(Photo found here.)
[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted February 4, 2007 at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]
Superbowl Sunday: halftime.
Among the obscure references found in Robert E. Howard’s correspondence is the following, from a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, dated October 3, 1935:
Here are some clippings which might interest you. The one about “Uncle Gus” and the one about the generous plutocrat who gave the boy a dime for returning a $39,000 check were on the same page of the same paper, and I was struck by the contrast of human natures, and of the methods of the old-time frontier people with modern go-getting business men. There were plenty of “Uncle Gus’s” [sic.] in the past generations of Texas, though not many were financially as able to exercise their quiet philanthropy as he. But there’s damn few “Uncle Gus’s” [sic.] being produced by this highly-advanced age, anywhere.
References like the above never fail to intrigue: who was “Uncle Gus”? What did his “quiet philanthropy” consist of? Where did Howard read about him?
I’ve been unable to find a newspaper with stories about Uncle Gus and a “generous plutocrat” on the same page, but I have found the following, from The Galveston Daily News, Thursday, October 3, 1935:
McKinney Buries Man Who Gave Away Fortune to Deserving Poor
McKinney, Tex, Oct. 2.—AP—Simply, Collin County buried its 91-year-old farmer-philanthropist today.
In the coffin and under the tombstone he selected and paid for ten years ago rested A. M. (Uncle Gus) Wilson, distributor of an $800,000 fortune among deserving farm folk.
Elder R. C. Horn, himself an octogenarian and a Christian minister for 60 years, said last rites for his old friend. The same simplicity of Wilson’s life marked the funeral service.
He was buried in the family plot, just a few paces from the log cabin in which he lived 86 years. The burial ground and home were remnants of a huge fortune, dissipated by philanthropic deeds.
Uncle Gus erected churches, regardless of denomination; built schools and homes for teachers; underwrote teachers’ salaries when doors of the schoolhouse were threatened with closing because of lack of funds; gave youth a financial boost when the cause seemed worthy.
Natives recalled his many deeds of kindness. They remembered the day he walked along a lane, stopped to watch a farm boy hoeing cotton. The boy did not look up at Uncle Gus. He hoed down the row. Uncle Gus gave the lad $1000 in stocks because he worked—did not stop to talk.
The wealthy landowner, who chose the dress of the farmer and lived the same life, held many mortgages, but it didn’t make much difference. A farm couple who toiled long each day to pay off a debt on their farm to Uncle Gus, lifted their supper plates one night and found the heavy balance marked “paid in full.”
He took a group of Boy Scouts on an extended trip across the continent; had new automobiles waiting in the garages of newly-married couples when they returned from honeymoons and gave rich farming land to men of the soil who struck him as being industrious and appreciative.
Uncle Gus never missed a world’s fair until the Chicago century of progress. Ill health kept him away.
He was unmarried and lived alone with a faithful dog who died a few years ago. He buried the dog on his grounds and erected a handsome tombstone.
He lies within a few paces of his dog.
There’s not much information about “Uncle Gus” Wilson on the web, if any. All I’ve been able to find is that at the 84th annual meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, in April 2000, “Pioneer Angel: Uncle Gus Wilson” was a session topic.
Well, Prince has finished singing; time for kickoff. Go Colts!
Addendum: “Uncle Gus” Mystery Solved
Posted February 8, 2007
by Rob Roehm
Thanks to a couple of Cimmerian Blog readers, the “Uncle Gus” mystery has been solved. After reading the initial post, Rusty Burke contacted me:
“Good work on the ‘Uncle Gus’ story [. . .] This certainly helps narrow down the date for the ‘Uncle Gus’ story. I’ll wager that the Dallas News is where Bob saw it; I’m pretty sure that’s the Dallas paper that was available as a dual subscription with the [Cross Plains] Review.”
Later that same day, I received the following from Cimmerian Award nominee David Hardy:
“Rusty sent me an e-mail about your Blog entry on the Cimmerian. I did a bit of checking and found the stories in the Dallas Morning News.”
So, the clippings that REH sent HPL were from the front page of the Dallas Morning News, October 2, 1935. Besides a very similar “Uncle Gus” clipping, the News also ran the following story about the “generous plutocrat”:
Return of $39,000 Check Wins Dime Reward for Boy
First Offer Was Nickel, but Donor Thought That Hardly Enough
ST. LOUIS, Mo. Oct. 1 (AP)—For returning a $39,000 bank check he had found, Woody Robinson, 18-year-old messenger boy, received a dime reward Tuesday.
As the youth was crossing the street he noticed a slip of paper covered with tire marks. It was a Mississippi Valley Trust Company check for $39,000, indorsed David E. Woods, 12 Garrswold Park.
“The man seemed awfully happy to get the check back,” Woody said. “He dug down in his pocket and pulled out a nickel. Then he told me he thought it was worth more than that and handed me a dime. I hardly knew what to say.”
Woods declined to comment.
Well, that’s one mystery solved . . .