The Vinson Papers — Part 5

[By Rob Roehm; originally posted July 11, 2011 at the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and expanded to include a previously unavailable item from the January 1930 issue of The Junto and a recently discovered letter to the Brownwood Bulletin.]

Part 4

The September 1929 Junto caused a bit of a ruckus with its members. Not only did Booth Mooney use “hell” and “damn” in a poem, but Norbert Sydow sent in a drawing depicting a woman with her breasts exposed (above). Just how much of the chiding on the mailing list was actual outrage is not known, but Truett Vinson wasn’t playing that game:

“The Junto” may be a cheap imitation of “Whiz Bang,” but you can’t read Bob Howard, Clyde Smith and Lenore Preece in Capt. Billy’s magazine! They take the honors in this issue. If Bradford wants to make something of The Junto, why doesn’t he write something? Until then, we may only conjecture what that something is! (To Harold: Let Mooney cuss. It won’t hurt him. You are quite a proficient cusser yourself!) The picture is rather good, and not objectionable to me, at least. Draw some more, Sydow! If “The Junto” is to “pick out” one good cause, let that cause be: downfall of prohibition and blue laws! TV.

The October 1929 issue has two contributions by Vinson, a bit in “The Commentary,” as well as new comments on the mailing list. The issue also has Clyde Smith’s “Flasback” which features Vinson, Preece, and REH having a few drinks at a bar. Vinson’s piece of “The Commentary” reveals his taste in poetry. He first disagrees with Juntite Alex Doktor’s positive assessment of Emily Dickinson, then rattles off a short list of poets he considered top notch:

I disagree loudly with Alex M. Doktor or Conrad Aiken in regard to Emily Dickinson. So far as I am concerned, there are only four American poets: Whitman, Poe, Benet (Stephen Vincent), and Bob Howard.

Later in his life, I’ve heard that Vinson characterized REH’s writing as “trash”; based on the two comments above, I’m guessing he didn’t always feel that way. Or perhaps he was just being kind.

Besides the above comment, “New Orleans Sketches” also appeared. (Warning: Some of the language here is offensive. This was written in Texas in 1930 and shows the casual racism that was prevalent at the time):

I am sitting near the back seat of a “rubberneck” bus, touring through the quaint and old world streets of New Orleans. Across from me is a hospital attendant (as I afterward learn) from St. Petersburg, Florida, who assumes a bored air as the blatant voice of our guide rushes at us through the August mid-day heat. But I am all attention as we turn off Canal Street near the smoky Southern Railway depot, and presently pass a depressing stone building with bare walls. A tall iron fence surrounds the place, and there is no sign of life. Our guide informs us there are nuns within the walls who will never come out into the New Orleans sunshine again, but who will spend their days praying for the sins of the rest of us who pass so noisily outside. The guide favors us with a childishly sarcastic laugh as he divulges this information.

Presently we pass the “tenement district” of New Orleans, sordid brick and rotten plank buildings, with dirty outside stairs and family washes hanging out in plenty. Our guide proudly likens New Orleans tenements with those of New York, to the utter disgust of a New York sight-seer who snorts a proud snort. There are no tenements so rotten and dirty and sordid and plentiful as New York’s!

We stop at a very old cemetery in the very midst of the negro tenement district. The guide tells us that the neighborhood is tough, and has to be cleaned out every little while. We can easily see that it is even more rottenly sordid than the white tenements, but we do not stop to investigate its toughness. We pass through the cemetery. Louisiana’s first governor is buried here, and we find numerous graves of early duelists.

The big yellow bus whirls us past the city’s points of interest. Our guide proudly shows us the Napoleon house, the haunted house, the site of the once famous French Opera House, now a dirty vacant lot with vaudeville heralds plastered on boards, and the very old house wherein Ben Turpin came into the world. New Orleans is proud of this squalid building in the French Quarter. Its place in the New Orleans sun is held equally with the more modern and more beautiful and more luxurious residence of Marguerite Clark out on St. Charles Avenue!

We are driven down to the docks, where brawny negro longshoremen unload the boats lined up on Old Man River. The Louisian August sun is beating straight down on the Mississippi, and in triumphant mood the Old Man swoops great heat waves back at us. The niggers are soaked in sweat, but they do not mind. The rubberneck guide’s tongue is never still as we go up one street and down the other. We pass out of the city, on past the Ford assembling plant (when will he ever be assembled?) and the American Sugar Refining Company and the saw mills, through the New Orleans battlegrounds. We stop at the ruins of the old, old plantation where the British general made his headquarters. Behind it is the most beautiful grove of trees, planted in mathematical lines, I have ever seen. The dirty Southern Railway passes nearby, and they are to cut down this grove to make way for oil tanks.

Back on Canal Street in the late afternoon. The Irish cops are coming out of their holes, where they have been during the great heat of the day. A dozen street cars clang and bump up and down Canal.

Late shoppers and theater patrons and office clerks are scurrying along the side walks and across the narrow intersecting streets in single jumps and across the mighty Canal in installments. The hospital attendant from St. Petersburg, in the meanwhile, has had occasion to introduce himself, and I accord him the gracious privilege of knowing me. He emerges from the bus at the sumptuous Monteleone Hotel, which towers above the French Quarter like a peacock. The New Yorker stalks out of the bus at the Roosevelt, and I tool on down Canal Street to my more modest abode.

That same issue has a description of Vinson’s August vacation, entitled “Through Colorado”:

Colorado Springs, Colo.
August 26th

I suppose one could term this place as being ideal for a summer vacation: it is cool, the trees and flowers and grass are green and in full bloom all the summer. There is “wonderful” scenery; and if you are so minded, there are golf courses and polo fields and riding lanes and dance pavilions and etc. I have not been so minded, and so I have only indulged in an orgy of viewing mountain scenery. But the tourists! They pour in here (even as I poured) from Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. They trample you down on every street corner; and when you are really enjoying some magnificent mountain scene, a bunch of them break in on your thoughts with stupid and inane remarks. Of course I grant all tourists the same privilege of viewing scenery as myself, but let them view scenery intelligently—if that could be possible! That will never be possible, and so I shall take future vacations “far from the maddening crowd”—if that could be possible!

Walsenburg, Colo.

Here the tourists look out of the train windows and remark: “What an old and dirty town! I’ll be glad when we get to Colorado Springs!” Walsenburg is where they dig coal out of the earth, and where has taken place some bitter labor battles—always to the ultimate advantage of The Colorado Fuel and Iron Co! But what do tourists care for Poles and Slovaks and Wops who dig the coal that makes their engine steam?

Denver, Colo.

Just a big smoky city—enlightened only by Judge Lindsay. Downtown Denver presents a depressing effect—the buildings are soaked with coal dust and smoke. They lack the freshness of buildings in Texas cities. Denver is noted for its theaters, but they are far surpassed by the theaters of San Antonio.

Cripple Creek, Colo.

Here they loaded about twenty wide-eyed tourists (including me) into cages and dropped us 1800 feet down the shaft of a gold mine. Amidst feminine squeals, a young, hard-faced miner explained the working details of the mine. During his discourse he kept referring to the fact that he had been talking that way since six o’clock in the morning, without anything to eat. But when a fellow worker offered to relieve him, he refused. He liked it!

Above the ground, on every side, squalid and dreary and dirty houses spread themselves. Dirty faced little girls waved at us as we drove away.

* * *

A train excursion through the Royal Gorge. I have been looking out the window at magnificent granite cliffs a half mile above the train, the Arkansas River roaring at the foot of the granite wall on the opposite side of the train. A pretty brunette rises up from her seat across from me, and leans far out of the window. I am presented with a lovely view of her legs: sheer black hose to her knees, held up by black garters, studded with imitation diamonds, and then firm, bare legs! Why, then, should I be interested in a granite wall?

Junto editor Lenore Preece added a short addendum: “Effect of ‘Junto’ on a hitherto modest young man.” Vinson addresses that comment and discusses the rest of the issue on the mailing list:

This issue lacks only a poem or sketch by Bob Howard. If Lenore Preece continues, she will be a very distinguished poet. She has a certain powerful quality usually only found in veteran male poets; very seldom in poets of the “talker” sex. (To Juntites: If you’ll come around some time, in a sort of quiet and secret manner, I’ll show you some pictures of Clyde Smith rather different from the distinguished one in this Junto [see page 66 of “So Far the Poet”]) I am glad Junto readers liked my Colorado and New Orleans sketches. I contend that a description of a woman’s leg can be as artistic and beautiful as a description of a granite wall a half mile high—and how much more interesting! For the benefit of Junto readers: I was quite a distinguished connoisseur of feminine legs and other appurtenances before I ever heard of The Junto! Bradford must have seen Denver through rose colored glasses. I grant that Denver’s parks are beautiful and quiet and clean. But downtown Denver’s buildings are dingy with coal dust. The federal buildings are positively black, except the new post office, and it is rapidly becoming that way. However, show me a city with manufacturing plants and meat packing plants, that is not dirty and smoky! Texas cities are cleaner than Denver and other northern cities because we burn oil in locomotives and gas in our stoves. To Bradford: Your remark [“Truett must have been thinking of that girl when he wrote that Denver was a smoky city.”] is worthy of a Chamber of Commerce. Now why didn’t you come to my defense and side in with me about San Antonio? You do not have the true civic pride, my boy! And another thing. I saw Denver three days before I saw the girl’s legs! TV

The only new item in the November 1929 issue comes from the mailing list:

Harold’s article [“The Religion of the Future”] is the best thing in this issue. To the lady poets: For God’s sake, write about something other than love for at least one issue. This issue is clean because it contained nothing by Bob Howard, Clyde Smith or myself! But wait! We shan’t disappoint you in the future! Booth: Write something sensible. You can do it.

Based on comments in Lenore Preece’s surviving letters to Clyde Smith, issues of The Junto tended to come out a week or so before the month on the cover; so, the November issue was probably in circulation at the end of September. On November 19, Harold Preece wrote to Clyde Smith from Austin:

Your satire, “Heigho’s Adventures Among The Redmen,” [perhaps a prequel to “Heigho Among the Redmen” in “So Far the Poet”] is amusing, but disjointed. You should have used more connectives. Too, the ending was not in good taste. No doubt but that you, Truett, and Bob, are “the three cleverest men in the world,” but why remind us of it?

In a January 18, 1930 letter to Smith, Preece gives us some insight into the three:

As for that premonition about your early death, forget it. It is merely your Calvinist heredity asserting itself. To the same source may be traced your fatalistic views. The great fault is that you, Truett, and, to a lesser extent, Bob, comprise a Mutual Admiration Society. You are a particularly zealous member of the society, as evidenced by your articles, extolling “the three,” in The Junto. All of you, particularly Truett and yourself, need to consider yourselves in the cold light of self-examination.

The January 1930 issue has a collection of quotes from The Scourge of Christ compiled by Vinson:

“The Scourge of Christ,” by Paul Richard
By Truett Vinson

Compiler’s Note: these extracts are from a book I picked up in Colorado Springs, in a book store owned by two feminine creatures, one an old maid (I presumed), the other a very charming and pretty girl—an unusual ornament for a book store. So I lingered and found this book. The author is a Frenchman whose portrait is like that of Walt Whitman’s, with high white forehead and long, white beard. A famous philosopher and mystic.

“The Christianity of Christ ceased to be when Asia ceased to teach it.”

“The Sons of God have always been vagabonds.”

“In a Christian country Christ would be soon sent to prison for vagrancy.”

“The vagabond, when rich, is called a tourist.”

“This, O Tolstoy! Thou camest to understand when death drew near thee, that to enter the Heaven of the Divine Vagabond, thou must, like him, be a wanderer on the highways.”

“A wise man amidst fools appears a dunce.”

“‘Woe unto the rich!’ Not Lenin, but Christ, said this.”

“When the rich assemble to concern themselves with the business of the poor it is called charity. When the poor assemble to concern themselves with the business of the rich it is called anarchy.”

“A lucrative complicity with the world is what is called professional duty—Duty is but another name for profit.”

“I call duty the act for which no profit is expected, either in this world or in the next.”

“Thy luxury—the hunger of another.”

“Soul and body are one. They toil and spin together . . . He who sells his labour sells at the same time his body and soul. Some sell only their body. They are called prostitutes.”

“Each society has the criminals it deserves.”

“Legal murder is the legitimate father of the illegal ones.”

“No one yet has been able to kill Cain . . . To avoid recognition, Cain today covers himself with a uniform.”

“‘Civilization’—the privilege of a few peoples estimated by the number of their firearms.”

“‘Barbarism’—not to have your firearms up to date.”

“The act that gives death is moral, the act that gives life is not—so think the civilized.”

“Among the Christians the office of high-priest is filled by the butcher.”

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,’ saith the Christian, ‘But by every creature that can enter into the mouth of man.’”

“Tigers kill and eat. Men eat and slay. ‘We have not killed’.”

“When man kills the brutes of nature it is called sport. When Nature kills brutes of men it is called a catastrophe.”

“Several men betrayed Jesus—but not one woman. When Jesus was delivered, among all his disciples, women alone stood as men.”

From “The Scourge of Christ,” by Paul Richard.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York. $2.50

This was followed by “In Defense of the Christ” in the February issue:

Most certainly I do not have any quarrel with the esteemed editor of “The Junto”; but to her remark that Jesus spewed forth from a manger, or words similar, I must make the charge that she is of the type of radicals who seek to shock people by making aspersive remarks concerning religion. I am not defending man’s religion, because I do not believe in most of it, and I am not defending Christ in the way that most defenses are made. Christ needs no defense. But the editor’s remark is not shocking; rather, it is disgusting and nauseating. It would be disgusting when applied to any case of birth, even if the child born were a future murderer, for the reason that the mother’s painful loins should be entitled to more respect. Childbirth is a very noble thing; the noblest and bravest achievement of woman, even tho a majority of the world’s inhabitants do not even know what the word “noble” means.

Most people think of Christ as a God, which is a mistake, because then they say: “He is a God and therefore perfect. I am man and can never be perfect. I will believe in him, and that will constitute my religion. When I am not in church, I will do as I please.” I do not think Christ was perfect, nor do I think we could follow him to the letter. If we all were to be chaste and continent as Christ taught, where would we be? But his other teachings, if followed, would make a far more decent place of this rotten world.

To the radicals, concerning religion, a word or two: Confine your efforts to the nauseating hypocrisies of church people. Then you will be achieving something.

There was probably a March issue, but no one’s got a copy of it, so we close the Junto file here and pick up with the 1930 Census. Of the Vinsons’ four children, only the second daughter, Grady, has left the house (married in Big Lake, Texas). The death of Lena’s fiancée probably has something to do with her still living at the folks’ house. The Census was enumerated on April 5, 1930; here’s the breakdown:

Ward 4, Brownwood
Wade D., 61, (head) not working
Abbie L., 67, (wife)
Lena M., 38, (daughter) Book-Keeper at Furniture Co.
W. Truett, 24, (son) Book-Keeper at Wholesale Grocery
L. Blanche, 22, (daughter) Book-Keeper at Abstract Co.

They’ve even got a cousin rooming in the house; he’s employed at the post office, not as a bookkeeper.

The last bits on Vinson in 1930 come from Preece’s letters to Smith. On August 26, Preece wrote from Austin: “I regret that I had not arrived when you and Truett called.” On November 7, he asked, “Did Truett vote Socialist this year?”

And this item in Bruce M. Francis’s “Sports for Sportsmen” column in the Brownwood Bulletin for December 9, 1930:

Instead of hammering out a sports column for today we are going to let a couple of our correspondents handle the day’s assignment of putting together the usual amount of information that one and all await with outstretched hands each afternoon. The first correspondent today is one who has broken into print before, one Truett Vinson, who lives out to 1409 Second Street. The other is Bud Canady, sports editor of the Howard Payne Yellow Jacket. Vinson writes in a rather lengthy epistle that contains some interesting facts, statistics and what not on the Yellow Jackets while Bud has contributed his All-Texas Conference selections. Vinson’s letter is given first.

“Dear Mr. Francis:”

“It’s all over now but the shouting, and I’ll do my shouting here, space and your indulgence permitting. We had all better do our shouting now; it may be many a moon from now when a Brownwood football team wins three consecutive championships! (Unless Howard Payne repeats for the fourth time next year; a not impossible feat!)

“The Hot Stove Grid Team likes statistics, and I pass on a few here which I have compiled for my own satisfaction: The three time champions of the Texas Conference (in 1928, 1929 and 1930) have amassed a grand total of 691 points against all opponents during the three championship years. Their opponents have managed to accumulate 165 against them in the same period of time, 96 of these points being made by S.M.U. and Texas U. in four games. (And S.M.U. and Texas U. usually have good ball teams!) Compiling our statistics only in Texas Conference games for these three years, we find that the Yellow Jackets have scored 340 points while their T.C. opponents could only manage for 56! 49 touchdowns against 8 touchdowns, not counting the extra points, field goals, safeties and what have you! No Texas Conference team in these three years has made more than two touchdowns in one game against the Jackets; in fact no one of these teams has made more than two touchdowns even in the complete three year period; Southwestern made two touchdowns in the ’28 game. They haven’t scored since. Simmons managed a touchdown in ’28 and one in ’30. Austin could not cross the last white line until ’30. Trinity could only garner one touchdown in three years, in the ’29 game. The Saints scored once in ’29 and once in ’30. Are the Jackets three year champions in cold figures as well as in name?

“I didn’t see your 10,000 crowd at the H.P.C.-D.B.C. game, but it was a good game just the same. While we are handing out medals, we should pin a good sportsmanship medal on Ed Blair’s and Roy White’s Hill Billies. What a contrast: their clean, sportsmanlike play and the exhibition of dirty football put up by Texas Tech’s Matadors. As evidence, Johnny Baker received a broken jaw against Tech, but two weeks later he played sixty minutes of good football against the Billies, and none of them played for his jaw!

“Another good sportsmanship medal should go to Nig McCarver. Calling signals for his team in the Southwestern and Daniel Baker games, and being pressed for scoring honors by Lillis of Austin, and Smith of Sourthwestern, he had several chances to cross the goal while within striking distance, but he sent Gibbs and Masur over with the ball. He could have carried the ball for the last touchdown against D.B.C., or he could have sent Masur crashing the line (the logical thing to do), but he sent Johnny Baker (who had not been able to play in either the St. Ed’s or Southwestern games) over for the last touchdown ever scored by the three time champions!”

“Sincerely,”

“Truett Vinson.”

The end of The Junto wasn’t the worst thing to happen to Truett in the early 1930s—on March 3, 1931, his father, Wade D. Vinson (below), died.

Go to Part 6.

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