In a letter to August Derleth, dated September 4, 1933, Howard writes about his attempt to get a look at a jailed notorious bank robber and associate of George “Machine Gun” Kelly while on a trip to Dallas:

Speaking of outlaws, I hear that Harvey Bailey, the machine-gun bandit was captured in Ardmore, Okla. It was only this morning that he escaped from the Dallas county jail. I was sure that he’d head for Oklahoma. On one of my trips to Dallas a friend of mine was much desirous of getting a peek at the notorious criminal, and tried to find the Federal attorney (a friend of his) who was prosecuting Bailey, thinking he’d let us see the fellow, but without success. The jail seemed well guarded, but somehow Bailey did manage to slip through. Bailey had been captured in a farm-house not far from Decatur, in Wise County.

This letter was written on September 4, which was Labor Day, and the day of Harvey Bailey’s escape from the “escape-proof” Dallas County skyscraper jail. Bailey bribed a jailer, Thomas L. Manion to smuggle him a pistol and two saws. Manion and Bailey then took turns sawing through the bars and soon an armed Bailey was on the loose with a hostage, jailer Nick Tresp. But his freedom was short-lived as Bailey was recaptured the same day in Ardmore, Oklahoma. Manion and a civilian, Grover C. Bevill, who had furnished the hacksaws, were later convicted of aiding Bailey’s escape and sentenced to two years and fourteen months, respectively. But Bailey had his own version of the escape: he would claim in later years that Manion brought him the gun and saws of his own accord, likely plotting to shoot Bailey during the jail break and claim a reward. There was some truth to this — Manion wanted to run for sheriff — and when Bailey and his hostage left in the getaway car, he spotted Manion and Bevill waiting in ambush, so he headed in the opposite direction.

John Harvey Bailey was one of the most successful bank robbers of the Depression Era. He worked in a gang or alone, and his career spanned 13 years and several states. Bailey actually stole more money than John Dillinger, but is less well known. In 1931, his gang robbed the Lincoln National Bank in Lincoln, Nebraska and escaped with an estimated $1 million in cash. Following the heist, he is said to have hidden the loot on a farm near Richmond, Illinois, where he had been hiding out. He robbed his last bank in Kingfisher, Oklahoma and was sentenced to life in prison on October 7, 1933. He served his time and was released in 1965. He died fourteen years later at the age of 91, apparently without recovering his stash. To this day, no one knows what happened to the $1 million.

Bailey was born in West Virginia, on August 23, 1887; he grew up on a farm in Sullivan County, Missouri and worked as a fireman on the railroad before joining the Army during World War I. After the war, he settled in Chicago where several of his Army buddies lived. Those friends were into some highly illegal endeavors and soon were enticing him into the fold. It was the early days of Prohibition and former soldiers were in great demand to provide muscle to the underworld gang known as the Chicago Outfit, led by John Torrio and an up and coming Al Capone. Bailey decided to join them and was soon knee deep in the liquor smuggling business, driving fast cars loaded down with whiskey from Canada to Chicago.

Bailey robbed his first bank in 1920 and in December of 1922 is believed to have robbed the Denver Mint of $200,000. Altogether, he robbed some twenty banks. He meticulously planned his bank jobs, obtaining road maps from the county surveyor to learn his getaway routes and was thought to have been involved in two infamous gangland shootings — the St. Valentine’s Days Massacre in Chicago and the Kansas City Union Station Massacre. However, there was never any concrete evidence placing him at either scene. Bailey was also one of the last outlaws to join the Ma Barker gang and he threw cold water on the legend of the old gal as a criminal mastermind when he told author L.L. Edge for his book Run the Cat Roads the following:

“The old woman couldn’t plan breakfast. When we’d sit down to plan a bank job, she’d go in the other room and listen to Amos and Andy or hillbilly music on the radio.” Bailey found laughable the idea that the Barkers, Alvin Karpis, Frank Nash and other professionals would depend on Ma Barker to plan their crimes. She may have been overly indulgent, protective and possessive of her sons, and would harbor their friends from the law; in return they treated her regally, kept her in fancy clothes and cars, without her questioning the source of their prosperity. However, the image of Ma Barker as a cunning, ruthless gang leader appears to be as exaggerated as the largely mythical exploits of Belle Starr, to whom she has often been compared.

It was tough to keep Bailey behind bars. He was incarcerated in the Kansas State Prison on July 8, 1932 and escaped on June 1, 1933 during a breakout in which the warden and two guards were kidnapped and used as human shields. On August 12, 1933 he was recaptured near Paradise, Texas and locked up in the Dallas county jail, but escaped as detailed above on September 4, 1933.

Following his June 1, 1933 escape, Bailey hooked up with George “Machine Gun” Kelly. Police, while searching for Kelly for the kidnapping of Oklahoma oil tycoon Charles Urschel, descended on the Paradise, Texas farm belonging to the family of Kelly’s wife, where Bailey was sleeping. The lawmen assumed Bailey was small fry, but found $500 of the Urschel ransom money and realized they had captured “Old Harv.”

Soon after he was recaptured after the September 4, 1933 Dallas jailbreak, he was found guilty of complicity in the Urschel kidnapping and sentenced to life in prison on October 7, 1933. As it turned out “Old Harv” had nothing to do with the Urschel kidnapping – he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The cash Bailey had from the ransom money, it seems, was repayment of a debt from Kelly — Bailey did not know its origin. Nonetheless, it was a high profile crime and J. Edgar Hoover wanted justice done and he got it, although misplaced in Bailey’s case. Bailey was sentenced under the new Federal kidnapping laws that had a mandatory sentence of life in prison. While he was guilty of laundry list of crimes, he was innocent of the kidnapping charges.

Bailey was originally sent to Leavenworth, then he was transferred to Alcatraz on September 1, 1934. He was returned to Leavenworth in 1946 and transferred in 1960 to Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution in Texas, where he remained until 1962 when he was sent to the Kansas State Penitentiary to serve time for his escape from there in 1933. He was finally released on March 31, 1965.

Once Harvey was released, E. E. Kirkpatrick, who had delivered the Urschel ransom money, and Urschel himself tried to make things right by providing financial support for Bailey. In fact, while he was still in prison, Kirkpatrick had tried to help Bailey with his unsuccessful parole request in 1958, writing:

Bailey had nothing to do with the Urschel kidnapping … We all know that. He was unlucky enough to be hiding at the Shannon farm.

In October of 1966, after a year-long courtship, Bailey married Esther Farmer, the widow of Herbert Allen “Deafy” Farmer, whose family operated a well-known safe house in southwest Missouri for all the outlaw gangs that roamed the Midwest during the 1920s and 1930s. “Deafy” Farmer was also one of the Kansas City Massacre conspirators and close confidant of the Barker Gang, particularly Fred Barker.

In 1973 author J. Evetts Haley wrote a biography of Hailey titled: Robbing Banks Was My Business…the Story of J. Harvey Bailey (Palo Duro Press, Canyon, Texas). Bailey was interviewed extensively and provided a wealth of information, even though his memory was spotty in places. The book is nearly as rare as Jenkins’ A Gent from Bear Creek, with autographed copies in fine condition going for in excess of $1,000. In fact, only seven libraries in the country have a copy for circulation.

Bailey died on March 1, 1979 in Joplin, Missouri and his wife passed away in 1981. Both are buried in the same grave at Forest Park Cemetery in Joplin.

Bailey Grave

Mugshot of J. Harvey Bailey, courtesy of the Dallas Municipal Archives, City of Dallas.

This entry filed under August Derleth, Howard's Texas, Howard's Travels.

Robert E. Howard surely had a passionate feeling for his native southwest and its history. Even in a dark fantasy like “The Valley of the Lost” he gives the tale an anchor in savage reality with his description of a Texas feud – of, I don’t doubt, the exact sort that took place often, “short, fierce and appallingly bloody.” There’s also a brief sidelight on the Comanche and Kiowa wars in a mention of an Indian band “fleeing the vengeance of Bigfoot Wallace and his rangers.”

“The Horror from the Mound” is even stronger, and again anchored in Texas reality as it opens with a young cowpuncher-turned-farmer brooding on the bad luck, in the form of blizzards, hail and locusts that has dogged his efforts. The bloke is having troubles of Biblical proportion, and he hasn’t even opened the haunted mound yet.

From his letter to H.P. Lovecraft concerning Sonora, Texas, he could have done a grisly tale set in or near that community too. Sonora’s a decent enough place, mind you, the seat of Sutton County. It wasn’t established until fairly late in the state’s history – 1885. Rancher and merchant Charles Adams settled there on four sections of land, gave the place its name after a family servant who came from Sonora in Mexico, and drilled a well in 1889. The community became blessed with a post office in the same year.

That’s quite a bit younger than Dallas or El Paso, for instance, but there was still time for plenty to happen there, and by REH’s account, plenty did. In December of 1930 he informed Lovecraft:

One could write a book from the tales told of Sonora alone, a sleepy little town of a few hundred inhabitants lying in the hills about a hundred miles from the Border. For instance, a good many years ago, a young cowpuncher went on the rampage up in Wyoming and started smoking his way to the Border. I dont know what started him on the tear – maybe a girl went back on him, or red liquor ran him crazy – anyway he came south like a sand-storm, leaving a trail of shot-up towns and bullet-riddled marshals and sheriffs behind him. That went alright as long as he was in Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico, but the Texans of that day were a hard, hard breed.

He rode up on the hills about Sonora one day and started throwing rifle bullets into the streets. Everybody scattered, not thinking much about it, but supposing it was just some local puncher in on a tear. But he got hold of somebody and sent word that he would ride into the town at a certain hour for supplies and he ordered the stores left open and the streets deserted – he would kill any man, woman or child he saw in the town. And he most certainly meant it. At the hour named he rode down the street and saw no living soul. The stores were open but they were deserted. He dismounted and entered. No one behind the counters. He began filling his saddle-bags with groceries – and the town marshal appeared at one door and the county judge at the other. When the smoke cleared away all three were down – the Wyoming man stone dead and the other two badly wounded, though they recovered.

Well, the berserk stranger was from Wyoming, and it may be that Sonora was a pretty law-abiding place even back then. Looking up the statistics, I find that in the years 2001 through 2004, violent crime in Sonora was considerably below the U.S. average – less than a third of the average in 2001, about a quarter in 2002, considerably less than half in 2003, and about half in 2004. In 2005 it jumped to considerably higher – about one and one-third the average for the nation. But since the population is only about 3,000 in this twenty-first century, one or two crimes more than the average in a year would cause one hell of a jump in the crime figures per head.

Even natural violence in the area doesn’t seem too bad. Looking up information about the local weather, I find that tornadoes, historically, have been well below the Texas state average. They’re even below the USA’s national average – by nearly forty per cent.

More interesting than crime, and certainly more attractive, is the national landmark eight miles west of the town – the Caverns of Sonora. They are unique and breathtakingly beautiful. They extend for miles and were formed by the action of water over the ages, out of limestone formations 100 million years old. Gases, probably sulfurous in nature, rose from deep within the earth and mingled with water to create acidic solutions, such as (very dilute) sulfuric and sulfurous acid. But even in mild solution the acid was enough to dissolve away large amounts of limestone and produce the cave system – probably between two and five million years ago.

Moving from the dry scientific facts to the sheer grandeur and beauty of the place, just the names of the various caverns and galleries are evocative enough to make you see visions. Palace of the Angels … Moon Milk Falls … the Butterfly … Christmas Tree Room … the War Club formations … the Valley of Ice … The caves hold an incredible profusion of helictites, about the most delicate and fragile of all calcite formations. They take ribbon- , needle- , or butterfly-like forms, among others, and believe it or not, idiots who vandalize them just for the hell of it are a problem to those who want to preserve the place for responsible tourists. There are some kinds of stupidity that verge on blasphemy.

The outer portions of the cave system were known to local ranch hands by the early 1900s. Back then it was known as Mayfield Cave, after the owner of the ranch on which the entrance was located. Cavers discovered a further seven miles of the system in 1955. That, of course, was about twenty years after Robert E. Howard’s untimely death. He never knew the caverns existed, or he probably would have written something about them – maybe even in a story.

He did create a cowboy character called Steve Allison, the Sonora Kid – related to Clay Allison, maybe. The Kid was a contemporary of REH’s better-known character, El Borak, and even appeared in several stories with him, in a 1987 collection called North of the Khyber. The Kid, if he’d really lived, might even have been on the scene when a tragic event took place, which REH describes in the same letter to Lovecraft:

Then once, up in Oklahoma, a young puncher stole an old ranchman’s daughter and they rode hell-for-leather for the Border, with the old man hot on their heels. Another hundred miles and they might have been safe, but the old man caught up with them and killed them both just outside Sonora.

Another person who finally came to his end at Sonora was the outlaw, Will Carver. Carver had been born in the Lone Star State — Coryell County – in 1866. Or September 12th, 1868, in Wilson County, as I’ve read in another source. Like a number of other Old West outlaws, he began as an honest cowpuncher, working on the “Half Circle Six” ranch. His parents, George and Martha Jane Carver (maiden name Rigsby) had left Missouri for Texas while the Civil War was bloodily raging. During Will’s early life in Texas, his family’s nearest neighbor was Richard T. Carver (“Uncle Dick”) whose wife Margaret had apparently been born a Causey. The Causey family also lived nearby.

Read the rest of this entry »

As you may have noticed, prolific poster Keith Taylor hasn’t been appearing here as often as he was during the better part of 2011. That is because he has been busy as of late working a new batch of fiction pieces; after all, a guy has to eat and feed his family. But fear not, Keith says he loves blogging here on the TGR website and will be posting every chance he gets.  In the meantime, here is an update on some of his upcoming fiction projects:

I’ve been working flat out in recent days on three new Kamose the Magician stories, One is slated for an anthology Darrell Schweitzer is producing – That is Not Dead — of yarns that feature aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos set in different times and places in history, The idea is that if those hideous cults and beings were really that old, and that widespread, then they’d have manifested themselves down the ages, around the world, not just in Lovecraft’s beloved New England in the early 20th century. Mine deals with a confrontation between Kamose and Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos in ancient Egypt.

Next was a story to round out a collection of Kamose yarns that I hope will be put together this year — all the ones that were published in Weird Tales plus two others that haven’t seen print yet – my working title is “The Shabti Assassin.”

Last of all, the one I’m still writing, is for Scott Oden’s planned anthology of stories about zombies in history Again, it’ll feature Kamose, but I’ll be harking back to a time some decades before the others I’ve written about him, (He achieved a greatly extended life-span in Damascus, in the reign of Pharaoh Seti I, How that occurred deserves a novel to itself, I believe, and I hope to get it written someday, He lived nearly two centuries before he finally cashed in.)  This story is set in the reign of Rameses II, the Great, the one Yul Brynner played in The Ten Commandments, Kamose probably won’t be the Archpriest of Anubis as yet, just Third Prophet or some such position, An evil necromancer is raising the dead from their rest for his own purposes, Since Anubis is the funerary god and guide of souls, this would offend him considerably, and Kamose would be expected to do something about it.

If you are unfamiliar with Kamose, our buddy Deuce Richardson posted some additional background on the learned Egyptian magician over on the Conan Forums — it is definitely worth a read. And keep your eyes peeled for the new Kamose stories and for new posts from Keith here on the TGR blog.

This entry filed under News, Weird Tales.

Tommy FreemanIn my last post I wrote that Robert E. Howard had stated that Duke Trammel was the man who had ended “Kid” Dula’s boxing career, so it might be interesting to learn a little more about this undeservedly forgotten fighter.

He was born Marvin Irby Trammel on April 6th, 1907 in Fort Worth, Texas, and reportedly died sometime in 1975. Duke, before he hung up his gloves, stepped into the ring well over 200 times and compiled a record of 156 wins, 52 losses and 36 draws. In newspaper decisions he won 11, losing 5 and drawing 3. He knocked out his opponents 90 times and was down for the count 11 times himself.

I don’t know how complete this record is of Duke’s, but I’m sure it’s fairly comprehensive although I can’t find his fight with Charlie Light anywhere on it—this was a match Howard saw, and wrote to H. P. Lovecraft about (I reported on this in my last post). I did stumble across statistics for Mr. Light’s fistic career and he was certainly no world beater. He fought mainly as a light heavyweight and ended up with 3 wins, 13 losses, and 3 draws. Sadly that record is probably not much different from the records of many amateur, or semi-pro, boxers during Howard’s time, and our time.

Duke Trammel and the Kid entered the ring together on at least four different occasions, the first encounter occurring in Fort Worth on July 13th, 1928, with Trammel winning a newspaper decision. Again they squared off, doing business at the American Legion Arena in Abilene on January 21st, 1932, but this time the Kid reversed things and he won the newspaper decision. Back to Fort Worth for match number 3—November 15th, 1932. This was a draw. It can be seen that the Kid is doing pretty well for himself—Trammel is certainly not dominating him by any means. That is until December 1st, 1933 when Trammel knocked the Kid out.

Perhaps the most interesting fight in Duke’s career was when he went up against, for the first time, Welterweight Champion Tommy Freeman, while Freeman was still champion. Freeman had become the top dog when he beat Young Jack Thompson, “the Frisco Flash,” by a 15 round decision in September 1930. Thompson, four months earlier, had won the crown from Jackie Fields, and would later come back and regain the championship from Freeman by a knockout in the 12th round in April of 1931. But in the roughly 7 month period that Freeman held the title one of the fighters he would face was Duke Trammel.

Young Jack ThompsonThis bout took place on February 5th, 1931, and according to The Spokesman Review from February 6th it was a scheduled eight round match in Memphis, Tennessee, with the championship not at stake. That would not matter much for Duke because he never made it into the sixth round, being knocked out in the fifth—still, I think it’s pretty cool that a fighter Howard had seen in action in Brownwood had once stepped into the ring with a champion.

After Freeman lost the crown he would face, and beat, Trammel three more times—once in 1932 with a 3rd round knockout, once in 1933 with a win by decision, and for the last time, in 1935, when he’d put the sleeper on Duke in the 6th. Trammel, a decent fighter with some impressive statistics, just wasn’t in the same class as Tommy Freeman.

In an upcoming post I’ll touch a little more on Haakon Hansen and the Kid.

Last evening I was one of a select few to get a sneak preview of the completed Barbarian Days film. Principal photography of the film was done at the 2008 Howard Days; the stars of the film are Rusty Burke as the “Godfather of Howard Days,” Mark Finn as the “Guest of Honor,” Bill Cavalier as the “Boss Dog of REHupa,” Chris Gruber as the “Boxing Stories Expert” and a host of other recognizable Howard Days attendees. But my ugly mug wasn’t among them — I was attending my wife’s family reunion in Mexico and couldn’t make it that year – it is the only Howard Days I’ve missed in the past ten years. For some background on the film, check out this previous blog post. The crew of filmmakers include Damian Horan, director; Grant Gish, writer and executive producer; Scott Thomas Towler, producer; Andrew Pettit co-producer; Adam Watson, cinematographer and Michael Koerbel, cinematographer. Here is the film’s synopsis from the Barbarian Days website:


Most people spend their whole lives searching for what makes them happy. Few find it. Even fewer get the chance to share it with friends.

Every year hundreds of fans flock to tiny Cross Plains, Texas, the home of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. Nearly 80 years after his death by suicide, Howard, an outsider himself, has attracted his own merry band of self-admitted outcast followers.

We followed the Big 4, the top two Howard scholars from the old guard and two up and comers, through their world of fandom at “Howard Days,” the annual celebration of Howard’s life and works.

Despite the cheery air of the celebratory weekend, drama and emotions often run high as Howard fans take their pastime very seriously, often leading to heated arguments and in some cases, brawls. In the end, however, the fans are all gathered for the same reason, to share their passion for Howard and for one weekend a year leave their ordinary lives behind.

The cinematography, editing, lighting, sound, music, etc. are all first rate; this is a very professional film. The director and the rest of the crew deserve a big hat tip from all Howard fans for putting thousands of man hours into the production and editing of this movie – the easy part is the filming, but the real work begins after the last scene is shot. This being an independent film, it has taken a few years to get the funds together to finish it. However, the film crew has worked hard to get it completed and ready for viewing.

The film itself covers a lot of ground, with extensive interviews with the four “stars” and many other Howard Heads. Each has their own story  to tell about their connection to Howard and what he means to them and the filmmakers allow ample time for them to make their point. Transitions from scene to scene and topic to topic are very smooth, which follows a logical chronology to the story they are telling.

Obviously, Barbarian Days was produced for a broad market, so some of the content might be common knowledge to the regular suspects who attend Howard Days. But those people are already on the Howard bandwagon – the hope for the film is it may bring new converts to the Texan fictioneer’s fold.

In places Howard Heads do look like and sound a bit like geeks (heck, some of us are), but overall the film portrays the fans and Howard in a favorable light – something many us were worried about. Indeed, the filmmakers take the topic seriously and treat everyone with dignity, especially the Cross Plains townspeople. A segment on the December 2005 fires is included and highlights the devastation the town suffered and the big comeback the citizens made from the near destruction of the town. Inter-cut with the film are scenes from the two Schwarzenegger Conan movies and The Whole Wide World, but they are not just thrown in, but rather interwoven the topic being discussed. Bottom line, if you’ve never been to Howard Days, the film gives you a good feel for what it is like. All of the activities and events are shown from Friday morning’s coffee and doughnuts at the Pavilion through the annual barbecue at the Caddo Peak Ranch. The Barbarian Festival gets some nice coverage as well.

The only scene I would take issue with is an animated one. The animated sequence was used to illustrate the much discussed 2007 confrontation at Howard Days between Chris Gruber and Leo Grin. Since no one would talk about it on camera, not even the instigator (Chris), the filmmakers took some artistic license and used Leo’s own account from the pages of the August 2007 issue of The Cimmerian in Brian Leno’s trip report, “Down the Rabbit Hole.” Situations like this are like a falling out among family members – everyone moves on afterward and what happened stays in the family. Such is the case here.

One thing thing that was particularly compelling is Indy’s voice over statement at the end of the film. He gets the last word with his statement “Robert E. Howard saved my life.”

But Lee Breakiron pops up after the credits and gets upstaged by a group of nearby mooing cows, which renders him speechless.

All in all, it is a great film that keeps you entertained and invested in the story — I recommend it to Howard fans and non-believers as well.

As to where you can view the film, it has made the short list at several festivals at which the filmmakers are hoping to premiere it, but they have not yet been granted full acceptance. If and when they are accepted, the word will come down from them and I will be sure and get the names and dates of the pertinent festival(s) up on this blog.

Other than screening at festivals, which will definitely be a good forum to attract potential distributors, the filmmakers also plan on distributing DVD’s on as a backup plan. The DVD’s will only be available once they’ve either played the film at least one festival, or once they’ve heard back from all festivals regarding their submission status. They would also love to be able to allow for paid streaming of the film online at some point. So keep your fingers crossed and wish these gents much success in their efforts to bring Barbarian Days to the masses.

06/21/2013 UPDATE: The Barbarian Days DVD is now available.

Rob Roehm has just posted a call for nominations for REH Foundation Award nominees. Previously, everyone and anyone who produced anything Howard-related was automatically nominated for an REH Foundation Award. This year, to make being nominated an honor in itself, the Foundation is limiting the ballot to the top five nominees in each category that are picked by Howard fans. The awards for Outstanding Achievement in 2011 will be presented to the winners on Friday evening, June 8, in Cross Plains immediately following the Howard Days banquet.

While the new nomination process for these awards is open to the general public and not just members of the Foundation, the actual voting is limited to Foundation members only. If you want to vote on the final roster of nominees, there is still time to join the Foundation.  The REH Foundation has three levels of membership, perfect for anyone’s budget:

$20 – as a Supporting Member you will receive a 10% discount on REHF and REH Foundation Press (REHFP) books and merchandise.

$50 – as a Friend of REH you will receive the member discount above as well as the REHF newsletter, and your name posted (if wanted) on the website.

$100 – Legacy Circle members will receive all the above, along with invitations to special events, plus a yearly REHF pin. Legacy Circle members might also get other additional benefits during the year.

So, whether you are a Foundation member or part of REH fandom in general, you can partipate in the first part of this process by selecting three nominees in each of the award categories. Once you have made your selections, e-mail them to Rob for tabulation. Rob has requested that the e-mail containing your nominations be “signed” with your first and last name.

You can nominate up to three in each of the categories. The top five nominees in each category will go on the ballot. Deadline for nominations is February 29, 2012. After the nominees are selected, the next step will be the voting process. Be sure and check the Foundation’s website for voting details in February and March. And if you are not a member of the Foundation, now is a good time to join.

This entry filed under Howard Days, Howard Fandom, Howard Scholarship, News.

In December of 1932, readers of Weird Tales got a little something extra in their stockings for Christmas, namely a Cimmerian named Conan. That first Conan story, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was followed by 16 additional Conan adventures that were published through October 1936 in the pages of The Unique Magazine. Four additional yarns and a handful of fragments were discovered by L. Sprague de Camp and Glenn Lord and published in the ensuing decades. Events are already being planned to mark this monumental milestone in Howardian history.

As announced a few weeks back, Chuck Hoffman will be the Guest of Honor at this year’s Howard Days (June 8 — 9). Chuck is one of the early pioneers of Howard lit crit and, with his credentials, he fits right in with this year’s theme for Howard Days, “80 Years of Conan the Cimmerian”:

The Robert E Howard Foundation, along with The Robert E Howard United Press Association and Project Pride, is pleased to announce that Charles Hoffman has accepted our invitation to be Guest of Honor at Robert E. Howard Days, June 8-9, 2012.

Chuck’s seminal essay, “Conan the Existentialist,” appearing in Amra 61 in March 1974, is widely regarded as the first true literary criticism of Howard’s work. Before its appearance, discussions of REH tended to take the form of book reviews or light-hearted “Hyborian scholarship.” Chuck was the first to stake out a claim for Howard as a writer whose work would repay critical scrutiny; he demonstrated clearly that the claim that “philosophical meanings” were absent from Howard’s work was untrue. He revised the essay for a later appearance in the magazine Ariel, and it has since been reprinted in Cromlech #1 and The Barbaric Triumph.

I know, Dennis and I will be a tough act to follow, but Chuck is more than capable enough to make us look like a couple of pikers. In addition to the Conan theme, there will also be a special panel devoted to Glenn and I imagine a few other tributes for him as well. The REHupa website should have the 2012 Howard Days webpage up and running soon, so be sure and check in over there from  time to time for updates.

PulpFest 2012 is also jumping on the Conan anniversary bandwagon. In addition to the main theme of the convention, celebrating 100 years of Tarzan, the folks at PulpFest will also recognize this important anniversary for Conan:

PulpFest will celebrate the Cimmerian’s eightieth birthday and honor Howard’s career with two very special programs. First, Rusty Burke will moderate a panel of REH experts who will discuss Conan, Howard’s other characters, and the author’s influence on the sword-and-sorcery genre. Rusty needs no introduction to devotees of “Two-Gun Bob.” He is the editor of the highly acclaimed Howard reprint series published in the US by Del Rey Books, the president of the Robert E. Howard Foundation, and a long-time participant in REHupa (The Robert E. Howard United Press Association). We will provide the names of other panelists as soon as they are confirmed.

The second Conan-themed presentation will be made by another well-known Howard aficionado, Jim Keegan, who with his wife Ruth produces “The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob,” which appears in every issue of Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane published by Dark Horse Comics. The Keegans have also illustrated several of the Del Rey volumes (including Crimson Shadows and Grim Lands: The Best of Robert E. Howard, Volumes One & Two) and are the proprietors of Jim & Ruth’s Two-Gun Blog. Jim will offer a look at the Cimmerian as depicted by various illustrators over the last eight decades.

The guys at Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention are fans of Howard and Weird Tales, so I would not be surprised if they did not add an event or two to celebrate the Cimmerian’s 80th anniversary. And, of course, you’ll see some posts here on the blog marking this Cimmerian anniversary, as well a Conan treat or two in the upcoming new issue of TGR. By Crom, it will be a year to remember!

It was 106 years ago today that Robert E. Howard was born in the tiny town of Peaster, Texas.  In recent years, there have been celebrations in either Cross Plains or Austin to mark this anniversary, but this year the mood is more subdued and a gathering is not in the picture. Everyone is still mourning the passing of Glenn Lord and not feeling in a partying mood.

Howard himself did not make a big deal out of his birthday; perhaps it was the hardscrabble times he lived in where putting food on the table took precedence over throwing a party.  He only mentions birthdays a few times in his letters, making one reference about getting a book for his birthday. And he did make this comment in a letter to Harold Preece, postmarked September 5, 1928:

Today at town I saw the hang-over of some old and lascivious custom — a girl had a birthday and her girl and boy friends pounced upon her and indulged in a spanking debauch. I have never been able to find just how that custom originated, but have an idea its roots lie in the old superstition that spanking a woman or whipping her with a switch makes her bear children oftener and easier.

Howard was likely referring to an ancient tradition the Romans practiced called Lupercalia. Each spring young girls would be switched so that they would live longer lives and be fertile. This ritual was also carried out by the ancient Germans and the Druids.

Another possible origin the tradition is based on is the slap on the bottom newborns used to get at the time of birth. Physicians used this practice to cause the infant to cry, allowing breathing to begin. Nowadays they suction out their mouth and nose to remove any mucus to clear the airway.

At one time, it was considered bad luck if the birthday celebrant was not spanked because it “softened up the body for the tomb.” This idea has its roots in ancient Egypt where they were obsessively preoccupied with the afterlife.

Of course, the tradition of a birthday spanking exists all around the world, rooted in the idea of delivering some form of physical torment to the person whose birthday it is, in order to drive away evil and to attract good luck. A wide variety of torments are used from beatings, punches, earlobe-pulling and “The Bumps.” An extra “one to grow on” swat is usually added as a show of good luck to your health.

I don’t know if anyone was brave enough to give Howard a birthday spanking — particularly after he bulked up, but he seemed to enjoy writing about spankings and whippings, notably in his Conan yarns appearing in Weird Tales. Speaking of Conan, to commemorate Howard’s birth, I’ll be reading one of my favorite Conan stories today — either “Beyond the Black River” or “Red Nails” — I haven’t decided yet. Either way, it will be one heck of a ride.

Happy Birthday, Bob and thanks for all the yarns.

This entry filed under Howard Biography, Weird Tales.

Club Night by George BellowsHoward, in 1934, wrote a letter to H. P. Lovecraft and included a fairly lengthy summary of a fight card he had seen at the “Brownwood A. C.” which had featured one of “Kid” Dula’s toughest opponents. “Indeed,” he writes, “it had been [Duke] Tramel who had finished the Kid’s ring career in that very ring by a thundering knockout.” He also states that the Kid, through with the fight game as far as being a fighting participant goes, was standing in as the referee that night.

Duke Trammel—all records I have seen spell it this way, including at least one newspaper account—was nicknamed “the Riverside Iron Man” and was scheduled to fight a tomato can named Charlie Light. Howard described Light as “the most peculiarly-built man I ever saw in a ring…picture a human frog and you’ve got him.” However he praises Trammel, labeling him as a “compact, strongly built middle-weight…still packing a murderous punch.”

It must have been a pretty strange evening—Light earned a decision over the vastly more experienced Trammel but only after engaging in an unscheduled set-to with referee Dula, because the “human frog” was angered when the Kid began having friendly conversations with Trammel during the bout. This night of fistic entertainment inspired Howard to write “Sluggers of the Beach”—indeed in his letter he remarks that “the first part of the Costigan yarn” comes from this real life encounter, so I think it would be interesting to know just exactly when this slugfest took place.

However, in the boxing records of both Trammel and Light there is no mention of this bout; actually, at least so far, I haven’t been able to find any listing that these men ever fought each other at all. This of course certainly doesn’t mean that I’m implying Howard was wrong; far from it. Boxing records, especially those dealing with these types of local bouts, are notoriously untrustworthy.

Howard is close to right on when he mentions that the Kid’s boxing days were ended when Trammel scored a “thundering knockout” against him at Brownwood. From what I’ve been able to gather the Kid’s very last fight took place at the Walkathon Arena in San Antonio on October 23rd, 1934, where he won a 6 round decision over Junior Cone.

In A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, the editors inform us this above quoted Howardian letter to Lovecraft comes from circa September or October 1934 and that fits in perfectly as obviously Howard wrote this letter before the Dula-Cone fight. The next-to-last ring contest Dula engaged in was on—or about—December 1st, 1933, when he faced off against Trammel and was, just as Howard writes, knocked out. Of this fight, the record states “exact date in December and round number unknown.” This fight took place, once again just like Howard writes, in Brownwood. Oppose Howard’s boxing knowledge, and his memory, at your own risk.

Next time I’ll post more information concerning the matches between Trammel and Dula, and what happened when Duke went up against a world champion.

Slavery, Retribution and Vengeance

Robert E. Howard’s hatred of the slave trade was unequivocal. His poems in this subject area are so vivid they could almost be used as part of the history of the slaves taken from Africa. It is one of the few subject areas in which REH shows no conflicting point of view in his poetry.

The opposite of slavery is freedom and in a letter to Farnsworth Wright. ca. June-July 1931, (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 2, p. 198) Howard expresses his definition of being free:

I’ve always had a honing to make my living by writing, ever since I can remember, and while I haven’t been a howling success in that line, at least I’ve managed for several years now to get by without grinding at some time-clock punching job. There’s freedom in this game, that’s the main reason I chose it. As Robert Service says in “A Rolling Stone”:

—In bellypinch I will pay the price
But God, let me be free!—
For once I know in the long ago,
They made a slave of me.

Life’s not worth living if somebody thinks he’s in authority over you……

Freedom was also a subject in the discussions between H. P. Lovecraft and Howard during their years of correspondence. In a letter to HPL, (ca. Dec 1932) The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, v. 2, p. 506) he further states,

If it came to a show-down, I suppose it would be natural for me to throw in with the working classes, since I am a member of that class, but I am far from idealizing — or idolizing — it or its members. In the last analysis, I reckon, I have but a single conviction or ideal, or whateverthehell it might be called: individual liberty. It’s the only thing that matters a damn. I’d rather be a naked savage, shivering, starving, freezing, hunted by wild beasts and enemies, but free to go and come, with the range of the earth to roam, than the fattest, richest, most bedecked slave in a golden palace with the crystal fountains, silken divans, and ivory-bosomed dancing girls of Haroun al Raschid. With that nameless black man I could say:

“Freedom, freedom,
Freedom over me! —
And before I’d be a slave,
I’d lie down in my grave
And go up to my God and be free!”

That’s why I yearn for the days of the early frontier, where men were more truly free than at any other time or place in the history of the world, since man first began to draw unto himself the self-forged chains of civilization. This is merely a personal feeling. I make no attempt to advocate a single ideal of personal liberty as the one goal of progress and culture. But by God, I demand freedom for myself. And if I can’t have it, I’d rather be dead.

With this demand of freedom for himself, the core feeling in the following poems becomes clearer.

First is “Cornish Jack” (undated) with its supernatural aspects. It tells the story of a lustful, cruel man, with a “hell-born soul.” He has cornered a frightened young tribal girl in one of the huts when quite literally, all Hell breaks loose. While the poem does not explicitly state Jack Cornish’s race, lines 5 through 8 could indicate he was actually an African. Africans themselves did play a role in the slave trade. Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa due to a fear of disease and even more than that, the fierce resistance of the African warriors. It was a common practice for Africans to sell their captives or prisoners of war, usually taken from neighboring or enemy ethnic groups, to European buyers. The poem “Cornish Jack” is a story of revenge and divine retribution.

Away in the dusky barracoon,
A slave shrieked out, for against the moon
He’d seen a phantom leap up, then fade
From the top of the village barricade.
Then through the heavy gate unbarred
Came the massive-limbed Jekra guard.
A savage warrior, a Jekra brave,
He haled by the hair the shrinking slave,
Hurled him before him across a log,
With a rhino lash proceeded to flog.

So when the slave saw arrayed,
Another shape on the high stockade,
He spoke no word, though he gaped with surprise,
Silent—he thought of his welted thighs.
A moment the second phantom stood,

Like a ghastly specter of some dim wood,
Then vanished; still higher roared the din
Of lustful women and lusting men.

Through the deep, dusky shadows back
Of the village huts went Cornish Jack,
From empty hut to hut he stole,
Lust and desire in his Hell-born soul.
Ha! Chopping branches for fuel wood,
In the shadow a slim young woman stood.
Ha! Cornish Jack sucked in his breath,
He knew not his face was a mask of Death.
He knew he was Cornish Jack, the same
That had had his desire of many a dame.

A Thing of horror, a thing of night,
That loomed grotesque in the dancing light,
A midnight horror, a monstrous thing;
Each negro might have taken wing,
For they scattered, they fled, like leaves on the wind
And Devil might take the ones behind.
Still after the girl flew Cornish Jack,
Still the phantom stayed at his back.

Over beneath the high stockade,
Cornish Jack stopped the flying maid,
But ere he touched her, he turned by chance,
And followed her wild, half-insane glance.
Then jungle, stockade, and hut-roof peak
Echoed again with his frightful shriek.
And over the village a strange light shone,
For the Devil had come to claim his own.

Over the wall two phantoms sped,
Out through the jungle two phantoms fled,
They rode on the winds, they soared on the blast,
One fled swiftly, one followed fast.
On and on through the jungle wrack,
Like a flying smoke fled Cornish Jack,
On and on through the jungle dim,
Flaming, the Devil followed him.

And sometimes now, say the Jekra folk,
On a trail of flame and a trail of smoke
Hot on a roaring Hell-fire blast,
The flying twain go hurrying past.
And they say Cornish Jack is past them whirled,
And the Flaming God of the Flaming World.

Truly a tale of the devil coming to claim his own.

“Ju-Ju Doom” (undated) is another tale of retribution and vengeance. This time it’s directed towards Joab Worley, who Howard compares to “a great spider,” making him particularly loathsome.

As a great spider grows to monstrous girth
On life-blood sucked from smaller, cringing things,
So Joab Worley, in his plunderings
Of black folk spawned in nakedness and dearth,
Grew great in all the riches prized of earth;
Dwelling in state, a brother to black kings,
In his great throne-hut, safe from spears and slings;
The deep black jungle echoed to his mirth.

Until he dared to go, in drunken pride,
Alone into the ju-ju hut; all round
The black priests trembled and the drums were beat;
At last they, on their bellies crawled inside;
There Joab Worley lay, without a wound,
Stone dead before the leering idol’s feet.

In his description, REH calls Worley a “brother to black kings” and one who dwells in “his great throne-hut, safe from spears and slings”; but again he’s not clear regarding Worley’s race and there are good arguments for either side. Under the previous evaluation of “Cornish Jack,” it is noted that Europeans rarely ventured into interior Africa because of their fear of disease and the tribes.

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