[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in two parts as “The Vinson Papers – Part 1” and “The Vinson Papers – Addendum” on July 2, 2011, and July 25, 2011, at the now defunct REH Two-Gun Raconteur Blog. This version updates and combines the two.]
For a long time Truett Vinson was kind of a shadowy character to me, never speaking up as Clyde did, and not saving his correspondence with Robert E. Howard. All I really knew, at first, was that he and Bob went to school together, contributed to The Junto, and, later, had dated Novalyne Price—thereby causing some friction, however unbeknownst at first. Well, here’s more information on Truett Vinson than anyone probably needs, but when you’re a teacher on summer break, what else is there to do?
Wade Truett Vinson was born in Erath County, Texas, on September 26, 1905. By 1910, the family had moved to McCulloch County (the county that adjoins Brown County to the southwest), possibly near Rochelle, Texas, as “Rochelle, precinct 4” is lined through on the 1910 Census form that also provides the following information:
Vinson, W. D. (head), 41, listed as “Clergyman,” born in Alabama
Abby [or “Abbie”] (wife), 44, born in Alabama
Lena (daughter), 18, born in Alabama
Grady (daughter), 16, born in Alabama
Truitt [sic.] (son), 4, born in Texas
Blanche (daughter), 2, born in Texas
[Update: October 23, 2021. At some point before the summer of 1916, the Vinson’s had moved to Brownwood. Beginning with the May 28, 1916 edition, the Brownwood Daily Bulletin began running school notices with mentions of young Truett Vinson. In that May 28 edition, under “Many Good Grades in Public School,” he is listed at the Coggin School, as a “4th grade Exemption,” meaning that he was excused from finals due to his perfect attendance, 80 or better in academics, and 90 or better in deportment. Similar items appear after he advances to the 5th grade. The October 12, 1916 edition has him on the Honor Roll for Physiology; in the November 5 issue, it’s Physiology and Spelling; on December 3, it’s Grammar; and the January 14, 1917 edition, under “High Scholarship in Public Schools,” lists him on the Coggin School honor roll for 5th grade Geography and Arithmetic.]
By mid-April 1919, the family had settled in at 1409 Harrel Avenue (now E. 2nd Street) in Brownwood. On April 26, 1919, Truett’s name and address was published in the latest issue of Lone Scout, a publication of the Lone Scouts of America.
Created by Chicago publisher W. D. Boyce, the Lone Scouts of America (LSA) was intended for “country boys” who were too isolated to join a regular Boy Scouts of America (BSA) troop. The Lone Scouts had equivalents for most of the Boy Scout functions. BSA merit badges were awarded for completing various tasks, like tying knots and building fires; LSA totem pins were given to Lone Scouts for completing “Degrees,” like identifying birds and building lean-to structures. Degree tests were strictly on the honor system. When a Lone Scout completed the various components for one of the seven degrees, he sent in a statement to the “Long House” in Chicago, along with sufficient postage to cover costs, and he received his pin in the mail and earned the title LSD (Lone Scout Degree). Other awards and titles were given for “Boosting” (publicity) and Contributing. The absence of troops meant that there was no way for Lone Scouts to have regular meetings, or even contact with, other Scouts. Boyce solved this problem by creating Lone Scout, a weekly publication that held the boys together. In its pages, Lone Scouts connected with other members, participated in contests, and learned the ins and outs of Scoutdom—they also earned points for contributing, and Lone Scout, or Lonie, quickly became a publication for the boys, created by the boys themselves.
Vinson’s name and address appeared in the magazine in a section called the “Lone Scout Messenger Department.” This was a place for scouts to publish their address along with their interests using a code provided by the editors, in order to begin correspondence with other scouts who had similar interests. Truett listed his interests as B-C-E-O-R, which translated to “B, for Books, History, Fiction, Poems”; “C, Collecting Stamps, Coins”; “E, I want to exchange things with you, and Electricity”; “O, Scouts who live in foreign countries”; and “R, Relics, Indian and Ancient.” His name appears in the Messenger Department again in the September 11, 1920 issue, with interests listed as Astronomy, Collecting, Exchanging, Nature and Woodcraft, and Electricity.
Correspondence wasn’t the only thing on Vinson’s mind. The May 3, 1919 issue of Lone Scout has a short piece by “Lone Scout Truett Vinson” entitled “A Comanche War Raid”:
Some years ago a tribe of Indians, the Comanches, were raiding all Texas. They scalped all the white people and plundered all the towns. A few miles from the present site of Hamilton, Texas, on the Leon River, was a log cabin schoolhouse. A lady from Massachusetts was teaching school. Before she came to Texas a man in Massachusetts was in love with her, and asked her to marry him. She refused for some reason, and he declared revenge.
One day as she was teaching school and happened to glance out of the window she saw the Comanches coming. She told the children to hide and they hid in various places. All of them, except two, were hidden by the time the Comanches got there. They were captured. The teacher whose name was Ann Whitney was shot. The two captives afterward declared that there was a white man in the party of Indians, and that he cried, “At last I have got you.”
It is supposed that he joined the party of Indians to get revenge on her. In the Hamilton Cemetery there is a tombstone erected by the school children of Hamilton County at her grave.Lone Scout Vol. VIII, No. 28 for May 3, 1919, page 7
Similar items would follow: “Facts About Star Science” in the May 10, 1919 issue; “Gee! Just Think!” in the August 9, 1919 edition; and a mention in the November 1, 1919 editor’s column, “Around the Council Fire,” under the heading “Concerning Neptune.”
On January 27, 1920, the Vinsons were recorded on the US Census as the “Vincent” family. Wade D. is listed as a Baptist Minister, and everyone is ten years older than the last Census. [Update: October 23, 2021. The June 23, 1920 edition of the Brownwood Bulletin reports that Vinson was elected president of his church’s Junior Young People’s Union.]
We pick up the paper trail on July 6, 1921. On that day, the 15-year-old Vinson wrote a letter to his younger friend, Clyde Smith, who was in Austin with his family. (This, and a handful of other letters from Vinson to Smith, are part of the REH collection at Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives.) The letter is typical teenage fare, with talk of books and jobs. There are, though, a couple of interesting nuggets.
Toward the end of the letter, Truett writes, “I will see you soon and we will have the club.” He even signs off by saying, “Yours ‘clubbingly’.” This is followed by a comic drawing of a character with “Rankin” written below it. Now what’s all this talk about a “club,” and who is “Rankin”? To find the answers, we must consult Tevis Clyde Smith’s “The Magic Name” and “So Far the Poet . . .” (both conveniently reprinted by the REH Foundation)
In “The Magic Name,” Smith briefly discusses his short-lived publication, The All-Around Magazine, and the club that inspired it. This club was almost certainly intended as a Lone Scout “tribe”: the LSA’s answer to the Boy Scouts’ troops. Another big part of LSA activity was the “tribe paper”—little newsletters circulated between the boys and across the country, including Canada and other parts of the world. Clyde’s paper, The All-Around Magazine, was definitely a tribe paper. One of the issues has an ad for a Los Angeles tribe paper, the Pueblo Totem, and other issues feature work or ads by other Lone Scouts. Regarding all of this, Smith wrote:
This little paper was a follow-up to The All-Around Club, which meant that a group of boys banded themselves together to have a literary program, followed by a game of sandlot—or in this case front yard—football. Our rules were strict, if one sided. For instance, if you took part in the program, you had to take part in football; on the other hand, you could play football without being a club member, or attending a meeting of the society. Our treatment of one boy who was very brilliant, but adamant about participation in anything other than the society programs, was very callous. We requested his resignation.“The Magic Name” in “So Far the Poet . . .” & Other Writings by Tevis Clyde Smith: REH Foundation Press, 2010
Years later, Smith felt badly about this episode with the unnamed boy and an apology of sorts was arranged through an intermediary in New York, of all places. But I digress. Smith says that the club “was disbanded” before he met Bob Howard, which he says was March or April of 1923, right around the time The All-Around Magazine was started.
So that explains the club, and you’ve probably already guessed that “Rankin” was that unnamed boy, but let’s go through the motions anyway. In Smith’s notes for a Howard biography, published as “So Far the Poet . . .,” we find this interesting passage:
Asked Truett if he knew Bob and to introduce me — he said “There he is now.”
Truett was assistant Editor of The All-Around Magazine — All-Around Club — our treatment of [Rankin*] one boy because he wouldn’t play football, as well as take part in the debates and literary discussions — Truett named the Club and we followed with the name for the paper.
The name Rankin is struck out on Clyde’s original manuscript. Apparently, even at that late date, he still had some guilt feelings about the incident and didn’t want to open the wound again by mentioning the boy’s name. (The boy may have been Robb Rankin, a member of Clyde’s class at BHS.) Anyway, we jumped ahead a bit; let’s back up.
In September of 1922, Truett and Clyde were students at Brownwood High School. That same year, a new student named Bob Howard joined Truett’s class. There are no stories about how these two met; I’ve got a theory, though, but that’s for another time. It may be as simple as the two sharing a class. At any rate, Truett met Bob. Then, in the spring of 1923 Clyde started up The All-Around Magazine. Volume 1, Number 1, is dated March 1923, and the lead-off piece is by the assistant editor, Truett Vinson:
A TENDERFOOT’S HIKE
The pleasant job assigned me by the noble editor of this periodical is to tell you gentle readers about the hike of three tenderfeet. I will mention no names, but if you will put your ear close, I will tell you that one of the hikers was the aforementioned Ed. and another one no more than noble me.
The hike was to begin at four o’clock in the afternoon and to last until ten at night. We were to hike to a neighboring mountain two miles or so away.
I will skip all details up to the time we reached our destination. After loitering around awhile we cooked supper, which consisted, among other things, of potatoes and meat. I veritably believe the spuds would have killed a cow had she eaten them. Any way, we ate—
About ten thirty we decided to come home. So packing up we marched bravely down the mountain side. The noble author of this novel led the way and he did no more than run into a barbwire fence and fall into a gully. Anyway, we got home . . .
But whoa! that’s not all! The next morning oh! mama how those chigger bites itched!
MORAL: AIN’T GOT ANY.
And so it went. Beside the above, Vinson also contributed a little piece entitled “Astronomy” to that first issue. The second issue, dated April 1923, has “Texas” by Vinson, and an ad for his father’s furniture business (at end of this post). Around this time, the high school’s annual, The Pecan, appeared, with photos of Vinson and Howard, all the senior class, as well as a page for the Heels Club. Both Vinson and Howard have the organization listed by their photos, but of the two, only Vinson signed the heel in the yearbook (below).
Vinson and Howard graduated from BHS in May, their names appearing twice in the local paper with all the other graduates. This could account for the combined “May & June 1923” issue of The All-Around. This is the issue that contains the first installment of the Smith-Howard collaboration, “Under the Great Tiger.” This is definitely one of the more rare Howard items out there, as Smith claimed his magazine’s circulation was only about fifteen copies. Vinson is also present in that issue with “Read These!” as well as an ad for books he is selling. In an unsigned piece entitled “Eureka!” set in 1986, an elderly Truett Vinson encounters a bevy of bathing beauties and exclaims, “I now know why Methuselah lived to be 900!”
In a June 22, 1923 letter to Smith, Robert E. Howard says, “I got your paper and it’s really good. Hurray for the ‘Great Tiger’! If you want to, you might put this in the next issue, ‘Take my advice and buy your books from Truett Vinson. They’re worth the money. Take it from a guy who knows!’ R.E.H.”
We’ll pick up with the college years next time. Go to Part 2.
[All of Vinson’s writings mentioned in this post, as well as everything known by Herbert Klatt, are available in Lone Scout of Letters.]