year without pay, then when he demanded his money, he was driven away; if he showed fight, he was shot down and his body thrown into a gully or an old well. This particular ranch lies some miles west of this town and is now in different hands. The old man who owned the ranch, was, I have heard, of particularly repellent aspect and more dangerous than a rattle-snake. His worst crime, at least I consider it was, was the murder of a servant’s baby; its noise irritated him and he dashed its brains out against the ranch house wall. He lived to be very old and was doubtless partly insane in the latter part of his life.

His son now has a ranch some hundreds of miles west of here, and some twelve or fifteen years ago killed a Mexican, sewed the corpse up in a cow-hide and flung it out on the prairie to rot. The Cattlemen’s Association sent out a detective – just why so much trouble was taken about a Mexican I cannot understand, unless he was some way connected with the Association – and this detective, playing the part of a deaf mute, worked for months on the murderer’s ranch and finally got full evidence. No one would have [thought] _ of looking into the cow-hide, for it merely appeared that a cow’s carcass was rotting out there on the plains. The killer was brought into court and got a sentence of two or three years, though I cannot say as to whether he ever served his time or not. The last I heard of him, he was prospering in the western country.

It doesn’t surprise me that REH decided not to record the deeds of characters like these, some of whom were still around and likely to take offense. In Texas in the ‘30s, people who were offended expressed their chagrin with pistols. Well, baling hooks or pick handles if no firearm was ready to hand, but one usually was.

It’s appropriate that REH should have been writing to H. P. Lovecraft on the subject.  The rancher he describes might well have inspired the character of the former pirate in Lovecraft’s own yarn, “The Terrible Old Man.” (Three intruders with robbery on their minds are later found slashed to death by cutlasses – swung by the ghosts of the Terrible Old Man’s perished shipmates, it would appear.)  They resembled each other, as Howard described the rancher — “of particularly repellent aspect and more dangerous than a rattlesnake.”

If Howard had written the story, as he had been “repeatedly urged” to do, he probably would have picked a forbidding and dreadful locale of his native Texas for its setting. The “plains south of the Llano Estacado” might have done. “Sandy, drab plains with never a tree,” REH wrote, reminiscing about his boyhood, “only tufts of colorless bushes, haunted by tarantulas and rattlesnakes, buzzards and prairie dogs; long-horn cattle, driven in to town for shipping, stampeding past the yard where I played; and screeching dust winds that blew for days, filling the air with such a haze of stinging sand that you could see only for a few yards.”

That would have been an appropriate setting for the old rancher and his hideous deeds, all right. If Howard had ever written the story, he might have made the old man a vicious, hard-bitten character, barn-burner and outlaw as a boy, who had ridden on trail drives and rustled cattle to get his start, an adept at changing brands and back-shooting. After gaining a spread of his own, isolated on the grim plains described above, he would – ultimately – have run it as a murder ranch. REH notes that “such ranches were fairly common in Texas during an earlier day.” It wouldn’t have been a sound idea to work as a cowhand on a remote spread unless you were damned sure of your ability to look after yourself!  An incident in which the old man murdered a servant’s crying baby by dashing out its brains against a wall could form part of the story, to illustrate his nature.

The procedure of hiring hands and letting them work for a year without pay – or at least until they demanded their wages – and then murdering them, would have struck him as sound business. Howard could have written the yarn as a straight western, or he could have added an element of supernatural horror. I’d have preferred him to handle it the second way, myself, considering how effective “Old Garfield’s Heart” and “The Horror From the Mound” were.

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Doc Scurlock was a friend of Billy the Kid, cowboy, outlaw, gunfighter, Regulator and a key participant in the Bloody Lincoln County War. In 1880, a year after that infamous conflict ended, he gave away his guns and settled down with his growing family to a life of anonymity in Tascosa, located in the Panhandle of Texas. Over the ensuing years, the family lived in several other Texas towns before moving to Eastland County in 1919 where Scurlock opened a candy store and lived out his remaining years.

Apparently Robert E. Howard was unaware that Doc Scurlock lived just up the road from him. Doubtless he would have liked to have met him, that is if Scurlock would have been willing to talk with him. But it was not to be since Howard and Tevis Clyde Smith didn’t really get into discovering the Old West legends until after 1929, the year Scurlock died. However, Howard eventually became fascinated with the Lincoln County War and in 1935 he and friend Truett Vinson visited Lincoln County, New Mexico. Howard later conveyed some of his thoughts on the town of Lincoln and the War to correspondent H. P. Lovecraft:

[Vinson and I] came to the ancient village of Lincoln, dreaming amidst its gaunt mountains like a ghost of a blood-stained past. Of Lincoln Walter Noble Burns, author of The Saga of Billy the Kid has said: “The village went to sleep at the close of the Lincoln County war and has never awakened again. If a railroad never comes to link it with the far-away world, it may slumber on for a thousand years. You will find Lincoln now just as it was when Murphy and McSween and Billy the Kid knew it. The village is an anachronism, a sort of mummy town . . .”

I can offer not better description. A mummy town. Nowhere have I ever come face to face with the past more vividly; nowhere has that past become so realistic, so understandable. It was like stepping out of my own age, in to the fragment of an elder age, that has somehow survived…. Lincoln is a haunted place, it is a dead town; yet it lives with a life that died fifty years ago…. The descendants of old enemies live peacefully side by side in the little village; yet I found myself wondering if the old feud were really dead, or if the embers only smoldered, and might be blown to flame by a careless breath.

[…]

I have never felt anywhere the exact sensations Lincoln aroused in me – a sort of horror predominating. If there is a haunted spot on this hemisphere, then Lincoln is spot on this hemisphere, then Lincoln is haunted. I felt that if I slept the night there, the ghosts of the slain would stalk through my dreams. The town itself seemed like a bleached, grinning skull. There was a feel of skeletons underfoot. And that, I understand, is no flight of fancy. Every now and then somebody plows up a human skull. So many men died in Lincoln.

Howard’s trip to Lincoln County also served to provide him with the needed inspiration to finalize a story he was working on — that story was “Red Nails,” which is considered one of his best Conan yarns.

After hanging up his guns and devoting his life to his wife Antonia and their eight children, Doc Scurlock worked in a myriad of professions including physician, teacher, farmer, store owner, poet, author, and worked for the Texas Highway Department during the later years of his life. But once upon a time this peaceful family man led a wild and violent life.

Josiah Gordon “Doc” Scurlock was born in Tallapoosa, Alabama on January 11, 1850. He studied medicine in New Orleans, Louisiana and at the age of twenty, he went to Mexico. The reason is unclear – some folks say it was to attend to the poorest of the Mexican citizens who were in the grip of a Yellow Fever epidemic, while others say he thought he had contracted tuberculosis and went there for the dry, hot weather. Like Doc Holliday, John Wesley Hardin and several others, Doc Scurlock was a well educated gunman of the Old West. He never stopped learning, even writing poetry and becoming proficient in five languages.

While playing cards in a Mexican saloon, an outlaw shot Scurlock in the mouth, the bullet exited through the back of his neck, knocking out his front teeth in the process. Despite the serious wound, Scurlock kept his wits about him and killed the shooter, surviving to fight another day.

Returning to the U.S. in 1871, Scurlock was hired as a cowpuncher by the legendary John Chisum, who was based in Texas at the time. In 1873 Scurlock’s shooting skills again came in handy when he and fellow cowboy Jack Holt, were surprised by a group of Indians. During the gunfight, Holt was killed and Scurlock took refuge behind some rocks, exchanging gunfire with the attackers, and following several hours of gunplay, he killed the Indian leader. After nightfall, Scurlock managed to slip away, trekking 20 miles to find help. When his friend and riding partner Newt Higgins was killed by Indians in 1875, Scurlock left Chisum’s employment, despite Chisum’s insistence that he stay on.

After leaving Chisum’s ranch, he wandered a bit, owning part interest in an Arizona cheese factory before settling in Lincoln County in 1876 and purchasing a ranch on the Rio Ruidoso with friend Charlie Bowdre from the corrupt L. G. Murphy & Co. — the pair unknowingly becoming victims of Lawrence Murphy, the man who would instigate the Lincoln County War.

For the next year or so, Scurlock and Bowdre were in several posses tracking and capturing horse thieves, hanging some of them on the spot. During this period, life had its ups and downs for Scurlock. On September 2, 1876, Scurlock accidentally shot and killed his friend Mike Harkins while he was examining a pistol and on October 19, 1876, he married Antonia Herrera.

Scurlock soon befriended several area ranchers including John Tunstall and Dick Brewer. When Tunstall, along with a lawyer named Alexander McSween, set up a rival business to oppose the Murphy & Dolan Mercantile and Banking Company, which monopolized the trade in Lincoln County, Scurlock supported their operation, openly defying Lawrence Murphy and partner James Dolan.

Meanwhile, serious trouble smoldered in Lincoln County, with frequent clashes between John Tunstall’s cowboys and a group of gunman under the leadership of James Dolan. On February 18, 1878. an armed and drunken posse met Tunstall on the road to Lincoln and killed him. Tunstall’s cowboys, including Billy the Kid, swore revenge for Tunstall’s death. Scurlock, ranchers George and Frank Coe, Billy the Kid and forty other supporters deemed themselves the Regulators and set out to liquidate the posse they held responsible. Thus, the killing of Tunstall was the spark that ignited the Lincoln County War.

Scurlock was one of the Regulators involved in the Battle at Blazer’s Mills on April 4, 1878. During the bloody shoot-out he was wounded in the leg by Buckshot Roberts.  Soon after that battle, Scurlock became the third leader of the regulators after the first and second leaders (Dick Brewer and Frank McNab) were killed. Following the Blazer’s Mills gunfight, the Lincoln County War came to a climax in July 1878 over a span of five days as outlined in this excerpt from Educated Gunfighter:

During the Five-Day Battle in Lincoln, Doc took over to Ellis house at the east end of Lincoln along with Frank Coe, Charlie Bowdre, Dan Dedrick, John Middleton, John Scroggins, and Dirty Steve Stephens. It was also during the Five-Day Battle that Doc basically stopped acting as the Regulators’ leader, letting Billy the Kid take over from then on. After the war, he and Charlie left their Rio Ruidoso ranch and moved with their wives to Fort Sumner, in San Miguel County. While there, he quit the Regulators with Charlie, and the two got jobs working as ranch-hands on the ranches of Pete Maxwell and Thomas Yerby. Doc later joined Billy the Kid, Tom O’Folliard, George Bowers, and Yginio Salazar in Lincoln on Feb. 18, 1879 in a failed attempt to make peace with Dolan and his gunmen. After witnessing Dolan and his men kill Sue McSween’s lawyer, Huston Chapman, that same night, and after Billy had been promised a pardon by Gov. Lew Wallace if he testified to this fact before a grand jury, Doc and Billy turned themselves in to Sheriff George Kimbrell on March 21, 1879. For the next twenty-seven days, they were under house arrest at Juan Patron’s house. After Billy testified before the grand jury, at it became clear that Wallace was not going to pardon him, both Doc and Billy left the Patron house and returned to Fort Sumner. In the Fall of 1879, Doc joined his fellow former Regulators Billy, Tom O’Folliard, and Charlie Bowdre in forming a new gang called The Rustlers. However, after they stole 118 head of Chisum cattle and the law started to come down on the gang, Doc took his family and left New Mexico Territory for Tascosa, Texas.

Marie Tollett, Scurlock’s granddaughter, once told an interviewer that her grandfather did not talk a lot about his experiences in the Lincoln County War, shunned public appearances and notice, even turning his head when a picture was taken.

Additionally, Scurlock indicated he had enemies who would kill him if they ever found him and he said the law enforcement officials in Lincoln County at the time of the War were corrupt, and that he would never stand a fair chance with them. So during the rest of his life he refused any position of prominence, or any situation that would bring him public notice.

On July 25, 1929, Doc Scurlock suffered a heart attack and died the same night. After his burial in the Eastland Cemetery, the remains of his wife, who predeceased him by 17 years, were moved from Acton to Eastland and buried beside him.

Scurlock is one of the most intriguing gunfighters of the Old West and also one of the most overlooked, despite a wealth of information about him on the internet. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he escaped a violent death and lived a long and fulfilling life.