Post Oaks and Football–Revisited

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted on September 10, 2011, at rehtwogunraconteur.com. This version lightly edited and updated.]

With football season getting started, I was reminded of my first post on the Two-Gun Raconteur blog, “Post Oaks and Football.” In that post, I talked about how accurate the opening scene of Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is. This got me thinking, so I pulled the Grant edition from the shelf and read the chapter again. [The text is the same in the new edition put out by the REHF Press.] The following conversation between Steve Costigan (Howard) and Clive Hilton (Tevis Clyde Smith), which takes place right after the football game discussed in my first post, grabbed my attention:

“That was sure a great run Franey made, wasn’t it?” remarked Steve.
“Yes, it was,” Clive acquiesced.
“Guess you’re here writing the game up for The Rattler?”
“Yes. I guess the student body’ll read it, on account of Franey.”
[. . .]
“I guess I’ll have the title lines in ten point type,” Clive said suddenly. “I think I’ll try a new style for the front page this week. The students won’t know the difference but a man appreciates his own work.”

Given how accurate Howard’s description of the football game had been in this fictional work, I wondered if he had played fast and loose with the post-game conversation or kept mostly to the facts. Luckily, I had a way to fact check it.

At Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, they’ve got Smith’s collection of The Tattler, including the edition that came out right after the November 27, 1924 game between Howard Payne and Simmons. Both of my questions are answered on the front page.

First, “Clive” says he’s writing an article about the game for the paper. In the real world, Clyde Smith was editor-in-chief of The Tattler for the 1923-24 school year. The paper’s staff box does not list a sport’s editor, so I guess we can’t be certain who wrote the following story, but my money’s on Clyde:

After that, “Clive” says he’s going to experiment with a new style for the paper that week. Clyde Smith did exactly that:

Written in 1928, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is presented as fiction, but it’s sure got a lot of fact included. If nothing else, this underlines how good Howard’s memory was. I can’t remember a conversation from last week, never mind four years go.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in Onion Tops #62, Feb. 2015. A revised version was posted on March 17, 2015, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version slightly updated.]

Mary Ervin, aka “Maxine,” the youngest of her Ervin clan, was born at Big Spring, Texas, on October 12, 1906, to William Vinson Ervin, Sr. (Hester Howard’s brother) and Ida Ezzell Ervin (the sister of Hester Howard’s former heart-throb, Frank Ezzell). In January 1908, the Ervin family played host to William’s sister, Hester, her husband, Dr. I. M. Howard, and their baby boy, Robert. The Howards stayed a few weeks “due to illness” and then made their way to Seminole, up in Gaines County.

The 1910 US Census for Howard County, Texas, lists W. V. Ervin, age 48, as “Editor” for a “Paper” in Big Spring, with wife, Ida, 38; two sons, Vinson, 15, and Jessie, 13; and two daughters, Lesta, 8, and Maxine, 3. By the time of the 1920 Census, Jessie had flown the coop, W. V. was upgraded to “Publisher,” and everyone was 10 years older.

In 1921, Maxine participated in at least two declamation contests for the Big Spring high school, winning first place at one of them. She was on the Seventh Grade Exercises program with a “Reading” (sister Lesta performed a piano solo).

There is little evidence of the Ervins in the Big Spring High School yearbooks, the El Rodeo: only the senior photo of Lesta from 1919 and the “Irven” in the “Public Speaking Club” from 1922 that heads this post. My guess is that’s Maxine. She bears a striking resemblance to her Aunt Hester, if you ask me.

In the early 1920s, W. V. Ervin appears to have been starting newspapers in several small Texas towns, including Gail, Westbrook, and Putnam, all practically ghost towns today (yes, I’ve been to all of them). This caused him to be away from the family much of the time, but items in the newspapers show that he visited home frequently, and that his daughters often returned the favor—when they had a break from school. While working on the paper at Putnam, in Callahan County, the Ervins visited the Howards in Cross Plains:

The Misses Maxine and Lesta Erving [sic.], of Big Springs [sic.] were visiting their uncle, Dr. Howard and family, last week. They formerly were in the newspaper business, and for a time the two girls published a paper at Putnam, doing all the work themselves. They stated that they thought Cross Plains was a splendid town, and their visit here was a pleasant one.

Cross Plains Review – Oct. 5, 1923

In a letter dated the same day as the newspaper, Robert E. Howard told Tevis Clyde Smith a little more about the visit: “I’ve had two cousins visiting me, whom I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. They’d read the International Adventure Library and from what they said, Dracula is a hum-dinger. I’m going to order the set right away.”

In 1924, Maxine ran an ad in the Big Spring paper: “I am prepared to take a few pupils in expression. Maxine Ervin.” Also in 1924, sister Lesta moved to the big city and landed a job with the Dallas News; by 1927, Maxine had joined her as both appear in that year’s Dallas City Directory at 2515 Maple Avenue. Early in 1927, Lesta switched from the newspaper game to Etna Insurance. In November, their father William died.

In his essay, “The Last Celt,” Harold Preece reports on Maxine’s activities at the time: “During 1927, while I was enrolled at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, I was introduced by a fellow student to a visiting Dallas girl named Maxine Ervin. Maxine was employed as a clerk by a Dallas newspaper, though she shared my then very incipient literary ambitions. She was a remarkably intelligent woman, and a friendship of some years would follow.”

In another of Preece’s essays, “Robert’s Lady Cousin,” he describes Maxine as handsome and conservative, and says that she once described her cousin Robert as “a Tristan” from Celtic legendry. That essay also describes a 1927 Lone Scout convention that gave rise to a group called The Junto. Maxine was responsible for a photo of those Lone Scouts that appeared in the paper (an alternate shot appears above), was mentioned in the 1927 Texicoma Yearbook (a copy is here), and ended up being a member of The Junto, as well, but not many of her contributions have surfaced.

In 1928, Maxine is listed as a “journalist” with her sister at 4933 Victor Street in the city directory, but she wasn’t in Dallas for the whole year; on September 21, 1928, the Big Spring Herald reported the following: “Miss Maxine Ervin arrived from Dallas to accept a position with the West Texan, the new weekly publication, which is to make its advent here in the near future.” By 1929, Maxine appears to have moved back to Dallas. Both she and Lesta are at 2505 Maple in the city directory. Maxine again listed as “journalist.”

In March 1928, The Junto began its circulation. The first contribution by Maxine that survives is a comment on a previous issue that appeared in the October 1928 mailing:

Good Lord! What are we, cut throats? Have we lost sight of our treasured philosophy, our staunch independence, etc., etc? Did somebody accidentally drop a bomb that wasn’t a dud? I feel like I’d just been in a volcano or something after all this. The Junto is very good. Who is A.M.Y.? No fair hiding behind an alias. Anyway, what he or she said about Truett isn’t quite fair. As for “Our Beloved Barbarian” he can take care of himself.

Her only contribution to the December 1928 issue is this short comment about the November issue: “Not as good as usual.”

Around this time, Junto editor Booth Mooney was asking for biographies of the members. Robert E. Howard was less than enthusiastic about this, telling Clyde Smith in a letter that “I’ve decided I don’t care to have mine appear in the Junto. There are several reasons, the main one being that as several of my cousins receive it, my mother would be pretty near bound to hear about it and there are a good many things in my life that I don’t want her to know about.”

By July 1929, Maxine was back in Big Spring again; on The Junto’s mailing list for that month, Maxine had crossed out the Maple Avenue address and written “Box 1224, Big Spring, Texas.” She also had this comment about the mailing: “The best issue we have had in a long time, and it still has plenty of room for improvement.”

The August 1929 Junto contains a rather sexist piece on women by Harold Preece. Maxine wrote the following on the mailing list: “This issue is very good. I agree with Schultze that Harold is all off about women. Fact is, all men are.” She followed this short comment up with a longer one in the September mailing:

More about Mr. Preece
by Maxine Ervin

I may be putting my foot into it, but I feel like Harold has rather flung a challenge at some of “us girls” and that it should be taken up.

Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not defending womanhood against any mere male’s implications, accusations, attacks, satires, or what not for the simple reason that it isn’t necessary and it isn’t needed. Woman stands alone. She doesn’t give two “whoops and a holler” (quoting hill slang) what the world thinks of her; not if she is all genuine woman, she doesn’t; she may pretend she does, but deep down in her heart, she knows it isn’t so, and that she is going to go her own sweet way and enjoy herself.

The trouble is that women are just now beginning to find themselves. They have been so hampered and fettered by these generations past of strong men that they haven’t had the time nor the opportunity to find out what they really and truly do want. They are just now beginning to understand what life is all about and the vital part that they can play in it. They are learning that they have rights and the power to assert those same rights.

Pistols and horse whips have played a large part in woman’s emancipation, for she has learned that she, too, can meet brute force with brute force when it becomes necessary. If more women would shoot and horse-whip men who insult them and try this cave-man stuff, there’d be less of it, believe it or not.

The fact of the business is that men don’t like to see their chattels, toys, buffoons, slaves and what-not getting on an equal footing with them, economically, socially, or otherwise. It doesn’t suit his male desire for supremacy, for bullying, and brow-beating. He is denied having a meek, helpless something on which to vent the rage and other emotions that he is not man enough to control.

Oh, be fair. I think that all of this double-standard business is the most asinine, insane, and idiotic rot that ever was. I also think the same thing about this constant war of the sexes. We are human; we have human desires, aspirations, and hopes; we have our peculiarities, but first, last, and all the time we are HUMAN. Why can’t we behave as such and live and let live? Of course, there are some men who are unspeakable and some women who are unspeakable, but there are so many, many times their number who are real that I think it is silly to think of the few misfits and rotters when there are so many wonderful ones to think about.

Perhaps women haven’t yet become artists and musicians to rank with their brothers, but give them time. There never has been anything yet that women haven’t been able to attain once they set themselves to it. Anything within reason and that can be accomplished without a great deal of force as wars, for instance.

This is the way I feel about the subject. But I agree with Schultze that Harold should study his subject more. I am inclined to think that for some reason Harold is prejudiced and has not yet been able to re-assume an open minded attitude on the subject. Yet he swears he’s a genuine socialist!

This was the last of Maxine’s contributions to The Junto, as far as we know. The mailing list for the February 1930 issue has her address as “Maxine Ervin, c/o Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont.” The US Census for that year has her there with her sister Lesta B., lodgers in the hotel of William Martin; Maxine’s occupation is listed as “newspaper work.”

By 1934 she’d moved to Longview, where she appears in the city directory with her mother and brother, William Vinson, Jr. In 1935 she had a short story, “They Die by Night,” published in Murder Mysteries. She appears to have spent some time writing radio scripts in Texas and California after this. In 1937, her first novel appeared, Death in the Yew Alley. I found a copy of this and can’t recommend it, nor its digest release, retitled If I Die, It’s Murder (1945). An October 30, 1938 article in the Wichita Daily Times (click here) has Maxine living in Wichita Falls, but the 1940 Census has her back in Longview, working as a reporter, with two years of college under her belt. Her mother Ida died in November of that year; the obituary reports Maxine’s address as Houston. On August 14, 1945, Maxine was the “informant” on sister Lesta’s death certificate. Her residence is reported as Fort Worth, profession is “writer.”

On July 27, 1948, the Breckenridge American had this: “Mary Ervin has come up from Mineral Wells to help out with society a while, telephone her your news.” Two days later, they ran a follow up:

Miss Mary Ervin has come as a relief worker on society to the Breckenridge American. She is away from California about three years. We asked today to give us her first impression of Breckenridge. She wrote:

“A gradual descent extending over more than three years has taken me from San Francisco’s forty-five degree hills to Mineral Wells’ not-so-steep hills, to the smooth, level prairie that is Breckenridge. My notion was Breckenridge leaned more to hills and woodlands than to prairie, so I had a surprise. It is all one piece of that long West Texas stretch which reaches from Fort Worth to El Paso. Breckenridge is a nice place to be in and part of, even if it hasn’t an up and down side to it.”

This didn’t last long though. The August 10 issue has this: “Miss Mary Ervin, who has been helping out in American office, in hospital in Mineral Wells—Society news will be printed as sent in until successor arrives.”

The early 1950s has Mary working the Society column for the Liberty Vindicator, out of Liberty, Texas. An introductory piece, “Mary Ervin New Editor of Page,” appeared on August 30, 1951. Her pieces appeared until at least mid-1952.

On July 25, 1963, Mary “Maxine” Ervin died of heart failure at the Wichita Falls State Hospital. Her residence at the time was the Jerome Hotel in Mineral Wells. Her profession was recorded as “reporter.” She is buried in an unmarked grave at the Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls.

The empty space between the headstone on the right and the two headstones on the left is the unmarked grave of Mary “Maxine” Ervin.

Updates

For those following along, I found a few land records on a recent trip to Lexington, Georgia, and have added the information to “The Howard Family Tree” in part 3 and part 4. There’s nothing too interesting there, except that one of the documents might help pinpoint when Henry Howard moved from Oglethorpe County to Upson County. Maybe.

I’ve also updated “The Texas Spur.” During my perusal of that newspaper, I managed to miss a fairly significant notice regarding REH’s parents (pictured below), as well as a couple of mentions in other newspapers. Thankfully, Patrice Lounet is more thorough than I.

Lastly, a new edition of Robert Weinberg’s The Weird Tales Story is available from Pulp Hero Press (or Amazon). This “Expanded and Enhanced” version has lots of new material, including “Robert E. Howard and the Early Weird Tales (1923-1925)” by Bobby Derie, and “Robert E. Howard and the Later Weird Tales” by yours truly.

The Texas Spur

In a July 22, 1977 interview with Norris R. Chambers (NRC) who had been a friend of the Howard family, L. Sprague de Camp asked if Dr. and Mrs. Howard were close. Chambers responded, “I’d say that Doctor Howard and his wife weren’t too close.” This prompted the following exchange with Catherine de Camp (CdeC):

CdeC: We got that feeling, yeah.
NRC: Because they—they never did separate, or anything like that, but lots of times they didn’t get along too well.
CdeC: Was there a lot of family bickering or fighting?
NRC: I don’t know about that. I don’t think that there was a whole lot of bickering. I think that he was just gone so much of the time that he wasn’t there, and she was, so much, I think.

In a March 6, 1978 interview with Norris’s older sister, Deoma Morgan (DM) recalled the Howards’ time in Burkett, circa 1918. Talking about Dr. Howard, Morgan told the de Camps that “He and Mrs. Howard didn’t get along too well at times.” The chat continues:

DM: [. . .] he’d tell my father about the problems he and Heck [Hester] were having. Maybe threaten to “take out,” but Papa –
CdeC: Did he really threaten, back –
DM: Ah, he did. But Papa always tried to – to iron things out. And he did. And first thing you know, they’d be getting along better.

At some point, de Camp learned that Dr. Howard had transferred his church membership from Cross Plains to Spur—a little town over in Dickens County, more than 100 miles northwest of Cross Plains—and started asking questions. In a July 7, 1978 letter, Norris Chambers responds:

Received your letter asking about Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur? I heard a little about this, but all I knew then (I was pretty young in 1929 [11 or 12 years-old]) was that he was thinking of moving his practice out there. I remember he talked some in later years about the country out there, but I never really knew that he went out there with the intention of “taking out.” However, this could easily have been the case. He often spoke of moving to various parts of the country, but we had heard this talk so much that we just listened to it and figured that nothing would come of it. The Dr. talked of doing many things that he never did. Sometimes he would start on something, but usually got other interests or changed his mind before he went very far with the actual act.

In a July 17, 1978 letter to Charlotte Laughlin, who was helping with some research, de Camp’s ideas are starting to solidify:

[I]n 1929, Dr. Howard went to Spur, Dickens County, TX, where he joined the Baptist Church and registered as a physician in that county. It is known that he and Hester Jane Howard did not get along well; he frequently complained to his friends about his domestic situation and sometimes threatened to “take out” as he expressed it. He also was much given to forming grandiose plans for moving somewhere else, and he did in fact move a great deal, even for a Texan, down to the time he settled in Cross Plains in 1919-21. One of his plans, of which he talked, was for moving his practice to Dickens County. Now, did he move to Spur as an abortive attempt to desert his family? Or did he expect them to join him there? If so, did they refuse to move from CP? In any case, he was soon back in Cross Plains.

In an August 28, 1978 letter, de Camp told Mrs. Lindsey Tyson that he’d “discovered that in 1929, Dr. Howard left his family and joined the church in Spur, Texas, where he also registered as a physician. Next year he was back in Cross Plains.” He then asked, “Does Lindsey recall any quarrel in the Howard family at this time, which might have led to this temporary separation?”

De Camp’s partner in crime, Jane Whittington Griffin, was also asking questions. Jack Scott responded to her in an August 31, 1978 letter: “I was in college in 1929 at the time you say Dr. I. M. Howard moved to Spur and opened temporary practice. Consequently, I have no knowledge of that. Neither am I familiar with any unhappiness in his marital life.” In de Camp’s “Notes on talk with Jack Scott, 2/21/80,” de Camp wrote, “The reason for IMH’s stay in Spur was a cotton boom in that region, which he thought would give him a chance to make some money.”

All of this information was used to create the following paragraphs in 1983’s Dark Valley Destiny:

Early in 1929 a professional colleague had told Isaac Howard of a cotton boom in sparsely-inhabited Dickens County. This was the real West Texas cattle country, the Lower Plains adjoining the High Plains still further west. The vegetation there was thin. The climate, while not so severe as on the High Plains, was exacting enough, with over twenty inches of annual rainfall, temperatures ranging from 10°F to well over 100°, and lots of wind.
Dr. Howard learned that many new people would be coming into the region to grow cotton by irrigation. Undoubtedly they would have need of a physician. Thinking this a chance to make some quick cash, Isaac Howard went to Spur, a town of moderate size in Dickens County, 112 miles northwest of Cross Plains.
On May 4, 1929, he took out his license to practice medicine in Dickens County. He transferred his letter of membership in the First Baptist Church of Cross Plains, which he had joined in 1924, to the Baptist Church in Spur. He evidently meant to stay for some time in Spur, one of those places on the fringe of things to which he had always been drawn. We can only guess what part was played in Isaac’s move by his discomfiture over his wife’s royal pretensions, his son’s animosity, and the necessity of sharing his small house with a roomer.
While the dates of Isaac’s moves are uncertain, it appears that his sojourn in Spur lasted at least half a year. He must have come back often to Cross Plains to visit his family, for the townsfolk of Cross Plains seem to have been unaware of his absences. In mid-1929 he probably returned home to stay for at least half a year, because of Robert Howard’s absence during this time. We do not know whether the doctor returned to Spur during the first half of 1930; in any event he transferred his church membership back to Cross Plains on August 28, 1930.

All of which has the following footnote: “Interview with J. Scott, 21 Feb. 1980; letter from Rev. T. Irwin, 25 Aug. 1977.”

And here’s how it’s all handled in the 2nd edition of Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder, the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard (2011):

Between the money made by Robert for his prize-fighting fiction and the three hundred dollars that Weird Tales paid him for “Skull-Face,” Robert was sitting pretty in 1929. However, his home life was in a turmoil; the Howards had taken in lodgers again, and the house was filled to capacity. Robert, then, decided to go to Brownwood for six months. No records indicate why he did so, but he left sometime in July, 1929, and returned to Cross Plains in December, 1929. Considering that his parents’ marriage had broken down to the point of partial estrangement, it is possible that Robert just needed a change of scenery from cold silence and hostility from his mother and loud complaining about his wife’s lack of attention and bouts of pretension from his father. What Robert did in Brownwood and who he stayed with are unknown. During the first part of 1929, Isaac Howard went to Spur, Texas, either to test the waters and see if he could set up a practice there, or to get away from Hester, or maybe both. Robert, then, may have moved away to force his father to come home and take care of her. No one can say for sure what maneuverings took place at the end of 1929, nor what prompted them. Robert wrote to Smith, after returning from his six month furlough in December 1929, “Here I am doing business at the old stand or trying to. I don’t know if I’ll be able to write worth a damn here or not.” Apparently, things hadn’t settled down at home just yet.

So. While there aren’t a lot of people who testify to it, it does seem that there was some marital discord in the Howard house, at least when they lived in Cross Cut and Burkett. (And I haven’t even mentioned Annie Newton Davis’s interview, in which she tells of Hester Howard pining for a lost love and regretting her marriage to Dr. Howard altogether.) Even without marital dischord, though, there was a lot going on in the Howard home in mid-1929. While I have not uncovered the August 25, 1977 letter from Rev. T. Irwin that tells of Dr. Howard transferring his church membership from Cross Plains to Spur, there is this May 3, 1929 notice in the Cross Plains Review:

Dr. I. M. Howard left on Wednesday [May 1] of this week for Spur, Texas, where he has gone with a view of tentatively locating there for the practice of his profession. If the climate of that locality is more agreeable to his health he may make it a permanent location; otherwise, he announces, he will return to Cross Plains. Dr. Howard has been one of the most prominent physicians of Cross Plains and this community for a number of years. Barney Lindley, former owner of the City Drug Store here, is now operating a drug store in Spur.

That same day, The Texas Spur announced, “Dr. Howard and family, of Cross Plains, are moving to Spur. Dr. Howard will be with the City Drug Store and engage in the practice of medicine.” It is interesting to note the “and family” portion of this note. If Dr. Howard’s intention was to “take out” and leave Hester, he certainly wouldn’t be bringing his family along. Let’s just chalk this up to a writer’s exuberance. On the very next day, a Saturday, while Robert E. Howard entertained Clyde and Truett in Cross Plains (see notice in Cross Plains Review from May 10), Dr. Howard was registering his credentials at the Dickens County courthouse. He had arrived.

Or had he? The following Friday’s Review (May 10) has this note: “Dr. I.M. Howard left on Wednesday [May 8] of this week for Spur, Texas, where he has gone with a view of tentatively [locating] there for the practice of his profession.” That same day, The Texas Spur had a front page item:

Probably unrelated to the tale of Spur, on May 14, T. H. Collins of Burkett filled out a promissory note to “Howard & Young” for $290. The note gives him one year to repay the amount. It was recently found in a stash of Dr. Howard’s papers. No further details are available at present.

On May 17, The Texas Spur picks up the tale:

Robert Howard was long out of school by 1929, so it is unclear why “the close of the school term” would provide the green light for Dr. Howard to move. Perhaps the Howards had a boarder who was leaving then, or maybe the reporter just assumed. In any case, the article seems to imply that the whole family is relocating.

The next edition of The Texas Spur, May 24, has more details:

If this item can be believed, it sure puts a damper on the idea that Dr. and Mrs. Howard were having marital problems at the time, much less that he was planning to leave his wife. After spending some time with Isaac in Spur, Dr. Howard returned the favor by visiting Hester in Cross Plains on June 1-2, as this item from the June 7 Review attests: “Dr. Howard, who has moved to Spur, visited with his family here past week end.” The paper also reports that “Robert Howard is visiting relatives in Brownwood this week.”

The Texas Spur for June 7 reports that Dr. Howard attended a funeral in Belle Plains. It also has a “Professional Announcement” regarding the opening of his offices in the Campbell Building, but far more interesting is this third item:

It seems unlikely that Mrs. Howard had actually moved to Spur, but there’s nothing to say with certainty that she didn’t. Edit: Actually, it looks like Hester didn’t last the week, as this clipping from the June 14 Spur paper points out (thanks to Patrice Louinet for bringing this to my attention):

Whatever the case, by June 21, Dr. Howard is advertising in the local paper and visiting Cross Plains, again, the following week, June 28.

The same ad appears in The Texas Spur on June 29 and July 5, but it appears that it did not induce people to visit the good doctor. On the same day that his final ad appeared in Spur, July 5, the Cross Plains Review was reporting that “Dr. Howard Moving Back to Cross Plains”:

DR. HOWARD MOVING
BACK TO CROSS PLAINS

Dr. I. M. Howard, who went to Spur about two months ago with the view of investigating the prospects of a permanent location there, has returned to Cross Plains and will resume his practice in this locality. He will occupy his former offices at the Cross Plains Drug Store. The doctor’s many patrons and friends are glad that he decided to return to Cross Plains.

Around the same time, Robert Howard was receiving visitors from Brownwood. The July 12 Cross Plains Review has not one, but two items for Howard:

Item: Truett Vinson and Clyde Smith of Brownwood spent past weekend with Robert Howard here.
Item: Harold Creece [Harold Preece] of Austin visited with Robert Howard last week.

The July 26 edition has this: “Robt. Howard, son of Doctor and Mrs. I.M. Howard, spent the past week-end on a visit to Brownwood.” Perhaps he was moving there, and not just visiting, as the August issue of The Junto lists Howard’s address at 816 Melwood, in Brownwood. It was a good time to move there: Tevis Clyde Smith graduated from Howard Payne on August 7.

On August 9, the Review reported “Lindsey Tyson visited with Robert Howard, at Brownwood, the past week-end.” The September, October, and November issues of The Junto have Howard in Brownwood. The December issue has not been located.

Following his return to Cross Plains, there is scant reference to Dr. Howard in the papers, [Edit: though he does appear in the August 2 edition, where it is reported that he and his wife attended a July 28 dinner party together. The August 22 Brownwood Banner-Bulletin has the good doctor in the small community of May “prospecting.” (hat-tip: Patrice Louinet)] He also appears in a November 1 item in the Review: “Robert Howard returned to Brownwood Monday after spending several days with his parents, Dr. and Mrs. I.M. Howard, here.”

There is no further mention of Spur on the record.

[Originally published in Onion Tops #80 in REHupa 281, February 2020. This version has a few corrections.]

Alger’s Golden Hope

[Originally posted by Rob Roehm, on March 16, 2012, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version lightly edited.]

On a recent trip to Texas I had some time to read. Air travel isn’t the best for concentration, so I selected a couple of “easy reading” novels for the flight, both by Horatio Alger, Jr. I’ve wanted to read Alger since seeing the list of his books on the Robert E. Howard Bookshelf. Over the years, I’ve picked up quite a few titles from the Bookshelf and I was glad to finally read a couple of them. I don’t recall reading any of Alger’s “boys’ adventure” stories as a kid, but I was aware that his novels usually featured a scrappy youth who overcomes the obstacles thrown in his way. What, I wondered, might Robert E. Howard have thought of these books?

The first book I read was Only an Irish Boy. This tells the story of Andy Burke, who struggles to help provide for his mother and sister with the help of an altruistic colonel, Anthony Preston. When Preston dies, his wife attempts to suppress his will, which names Burke’s mother as one of the beneficiaries. The novel has a robbery scene in a forest which sort of reminded me of Howard’s “In the Forest of Villefére” or a Solomon Kane yarn, but was otherwise uneventful, at least as far as a Howard connection: there is no shortage of ups and downs for the star of the novel. All ends well, of course.

The next book was Mark Mason’s Triumph. It concerns the selling of stocks in a Nevada gold mine, the withholding of the proceeds to Mrs. Mason by her brother-in-law, and Mark Mason’s uncanny ability to overcome all obstacles. One scene has a boy locked in the attic as a punishment, which was slightly reminiscent of Howard’s “The Ghost with the Silk Hat,” but the really interesting part was the name of that gold mine: “Golden Hope.” This, of course, is the name of the mine in Howard’s own “Golden Hope Christmas,” first published in The Tattler in 1922 while Howard was attending Brownwood High School. Someone has probably noticed this before, but it was news to me.

L. Sprague de Camp described Howard’s tale in Dark Valley Destiny:

Golden Hope Christmas,” a sentimental trifle, tells of a Western badman who sells a worthless gold-mining claim to a tenderfoot and is outraged when the tenderfoot strikes it rich. He lies in wait for the lucky miner but gives up his plan to shoot him because it is Christmas morn.

Reading Howard’s story again, it certainly could have been inspired by his reading of Alger. Red Ghallinan’s change of heart at story’s end would fit nicely in an Alger novel, as would Hal Sharon’s reward for his hard work. But overall, I’ll have to agree with de Camp’s assessment: “sentimental trifle.”

Anyway, there are six other Alger titles on the Howard Bookshelf: The Cash Boy, Joe’s Luck, The Tin Box, Tom the Bootblack, The Young Acrobat, and The Young Miner. I recently purchased a couple of Alger collections for my e-reader; for less than ten bucks I’ve got all of his titles from Howard’s bookshelf. Who knows what other Howardian nuggets these might contain? But I think I’ll wait a while to read more—I’ve had enough of boys’ adventure fiction for now.

Contact Without Friction!

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted at rehtwogunraconteur.com on September 4, 2012. This version slightly expanded.]

In 1928, Robert E. Howard was looking for contacts outside of the small town he was living in. A reader of the E. Haldeman-Julius publications, it seems likely that he encountered an ad for a correspondence club in an issue of The Debunker or Haldeman-Julius Weekly.

At least as early as the mid-1920s, a Pennsylvania chemist named Merlin Wand had started a list of “intellectually marooned” pen-pals. By 1927, he had acquired enough names to start a “one-man operation called ‘Contacts’ [which] was a clearinghouse for isolated book-lovers and neophyte writers.” (*) He began placing ads in various publications—The Survey, Haldeman-Julius Weekly, etc.—where, for the cost of a stamp, interested individuals would receive the “Contacts Listing Form.” Once the form was completed, applicants sent it and one dollar back to Wand to be listed in Contacts, “the only correspondence club for the mentally marooned.” (**) A typical ad appears below:

Contact Without Friction!

Are you mentally isolated? “Contacts,” literary correspondence club, introduces you to versatile, unconventional minds. No Formalities. Books loaned free to members. Registration fee $1.00. Particulars, stamp: Merlin Wand, Manorville, Pa.

Thanks to the Glenn Lord Collection, we now know that in the spring of 1928, Robert E. Howard mailed in a stamp and was sent the “Contacts Listing Form” on May 26 (see The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard: Index and Addenda). He filled out the personal information, indicating that his general attitude was “Liberal,” that he was “young” and “single” and that his occupation was “Magazine writer, prose and rhyme.”

Based on how Howard filled out his Contacts Listing Form, it appears that he was more interested in gathering information than in obtaining pen-pals. Under a list of 28 subjects including Mysticism, Sexology, Art, Literature, etc., Howard chose only three: Poetry, Anthropology, and Psychology (he typed “Abnormal” after the last). Then, in the “subjects not mentioned” area, he added Criminology and “Obsessional dementia.” In the additional information slot, Howard wrote the following:

Especially would like to hear from anyone having had experiences with cases of compulsory and criminal insanity; information will be treated as confidential. Also interested in devil worship, human sacrifice, anything unusual, grisly or strange.

The fact that this form remained with Howard’s papers shows that he didn’t send it in with the dollar membership fee. One wonders what type of pen-pal he’d have met if he had sent it in.

*Wixson, Douglas. Worker-Writer in America: Jack Conroy and the Tradition of Midwestern Literary Radicalism, 1898-1990. University of Illinois Press: 1998.
**Sears, James Thomas. Behind the Mask of the Mattachine. Psychology Press: 2006.

My Name Is Earl

Earl Lee Comer was one of Robert E. Howard’s first cousins. When his mother died in 1915, he left his home in Big Spring, Texas, to live with the Howard family in Cross Cut. Just 17, he attended the Cross Cut school for at least one year, earning a spot on the basketball team. Whether he was a “big brother” or a “big bother” is not known, but there are a couple of “cousins” mentioned in Howard’s correspondence that could refer to Comer. In 1918, the Howards moved to the nearby town of Burkett (where Robert tried out for the basketball team). Whether or not Comer accompanied them on this move is not known: he may have returned to Big Spring before joining the military on May 25, 1918. Comer visited the Howards many times over the years and may have corresponded with his Cousin Robert. Most of this was not known in 1983 when Comer was introduced, as follows, in L. Sprague de Camp’s biography of Howard, Dark Valley Destiny:

Robert Howard was thirteen years old when his family bought their home in Cross Plains. Although Robert had not outgrown the Burkett school system, which lacked high-school facilities, we surmise that Mrs. Howard’s nephew, Earl Lee Comer, who had come to live with them, had already reached high school age. Very little is known about this nephew, except that he shared the Howards’ house for several years. Robert, in his later letters to Lovecraft, never once mentions the slightly older lad whose presence must have affected him in one way or another. Since the two boys shared the sleeping porch, ate at the same table, and even attended the same high school, it is indeed curious that no mention of him appears in the correspondence of either Robert or his father.

Queries to former teachers at the Cross Plains school and to others who lived in the neighborhood have revealed nothing. All we know is that after completing his high-school courses, Lee Comer left Cross Plains to work for one of the oil companies in Dallas. Perhaps no one will ever know what Robert thought of this interloper in his home or what this orphaned youth thought of his thirteen-year-old cousin. [pg. 133-34]

The second edition of Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard (2011) corrects the timing above (which was inaccurate in the first edition), but doesn’t add anything new:

It was at this time [while living in Cross Cut] that Robert had to endure the first of many boarders. His orphaned cousin, Earl Lee Comer, was staying at the Howard house, and attended the Cross Cut High School. Robert was forced to share the sleeping porch with this older boy, who came to them though Hester’s side of the family. Comer stayed for at least a year, presumably until he graduated, and then enlisted in the military. Robert never discussed his cousin to anyone. [pg. 37-8]

I’m not sure how I feel about calling an orphaned cousin “a boarder,” but I’ll leave that alone. What both of these biographies suggest is that Comer’s stay with the Howards was less than ideal, and that Robert E. Howard didn’t talk about it later. So, which is it? Was Comer’s presence in the house something to be endured, or was it welcomed? Did Robert Howard never talk about this cousin, or simply not use his name? Besides the fact that Earl Lee Comer lived with the Howards, what do we really know about him? His story begins in Tennessee . . .

Hester Ann Perry was born in Tennessee in March 1835. Around 1854 she married a gentleman named Good. That union produced three children and ended in 1860—cause unknown. Only Sarah, the youngest child, accompanied Hester when she moved to Illinois. Shortly thereafter, Illinois native John Fletcher Comer came calling. Born in 1837, he too had a child from a previous entanglement, but that son was living with his mother, so John Fletcher wooed and married Hester Ann in 1862. In September 1865, they had their first child together: John Frank Comer. At the time of the 1870 Census, the Comers were living in Massac County, in southern Illinois, and had been joined by another son: James A. Comer. John Fletcher was a farmer; his wife kept house.

By 1880, the family had moved north to the tiny town of Leef, in Madison County. John Fletcher still farmed, but he had a lot of new help: his first child, Jacob W, had returned to live with his father’s family, and one of Hester’s other sons, Thomas S. Good, had come to live with his mother; both boys were in their early twenties. The family laid down its roots in Madison County and had ties there into the mid-20th century.

Between 1880 and 1887, information is scarce, but by the end of 1888 the family had packed up and moved to Missouri—Saint Louis, to be precise. There are several Comers listed in the city directory starting at least as early as 1867, so perhaps they moved to be closer to family. Whatever the reason, in 1889 the Comer men are all listed: “John F” Senior, is an “agent” of some kind; his sons “James K” and “John F, Jr.” are carpenters. The information in the 1890 directory is the same, except that John Sr. is now listed as a salesman, and John Jr. is now going by his middle name, Frank.

The 1891 directory has Frank Comer listed as a collector for the Moffitt-West Insurance Company; in 1893, he is listed as a solicitor. The 1894 and ’95 city directories have the whole Comer clan living together, presumably at John F’s home, with one exception: Frank. During this period Frank had moved south to Commerce and become a reverend. The October 12, 1895 edition of The News Boy (Benton, Scott Co., MO) announced his arrival:

FROM COMMERCE
Quite a crowd was out Sunday night to hear the new preacher, Rev. J. F. Comer, for the first time.

The same paper mentions a few weddings that Rev. J. F. Comer officiated at Commerce later in 1895, but after a January 25, 1896 mention, Rev. Comer drops out of sight. His next appearance is on March 4, 1896, over in Exeter, Barry County, where he married Alice Ervin. The March 12, 1896 Muskogee Phoenix has a few more details:

The friends of Miss Alice Ervin, formerly a resident of Muskogee, and a sister of Mrs. J. 0. Cobb [aka Christena Ervin], will be interested in learning that Miss Ervin was married on Wednesday of last week to Rev. J. Frank Comer, of St. Louis, Mo., at the home of the bride’s parents at Commerce [sic: they lived at Exeter], Mo. The many friends of Miss Ervin in Muskogee join the friends at her home in wishing the wedded couple all the peace, joy and contentment that life affords.

I have found no other mention of J. Frank Comer or his bride in 1896. There is an 1897 Land Ownership map of Richmond, Missouri (Ray County) that has a “J. F. Comer” owning a lot next to a cemetery (below). This could be our man, but the 1897 Saint Louis directory has another candidate, a “John F” Comer listed as a teacher. All the other familiar Comers are sharing a house on Marceau Avenue, but this John F. has “bds” at 3922 N. 20th Street. Whatever the case, by July 13, 1898, both Mr. and Mrs. John Frank Comer were in Saint Louis attending the birth of their only child, Earl Lee. They were not together for long.

The 1899 Saint Louis directory lists “Comer, John F. Jr. Rev” at home with his father at 3113 N. 20th. As wives are not listed in the directories, it is not known if Alice and Earl were living with the Comers, but by 1900, the answer is clear. On June 6, 1900, in the city of Saint Louis, John A. Casserly arrived at the Comer home to enumerate the U.S. Census. He recorded the following: Comer, John F, head of household, age 62, born June 1837, salesman; Comer, Hester A, wife, age 65, born March 1835; and Comer, John F, son, age 34, born September 1865, collector, insurance. In the box for Jr.’s marital status, Mr. Casserly marked “widowed.” Where Alice Comer and her son had gone is a mystery. They do not appear to have been recorded on the 1900 Census.

As for Frank, life went on. He is listed as Rev. John F. Comer, Jr., living with his father, in the 1901 and 1903 Saint Louis directories. He does not appear in the 1904 directory, probably because he was elsewhere, meeting his next wife, Sarah R. They were married in 1905 and were back in Saint Louis by 1908, where Frank is listed in the directory as a clerk at the Saint Louis Times. The 1910 Census shows Frank and Sarah in Saint Louis. Frank is a salesman at a retail store. This second marriage doesn’t appear to have lasted long, either, as the 1920 Census has Comer as a single lodger in the home of Edward McCaslin and family. The 55-year-old Frank Comer reported his profession as Life Insurance Agent. In 1928, John Frank Comer was hit by a car and died. He was buried back at the Comer plot in Edwardsville, Madison County, Illinois.

Following the breakup of the Comer marriage circa 1899, Alice and Earl Lee appear to have sought out the comfort of family in Big Spring, Howard County, Texas, where Alice’s older brother, W.V. Ervin, ran the local newspaper and raised a family. The Comers may have been in Big Spring when the Howards visited there for several weeks around the turn of the New Year in January 1908. The Comers appear on the 1910 Census, there in Big Spring, with Alice listed as a widowed dressmaker (18 years before the death of Frank Comer). In 1911, Earl Lee took part in the formation of Texas’s Troop No. 1, the so-called “oldest Boy Scout troop in Texas,” which began in Big Spring that year. How long he was involved with the Boy Scouts is unknown. On July 14, 1915—the day after his seventeenth birthday—Earl’s mother died, cause unknown. He was shuffled off to a tiny town in Brown County to finish up his schooling. He moved in with his mother’s sister—his aunt Hester Howard—and her family, Uncle Isaac (or perhaps Uncle Cue) and a cousin, one Robert E. Howard, who was just nine years old.

Comer was almost eight years older than his cousin, but the two young men appear to have engaged in behavior typical of teenage boys. Comer joined the basketball squad at the Cross Cut school and was described in a December 10, 1915 Cross Plains Review item as a “goal thrower.” In a May 24, 1932 letter to H.P. Lovecraft, Howard described a scene that seems to include Comer, a known Boy Scout:

Another thing that discourages me is the absolute unreliability of human senses. If a hunting hound’s nose fooled him as often as a human’s faculties betray him, the hound wouldn’t be worth a damn. The first time this fact was brought to my mind was when I was quite small, and hearing a cousin relate the details of a camping trip, on which one Boy Scout shot another through the heart with a .22 calibre target rifle. I was never a Boy Scout, but I understand that they are trained to be keen observers. Well, there were about twenty looking on, and no two of them told the same story in court. And each insisted that his version was the correct one, and stuck to it. And I understand that this is common among all witnesses.

More shenanigans are described in Howard’s circa December 1933 letter to August Derleth:

One of the damndest falls I ever got in my life was on a frozen pool—or tank, as we call them in these parts. I was just a kid, and wrestling with my cousin who was much older and larger. Eventually our feet went from under us, and we both came down on my head.

Both of the incidents that Howard describes could be remembrances of his time in Cross Cut, when his cousin Earl lived with them. Of course, this is just speculation; perhaps Earl’s stay was as bad as de Camp thought it was. Either way, by May 25, 1918, Comer was gone.

Sometime before his departure, Earl had enlisted in the United States Navy, probably at Abilene. His start date was May 25, 1918. Perhaps as part of his enlistment, he ended up in Milwaukie, Wisconsin. At the time of the 1920 Census, enumerated on January 23, he was recorded as a lodger (on a page full of lodgers). A 1920 city directory has “Earl Comer” living at the YMCA. But he was “home” for the holidays that December:

E. L. Comer of Big Spring is here to spend the holidays with his aunt, Mrs. I. M. Howard. He is helping W. E. Butler, grocerman, during the holiday rush.

Cross Plains Review, December 17, 1920

It appears that his discharge from the Navy was completed on September 30, 1921, but given his arrangements in 1920, it seems he was out of the service before then. A January 7, 1921 note from the Big Spring Herald seems to confirm this:

Earl Lee Comer who recently returned from Milwaukee, Wis., where he had been to take a course in mechanical drawing, after spending the holidays with friends and relatives in this city left for Cross Plains where he will make his home.

Earl didn’t stay long in Cross Plains the second time, certainly not long enough to cause the family much trouble. He arrived sometime after January 7, 1921, and was off to Dallas in time to be included in the 1922 city directory. His profession is listed as “draftsman.” He would remain in Dallas until at least mid-1924, possibly into 1925, but by the summer of that year he was way out west. California! He shows up in the 1925 Los Angeles city directory as a draftsman. And, while living in the Golden State, he kept in touch with his relatives in Cross Plains.

In Howard’s Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, his semi-autobiographical novel, the character that represents Howard says that a letter “boosting” his first-published story appeared in Bizarre Stories (aka Weird Tales), and that the “letter had been written by a cousin in California, at [his] special request.” For a couple of cousins who supposedly didn’t get along, a request like that would be unusual. Comer’s letter appeared in the September 1925 issue of Weird Tales and said, in part, “I ran across ‘Spear and Fang’ by Robert E. Howard—a good story of our remote ancestors before the dawn of civilization and intelligence, when man’s reasoning powers were in the formative state. Your July issue affords thrilling entertainment for those who enjoy the unusual. And if you continue to publish such appealing stories, then the well-deserved popularity of Weird Tales is certain to grow.” The addressee’s name was transcribed as “Earl C. Comer of Los Angeles.” But Earl wouldn’t stay there for long.

The September 10, 1926 edition of the Big Spring Herald told of Comer’s return to Texas:

Earl Comer, en route from Los Angeles to Dallas, where he has accepted a position, visited friends in this city this week, leaving Thursday morning for Dallas.

Once he was back in Dallas, Earl Comer’s trips to visit his family and friends in Big Spring and Cross Plains resumed. The November 23, 1928 edition of the Cross Plains Review informed its readers that “E. L. Comer of Dallas, nephew of Dr. and Mrs. Howard, spent past weekend here.” It is shortly after this visit that Robert Howard probably prepared two strange documents. One is just a list of three names: Truett Vinson, Clyde Smith, and Earl Lee Comer; toward the bottom of that page, the word “life” has been added. The other sheet has the same names, with Booth Mooney added after Smith; this sheet includes the cities where these people lived (except for Mooney, who lived in Decatur, not Brownwood) and a few couplets of verse—more indication that relations between Comer and Howard were not strained.

From 1929 to 1933, Comer appears as a draftsman in the Dallas city directories. On April 3, 1930, he was enumerated on the U.S. Census as a draftsman lodger in the city of Dallas. And then things start to get spotty. There is an Earl Comer living in Dennison, Texas, in 1934, but this probably isn’t our man as Lindsey Tyson remembered Comer attending the Howards’ funeral in 1936 and thought that he lived in Dallas.* A 1938 city directory has him still in Dallas. Also in 1938, on December 10 Earl got married to Ruby Nell Poe. His wife accompanied him on at least two visits to Big Spring, one during Christmas 1938 and another in 1939, but after that she disappears. Earl’s 1941 visit to Howard County was taken alone and his death certificate indicates that he was divorced.

[* Here’s what Tyson told de Camp in an October 10, 1977 letter:

There was one relative of the Howards that no one seems to remember much about. His name was Earl Lee Comer. Earl Lee was a nephew of Mrs. Howard’s, he came to live with the Howards while they were still in Burkett. He was an orphan.

Earl Lee left here in the early twenties, went to Dallas, and Bob told me went to work for the Mobile Oil Co. Earl Lee was I think four or five years older than Bob. He came back here to the funeral service and I talked to him for a few minutes before the services, but I did not get to ask some things I was interested in. I was one of the pall bearers, thought I would talk to him some more later, but he left as soon as the service was over and I have never seen him again.]

The few Dallas directories I’ve seen from the 1940s and ’50s all have the same old thing: Comer as a draftsman. After the 1960 directory, which has Earl working for the U.S. Geological Survey, the record goes blank. There is an Earl Comer being brought up on charges of child desertion in Rusk, Texas, in 1963; whether or not this Earl is our Earl, we’ll probably never know. The earliest mention of a Mrs. Earl Lee is December 1938. It seems odd that the couple would have a child young enough to be “deserted” in 1963. I’m guessing this was someone else.

The last definitive sighting of Earl is from the Galveston Daily News for Sept. 16, 1970:

Earl Lee Comer, 72, a retired Galveston draftsman, was found dead in his room at Moody House Tuesday. Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Brookside Memorial Park in Houston, the Rev. William C. Webb Jr. officiating. Cremation will follow under the director of J. Levy and Bro. Funeral Home of Galveston. Born in St. Louis, Mo., Comer worked as a draftsman for the U.S. Bureau of Mines prior to his retirement. No survivors were reported.

His death certificate indicates that he was a retired draftsman from the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Cause of death was acute myocardial failure. He is honored as a veteran at the Houston National Cemetery in Texas.

Thanks to Damon Sasser for the photo of Earl’s grave.

[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in Onion Tops #40, REHupa mailing #229, June 2011, and expanded for posting online at the now defunct Two-Gun Raconteur blog, July 8, 2012, where it won the second place Cimmerian Award for online articles from the Robert E Howard Foundation. The current version incorporates all of the information acquired since then, some of which appeared in “An Earl Addendum” (July 21, 2012) and “Another Earl Addendum” (November 18, 2012) posted at the Two-Gun Raconteur blog, and “The Comer Connection” in Onion Tops #51, REHupa mailing #240, April 2013. With any luck, this will be my last word on Earl Lee Comer.]

Squire James Henry

According to family legend, James Henry, Sr., was born on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. He married Anna Terrell Grimes in South Carolina in 1796 and died in Bibb County, Alabama, in 1845, having produced eight offspring. His youngest son, James Jr., was the great grandfather of Robert E. Howard.

I don’t know just what year my people moved into the state of Alabama, but it was long ago. My great-grandfather, Squire James Henry, was born in South Carolina in 1811, and he was a small boy when they went into Alabama, so you see it was pretty far back, anyway. The Henrys and a family named Walser from Georgia settled in what is now the counties of Bibb and Tuscaloosa, near the Black Warrior River. James Henry married a Walser woman and most of their children were born in Alabama. In 1847 they moved to Choctaw County, Mississippi [William H. Henry was born in Oktibbeha County, Mississippi, in 1850], and settled near the upper reaches of the Big Black River, immortalized in the legends of John Henry, the mythical black giant. Both the Henrys and the Walsers made the move. The Walsers remained in Mississippi until a year or so after the Civil War, and then moved to Texas and settled on what was then the western frontier. But the Henrys moved to southwestern Arkansas [. . .]

Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, circa January 1935

Unlike the Howard line, the Henrys appear to have been financially stable. The 1850 census lists Henry’s real estate vale at “800”; the slave schedule lists five enslaved people aged 31 down to 2. The Walsers are next on the slave schedule with two slaves. It seems unlikely, though, that the Henrys were as well off as REH says they were, below. Sometime after the census was taken, one William B. Howard arrived at the Henry farm seeking employment. He secured a job and later married Henry’s oldest daughter and started producing children. And, it appears, when James Henry grew restless, the young Howard family hit the trail with him and the rest of the Henry family.

When my great-grandfather Squire Jim Henry started west he traveled in a regular caravan of great wagons, loaded with supplies, implements and furnishings, and negro slaves, and he took with him herds of oxen, steers, cows and horses, and a buckskin bag plump with gold coins. He was no broken man, seeking a place to hide. He was an adventurous soul, looking for new, unbroken and uncrowded land, because the wilds had more attraction for him than the teeming countries of men. And there were thousands and thousands like him.

Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, circa July 1933

On September 20, 1860 the United States Census crew hit south-central Arkansas. There they enumerated the townsfolk of Carrol, Union, and Freeo townships in Ouachita County. One of the residents, James Henry, had only recently arrived, moving there in 1858 with his wife and nine children from Mississippi. Born in South Carolina, married in Alabama, a Mississippi resident for ten years, James Henry had been around. The Howard clan settled just over the Ouachita County line in Holly Springs, Dallas County, about three miles away.

Squire Henry was a typical pioneer. When the country about him began to settle up and grow tame, he grew restless and moved on. He was a man of great natural abilities, and managed to acquire considerable education. In his old age he had what was probably the most extensive private library in southern Arkansas, and would have been considered a well-read man, even in this day and age. In hewing homes out of the wilderness, he hewed out a fortune for himself that was considered large in those days. He had not even the proverbial shoe-string to start on, in the beginning, but he was well fixed financially even before he left Alabama. But he had recognized what few today realize; that the ever westward-receding frontier offered unparalleled resources, and that any man of guts and intelligence had the best chance in the world of building a successful career, or making a fortune.

Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, circa January 1935

The 1860 Census reports that Henry’s assets had grown from “800” in real estate in 1850 to “3000” in 1860, with a “personal estate” estimated at “9350.” In 1860 he had seven slaves. While some might have been content watching their grandchildren grow up around them, not James Henry. After the Confederate Army seized weapons in Little Rock early in 1861, both the 50-year-old and his 23-year-old son, David T., enlisted that summer. [Side note: David T. Henry was promoted to Corporal, and even Lieutenant, before being killed in action in 1864, perhaps in Tennessee. I am tempted to say that the “T” stands for Terrell, after his mother, Anna Terrell Grimes, and that Louisa Henry Howard named her second son—David Terrell Howard, born in 1866—after this fallen brother.]

James was discharged on November 24—no reason is given on his paperwork, but in a short, 1890 biography of another of his sons, William Harrison, it is attributed to “ill health”:

Here [in Holly Springs, Arkansas] the father passed the remainder of his days, with the exception of two years during the war that he spent in Texas [. . .]. He was formerly a farmer, but the latter part of his days was spent in merchandising, at Holly Springs. He was justice of the peace for many years, and, during the late war, was in the Confederate army a short time, but was discharged, on account of ill health. He was in the Third Arkansas Cavalry.

Biographies & Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas (Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1890)

What Henry did in Texas is unknown, but his great-grandson Robert E. Howard thought that he went to raise cotton:

[James Henry’s] last venture was to the Texas frontier. Having been forced to retire from the Confederate Army in 1862 because of a wound, he took his slaves and went to Texas where he raised cotton until the end of the war, hiding the bales so cleverly that even the carpet-baggers couldn’t find them. Then he hauled them to Jefferson by ox-wagon and sold them at a tidy price — he was the only Southerner I ever heard of who had more money at the close of the Civil War than he had at the beginning. But he earned it, by three years of hard work, constantly threatened on one hand by a revolt of the slaves, and on the other by Indian attack.

Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, circa January 1935

By the end of the war, James Henry was back in Arkansas. The 1870 U. S. Census has him farming in Freeo Township, with four of his children still living at home. Contrary to Robert E. Howard’s claims, Henry’s assets appear to have taken a hit after the war with his real estate value dropping from 3000 to 2000, and his personal estate from 9350 to 4000.

The Howards appear to have had some money problems later in the decade. On February 2, 1877, William Howard was in a pickle and had to borrow money from his brother-in-law, W. H. Henry. Howard owed M. A. Hairston $115 and convinced his brother-in-law to pay it off, in return for “three bales of cotton weighing 500 lbs each.” And this wasn’t just a gentleman’s agreement, the whole thing was written up in a Deed of Conveyance and filed for record at the county courthouse. A month later, March 9, 1877, Howard is back at it with another Deed of Conveyance. This time he owes $50 to Block & Feibleman and agrees to hand over “one spotted horse about ten years old and four head of cattle and ten head of hogs and marked as follows smooth crop and over bit in each ear.”

By the time of the 1880 Census, James Henry’s daughter Martha was the widowed mother of Lucy Chandler and was living back home with her parents. Daughter Mary had married a merchant, William J. Proctor, and lived nearby. Another daughter, Georgia, had married Cadmus Patterson, a clerk, and lived next to the Proctors. Just across town, daughter Caroline was married to Silas Drake, and daughter Missouri was married to William Elliot, all farmers. The youngest offspring, Ellen, had married physician John Hodge and moved over to Jackson, still in Dallas County.

While James Henry had moved to Holly Springs from Freeo, his oldest daughter, Louisa Elizabeth, did the opposite, moving with husband William B. Howard from Holly Springs down to Freeo. Of James’ remaining sons, William Harrison Henry was a successful merchant in Holly Springs, Dallas County; and James T. Henry was a doctor over in Union, Ouachita County. The family was flourishing and sticking pretty closely together. All of that changed on June 26, 1884.

James Henry’s death, and the terms of his 1877 will, appears to have provided the impetus for several changes in the family structure. When the dust had settled, by 1885 William Henry and his sister Georgia’s husband, Cadmus Patterson, had used their inheritance to go into the mercantile trade “with annual sales that equal about $10,000”; other Henrys and in-laws included in Biographies & Historical Memoirs of Southern Arkansas have similar good fortune. But what of the Howards?

They went to Texas.

[Originally published in Onion Tops #82, REHupa mailing #285, October 2020.]

The “Best” of the old REH Foundation Website

During my tenure managing the REH Foundation’s website, roughly mid-2008 to mid-2015 (I think), I posted most of the Foundation’s news items, from book announcements to Foundation Awards. Those items have no value that I can think of, except, perhaps, for bibliophiles who are interested in when certain items were announced. For those people, if any exist, a simple list of my posts will provide the relevant information. That list is HERE.

Besides the news, there were three, count ’em, three posts with a bit of scholarship. One was a link to a PDF article called “Robert E. Howard’s Automobiles,” which is available HERE (with color photos!). Another is a review of Barbarian Days, a documentary about a few of the personalities involved with Howard Days. Here it is.

The last is a list of movies that were available to Robert E. Howard when he lived in Brownwood during his senior year of high school. That list is below. Remember, I said a bit of scholarship.

Robert E. Howard and the Movies

[by Rob Roehm; originally posted October 2, 2010, at the old REH Foundation website.]

While we wait for Tales of Weird Menace and Steve Harrison’s Casebook to appear, I’ve been working on a side project for the researchers. Many have wondered about the movies Robert E. Howard may have seen, with King Kong receiving quite a bit of attention. So, besides Howard’s scant mentions of movies he saw, how does one determine whether he saw something or not?

In my mind, the most important factor is opportunity; it’s hard to see a film that is not showing in your area. And, while it is well documented that Howard traveled fairly far afield in his later years to see various movies—to Cisco, etc.—in his younger years he was no doubt limited to what was available in his hometown. I have not had the opportunity to peruse the Cross Plains Review for its movie listings (if they even had listings), but I recently had the opportunity to dig through the Brownwood Bulletin.

Most Howard fans know that Howard and his mother lived in Brownwood during the 1922-23 school year so that Howard could complete his schooling at Brownwood High School. They rented rooms at 316 Wilson Street, just down the road from the school, but also fairly close to the Lyric Theatre. No one knows how many movies Howard, with his new friends Truett Vinson and Clyde Smith, may have seen, but the following list presents all of the options available during Howard’s time in Brownwood.

At various times, there were several theaters operating in Brownwood: American, Gem, Queen, etc. There were also several auditoriums that occasional showed feature films (Big Tent, Howard Payne, etc.); however, these auditoriums generally featured vaudeville shows or other live-action entertainment. In the Brownwood Bulletin, listings for the Lyric were typically shown on the last page. I did not spend a lot of time searching through the papers looking for other listings; however, there are a few non-Lyric shows. These are indicated with @. Newspaper Archive, an online service, helped fill in some of the gaps in the list that follows.

Movies are listed with actors in parenthesis. Movies shown on Saturday are noted with (Sat.); the theater was closed on Sunday.

1922
Regular Prices Special Events
Main Floor 30¢ 40¢
Balcony 20¢ 25¢
Children 10¢ 10¢

(School started at Brownwood High School on September 11, 1922; graduation ceremonies were held on Friday, May 18, 1923.)

Sept 1 – Bob Hampton of Placer (James Kirkwood)
Sept 2 (Sat.) – Across the Continent (Wallace Reid)
Sept 4-5 – Bought and Paid For (Agnes Ayres)
Sept 7-8 – Fool’s Paradise (Dorothy Dalton)
Sept 9 (Sat.) – Our Leading Citizen (Thos. Meighan)
with A Studio Rube (Al St. John)
Sept 11 – At the End of the World (Betty Compson)
Sept 12 – Watch Your Step (Cullen Landis)
Sept 14-15 – Love’s Redemption (Norma Talmadge & Harrison Ford)
Sept 16 (Sat.) – Yellow Men and Gold (Helene Chafwick & Richard Dix)
with Home Made Movies (Ben Turpin)
Sept 18 – The Man Unconquerable (Jack Holt)
Sept 19 – Hush Money (Alice Brady)
Sept 21-22 – Beyond the Rocks (Gloria Swanson & Rudolph Valentino)
with Love’s Boomerang (Ann Forrest)
Sept 23 (Sat.) – Travelin’ On (William S. Hart)
with Treasure Bound (Lige Conley)
Sept 25 – North of the Rio Grande (Jack Holt & Bebe Daniels)
Sept 26 – A Poor Relation (Will Rogers)
Sept 28-29 – In the Name of the Law
Sept 30 (Sat.) – The Kick Back (Harry Carey)
with The Frozen North (Buster Keaton)
Oct 2-3 – Forever (Wallace Reid)
Oct 5-6 – The Lotus Eater (John Barrymore)
Oct 7 (Sat.) – R.S.V.P. (Charles Ray)
with Ma and Pa (Mack Sennett)
Oct 9 – Back Pay (Seena Owen)
with “Rollin Comedy and Select News”
Oct 10 – Beyond (Ethel Clayton)
with Torchy Steps Out (“A Torchy Comedy”)
Oct 11-13 – Orphans of the Storm (Lillian Gish)
Oct 14 (Sat.) – The Primitive Lover (Constance Talmadge)
with Bucking Broadway (“Christi Comedy”)
Oct 16-17 – Nice People (Wallace & Reid)
Oct 18 – Enchantment (Marion Davis)
Oct 19-20 – Is Matrimony a Failure? (Troy Barnes)
Oct 21 (Sat.) – Over the Border (Betty Compson)
with Golf (Larry Semon)
Oct 23 – The Crimson Challenge (Dorothy Dalton)
with “Rollin Comedy and Select News”
Oct 24 – The Glorious Fool (Helene Chadwick)
Oct 26-27 – Her Husband’s Trademark (Gloria Swanson)
Oct 28 (Sat.) – Man from Hell’s River (“Rin-Tin, the Dog Hero”)
with The Son of a Sheik
Oct 30-31 – If You Believe It, It’s So (Thomas Meighan)
Nov 1 – The Lane That Had No Turning (Agnes Ayres)
Nov 2-3 – Blood and Sand (Rudolph Valentino)
Nov 3-4 @ American Theatre – In the Days of Buffalo Bill (Art Acord)
Nov 4 (Sat.) – The Woman Who Walked Alone (Dorothy Dalton)
with The Steeple (“a dandy Mermaid Comedy”)
Nov 6 – Golden Dreams (Claire Adams)
Nov 7 – The Man with Two Mothers (Mary Alden)
Nov 8 – Exit the Vamp (Ethel Clayton)
Nov 9-10 – My Boy (Jackie Coogan)
Nov 11 (Sat.) – My Old Kentucky Home
with The Electric House (Buster Keaton)
Nov 13-14 – Just Around the Corner
with “Rollin Comedy and News”
Nov 15 – The Ace of Hearts (Lon Chaney)
with Circus Day (Christie Comedy)
Nov 16-18 (Sat.) – Remembrance (Rupert Hughes)
with Aesop’s Fables and College Stuff (“A Sport Review”)
Nov 20 – My Dad (Johnie Walker)
with Blazes (Mermaid Comedy)
Nov 21 – The Hands of Nara (Clara Kimball Young)
with “Rollin Comedy and Select News”
Nov 22 – Come On Over (Colleen Moore)
with Pardon My Glove (Christie Comedy)
Nov 23-24 – Tol’able David (Richard Barthelmess)
Nov 25 (Sat) – The Siren Call (Dorothy Dalton) and The Agent (Larry Semon)
Nov 27 – Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford
Nov 28 – Find the Woman (Alma Rubens)
Nov 30-Dec. 1 – The Old Homestead (Theodore Roberts)
Dec 2 (Sat) – The $5 Baby (Viola Dana)
with “A Christie Comedy”
Dec 4 – The Bonded Woman (Betty Compson)
with “Rollin Comedy and Select News”
Dec 5 – Mr. Barnes of New York (Tom Moore)
with A Clever Catch (Dan Mason, “A Plum Center Comedy”)
Dec 6 – “Complete motion pictures of the Texas vs. A&M Thanksgiving Day Football clash.” (also shown Dec 7)
with The Beauty Shop (Raymond Hitchcock)
Dec 7-8 – The Valley of Silent Men (Alma Rubens)
Dec 9 (Sat.) – Pink Gods (Bebe Daniels)
with The Speeder (Lloyd “Ham” Hamilton)
Dec 11-12 – Her Gilded Cage (Gloria Swanson)
with The Chased Bride (Christie Comedy)
Dec 13 – Beauty’s Worth (Marion Davies)
with “Pathe Comedy and Topics of the Day”
Dec 14-15 – Manslaughter (Thomas Meighan)
Dec 16 (Sat.) – The Midnight Bell (Charles Ray)
with Bow Wow (Mack Sennett)
Dec 18 – Boderland (Agnes Ayres)
with The Skipper’s Scheme (Toonerville Comedy)
Dec 19 – The Invisible Fear (Anita Stewart)
with The Chicken Parade (Jimmy Aubrey)
Dec 20 – The Man from Home (James Kirkwood)
with “Rollin Comedy and Topics of the Day”
Dec 21-22 – Broadway Rose (Mae Murray)
Dec 23 (Sat.) – The Dictator (Wallace Reed)
with Look Out Below (Mermaid Comedy)
Dec 25-26 – The Prisoner of Zenda
Dec 27 – The Green Temptation (Betty Compson)
with Entertaining the Boss (Carter De Haven)
Dec 28-29 – Grandma’s Boy (Harold Lloyd)
with Man Vs. Beast (“Educational Special”)
Dec 30 (Sat) – The Man Who Saw Tomorrow (Thomas Meighan)
with High Power (Mermaid Comedy)

1923
Jan 1-2 – The Storm (Louse Peters)
Jan 3 – After the Show (Jack Holt)
Jan 4-5 – What’s Wrong With the Woman
with Christie Comedy and Aesop’s Fables
Jan 6 (Sat.) – June Madness (Viola Dana)
with The Counter Jumper (Larry Semon)
Jan 8 – The Night Rose (Lon Chaney)
with Meeting Trains (Toonerville Comedy)
Jan 9 – Beating the Game (Tom Moore)
Jan 10 – The Ordeal (Agnes Ayres)
with The White Blacksmith (Pathe Comedy)
Jan 11-12 – The Sin Flood (Helene Chadwick)
with The Enchanted City (“Educational Special”)
Jan 13 (Sat.) – The Ghost Breaker (Wallace Reed)
Jan 15 – The Face in the Fog (Seena Owen)
Jan 16 – Big Legion Minstrel (live show?)
Jan 17 – The Cradle Buster (Glenn Hunter)
with Young Sherlocks (“Our Gang” Comedy)
Jan 18-19 – Shadows (Lon Chaney)
Jan 20 (Sat.) – While Satan Sleeps (Jack Holt)
Jan 22-23 – The Kentucky Derby (Reginald Denny)
with In Dutch (Christie Comedy)
Jan 24 – The Marriage Chance (Alta Allen)
Jan 25-26 – Quincy Adams Sawyer (Blanche Sweet & Lon Chaney)
Jan 27 – On the High Seas (Dorothy Dalton)
with Casey Jones, Jr. (Mermaid Comedy)
Jan 29-30 – Rich Men’s Wives (House Peters)
with A Tough Winter (Snub Pollard)
Jan 31 – The Young Diana (Marion Davies)
Feb 1-2 – The Young Rajah (Rudolph Valentino)
Feb 3 (Sat.) – Timothy’s Quest
with Day Dreams (Buster Keaton)
Feb 5-6 – The Impossible Mrs. Bellew (Gloria Swanson)
with “Our Gang” Comedy
Feb 7 – Pilgrims of the Night (Lewis S. Stone)
Feb 8-9 – Clarence (Wallace Reid)
with The New Leather Pushers (Reginald Denny)
Feb 10 (Sat.) – Love in the Dark (Viola Dane)
with When Summer Comes (Mack Sennett)
Feb 12-13 – Slim Shoulders (Irene Castle)
Feb 14 – The Top of New York (May McAvoy)
with Hazel from Hollywood (Christie Comedy)
Feb 15-16 – To Have and to Hold (Betty Compson)
with It Thrills from Start to Finish (Bert Lytell)
Feb 17 (Sat.) – Back Home and Broke (Thomas Meighan)
with The Educator (Lloyd “Ham” Hamilton)
Feb 19-20 – Ebb Tide (Lile Lee)
Feb 21 – Enter Madame (Clara Kimball Young)
Feb. 22-23 – When Knighthood Was in Flower (Marion Davies)
Feb 24 (Sat.) – Singed Wings (Bebe Daniels)
Feb 26-27 – The Pride of Palomar (Marjorie Daw)
with A Quiet Street (“Our Gang” Comedy)
Feb 28 – The Cowboy and the Lady (Mary Miles Minter)
March 1 – Take it from Me (“Bewitching Beauties from Broadway”)
March 2-3 (Sat.) – Jazzmania (Mae Murray)
March 5-6 – Under Two Flags (Priscilla Dean)
March 7 – The Lovers of Pharaoh
March 8-9 – The Flirt
March 10 (Sat.) – Making a Man (Jack Holt)
with No Wedding Bells (Larry Semon)
March 12-13 – Human Hearts (House Peters)
March 14 – Above All Law
March 15-16 – Broken Chains (Colleen Moore)
with Fresh Fish (Allen Herd Comedy) and Aesop’s Fables
March 17 (Sat.) – Rags to Riches (Wesley Barry)
March 19-20 – Burning Sands (Wanda Hawley)
March 21 – Alice Ascends (Alice Bawdy)
March 22-23 –Kick In (Betty Compson)
with The Message of Emile Coue
March 24 (Sat.) – All the Brothers Were Valiant (Lon Chaney)
with The Balloonatic (Buster Keaton)
March 26-27 – Sherlock Holmes (John Barrymore)
March 28 – The Outcast (Elsie Ferguson)
March 29-30 – Peg ‘o my Heart (Laurette Taylor)
March 31 – Crinoline and Romance (Viola Dana)
April 2-3 – The World’s Applause (Bebe Daniels)
April 4 – A Daughter of Luxury (Agnes Ayres)
April 5-6 – The Third Alarm (Ralph Lewis)
April 7 – Thirty Days (Wallace Reid)
April 9-10 – The Flame of Life (Priscilla Dean)
April 11 – David J. Bolduc and his Clown Band and Saxophone Orchestra
with Missing Millions (Alice Brady)
April 12-13 – My American Wife (Gloria Swanson)
April 14 (Sat.) – Racing Hearts (Agnes Ayres)
with Cold Chills (Mermaid Comedy)
April 16-17 – The Strangers’ Banquet (Clair Windsor)
April 18 – Dark Secrets (Gloria Swanson)
April 19-20 – The Man Who Played God (George Arliss)
April 21 (Sat.) – Nobody’s Money (Jack Holt)
with The Barnyard (Larry Semon)
April 23-24 – Thelma (Jane Novak)
April 25 – The Forgotten Law (Milton Sills)
with Hurry Up (Cameo Comedy)
April 26-27 – The Christian
April 28 (Sat.) – The White Flower (Betty Compson)
April 30-May 1 – Thorns and Orange Blossoms (Kenneth Harlan)
May 2 – Drums of Fate (Mary Miles Minter)
May 3-4 – Adam’s Rib (Milton Sills)
May 5 (Sat.) – The Super-Sex
with The Love Nest (Buster Keaton)
May 7-8 – The Ne’er-Do-Well (Thomas Meighan)
May 9 – Hungry Hearts (Bryant Washburn)
May 10-11 – Heart’s Aflame (Anna Q. Nilsson)
May 12 (Sat.) – Hurricane’s Gal (Dorothy Phillips)
May 14-15 – Java Head (Leatrice Joy)
with The Speed Demon (George Fawcett)
May 16 – The Darling of the Rich (Betty Blythe)
May 17-18 – Balla Donna (Pola Negri)
May 19 (Sat.) – A Noise in Newboro (Viola Dana)
May 21-22 – Brothers Under the Skin (Helene Chadwick)
May 23 – The Leopardess (Alice Brady)
May 24-25 – Grumpy (Theodore Roberts)
May 26 (Sat.) – Captain Fly-by-Night (Johnnie Walker)
with The Midnight Cabaret (Larry Semon)
May 28-29 – A Blind Bargain (Lon Chaney)
May 30 – The Deuce of Spades (Charles Ray)
May 31-June 1 – Prodigal Daughters (Gloria Swanson)
June 2 (Sat.) – The Go-Getter (Seena Owen)

Barbarian Days in Review

BD-cov1-web

[By Rob Roehm; originally posted on January 29, 2012, at http://www.rehfoundation.org]

Over the course of two or three years, about 2007-09, the Howard Days celebration in Cross Plains played host to an actual Hollywood film crew who were shooting a documentary about the event. On Thursday I previewed the final product, Barbarian Days. Due to my involvement in some of the events discussed in the film, my opinions are mixed, and don’t necessarily reflect the opinions of the REH Foundation’s board of directors. For a more balanced review, check out Damon Sasser’s thoughts on the film. What follows are my observations based on a single viewing.

The film is about Howard’s fans, not Howard. For viewers new to Howard or not connected to fandom, the film provides a decent overview of the Howard Days experience, though, in my opinion, not enough attention is paid to program events, the scholarly discussions, etc. To be fair, that probably wouldn’t be very entertaining to a general audience, which is what this film is aimed at, I think. It looks good, it sounds good, and if you don’t know any of the people onscreen personally, it’s an entertaining look at some slightly odd individuals having a good time. We all have our own little quirks, and this film does a fair job of showing them without making a freak show out of it. It does get a tad melodramatic at times, but that’s just Hollywood.

Regular Howard Days attendees will likely be less satisfied, but still entertained. For as long as I’ve been attending, there have been people filming various parts of the event, all low-budget fan films. With a history like that, it is nice to see a quality production; as I’ve said, it looks and sounds pretty good, though I could have done without some of the extreme close-ups of people’s sweaty faces. Knowing most of the interviewees fairly well, I was a tad irritated at times by the cherry-picking of quotes, but I understand that it’s all in the name of entertainment and most of this is fairly harmless (I can say that as I am not one of the principals; they may have different opinions). In fact, the film is a good time capsule of what was going on a few years ago, with lots of talk of Rusty Burke’s someday-biography and the emergence of the boxing stories into the critical arena. I would probably even want to own a copy when/if a DVD becomes available, except for one thing—a walk through the film will reveal the objectionable scene.

The film opens with some text explaining the basics of Robert E. Howard and the statement that viewers will now “meet the guardians of his legacy.” As the credits roll, viewers are treated to scenes from the Barbarian Festival: the parade, street vendors and entertainers. Interspersed between these shots are comments from the citizenry of Cross Plains—comments that show a general disinterest in Howard: “He lived over there” and “I saw that Conan movie.”

From there, we jump to the annual bus tour of the surrounding area, already in progress. Between shots of the towns of Cross Cut and Burkett, several regular Howard Days attendees listen to tour guide Don Clark talk about the area. The bus arrives at the Howard House and we are treated to some of the locals’ reactions to the visiting fans, all good natured.

From this point on, most of the film focuses on four fans: Rusty Burke, Bill “Indy” Cavalier, Mark Finn, and Chris Gruber. Comments from a host of other attendees are mixed in with the four named to add gravitas or provide a counterpoint to their statements. Through their conversations, we get a short history of Howard Days and Howard fandom in general, with due accolades given to both REHupa and the late lamented journal The Cimmerian. Howard’s life is touched on here and there, with clips from The Whole Wide World thrown in for good measure. A lot of time is spent on what Howard character individual fans most identify with and what drew them to Howard in the first place. The philosophical statements of the fans are overlaid with shots from the Milius Conan film and some overly dramatic music. Up to this point, I was enjoying the film just fine.

More attention is given to the late-night activities at Howard Days than the panel discussions that go on during the day, which brings us to the part of the film that pretty much ruined it for me: the 2007 Gruber-Grin altercation. Rather than leave the topic out, since no one would comment about it on camera, the film-makers decided to use parts of Leo Grin’s published account of the incident as word bubbles in a comic-book reenactment. This animated sequence in no way resembles what actually occurred and suggests that there was physical violence when there was none. I suppose this makes for good movies, but I was disappointed to see it here.

My opinion having soured, the rest of the film didn’t do much for me. From there we learn about the “real lives” of the featured four and the part that Robert E. Howard plays in those lives. The 2005 Cross Plains fire is discussed, with eye-witness testimony from members of Project Pride, and the resulting fire-relief project The Man from Cross Plains. The film ends with statements by the “Howard widows,” the wives of the fans.

And there you have it. If I hadn’t been a participant in the events portrayed in the reenactment, I’d probably be giving this a thumb’s up review. Despite my objections to that scene, I’ll still recommend the film to those that are curious about the Howard Days experience. If you don’t know the people onscreen personally, Barbarian Days is a pretty good show.