The Lost Ervin Mine

[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in Onion Tops #65, Aug. 2015. A revised version was posted Sept. 26, 2015, at twogunraconteur.com. The current version has been expanded to include information from Onion Tops #76, Dec. 2018.]

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Despite an abundance of newspapers that are available online, there are still several collections that can only be accessed in the old-school fashion: ass-in-seat in front of a microfiche reader. [Update: The Lampasas Leader is now available online, here] As I prepared for Howard Days this year, I called around to the local libraries in the towns I was going to visit to see if they had any. Two libraries said they had what I was looking for, though when I actually showed up at the Mount Calm library, I learned that my phone contact had been mistaken. So, I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived at the second location: Lampasas.

Why Lampasas? Well, I’d already been there when researching Howard’s stay in the “old rock hotel” that was “as much fort as hotel” (REH to HPL, ca. May 1935; see my piece in The Cimmerian, vol. 5, no. 5, Oct. 2008), but that was before my slide into genealogy and minutia. In the same 1935 letter, Howard also says that Lampasas is “where my mother spent her girlhood.” And then there’s this, from his December 5, 1935 letter to HPL, “my grandfather had owned a sheep-ranch in the adjoining county of Lampasas in those days [post-Civil War].”

Add to the above the following bit from Howard’s family history, “The Wandering Years”:

A boom was on in Texas; cities were growing. The Colonel [Howard’s grandfather, G. W. Ervin] went into the real estate business [in Dallas], and was successful. But the low Trinity River lands were unhealthful, and, in 1884 [sic.], he moved again, this time southwestward to Lampasas, in the cattle country. Lampasas had been a frontier town in the early ’70s. It was still a cow town, as well, on account of its mineral springs, a health and pleasure resort, the foremost of its sort in the state, before the rise of Mineral Wells.

[. . .]

My grandfather possessed the restlessness of the age. He loaned money, dealt some in cattle; he bought a sheep ranch, but, in the midst of a cattle country, with hired men running it, it was not a success. He wandered over into western New Mexico and worked a silver mine not far from the Arizona line.

That last part about the silver mine has never been verified (until now), but Howard also mentions it in a couple of letters: circa December 1930, to Lovecraft, “Colonel George Ervin came into Texas when it was wild and raw, and he went into New Mexico, too, long before it was a state, and worked a silver mine—and once he rode like a bat out of Hell for the Texas line with old Geronimo’s turbaned Apaches on his trail”; and again in a circa January 1933 letter to August Derleth: “Geronimo once stole a bunch of my grandfather’s horses, and chased him away from the silver mine he was working; chased him with the aid of a mob of his turbaned warriors, of course, that being a job that took a goodly gang of men, whether red or white.” Most of which sounds like family legend, but the Lampasas connection definitely required a visit, especially since the local librarian indicated that they had copies of the Lampasas Leader from the 1880s—only available on-site.

The Roehm party arrived Monday afternoon and got to work. We hit the courthouse first and found several land documents; then we headed over to the library. I gathered the available fiche and parked in front of the reader. I was there until closing time and continued the search when they opened the next morning. What follows is a summary of the Ervins’ time in that fair city [supplemented with information found recently online].

The earliest document I found is dated January 9, 1886, when Robert E. Howard’s mother, Hester Jane Ervin, would have been 15-years-old. On that day, her father, G. W. Ervin, “of the County of Lampasas,” purchased three lots in that “portion of the town of Lampasas known as the Lampasas Springs Company’s first addition to the town of Lampasas.” He appears to have purchased these lots outright for the tidy sum of “fifteen hundred dollars to us in hand paid”—there is no indication of any installment payments due at a later time. The Ervins had arrived.

The next document is another land purchase, dated May 31, 1886. This one appears to be an investment, with $1,500 as down payment, another $1,000 due on June 1, 1887, and “the further sum of six hundred and fifty dollars to be paid on the first day of May A.D. 1892,” not including interest. For this, Ervin picked up “an individual one half interest” in “part of a three league survey” that included a pile of lots in Lampasas.

Next up is a December 23, 1886 document in which Ervin and a partner, L. J. Amos, sell part of the May 31 purchase for $2,156, in installments. That same day, Ervin purchased two more lots in the Lampasas Springs Company’s addition from the said Amos for $1,000, “in hand paid.”

Next on the timeline is an obituary found online from the Galveston Daily News:

MRS. JANE ERVIN

LAMPASAS, Tex., August 11.—Mrs. Jane Ervin, the mother of G. W. Ervin, died here yesterday and was buried today. Mrs. Ervin was born in North Carolina eighty-one years ago, and has been a resident of Texas for twenty-eight years. She was an exemplary Christian and lived an honored and happy life.

On December 3, 1887, over in Temple, Texas, the Temple Daily Times (also found online) had the following item: “G. W. Ervin, of Lampasas is in the city.” What his business there was is a mystery. I guess I’ll have to go back to Temple at some point and have another look.

Another land document was filed in Lampasas on March 6, 1888. In this one, G. W. and wife Alice, “for and in consideration of an individual half interest in six hundred and forty acres of land” in Palo Pinto County, sell the two lots he had purchased from Amos on December 23, 1886.

The library’s collection of newspapers is full of holes, as far as dates are concerned, so there may have been notices concerning the Ervins before this November 24, 1888 item from the Lampasas Leader: “Col. G. W. Ervin left Monday on a business trip to Dallas, Denton and other points in North Texas.”

The Leader for December 29, 1888, confirms the mining claim:

1888 12-29 Lampasas Leader NEW

The April 20, 1889, paper has more: “Col. G. W. Ervin left here Tuesday for Stein’s Pass, New Mexico, to look after his mining interests at that point.” The May 25, 1889 paper announced his return: “Col. Ervin returned Wednesday from Stein’s Pass, New Mexico, where he has been for the past six weeks looking after his mining interests and brings good reports of the mines.”

1889 is also the year that Ervin’s children begin appearing in Lampasas society, starting with Robert E. Howard’s future mother, Hester Ervin, in that same April 20 paper:

1889 04-20 Lampasas Leader-sm

And again on May 25, this time with sister (Georgia) Alice Ervin:

1889 05-25 Lampasas Leader

The July 6, 1889 edition has more news: “Col. G. W. Ervin left here Thursday on a business trip to North Texas and will go on to Oklahoma before returning.” Several of Ervin’s children by his first wife lived or had lived in the Indian Territory at that time. The July 13 paper announces his return: “Col. Ervin returned Wednesday from Oklahoma and reports the boom in that country as about ‘busted.'”

Later that month, as reported on July 27, 1889, some of Ervin’s grown sons were in town and attended a social with their younger sisters:

1889 07-27 Lampasas Leader

And there are other appearances throughout the year. But business also continued. A Mr. Amos, who is listed as being from Oklahoma City, sold G. W. Ervin more land in Lampasas on December 7, 1889.

A month later—January 16, 1890—G. W. sells a bunch of land for $2,000, “in hand paid by my wife Alice Ervin, the same having been paid out of the separate estate of my said wife received by her from her father.” Said father, Joel Echols Wynn, had died on January 1, 1885, in Arkansas. I’ve got a copy of his will around here somewhere.

That fall, it appears that G. W. had had enough of Lampasas. On October 20, 1890, he sold his original land purchase to a lady from Ohio for the sum of $2,500, to be paid in installments. Here ends the Lampasas paper trail, but I wasn’t quite finished with this mine business. After all, I had to drive through New Mexico to get home.

But before the road trip home, I did a little digging online and found an article in the El Paso Times that had somehow escaped my frequent searches. Dated July 17, 1888, it provided a helpful date for the upcoming courthouse dig:

1888 07-17 GWE in ElPasoTimes p1b

With all of this information in hand, the Roehm party stopped in Lordsburg, New Mexico, on the return trip. We visited the site of Stein’s Pass (now a ghost town called, simply, Steins) and the courthouse, where the following document was discovered.

1888 06-05 GWE in NMa

1888 06-05 GWE in NMb

I have been unable to confirm the “chased by Geronimo” claim.

The First Isaac M. Howard

[by Rob Roehm; originally posted March 3, 2013 at twogunraconteur.com. This version updated and lightly edited.]

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

1869 10-18 Quartz Claim

At 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).

 

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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.*

* Potter, Lee Ann and Wynell Schamel. “The Homestead Act of 1862.” Social Education 61, 6 (October 1997): 361.

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It is unclear exactly when Isaac Howard settled on his 160 acres, but it was sometime between 1870 and 1880 (the year his mother, Elizabeth Howard, died back home in Georgia). An 1881 county directory lists Howard as a “farmer,” and by February 1, 1882, he had met all of the Homestead requirements and his patent was approved. Part of his land is seen below.

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Late in 1882, back in Georgia, a chunk of his mother’s land was sold for $505. The transaction was finalized on January 19, 1883. After court fees, a total of $479.75 was divided up between her heirs, including Isaac M. Howard, who received $50.

Later that year, on September 22, 1883, 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, about seven miles southeast of Sonora proper.

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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 the 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?

THE REHupa

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If you’re reading this blog, you may be aware of the Robert E. Howard United Press Association or REHupa (pronounced “ray-hoop-uh”), an amateur press association that is focused on Howard and his writing. If you’re not, REHupa is a bunch of people who occasionally send in 35 or so copies of a fanzine that they have produced to an “editor.” The editor combines all the ‘zines into mailings and sends them back out to the members so that everyone gets a copy of everyone else’s work. There are only ever 30 members. Most of the people associated with Howard fandom have appeared in REHupa over the years—from biographers to publishers, artists and scholars, and even people like me.

A single REHupa mailing will cover a wide range of topics; the quality of individual contributions to a mailing swings dramatically from the outstanding to the abysmal. Some people use their ‘zine as a proving ground for essays, some submit (usually) horrid fan-fiction. There can be articles about comic books, board games, video games, biography, Weird Tales, trip reports, pulp magazines, Texas, H. P. Lovecraft, genealogy, literary criticism, bibliography, lists, and more—all in a single mailing, and all subject to varying degrees of proofreading. The only requirement is that the subject matter should be at the very least tangentially related to Robert E. Howard. Some people really stretch that point.

Anyway, I’ve been a member since 2004 and have now “published” 78 issues of my ‘zine, Onion Tops (more if you count a Special Edition I submitted back in 2005). Over the years, especially at Howard Days in June, I’ve heard a lot of fans complain about not being able to read the mailings. As I mentioned above, part of the reason they aren’t available is that these aren’t, generally, finished products; they are first drafts looking for peer review or the inklings of ideas that need a lot of work. And sometimes a ‘zine is just a person ranting about the latest Conan movie—who wants to have that out in the world? True, there are the occasional gems—like an obscure Howard mention, or a draft chapter for a Howard biography—but overall, if you’re not on the mailing list, you’re not missing much.

Another thing that some fans bemoan is the fact that they could never produce a ‘zine good enough for inclusion in THE REHupa. Well, I finally got tired of hearing that one. If you click the REHupa link on the sidebar, or here, you’ll be taken to a list of my contributions to the a.p.a. I’ve uploaded a few of my early ‘zines so that everyone will see that it doesn’t take much to get in. By scrolling to the bottom, you can look at my more recent contributions. Nothing stellar. Most of the “good” stuff has appeared elsewhere.