1883 09-22 IMH to JH 1

In [18]49 three brothers started for California. On the Arkansas River they split up, one went on to California where he lived the rest of his life, one went back to Georgia and one, William Benjamin Howard, went to Mississippi . . .

—Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. October 1930

Those three brothers were all sons of Henry Howard; William Benjamin was Robert E. Howard’s grandfather, Isaac Mordecai Howard’s father. We all know that story, but what about the Howard who came to California? In a December 1930 letter to Lovecraft, Robert Howard elaborated a bit, saying that his grand-uncle “settled in Sonora,” as good a starting place as any.


Using various online genealogy websites, I found the names of Henry Howard’s other children; the oldest son was Charles Henry Howard (1821-1864), who appears to have lived most of his life in Georgia, but died in Virginia. Perhaps he is the brother who returned to Georgia from the Arkansas River. In other letters, Robert Howard explains the reason for the group splitting up: cholera:

Had not cholera struck the camp of William Benjamin Howard and his band of ’49ers on the Arkansas River, reducing their number from nineteen to seven, and weakening their leader so he was forced to turn back, I, his grandson, would have undoubtedly been born in California instead of Texas (REH to HPL, ca. June 1931).

Whether or not William Benjamin was the “leader” of the group is arguable, but Robert Howard clearly believed that at least one of the brothers made it all the way to California; if not the oldest brother, perhaps it was the second oldest, one Isaac Mordecai Howard.


The first I. M. Howard was born in Georgia on October 3, 1825. If Robert Howard’s family legend is true, he headed west with his brothers in 1849. California voter registration documents found online have an “Isaac Mordecai Howard” living in Blanket Creek, Tuolumne County, California, in 1866. Blanket Creek is fewer than five miles southeast of Sonora and in the same county. He is listed as a 40-year-old farmer, born in Georgia. The California connection was more than I could stand, so I convinced my father and partner-in-research, to load up the Lincoln and make the six-hour trek to Gold Rush Country. Unlike our last trip, this time we hit pay dirt.

1869 10-18 Quartz Claim-smAt the Tuolumne County courthouse, we uncovered a few documents that tell a bit of Isaac Howard’s story. While listed as a farmer on the 1866 voter registration document, that clearly wasn’t all he was interested in. An October 18, 1869 Quartz Claim indicates that he was at least trying to strike it rich. His claim, the “Howard Vein,” was shared with eight others—including three with the last name of Berger— and was located “about 1½ miles North East of Ward’s Ferry.” A bridge has taken the place of the ferry today, and can only be reached via a treacherous, one-lane road that zigzags down a steep mountain face. Must have been fun on a horse or mule, and it appears that the claim didn’t pan out (pun intended).


At the time of the 1870 U.S. Census, those same Bergers mentioned above are running a farm. Right below the Bergers, the Census has Isaac Howard, unmarried, working as a farm laborer in Tuolumne County. The post office listed is Sonora. Ten years later, the 1880 Census of “Sonora Precinct” has Isaac M. Howard as a single Farmer, age 54. Schedule 2 of that Census, “Productions of Agriculture” in Blanket Creek, gives more detail: Isaac is the owner of 160 acres, 30 “improved” and 130 “Woodland and Forest”; he valued his land at 800, his equipment at 30, and his livestock at 100; he spent 50 on building and repairing in 1879; the value of “all farm productions” for 1879 is listed as 30; and he had three horses. Just up the road is a John Hawkins; remember that name.

And now, a history lesson (note that Howard had 160 acres in 1880):

In 1862, the Homestead Act was passed and signed into law. The new law established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. Government could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed Government land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office.*

1882 02-01 US to IMH

It is unclear exactly when Isaac Howard settled on his 160 acres, sometime between 1870 and 1880, but by February 1, 1882, he had met all of the Homestead requirements and his patent was approved. He didn’t keep the land (part of which is seen below) for long.


IMH_0168On September 22, 1883, Isaac Howard appeared at the Tuolumne County courthouse. His first order of business was to enter the deed to his land into the record; his second was to sell that land. “For the consideration of five hundred and seventy five dollars,” I. M. Howard sold his 160 acres in section 24 to one J. Hawkins, perhaps his 1870 neighbor. A 1948 topographical map shows a “Hawkins Ranch” east of where Isaac Howard’s property was located. The red dot marks the center of section 24, which is divided into four squares, all of which is seven miles southeast of Sonora proper.

With all of the above information in hand, we took the evening off and went downtown to meet up with Barbara Barrett, who had driven in for a visit. In the morning, we hit the genealogy library. We quickly added an 1881 listing from the city directory to our stack of documents, but we were unable to find the one piece of information that still eluded us: Isaac Mordecai Howard’s death date.

So, where did he go? The 1890 Census was destroyed by fire, so no help there, but California’s voter registrations for 1890 have been transcribed and are available in The California 1890 Great Register of Voters Index; unfortunately, Isaac M. Howard either didn’t register that year, had moved out of state, or was dead. Robert E. Howard said that Isaac “lived the rest of his life in California,” but where? At the end of September 1883 he was 58, living near Sonora, a single man with no property, but his wallet bulged with what would today be about $14,000. What would you have done?

* Potter, Lee Ann and Wynell Schamel. “The Homestead Act of 1862.” Social Education 61, 6 (October 1997): 361.
This entry filed under Dr. Isaac M. Howard, Howard Biography.

Come and Take It Flag

Today being Texas Independence Day, I thought a little history on the beginning of the Texas Revolution was in order. The Battle of Gonzales begin as an altercation between a Texan and a Mexican soldier, who struck him with a rifle butt. The citizenry quickly rounded up an old bronze cannon not previously turned over to the Mexican. The cannon was likely useless, but it became a symbol of defiance to Mexico’s oppressive rule. Real conflict began when the Texans refused to give it up and “politely” told them to “come and take it.”

Howard made a passing reference to the battle in an October 3, 1935 letter to Lovecraft in which he enclosed a newspaper article published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the skirmish that started the revolution on October 2, 1835. On November 5, 1935, there was a big celebration of the cenntenial of the independance of Texas in Gonzales, hosted by Governor Allred:

Copies of “Come and Take It” Flag To Be Unfurled at Gonzales Today at Opening Centennial Parade.

San Antonio Express Newspaper, November 5, 1935, Tuesday.

Initial observance of Texas Centennial begins in Gonzales Tuesday when San Antonians will figure in a parade which will start at the boom of a cannon remindful of the famous Gonzales cannon which figured in the first hostilities in the struggle for independence and gave rise to the first Long Start flag.

Governor James V. Allred and other dignitaries are expected to witness the parade which opens the celebration at 1 p.m. Gonzales’ Centennial exposition will continue for five days.

San Antonio will be represented in the parade by a Fiesta de San Jacinto float on which will ride members of the Daughters of Republic dressed in the fashions of ’36 to represent a quilting party of that time. Alamo Mission Chapter members who will ride on the float are: Mrs. Gus Jones, Mrs. J. M. Olivarri, Mrs. Herbert Hearndon, Mrs. Lee Miller, Mrs. Joseph M. Carnal, Mrs. Henry Wofford, Mrs. Leita Small, Mrs. J. E. King, Mrs. Ethel Tom, Mrs. J. L. Browne and Mrs. Eugene Holmgreen. Mrs. R. F. Martin, president of the Presidio Chapter of Crystal City, also will ride on the float.

Jack Raybould, manager of the Fiesta Association, will be a judge of floats.

While aficionados of Texas history are familiar with the fight for the cannon, a lot of folks are not. The San Jacinto Museum and Monument website is a great place to read the story of how Howard’s beloved Texas came to be.

Of course, the war for Texas independance was one of his favorite topics. Here is a poem he wrote in tribute to that final, brief battle where Sam Houston and his men soundly defeated Santa Anna and his army:

“San Jacinto”

Flowers bloom on San Jacinto,
Red and white and blue.
Long ago o’er San Jacinto
Wheeling vultures flew.
Long ago on San Jacinto
Soared the battle-smoke;
Long ago on San Jacinto
Wild ranks smote and broke.
Crimson clouds o’er San Jacinto,
Scarlet was the haze —
Peaceful o’er calm San Jacinto
Glide the drowsy days.

Sam Houston at San Jacinto

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

Solomon Kane by Timothy TrumanAfter the previous post, it would seem likely that the limits of persecution mania and grandiose delusion had been reached in Tudor England. If they had, the second Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, born in 1567 (when Solomon Kane was twelve), exceeded the limits. For volatility, suspicion, wishful thinking, a thoroughly bad sense of timing, moodiness and egotistical conceit, he beat Botolf, Thomas Seymour and Wyatt right from the starting gate.

It’s my theory, by the way, that Solomon Kane killed the first earl, Robert’s father, in Dublin in 1576. Solomon would have been in his early twenties by my reckoning, and that was his first notable slaying. His motive was justice. Walter Devereaux, the first earl, had carried out constant brutal atrocities against the Irish, including a massacre of unarmed men, women and children on Rathlin Island – not done by him personally, but by his command.

While Solomon regarded the Irish Papists as half-heathen savages, the slaughter on Rathlin left him aghast, the more so as he met a few of the ragged, starving survivors. One was Meve O’Brien, who later married a MacDonnal, and became the custodian of Saint Brandon’s cross. Her ghost comes from the tomb to prevent the return of Odin in REH’s “The Cairn on the Headland.” The dates given for her life are 1565-1640, so she would have been eleven when Solomon encountered her after the Rathlin massacre.

By luck or the providence of God, Kane was never suspected. Walter Devereaux had suffered from flux and griping stomach pains for days, at the time Solomon throttled him inside the walls of Dublin Castle. Rumors flew around that his bitter rival, the Earl of Leicester, had him poisoned, and it was said that physicians pronounced his death as natural by the order of highly-placed persons, to avoid political scandal. Probably they did, but neither Leicester nor natural causes were responsible. Solomon Kane did it.

Robert Devereux thus became the second Earl of Essex at the age of ten, or thereby. Apart from the title, he inherited almost nothing, neither lands nor money. A ward of the Crown, he was educated and trained for public life as a courtier, and had no choice but to try for success in the dangerous circle of place-seekers that surrounded Elizabeth I. He had charm, wit, intelligence and enthusiasm, but he was touchy, egotistical and reckless. Elizabeth was about thirty-five years older than Essex. He charmed but never deceived her, and never even came close to being more important to her than the realm of England – but he did succeed in winning her favor.

Sir Walter RaleighThat was fortunate for him, since what estates he had were mortgaged for over twenty-five thousand pounds, an incredible sum at the time. There was an outstanding debt of his father’s to the Crown for a further ten thousand. He wasn’t the Queen’s only charming favorite; Sir Walter Raleigh was a constant rival, and the two loathed each other almost as much as Catherine Parr and the Duchess of Somerset had. When the queen showed her dislike of Essex’s sister, Dorothy Perrot, with a public slight (she ordered her confined to her room when she discovered she was a fellow houseguest) Essex furiously wrote to a friend that it was all the fault of “that knave Raleigh, for whose sake … she would both grieve me … and disgrace me in the eye of the world … ”

The monarch in current philosophy was infallible, appointed by God, the fountain of justice and truth. Therefore any petty, spiteful or unjust act must have been inspired by wicked ministers and councilors. It wasn’t thinkable, and certainly not expressible, that the monarch had been bitchy on her own unaided impulse.

Raleigh was quite an exponent of dire suspicion and belief in underhanded pernicious foes himself. All courtiers were. “The nature of man,” he said, “is such as beholdeth the new prosperity of others with an envious eye, and wisheth a moderation of fortune nowhere so much as in those we have known in equal degree with ourselves.”

The late 1580s were the time of Essex’s greatest successes. The Earl of Leicester died, and for once Essex played his courtly cards well enough to gain the prizes many desired – Leicester’s farm of sweet wine, a monopoly worth 2,500 pounds a year, and the rank of General of the Queen’s Armies. Essex led an army of 7,000 men to France in support of the new French king, Henry of Navarre (a Protestant at heart) against the invading Spaniards. Solomon Kane was a captain on the French side in that struggle, as Jack Hollinster remembers when he meets Kane in “The Blue Flame of Vengeance” (also known as “Blades of the Brotherhood.”)

For Essex, though, the French campaign proved a disaster, and he was haunted by dread that rival courtiers would replace him in the Queen’s good graces while he was absent. He shouldn’t have blamed evil rivals when he had made the offensive mistake of creating two dozen knights on his French campaign. The queen herself hadn’t dubbed that many new knights even when her subjects, aided by weather and Spanish ineptitude, had trounced the “invincible” Armada.

In 1596, Essex and his rival Raleigh were given a promising and prestigious commission, under the command of Lord Howard. They were sent to even the score for the Spanish Armada’s presumption by striking at Spain with an English fleet. They had splendid success at Cadiz, taking and plundering the city, burning four of King Philip’s greatest galleons, and catching thirty-six merchant ships with rich cargoes in the inner harbor.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction, Howard's Poetry.

Axe Murderer

The following is from the Spring 1967 issue of The Howard Collector, appearing in the Editorial Notes section:

T.C. Smith writes concerning “The Shadow of Doom,” which appeared in the last issue: “[It] is based on an actual incident which occurred about fifty years ago. Bob was in San Antonio at the time, and the beheading received special treatment from the press, and wide discussion among the people. It made a real impression on Bob, and he referred to the grisly murder several times during the course of our acquaintance.”

As shown below in an except from the opening paragraphs of “The Shadow of Doom,” Howard’s story does take place in San Antonio:

Some ten years ago, I was walking down a street in San Antonio with a casual friend of mine, John Harker.  We were both young working men of very limited means and we had become acquainted with each other because of the fact that we shared the same cheap boarding house.

It was late, nearly midnight.  We sauntered along, talking when suddenly John halted and I saw his face whiten.  He was staring at a house across the street.  We were in a rather second rate neighborhood and this house was a rambling, two story structure, evidently a boarding house.  Downstairs a single light burned in the hall but upstairs all was dark.  Evidently the occupants had all retired.  But John stood gazing with horror depicted on his face.

“My God, Steve!” he cried, “I’ve just seen a shocking murder!”

“What!” I exclaimed.

“I tell you, yes! he cried, “That window there – there was a light in it when I turned my head, and just as I looked, it was turned out.  But in that flash I saw a terrible sight!  The figure of a man crumpled up on the bed, all bloody – and headless!”

I cried out in horror.

But Howard’s close encounter with “The Axman” actually happened not in San Antonio, but some 550 miles away in New Orleans where a series of violent axe murders were taking place. Patrice wrote an in-depth piece on the Axman and Howard’s time in New Orleans while his father was taking some medical courses in The Big Easy. The article appeared in the February 2007 mailing of REHupa as part of Patrice’s zine, Wulfhere Hairsplitter’s French Quarter #1. In his zine, the wily Howardian detective, using excerpts from the Cross Plains newspaper, Howard’s correspondence, an untitled autobiographical essay by Howard — later named “In His Own Image” by Glenn Lord — and New Orleans newspaper accounts of a grisly ax murderer running amok, to place the Howards in the Louisiana city on March 11, 1919. On that date, the city’s two newspapers, The Times-Picayune and the States-Item, covered the horrific attack on the Cortimiglia family in neighboring Gretna the night before. “In His Own Image” contains an account of the Axman’s attack:

I remember strolling down a narrow street one day when the town was electrified by the shout of the newsboys, “They’ve got the ax-man!”


And it was momentous news they bore. For months the fear of the menace known as the ax-man had laid over the city like a fog. The morning I arrived in New Orleans, the morning papers were full of the latest atrocity, committed across the river among the towns which so crowd the river bank that they are separated only by boundary posts.

The ax-man had butchered an entire family – hacked a young man and his wife almost to death – though they eventually recovered, and killed their baby, a child of only a few months old. This crime was the seventh or eighth of the sort committed within the last year. The victims had usually been Italian and – strange coincidence – had usually occupied the rears of corner grocery stores.

The details of the crimes were usually the same – the murderer or murderers had chiseled out a panel of the door, reached through and sprung the catch, then entered and slain the victims with ax, hatchet or meat cleaver, usually using whatever they found in the victim’s house and leaving the blood stained implement as a mute evidence of ruthlessness.

A Sicilian and his son were arrested as a result of the testimony of the young man and his wife – who were the first to survive an attack by the fiend. How the trial came out I do not know, as I left New Orleans shortly after, but opinions were divided – some thought that the deeds were the work of a maniac, others that some secret society committed the crimes.

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Solomon Kane by Jeffrey JonesRobert E. Howard made it plain, in his stories of the somber Puritan adventurer and brilliant swordsman, that Kane had a streak of paranoia. He described Kane’s motivation to wander, seek adventure, and impose his own brand of justice as “a strange paranoid urge”. In the fragment “Hawk of Basti”, he ascribes that compulsion to both Kane and Jeremy Hawk. “Both of these men were born rovers and killers, curst with a paranoid driving urge that burned them like a quenchless fire and never gave them rest.”

It’s certainly true that Kane sees – and finds – wicked enemies everywhere. Unlike some fanatics, though, he does not look for witches and heretics who exist mainly in his fevered imagination. Kane’s enemies of God and man are real enough – merciless bandits and pirates, cruel barons, hideous predatory winged harpies, dead men walking to prey on the living.

In that respect, oddly enough, he’s more down-to-earth and mentally healthy than the average man of his time. A valuable book by Lacey Baldwin Smith, Treason In Tudor England – Politics and Paranoia, explores this aspect of the sixteenth century. Tudor mentalities had a cast very like that exemplified in our day by the conspiracy theorist. It was, to quote Smith, “the conviction that things are never as they appear to be – a greater and generally more sinister reality exists behind the scenes – prompting, manipulating, but always avoiding exposure to the footlights … the presence of evil.”

Shakespeare, raised in Tudor England, showed this attitude in a number of his plays. Before Henry V wars against France, he has to deal with three traitors at home (not just one) – Cambridge, Scroop of Masham, and Grey, who “Confirm’d conspiracy with fearful France; and by their hands this grace of kings must die, if hell and treason hold their promises … ”

The ultimate Tudor villain is probably Iago, trusted ensign of the honest (but thick) Othello. Playing the part of a loyal, true-blue fellow, he deceives not only Othello but everybody else, until the very end, when his appalled wife exposes him, and is murdered for her trouble. He doesn’t need a motive to betray and destroy; the one he mentions in his soliloquy isn’t particularly strong or convincing. (He’s heard a rumor that Othello has cuckolded him, but he doesn’t take it particularly seriously or seem to really believe it.) Iago is malicious and deceitful by nature; he takes delight in tormenting his fellow man.

Francis WalsinghamReal life in the Tudor milieu abounded in back-stabbing smilers with knives. It was especially characteristic of the climbers and rivals at court, desperate for patronage, willing to flatter, lie, dissemble and slander to gain it. Beware of false friends, fathers told their sons. Love no man; trust no man. Always look for their hidden purposes. They are bound to have some. Common aphorisms ran: “He that never trusteth is never deceived”, “It is better to suspect too soon than mislike too late”, and “Although all men promise to help you … they will be the first to strike you and to give you the overthrow.” Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, who should have known, wrote that “the number of evil-disposed in mind is greater than the number of sick in body.”

Almost more remarkable than the number of schemers and traitors was the self-destructive incompetence they showed. Reading the details of their plots, and the way they messed them up, you’d almost think they intended to get caught. One possible explanation, though it sounds facetious, is that they’d been driven crazy with impatience and frustration. For ambitious men who wanted to rise, in the Tudor milieu, there was only one way; to attach themselves to a powerful patron. Trying to attract such men’s notice meant hanging around, bowing and scraping, running messages, taking unlimited amounts of crap, having their hopes endlessly deferred and their expectations never met. Bitter and disappointed fellows were ripe for reckless treason. If they hadn’t been unscrupulous to begin, they were pretty sure to become so.

Gregory Botolf was a perfect example. Glib of tongue, more imaginative and quick-thinking than stable, he became chaplain to the English Deputy of Calais, Lord Lisle, in the reign of Henry VIII. Calais was England’s last possession in France, seething with intrigue, Catholic conservatives, Protestant reformers, and double agents. It was like a sixteenth-century Cold War Berlin. Gregory Botolf decided to sell out to Rome. For an advance payment of 200 crowns and a promise of more, he hatched a scheme for betraying Calais to the Catholic forces of the continent. When Calais was crowded with strangers at the time of the herring market, Botolf’s co-conspirators would open the gates and Botolf himself would assail the walls with five hundred men.

Nobody but a hyper-imaginative loon would have believed for a second he could overcome the Calais garrison and then hold the port with half a thousand men.

It was never tested, anyway. Philpot, one of the men in the plot, fell prey to patriotic conscience, and Botolf talked too freely while travelling to fix the final stages of the attempt. He also sent Philpot a letter, and gave it to a couple of English strangers who were going back to England by way of Calais, to deliver for him. A more stupid act for a man in his position would be hard to imagine. The English ambassador at Ghent opened the letter, and Philpot confessed out of guilt and fear, though which of those two disastrous turns of chance happened first isn’t clear. Everybody was arrested and interrogated, everybody talked, after which Botolf, Philpot and four others were hanged, drawn and quartered.

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This entry filed under Howard's Fiction.

RF Sign

In the spring of 1928 Robert E. Howard was asked to revise a western novel for his friend, R. Fowler Gafford. Readers of Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, will remember the incident between “Steve Costigan” (Howard’s point-of-view character) and “Lars Jensen” (Gafford). The title of the novel was West of the Rio Grande, which Howard changed to West of the Border in Post Oaks.

While waiting for Patrice to continue his series of blog posts, I thought I’d look into the illusive Mr. Gafford. Glenn Lord was quite interested in him; he no doubt hoped to obtain a copy of the revised novel. In 1995, he asked longtime Cross Plains’ resident and newspaper man Jack Scott what he knew. Scott’s July 30 reply didn’t help much:

I remember Fowler Gafford well. I do not know when and where he was born, but I would believe it was in Brown County, Texas, around the turn of the century. I was born in 1909 and he was several years older than I.
It is my best guess that Fowler is dead and that he may be buried in Cross Cut Cemetery. I will try to check that out. It has been my opinion that Fowler passed away prior to World War II, well ahead of the 1960 date when the Social Security administration began computerization of death benefits paid.

Mr. Scott didn’t get much right, and I told Glenn what I knew at his birthday party in 2010. I’ve learned a bit more since then.

Robert Fowler Gafford was born in Hopkins County, Texas, on June 27, 1891. The 1900 U.S. Census lists him and his rather large family—father, Jim Gafford (48 years); mother, Jane (42); paternal grandmother, Martha (78); Robert (8), and his seven brothers and sisters, ranging in age from 18 down to 7—in Hopkins County, which is right next door to Red River County, where Robert E. Howard would live more than ten years later. Jim Gafford was a farmer; his children were in school.

At the time of the 1910 Census, the Gaffords had returned to Howard country. They are listed in Cross Cut, in Brown County. Eighteen-year-old Robert F. had joined his father on the farm. In 1915, a new family arrived in Cross Cut with the last name of Howard. In Post Oaks, Howard tells us that “Steve had known him [Lars Jansen] years ago in a small country village, where Lars had lived with his family on a farm. [. . .] when Steve had first known him, he had been a wild, reckless, and hard living sort of a wastrel alternating his life on the farm with a kind of hobo existence.”

True to Howard’s description, by June 5, 1917, Gafford had flown the coop. His World War I registration card has him living in Goodnight, Texas (south of Dallas, in Navarro Co.) and working as an automobile mechanic. On the line that asks, “Do you claim exemption from draft?” Gafford wrote: “Crippled in leg.” The Registrar’s Report described Gafford as medium tall, of medium build, with brown hair and brown eyes—and “crippled in leg.”

RF Report

Howard, too, described Gafford in Post Oaks:

Lars was a grotesque and yet impressive figure. A giant of a man, a bone tuberculosis of his hip had maimed him for life and given him a curious lurching gait when he walked which seemed to throw his whole body out of alignment. He had a strong face, large featured and deeply lined as if chiseled out of solid rock with bold rough strokes. His small hard eyes sparkled and glinted with vivid life and the heavy penthouse brows above them, coupled with the swaying gait of his walk, lent him an almost gorilloid aspect. But above those brows rose the high forehead of a thinker.

Perhaps adding fuel to Howard’s “hobo” description of him, the 1920 U.S. Census records an “R. F. Gafford,” 28, boarder in the home of Nettie Mock, and working as an auto mechanic in Moorhead, Mississippi. Don’t know if this is our man or not, but the age and initials are correct.

From 1925 to 1928 we must rely on Post Oaks for more information on Gafford. While many of the events in the novel have turned out to be historically accurate, it must be remembered that Howard presented it as fiction, so the occurrences are certainly dramatized.

In early 1925, Steve Costigan says that Jansen “had moved to Lost Plains and was in a sort of sketchy real estate business,” but he “now aspired to culture and higher society.” That higher society was to be gained by writing. Later, Steve “heard Lars Jansen sold a story to a confessions magazine.” His mother doesn’t seem to approve of the older man, saying, “Yes, that’s what I heard. I hope you’re not thinking about taking up with him?” Of course, another writer in Cross Plains was probably more tempting than “Steve” could handle, so the two begin talking about their writings, despite “Lars Jansen [being] a rather strange and unusual figure.” But if Lars wanted to earn his living by writing, he had a problem:

 “All that holds me down,” said Lars, his eyes gleaming with the vehemence of his ardor, “is lack of education. You know, I never finished grammar school. I’ve never had any opportunity. But I know Life—I’ve lived Life to the guards. With all I’ve seen and done, I could write powerful stuff—if I just had the education. But after all, bad spelling and grammatical errors don’t matter so much—the first thing is to get the stuff across. After that, the rest comes naturally.”

After reading some of Gafford’s/Jansen’s work, Howard/Costigan “was amazed at two things—at the blind, latent force which groped in Lars’ work, and at Lars’ atrocious grammar. Many of the simplest words were misspelled and, as for style and diction, Lars had no knowledge whatever except for such as comes naturally to the embryonic author.” Despite this, “there was power there, struggling and halting, groping for life and expression, chained down by ignorance, stumbling over the stones of bad English.”

Around February 1928, after having several pieces rejected, Lars went to Steve:

“Say,” said he, “you know I wrote a novel, West of the Border, a story of the modern west. It’s been turned down by a couple of publishers, but it’s good. But I can’t seem to express myself as I’d like to. And I’m handicapped by my lack of grammar. If you’ll rewrite it for me, we will split it, fifty-fifty, all but the movie rights. I want the full dramatic rights.”

Steve agrees, but “could not interest himself in it, and he wrote on it only when he could drive himself to it.” He thought that the “plot was good, with some strong situations,” but knew that “his revision, while possibly better than Lars’ ungrammatical wanderings, was not of any classical order.” He completed the rewrite and gave the product to Jansen. That May, “Lars announced that West of the Border had been rejected by the publishing company to which they had submitted it.”

RF West

In Steve’s final rant in the novel, he says, “I don’t see no future for him [. . .] Lars will work on and on, and maybe, if he’s lucky, he’ll sell his stuff to the confession magazines, but I doubt it. [. . .] Maybe Lars will be lucky and make a stake somehow in his business or some other business, and get educated and do like he wants to. I hope so anyway. But now he’s off on a new tack. There’s been a great revival meetin’ at Lost Plains and Lars got converted, and now he wants to preach.”

Farmer, mechanic, real estate agent, preacher—whatever Gafford was doing for income didn’t stop his writing altogether. The September 28, 1928 Cross Plains Review carried “The Price of Vengeance” by Gafford; on August 9, 1929, “Retribution of Vanity” appeared, and there may be other pieces buried in those pages.

In February 1929, Robert Howard told his friend Clyde Smith about an experience with Gafford:

Last night the Sunday School class had a party and I had to get drunk to rid myself of Fowler’s importunities to go. He said he figured on he and myself being the life of the party. Hokum. Strange what a difference a few snorts of white corn makes in people’s attitude toward you. After I had reached the point where I wanted to go, they didn’t want me.

At the time of the 1930 Census, Fowler (age 38) had working at yet another profession: insurance salesman. That summer, he made a bid for a little respectability, as reported in the Abilene Morning News for July 31, 1930:


Complete returns in Callahan County on the democratic primary of last Saturday show the following in contested races:
[. . .]
TAX ASSESSOR—E. M. Smith 1,624; W. R. Thompson 1,061; R. Fowler Gafford 107.

Following his resounding electoral defeat, Gafford put his hobo shoes on again and headed west. The 1932 El Paso City Directory lists “Gafford, Fowler R.” as “Watchmn Troy Steam Lndry” with a room at 1431 Texas Street. He would live the rest of his life in that west Texas town, and it appears he kept in touch with his younger friend in Cross Plains. One letter from Robert E. Howard to Gafford survives. It is dated May 20, 1934, and was probably unsent. In it, Howard explains why he’s not interested in helping Gafford start a “writer’s school” (see Collected Letters, Vol. 3).

Sometime between 1933 and 1935 Gafford changed jobs again. The 1935 El Paso City Directory lists Gafford as a clerk at Tri-State Motor Co., living in a home at 1405 E Yandell Blvd. The 1940 U.S. Census has Gafford with yet another job, bookkeeping in T.R.C. office, and a wife, Clara L. His 1942 Draft registration lists his work as “Surplus Commodity Commissary,” whatever that is. Following the war, Gafford made the papers in relation to yet another occupation:


The Texas secretary of state today refused to issue organizer’s cards to 11 representatives of two unions which a state investigation found were “Communist dominated.”
Secretary of State Howard A. Carney yesterday cancelled all cards which had been issued to representatives of the Distributive, Processing and Office Workers of America and the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers.
[. . .]
Cards held by [. . .] Robert Fowler Gafford of the IUMMSW [. . .] were cancelled.
[El Paso Herald Post – Dec. 30, 1953. The same article, under the headline “Organizer Cards Refused To Red-Dominated Unions,” appeared in The Brownsville Herald, same date, other papers as well.]

And that’s where the trail ends. Robert Fowler Gafford died on October 24, 1957, at his home in El Paso. He is buried at Restlawn Memorial Park, El Paso Co., Texas.

This entry filed under Howard Biography.

In a letter written to Novalyne Price on February 14, 1936, Howard displays a certain playfulness with her throughout. I suspect it was a way from escaping the reality of his mother’s health. While Hester still had some good days, overall her health was deteriorating. Toward the end of the letter, Howard makes the following remarks about Valentine’s Day:

This being Valentine Day, I suppose I should make the conventional request for you to go and join the army. That may sound a bit wobbly, but look: Valentine comes from the same word from which “gallant” is derived; a gallant may be a suitor, but is also a cavalier; a cavalier is a knight; a knight is a cavalryman; a cavalryman is a soldier. To ask one to be one’s Valentine is equivalent to asking him, or her, to be a soldier. And one can’t be a soldier without joining the army. So, a request to become a Valentine is approximately a demand to go and join the army.

I had never heard of Howard’s definition of Valentine’s Day as he described it to Novalyne – he may have been pulling her leg – or perhaps read that particular version of its origin somewhere. Nonetheless, there are historical facts to back up some of it.

First, though highly speculative, is the notion that Valentine’s name was originally “Galantine,” signifying “gallant,” a word with more obvious associations with courtship, as well as chivalrous knights. The shift in consonant to “v” is explained as the way medieval French peasants pronounced the letter “g.” For those familiar with French cuisine, galantine is also an elaborate entrée consisting of de-boned stuffed meat, usually poultry or fish, which is poached, served cold, and coated with aspic.

Additionally, there are several popular versions of how Valentine’s Day came to be. One is it started in the time of the Roman Empire, during the third-century. This is the version that shows some of its roots in Howard’s definition.

In ancient Rome, February 14 was a holiday to pay tribute to Juno, who was the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. She was also known as the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15, began the Feast of Lupercalia.

During those times, young boys and girls lived separate lives. But on the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the girls’ names were written on slips of paper and placed into a large jar. Then each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and they would be partners for the duration of the festival. In some cases, the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often they would fall in love and  later marry.

This was the era of the rule of Emperor Claudius II and Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. And Claudius the Cruel, as he was known, was having a hard time getting soldiers to join his legions.

The Holy Emperor, it seems, determined that married men were unwilling to join the military, wanting to be with their wives and children in their homes instead of fighting and dying to keep the barbarian hordes at bay, hang on to lands the army had conquered and expand the Roman Empire even further.

So the Emperor decreed that no single man could become engaged to be married and outright outlawed marriage in the Roman Empire. The domestic union and home life was not for young and able-bodied Roman males who he felt they should pledge their allegiance to him, not their wives and families.

Saint ValentineEnter a Roman Catholic priest named Valentine who was loving and kind-hearted and openly defied the Emperor’s demand. He secretly married many a young couple in dim candlelight inside damp basements and dusty wine cellars.

Pope Felix I also disapproved of Claudius’ law and decreed that a change be made to reinstitute marriage, but the Emperor was having none of that. This was the early days of the Catholic Church and it was struggling to gain a foothold and secretly converting those who worshiped the Pagan Gods to Christianity.

Soon Claudius discovered Valentine’s unlawful and clandestine activities and took action. He first tried to convert him to Roman paganism, but to no avail. According to legend, Valentine was imprisoned and put to death by beheading on the vespers of the Feast of Lupercalia, on February 14, 270 A.D.

In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honor the martyred priest. Eventually, that date became the date for couples to exchange love messages and St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers.

Of course, Novalyne was not destined to be Howard’s Valentine in February of 1936, just four months before his death. He had pushed her away and into the arms of his best friend, Truett Vinson the previous year. But it is clear he and Novalyne remained close friends to the very end of his life.

This entry filed under Novalyne Price Ellis.

It’s fitting to round off this series with a post of one of REH’s most memorable and redoubtable characters. And about the funniest. Like the dog Slasher in “Beyond the Black River,” this is a character with four feet. Yes, it’s Cap’n Kidd. Panthers and wolf packs flee from this wandering cayuse with their tails tucked under, whimpering.

Breckinridge Elkins, the stallion’s human counterpart, was an obstreperous brawler himself. His whims and Cap’n Kidd’s were well matched. A fair example of his social interactions can be found in this passage:

If Joel Braxton hadn’t drawed a knife whilst I was beating his head agen a spruce log, I reckon I wouldn’t of had that quarrel with Glory McGraw … Pap’s always said the Braxtons was no-account folks, and I allow he’s right … I let go of [Joel’s] ears and taken the knife away from him and throwed it into a blackjack thicket, and throwed him after it. They warn’t no use in him belly-aching like he done just because they happened to be a tree in his way. I dunno how he expects to get throwed into a blackjack thicket without getting some hide knocked off.

Breck possessed remarkable diplomatic skills as well. After promising Glory to be tactful and meek when he confronts her father over the wedding arrangements, he enters the McGraw cabin and finds a dude with very hard eyes bargaining for Glory’s hand. He reacts as follows:

I come here to tell you the weddin’s off! Glory ain’t goin’ to marry Mister Wilkinson. She’s goin’ to marry me, and anybody which comes between us had better be able to rassle cougars and whup grizzlies bare-handed!

Wilkinson makes the mistake of telling Breck to get lost or suffer. Breck replies courteously, “Open the ball whenever you feels lucky, you stripe-bellied polecat!” Wilkinson draws, and so does Breck, shooting the gun out of Wilkinson’s hand “along with one of his fingers before he could pull his trigger.”

A free-for-all with Glory’s father and three brothers follows. After witnessing the ruction, Wilkinson becomes discouraged. When a distraught Glory (upset by the damage to her kin) shrieks that she’ll go with him and marry him right away, Wilkinson bleats:

I advises you to marry that young grizzly there, for the sake of public safety, if nothin’ else! Marry you when HE wants you? No, thank you! I’m leavin’ a valuable finger as a sooverneer of my sojourn, but I figger it’s a cheap price! After watchin’ that human tornado in action, I calculate a finger ain’t nothin’ to bother about! Adios! If I ever come within a hundred miles of Bear Creek again it’ll be because I’ve gone plumb loco!

Well, Glory is annoyed with Breck for almost murdering her entire family bare-handed and scaring away a suitor (although she didn’t really want him). She tells him off. Breck heads for the horizon vowing to come back wearing store-bought shirts and riding a real horse instead of the jug-headed mule Alexander, just to show Glory what she’s rejected. Searching for such a steed is the way he first hears of Cap’n Kidd.

By now, comparisons of Breck with the legendary superhuman Texan Pecos Bill should be evident. Bill was raised by a pack of coyotes and used to howl at the moon with them. His girlfriend was Slewfoot Sue and his horse was a murderous outlaw named Widow Maker. He tamed a forty-foot rattlesnake and used it for a lariat. Compare that with Breck Elkins’s lasso.

I’d made it myself, especial, and used it to rope them bulls and also cougars and grizzlies which infests the Humbolts. It was made out of buffalo hide, ninety foot long and half again as thick and heavy as the average lariat, and the honda was a half-pound chunk of iron beat into shape with a sledge hammer.

It’s possible that the stories of Pecos Bill aren’t genuine, blown-in-the-glass Texas folklore. Edward O’Reilly wrote them for The Century Magazine in 1917. They were reprinted as The Saga of Pecos Bill in 1923. O’Reilly claimed they were part of an oral tradition created by cowboys during the westward expansion, but that’s doubtful. It’s probably as spurious as James MacPherson’s “Ossianic Cycle” which he claimed (lying his head off) were genuine ancient Irish epic poetry by Ossian himself. He didn’t do badly with his literary fraud. Napoleon Bonaparte and Thomas Jefferson were among those who admired it!

Nevertheless, Bill’s “Widow Maker” and Elkins’s “Cap’n Kidd” are alike in obvious ways. Wild Bill Donovan, “which name is heard with fear and tremblin’ from Powder River to the Rio Grande”, informs Breck that Cap’n Kidd is “a pinto, the biggest, meanest hoss in the world. When he comes into a country all other varmints takes to the tall timber.” He adds that “Cap’n Kidd was a big pirate long time ago. This here hoss is like him in lots of ways, particularly in regard to morals.” The huge paint stallion, also according to Donovan, is “so mean he ain’t never got him a herd of his own. He takes mares away from other stallions, and then drifts on alone just for pure cussedness.”

There’s a comparable equine fury in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sir Nigel. Robert E. Howard was familiar with the novel and its companion, The White Company. In one of his letters he referred to the Lakota warrior Rain-In-The-Face, who came to Little Big Horn determined to cut out the heart of General George Custer’s brother Tom, (who had won the Congressional Medal of Honor twice) for tossing Rain-in-the-Face into the slammer. REH felt a certain sympathy with the grim red man. “Like Samkin Aylward, I warm to a man with a bitter drop in him,” he observed.

Samkin Aylward is one of the main characters in Doyle’s medieval novels, a roughneck archer. He becomes Nigel’s henchman after backing him (against dire odds) in a quarrel with the monks of Waverley Abbey. Nigel is borrowed from the historical Sir Nele Loring, a founder member of the Order of the Garter. The fictional Nigel, while brave, honorable, resourceful and chivalrous, is out of date even in the fourteenth century, brainwashed by his grandmother with tales of noble knight-errantry in a time that never really was. She’s also an arrogant grande dame with definite ideas about keeping commoners in their place. Like Breckinridge, Nigel isn’t the brightest light on the Christmas tree. Courage, a high spirit and battle prowess – yes. Hard common sense – not so much.

Read the rest of this entry »

This entry filed under Howard's Favorite Authors, Howard's Fiction.

The Dark Man, vol. 7 no. 1

After a few delays, the December 2012 issue of The Journal of Robert E. Howard Studies is finally available to order. You can now order an e-version of the zine in addition to the hard copy version, as editor Mark Hall recently explained on the REH Inner Circle group:

Okay, TDM enters the 21st century today. If you want an edition that can be read on most e-Readers, you can now buy TDM Vol. 7, No. 1 (the new issue) at [this] link.

It is in the ePub format which a heck of a lot of devices can use (not the Kindle I am told, but others; you may need to download an app from Adobe).

The ePub edition sells for $4.50. The print copy will sell for $7.50 (and will probably be on sale the end of next week after the proof comes in and is reviewed).

Also, we are starting to put sold-out issues on line for free. The first one being made available is TDM Vol. 3, No. 2. You can download it from [here]

Contents of the new issue include:

  • Prefatory Remarks by Mark E. Hall
  • “The Writer’s Style: Sound and Syntax in Howard’s Sentences” by David C. Smith
  • “I and I Liberate Zimbabwe: Motifs of Africa and Freedom in Howard’s ‘The Grisly Horror’” by Patrick R. Burger
  • “Robert E. Howard and the Lone Scouts” by Rob Roehm
  • Plus severals reviews by Charles Hoffman and Charles Gramich.

UPDATE 02/08/2013: The print edition is now available.

Who said lightning never strikes twice? From the same source that gave us the three unknown pictures of REH the pirate comes this never-seen-before photo of Hester Jane Howard, with Patch, Bob Howard’s beloved dog.


Text on the back of the pic reads: “Mrs. I.M. Howard / Mother of Robert E / Author of Conan / novels, Cross Plains / Tex, with dog “Patch” / accross [sic] front grandad’s house / around 1923-24″

As synchronicity would have it, it is a perfect transition from my series of posts on Hester Jane to those on Isaac Howard, beginning in a day or two.

This entry filed under Hester Jane Ervin Howard.