Of Truth and Suicide
[This series of essays begins here]
Before tackling the question of Hester Jane’s love life, we need to take a detour back to Denton County, and from there to Cooke and Callahan, since we are now in a position to clear up a very important element of the first post in this series, re: Hester Jane Howard’s exact knowledge of her family history. As seen in the previous installment, it was in Denton County that G.W. Ervin had been investing quite some money in real estate and mineral rights. Fifty years down the road, these mineral rights resurfaced, in an episode full of ghosts and of lies revealed, and that would end with a suicide.
On September 1st, 1927, Alice Wynne died in Exeter, MO, aged 79. She was buried with her husband G.W. Ervin in Maplewood Cemetery, Barry County.
A few weeks earlier, on July 11, 1927, a woman named Marilda C. Mitchell, appeared before F. M. Savage, Cooke County Commissioner. Marilda, widow of David Lynn Mitchell, was actually Marilda Caroline Ervin, the first child born of George W. and Sarah Jane Ervin’s union.
Born 1850 in Tishomingo, Marilda had followed her parents to Hill County, where she had married David Lynn Mitchell on 06 December 1868, in the small town of Aquila. The couple appear in the 1870 census in Hill County, next to the Ervins, but they soon left Texas for Arkansas (perhaps accompanying the Ervins there if there is any truth to their short out-of-state jaunt), then Tennessee, and eventually back to Texas after a few years. Marilda’s husband died in 1898 in Cooke County, and she would remain in that area of Texas until her death.
Ten children had been born to G.W. and Sarah Jane Ervin. Three of those had died young. Then, in 1899, Robert T. Ervin, the promising banker from Galveston, succumbed from a heart attack aged 32. Christina C. followed in 1907 and Georgia Alice in 1915. In the summer of 1927, only four of the ten remained alive, though William Vinson Ervin had been in bad health for quite some time, and would die on 07 November. Christopher C. Ervin was alive and well, but he was far from the family, having lived in Oklahoma for many years. The last two daughters were Marilda Caroline and Hester Jane.
It is difficult to say whether Hester and Marilda had kept in touch over the years, or even if they were close. But in the summer of 1927, they obviously acted in unison. A few weeks after Marilda paid a visit to the Cooke County Commissioner, Hester Jane Howard did the same thing in Cross Plains, on August 11, 1927, three weeks before Alice’s death.
Paul V. Harrell, Notary Public – who would later be one of Mrs. Howard’s pall-bearers, and the man suspected to have destroyed Robert E. Howard’s will in 1936 at Dr. Howard’s insistence – thus consigned the following declaration to paper:
Before me the undersigned authority on this day personally appeared Mrs. Hester Ervin Howard, known to me to be a trustworthy person who on being by me duly sworn upon her oath, states:
That Affiant was the daughter of G.W. Ervin and wife Sarah J. Ervin, both of whom are deceased; that she is the wife of I.M. Howard, that G.W. Ervin and wife Sarah J. Ervin were married about the year 1849; that there were born to them seven children from said marriage who were living at the time of the death of Mrs. Sarah J. Ervin [the deceased were John P. Ervin, David D. Ervin and Lizzie Ervin]; and that two other children were born to them without having married and without issue [actually, all of them had married and all had had children]; that Mrs. Sarah J. Ervin died before her husband and that her husband married again and only five children were born of said marriage and that G.W. Ervin the father of the affiant is now deceased; that G.W. Ervin and Sarah J. Ervin died intestate and that there was no administration upon the estate of either of them and no necessity for any.
[Follows here the list of acquisitions]
That said land was not sold during the marriage of the parents of Affiant but was sold after the death of Affiant’s mother and after G.W. Ervin’s marriage to the second wife; that Affiant understands that all the mineral rights in said land were reserved in G.W. Ervin and were not conveyed by said deed; that said minerals have never been conveyed but are still the property of the heirs of G.W. Ervin and his wife Sarah J. Ervin; that Affiant claims a 1/14 interest in said minerals inherited from her mother and a 1/24 interest inherited her deceased father.
Mrs. Hester E. Howard.
Marilda Ervin’s claim was of a similar one, though not as well documented. In other words, the two sisters had decided to go after the mineral rights of their deceased father. I let everyone draw their own conclusions as to Hester and Marilda’s intentions, actions and timing. Their attempts to regain some rights didn’t meet any success, or were not pursued.
The health of the aging Marilda was apparently not good. Less than two years later, in the spring of 1929, she was admitted at St. Paul’s sanitarium in Dallas, where she was treated for involutional melancholia. On 14 July 1929, on the occasion of a brief return to her home, Marilda Ervin slit her throat in her bathroom. She died in the ambulance on her way to St. Paul’s. She was Robert E. Howard’s aunt. Her obit mentioned all her children and grandchildren, but only one sibling: Hester Jane Howard (as “Mrs. Esther Howard of Cross Plains”).
The one question that needed a definite answer in the first essay in this series was the extent to which Hester Jane Howard was familiar with her own family history. Had she given wrong information to her son and husband simply out of ignorance? Given the numerous contacts between family members, Hester’s frequent visits to relatives, and now the very detailed account she gave to Paul Harrell, the answer makes little doubt: Hester Jane Howard knew her family history perfectly well. And in trying to appear younger than she really was in the eyes of her husband, and maintaining that lie after her son was born, she had unwittingly given the latter a warped image of his family history. Howard chose not to see or acknowledge seeing the obvious, and this in turn, must have led him to wonder what was being kept from him, and why.
Some others of Hester Jane’s siblings would play a very important role in the years that separated her from the day she would meet Isaac Mordecai Howard. And it was though one of them, her brother William Vinson, that she would meet the first man she would fall in love with.
[Next installment here]