The Birth of a Writer

[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in Onion Tops #79, REHupa mailing 280.]

(When I was asked to write the article about Robert E. Howard that became “Robert E. Howard and the Later Weird Tales,” I did a bit more than I was asked to do and ended up rewriting the opening portion. Not one to waste any effort, I present those opening pages here. If you’ve already read the complete, 19-page piece in The Weird Tales Story: Expanded and Enhanced, you probably don’t need to go any further.)

In the summer of 1921, Robert E. Howard, the fifteen-year-old son of a country doctor, discovered the pulps—at least, that is when he started buying them:

I well remember the first I ever bought. I was fifteen years old; I bought it one summer night when a wild restlessness in me would not let me keep still, and I had exhausted all the reading material on the place. I’ll never forget the thrill it gave me. Somehow it never had occurred to me before that I could buy a magazine. It was an Adventure. I still have the copy. [Letter to H. P. Lovecraft, ca. July 1933]

That initial thrill ignited a spark in Howard. While he had already been writing little stories for his high school English classes—standard fare with titles like “A Twentieth Century Rip Van Winkle”—his discovery of Adventure in 1921 gave birth to a writer. He told H. P. Lovecraft, “at the age of fifteen, having never seen a writer, a poet, a publisher or a magazine editor, and having only the vaguest ideas of procedure, I began working on the profession I had chosen.” It would take a few years of practice and the birth of a new magazine, Weird Tales, before Howard had any success in that profession.

At first, inspired by the stories he read in the adventure pulps, Howard produced humorous western adventures. Before the end of 1921, he was already submitting stories to the magazines he’d been purchasing, starting with “Bill Smalley and the Power of the Human Eye,” which was submitted to, and rejected by, Adventure. This was Howard’s first series character, though his high school English teacher was probably the only one to know it. Howard produced at least two other tales starring Smalley and turned them in for credit: “Over the Rockies in a Ford” (dated November 15, 1921) and “The Ghost of Bald Rock Ranch” (December 13, 1921). During the next two years, Howard submitted at least five other stories, all rejected. Three of those titles he sent off to top tier pulps Adventure, Argosy All-Story, and Cosmopolitan; the other two went to a new magazine named Weird Tales.

Dated March 1923, “The Unique Magazine” appeared on newsstands in February, but based on ads in the local newspaper, probably not in Cross Plains, the small community in Central West Texas where Robert E. Howard attended high school. Luckily for Howard, in 1922 the Cross Plains school system only went as far as the 10th grade. To be college eligible, students had to pick up another year of schooling somewhere else; Robert E. Howard went to the high school in nearby Brownwood for that “senior” year. Brownwood was (and still is) a larger community than Cross Plains and its selection of magazines included Weird Tales.

Between submitting stories to the adventure pulps and writing humorous yarns for his school newspaper, The Tattler, Howard must have stumbled onto one of the early issues of the new magazine and decided to try his hand at a weird tale. In a circa February 1929 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, Howard included a list of submissions he’d made from 1921 up to that point; this includes his first try at Weird Tales, “The Mystery of Summerton Castle,” which was rejected by editor Edwin Baird. Following his 1923 graduation, Howard returned to Cross Plains and began working at various odd jobs, he also continued to write. A July 7, 1923 letter to Smith, mentions his second attempt at the new magazine: “I sent a story to the Weird Tales, ‘The Phantom of Old Egypt’ which I suppose they will turn down.” He was not wrong. Both of these submissions are lost, though the 1929 list provides a bit of detail regarding the second tale: “Orient. Lit. & Legends—slight.”

In 1924, Howard finally saw his name in the pulps, though not as he probably wished. Two of his letters to Adventure were published, one in the March 20 issue and the other in the August 20 edition. Both letters contain questions Howard had on different cultures. The answers, no doubt, were to be used as details in stories he was writing for that same magazine. But Howard would receive even better story advice later that year when the December issue of Weird Tales hit the stands.

Howard had returned to Brownwood in the fall of 1924 to attend the Commercial School at Howard Payne College. Back in the larger town, he could have picked up the December issue on the day it came out, November 1. Discovered by Howard scholar Patrice Louinet (see his “The Wright Hook“), that issue’s Eyrie has a request from new editor Farnsworth Wright. Tired of rejecting “manuscripts dealing with fights between dinosaurs and pterodactyls on the one hand and cavemen on the other,” Wright specifically asks for the following:

Our learned friends among the anthropologists tell us that the legend of ogres dates from cavemen tribes. The Neandertalers were so terrible and primitive and brutish, they tell us, that the Cro-Magnon cavemen never interbred with them, but killed them without mercy. And when a Cro-Magnon child strayed alone from its cave, and a cannibalistic Neandertaler stalked it, that was the end of the child; but the memory of those brutish and half-human people remains in our legends of ogres; for the Cro-Magnons were not exterminated by the nomadic tribes that afterwards entered Europe and peopled it, but intermarried with them, and retained some of their legends.

How would you like a tale of the warfare between a Cro-Magnon (say one of the artists who painted the pictures of reindeer and mammoths which still amaze the tourist) and one of those brutish ogres, perhaps over a girl who has taken the fancy of the Neandertaler; and the Cro-Magnon artist follows the Neandertal man to his den, and… But we have no room to tell the story in “The Eyrie”. We wish one of our author friends would write it for us.

And, apparently, Robert E. Howard did just that. He must have read Wright’s request early in November and written his tale in just a few days as, according to his semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, the story had been accepted by November 27, 1924. Wright’s suggestion perfectly describes Howard’s first professional sale, “Spear and Fang,” for which he would receive $15 (or $16, depending on the source) upon publication.

Emboldened by that initial sale, Howard sent in two more stories while in Brownwood: “The Lost Race” and “The Hyena.” Not wanting to stay in school, Howard returned to Cross Plains at the Christmas break. There, a letter awaited accepting “The Hyena,” but asking for a rewrite of “The Lost Race.” According to Post Oaks, Howard “doubted his ability to make the tale come up to standard, even with the editor’s remarks to guide him, and dreading a second refusal, delayed several days before he made the changes, and sent off two more stories with it when he returned it.”

The turnaround must have been quick as, by January 7, 1925, Howard was able to report to Smith, “I sold two more stories to Weird Tales, one for $25 (“The Hyena”) and the other for $30 (“The Lost Race”). However, they sent back what I consider my masterpiece thus far, with sarcastic remarks.” The identity of his “masterpiece” is not known, but the 1929 list contains several titles that are now lost, including “The Trail of the Single Foot,” “The Crimson Line,” and “Windigo! Windigo!” In Post Oaks, Howard describes “The Lost Race” as “a wild tale of early Britain,” and “The Hyena,” as “a story of East Africa and native superstition.”

Following this success, Howard deluged Weird Tales with stories, but “To his dismay five weird tales of his were rejected in a row. He could not understand. Something was wrong here. The editor sometimes pointed out faults which seemed minor to [Howard], but usually said briefly that it did not suit.” Some of these titles (from the 1929 list) may have been “Drums of Horror,” “The Street of Grey-beards,” and “The Last White Man.”

Following this string of rejections, Howard submitted “In the Forest of Villefere,” and “was jubilant when the editor accepted it—intensely flattered when that worthy remarked that in his opinion it was a ‘gem’” (Post Oaks). The 1929 list describes the story as “Superstition; Action, were-wolves, medieval France,” for which he would receive $8.00 on publication.

Finally, more than six months after it was accepted, Howard’s “Spear and Fang” hit the stands on June 1, 1925, in the July issue of Weird Tales. This was “a pinnacle” in Howard’s life: “He sat and stared at his name in print for hours at a time, thrilling to his finger ends” (Post Oaks). The very next month, “In the Forest of Villefere” appeared. The September issue has a letter of comment in “The Eyrie,” written by a cousin at Howard’s request, that boosts “Spear and Fang”; otherwise, there are no reader responses to Howard’s first two professional appearances. [. . .]

“It Gave Me the Jitters”

[by Rob Roehm; originally posted June 25, 2010, at the old Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated with new screen caps.]

Thanks to Rusty Burke’s “REH Bookshelf,” acquiring the books and magazines that Robert E. Howard read has been one of my little obsessions for almost as long as I’ve been connected to the internet; seeing the movies that Howard saw is a newer compulsion. Thanks again to Rusty Burke (see his “REH Goes to the Movies” at the now-defunct REHupa website), it’s easy to find the titles that Howard mentioned. With television networks like Turner Classic Movies and services like Netflix, websites like Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and Greenbriar Picture Shows, it’s easier than ever to find information about the films Howard mentions; with a little diligence, it’s sometimes possible to find the film itself, out there in cyber space. Watching the movie, and then reading Howard’s comments about that movie, can be pretty interesting.

Take for example Back Street (Universal, 1932). In a circa September 1932 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, Howard describes his reaction to the film:

Back Street was powerful, to my mind, and most damnably harrowing. I wept bitterly. That’s no lie. While weeping some yegg in front of me turned around and gave me an incredulous look, and thinking he was about to make a smart crack, I gave him a murderous glare, wiped away my tears and drew back my right to mash him for the insect he was, but he made no comment and turned around again. Maybe he was weeping too. I wish I hadn’t seen that show. It really tore me up. The thought of an intelligent and talented woman wasting all her years on a low-lifed son-of-a-bitch and sacrificing herself and living in the shadows, it gave me the jitters. I felt like taking a club and wading through the populace like Samson through the Philadelphians.

Wow, that must be one heck of a movie. “REH Goes to the Movies” has the following information:

A woman falls in love with a married man and consents to be his mistress, remaining faithful through the years. Based on the novel by Fannie Hurst. Director: John M. Stahl. Cast: Irene Dunn (Ray Schmidt); John Boles (Walter Saxel); June Clyde (Freda Schmidt); George Meeker (Kurt Shendler); Zasu Pitts (Mrs. Dole); Doris Lloyd (Mrs. Saxel); etc. Black & white. Sound.

IMDB provides a bit more, like who the writers were, the release date, and the following tagline:

Waiting—always waiting—in the shadows of the back streets . . . longing for the man she loves . . . asking nothing, receiving nothing—yet content to sacrifice all for him. Why?

Why, indeed, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The above is all well and good, of course, but nothing beats the actual movie. Thank goodness for You Tube. Head on over there and do a search for “‘Back Street’ 1932” and you should find it—or try the link here.

SPOILER ALERT

So, we’ve got your typical 1920’s flapper, Ray Schmidt (played by Dunne), who all the boys want to date. She is high-spirited and easily outmaneuvers her ardent companions. She meets Walter Saxel (played by John Boles), and the two hit it off. A whirlwind romance ensues and the two fall in love, despite the fact that Saxel is supposed to be marrying another girl. He just knows that if his mother were to meet Ray, she’d concede to letting him marry her, instead. Of course, through no fault of her own Ray misses the meeting with mom and Walter marries the original girl. Then things get weird.

Several years later, Ray and Walter bump into each other and get caught up. The old feelings emerge and the two begin an illicit affair; Walter even sets Ray up in a cozy apartment, all expenses paid. But when he has to leave town on business, Ray discovers just how lonely her life is: she can’t be seen in public, she can’t make dinner plans, etc.

While Walter is away, an old rival for Ray’s affections sees her in the city and the two hit it off. Ray realizes that she can’t have a normal life with Walter and so concedes to marrying her new suitor, but Walter tracks her down and wins her back, saying only that he loves her.

We then jump forward in time. Walter has had a couple of children with his wife, has, in fact, become a very successful guy. He boards a steamship with his family and the onlookers wait for the mysterious other woman who follows Walter everywhere to make her appearance. Ray, of course. It seems that everyone knows about her except for Walter’s wife. Even his children know, and they’re not happy about it.

Walter’s college-age son confronts Ray and tells her to leave the family alone. Walter reveals the depth of his feelings for Ray to his son (above), then suffers a stroke, or something, and dies. The son, realizing it is what his father would have wanted, offers to keep Ray set up in the manner she is accustomed. But she dies too, I guess, of a broken heart. The end—roll credits.

Now, I suppose that I had trouble getting into that 1920s frame of mind. The idea of a woman being content to wait around for the few moments her married boyfriend can give her every once in a while must seem farcical to modern audiences. And Ray’s dramatic shift from the life of the party to a depressed shut-in is pretty unbelievable to me. In fact, while she’s with Walter, she seems miserable. Are we supposed to believe that it was all worth it for her because they loved each other? Or are we supposed to see how pathetic, empty and lonely a mistress’ life is? What?

And while I didn’t weep, I’ll agree with Howard that the “thought of an intelligent and talented woman wasting all her years on a low-lifed son-of-a-bitch and sacrificing herself and living in the shadows” gave me “the jitters.”

The Mystery Couple: Mr. and Mrs. Winfred Brigner

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted December 31, 2011, at the now defunct REH Two-Gun Raconteur Blog.]

In his January 7, 1925 letter, Robert E. Howard tells Clyde Smith that “Another one of my friends got married. He and the girl he married graduated from this school with me. We were all classmates together” (Collected Letters, vol. 1, p. 41. REHF Press). I’ve often wondered who the pair was, and now, with a little help from Linda Burns at the Cross Plains Public Library, I don’t have to wonder any more.

As reported in the Cross Plains Review for both May 5 and 19, 1922, there were only ten graduates from Cross Plains High School in 1922: Ruth Brewer, Clara DeBusk, Willie Swan, Irene Jones, Winnie Swan, Winfred Brigner, Robert Howard, Louie Langley, C. S. Boyles, Jr., and Edith Odom. We know it wasn’t Robert Howard who got married, and I have already eliminated Edith Odom as the bride; that left only eight possibilities. Because their last names don’t change with marriage, I focused on the boys. Other than REH, there were only four; how hard could it be?

Louie Langley (1904-1955), who became a Dallas attorney, married Ruby F. Brentlinger, not a CPHS grad: down to three.

Turns out Willie Swan was a girl, Winnie’s twin: down to two.

For a while I thought that it might be C. S. Boyles, but after reading an article in the May 8, 1925 Yellow Jacket (reprinted in School Days in the Post Oaks), I found that he had married one Ilene Embry on July 2, 1924. She was not a graduate of CPHS in 1922, so I marked Boyles off the list, too. Only one candidate remained.

Besides Boyles, the only other graduate I’d heard of before was Winfred Brigner (whose name is sometimes misspelled as Winifred)—one of the REH photos owned by Project Pride (above) has Winfred’s name written on the back—so, having eliminated the other guys, I focused my attention on him.

Brigner appears in Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, as “Fred Gringer.” In the novel, Howard’s alter-ego, Steve, says that Gringer is one of only two “Lost Plains” residents “whom he really considered as friends.” He goes on to say that Gringer “was married and teaching school now in a small village north of Lost Plains and Steve seldom saw him.” This would have been in 1925. Later on, he adds the following:

He saw Fred Gringer occasionally now, as the youth’s school was out and he sometimes came into Steve’s office to argue religion. He was somewhat older than Costigan, a tall, powerfully built Northerner who had drifted into Lost Plains with his family some years before, following the track of the oil booms. He was a lonely sort of dreamer, a little like Steve, though with much different ideas on most subjects. He was strictly religious and with him Steve always drifted to the other extreme, realizing that Fred considered him a rank infidel and in eminent danger of everlasting torment. Steve usually wore a mask of callous buffoonery around Gringer, and many were the black moods out of which he jested the Northern youth.

Steve, contrary to his usual custom, showed the incomplete manuscript of “The Isle of the Eons” to Fred and asked him to read it. He did not ask for criticism for Steve considered that he was the best critic of his own work. After reading it Fred said:

“This is pretty good, but I think there are some mistakes in English – I noticed several.”

Steve was irritated though he tried not to show it.

“The English dont matter so much,” said he, “I’ll correct that. The idea is to get it over. The main thing in writing is to say what you want to say, in an interesting manner. Of course my English is far from perfect but that will improve by practice. As for these mistakes, I’ll correct them.”

Toward the end, we get a bit more:

Fred Gringer was cooking in a cafe for his living. His wife had divorced him, his teacher’s certificate had run out, and he was drifting with the tide, longing to go to college and get a permanent certificate, to teach in some large school and work his way up to the position of coach. But he could see no way for his ambitions to be realized.

In “Steve’s” final rant, 1928 in the real world, we learn even more:

“And there’s Fred Gringer. Finished high school at Lost Plains same year I did. His old man had been beat out of his year’s work by a slick crook he’d been drillin’ for and they couldn’t send Fred to school. He was plannin’ to finish high school in Redwood with me—you know till just lately Lost Plains didn’t have an affiliated school and you couldn’t get into a college on the strength of graduatin’ there. Had to have one more year at least, somewhere’s else.

“So Fred started teachin’ in little country schools. He had hell because he was a dreamer too. But he stayed with it, fought it out and had some money saved up to go to college on when he suddenly decided that the idea was the hokum and got married. Then he couldn’t go to school of course, and had to keep on teachin’ in little crumby country schools and they ain’t nothin’ will kill a bird’s guts quicker.

“Him and his wife couldn’t get along and finally she divorced him. He kept on sluggin’ but his certificate run out and he felt so plumb beaten that he didn’t take the trouble to take the examinations again.

“He cooked in cafes and the like and just drifted along like the rest of us till right lately. Now he’s in the smallest and crumbiest college in the state, takin’ seven subjects to get through in a hurry, doin’ janitor work to pay his board and tuition, and comin’ out for all athletics.

“He wants to be a coach and to work up to that position he’s got to start in a larger school than those he’s been teachin’ in. And to get a larger school he’s got to have four years of college work which will give him a permanent certificate.

“I got no kick at that rulin’ specially. I’ve had some samples of ignorant country school teachers. I say, make ’em be half way educated anyhow, but give ’em a chance to get that education. And Fred never got no breaks when he wanted to go to school. He wrote to a flock of colleges but not a peep outa any of them. Why? Because he didn’t have any dough. He cooked himself with ’em when he told ’em that he didn’t have any money and wanted to work his way through school. He wrote Gower-Penn [Howard Payne] that, and they didn’t even answer his letter. The one unpardonable sin in America is bein’ without dough. Joe Franey, who’s coachin’ there now, didn’t even think enough of him as a prospect for the college to send Fred any literature about it. Damn him! He’s just like all the other college scuts—a cursed boot-lapper at the feet of the wealthy. They don’t want men with ambition and guts—they want liquor swillin’, flapper pettin’, yellow-spined cake eaters that’s spendin’ the old man’s dough free and easy, God damn their souls to Hell.

“Then I personally saw the coach of Moses-Harper [Daniel Baker] and he came and talked with Fred and promised a lot—and come back to Redwood and did not one damned thing. Fred had to go to a college so small that they was willin’ to give a man a break. Fred ain’t lookin’ for no cinch—he ain’t wantin’ to get by on his face. All he wanted and all he asked for was the promise of a job by which he could work and pay his board and tuition. And the bastards wouldn’t even give him a hand. Oh, no, they wanted wealthy sons-of-whores.

“They don’t know what they passed up. Fred’s an athlete and some day, if he gets any breaks at all, he’ll be a great coach. He’s a runner, too. He’s broke the world record on the hundred yard dash, unofficially, of course. But they passed him up for some flat-chested bastard who couldn’t carry a football through a line of drunken flappers or for some scut who’ll put in a year at the game—spend two minutes in a scrimmage and the rest of the time struttin’ around over the field for the damfool girls to admire.”

Howard’s hyperbole aside, most of the information I’ve found on Brigner seems to match up with his Post Oaks counterpart.

The 1910 Census has Winfred in Cedar Township, Wilson Co., Kansas, with his father Charles W. (a driller in the gas wells), mother Bell, and younger brother Charles Leroy. Sometime before the 1920 Census was enumerated, the Brigners moved to Callahan County—Cross Plains, to be exact—where his father worked in the Oil business.

Following his son’s 1922 graduation, Charles appears to have been one of the main investors in at least one venture, as this notice from the August 17, 1923 Mexia Daily News suggests:

NEW WILDCAT STARTED NEAR CROSS PLAINS
CROSS PLAINS, Callahan Co., Texas, Aug. 17— Machinery has been unloaded for a new wildcat test to be drilled for Brigner & Jose on the Odom ranch, eight miles west of Cross Plains. The new well will be located a short distance north of the old Odom test of the West Texas Oil and Gas Co, which was abandoned about two years ago. Special effort will be made to develop a shallow pay found in the old well at a little below 600 feet, and which was claimed showed for 20 to 25 barrels of production.

The above article caused me to investigate Edith Odom, but as my previous post shows, she never married Winfred.

The next item on Winfred comes, again, from the Cross Plains Review. It ran a little item in its September 18, 1925 edition: “Winfred Brigner will teach at Cado Peak school, this term.” This would be the “small village north of Lost Plains” mentioned in Post Oaks. The 1930 Census lists him as a laborer doing “odd jobs” and living at home with his parents, without a spouse. I seem to remember finding an article that mentioned Winfred as having run for a public office in Cross Plains during the 1930s. I can’t locate that article just now, but I recall that he was soundly defeated. Also in the 1930s, brother Charles Leroy had a little trouble with the law:

Man Wanted In Callahan County Captured Here
Charles LeRoy Brigner, wanted by Callahan county officers, was captured here Saturday by Deputies Andrew Merrick and Bob Wolf. Brigner faces two felony indictments in Baird, according to officers. (Big Spring Daily Herald, Nov. 25, 1934)

After serving as a pallbearer at Robert E. Howard’s funeral in 1936, Winfred drops out of sight for the most part. Army Enlistment records show a Winfred N. Brigner of Callahan County enlisting at Abilene on August 27, 1942 for “the duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months.” He had one year of college and was divorced “without dependents.” Brigner died February 2, 1954 and is buried in the Cross Plains cemetery.

Having run out of sources on my end, I gave the Cross Plains Public Library a call. They have a Genealogy section; maybe, I thought, someone there could help me.

A few days later, I called back to see if they’d found anything. None other than Ann Beeler, author of Footsteps of Approaching Thousands, had done some digging and found that Brigner had married his CPHS classmate Winnie Swan on December 24, 1924—just two weeks before Howard wrote to Smith—and that he was divorced sometime before 1930. Brigner, it seems, never remarried; Winnie died in 1984 with the last name of Breeding.

“A Great Little Joy Spreader”

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted August 16, 2011, at the now-defunct REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version lightly edited.]

Readers of School Days in the Post Oaks may recognize Edith Odom as the salutatorian of Cross Plains High School’s class of 1922, the same class that Robert E. Howard graduated with. There were only ten members of the class, so I did a little research to see what I could find out about them. There’s not a lot of information for most, but Odom is an exception.

Born Edith Jewel Odom, possibly on October 9, 1906, she spent most of her early life in Callahan County with her parents, Simeon Edward and Julia Velma. Both the 1910 and 1920 Census records list her father as a farmer. In 1922 she graduated second in her class (Howard’s friend Winfred Brigner was first), but missed the graduation ceremony, which had been delayed due to bad weather. The Cross Plains Review reported that she was “unable to reach town in time for the exercises.”

Like Robert E. Howard, Odom went to another high school to pick up the extra year of schooling necessary for college attendance. She moved to Clyde, Texas, at the opposite side of Callahan County, and attended her senior year in Abilene. After graduating in the spring of 1923, she enrolled at McMurry College in the fall (along with REH’s friend from Cross Cut, Austin Newton). By December of that year, she was already making a name for herself on campus. She was elected secretary of the French Club and chosen as “Class Beauty.” The school’s newspaper, The War Whoop, described her as “not only physically beautiful, but is well-rounded, radiating a charming personality. It might easily be said, ‘To know her is to love her.’”

Her “Class Beauty” status was elevated in 1925, when she was chosen as the yearbook’s “Most Popular Girl.” The quote next to her photo (at the top of this post) might explain her popularity: “My ambition, as you know, is to make men happy and keep them so.” Another factor in her popularity was her membership in the McMurry Girls’ Quartet. The group performed at many local functions and private parties. The Abilene Morning News, April 23, 1927, under the headline “Business Men’s Bible Class Has Quarterly Feed,” reported the following:

[. . .] Other entertainment for the evening was given by students of the Fine Arts Department of McMurry College. The girl’s quartet composed of Carolyn McNeely, Irene Meador, Edith Odom and Beulah Tracy gave a group of numbers.

Odom was queen of the “McMurry Fete” and graduated with a B.A. in English in 1927. Beneath her senior picture in the yearbook, we learn that “Yes, she is going to teach school—for a while,” as well as the following:

Edith is everybody’s friend, and when she goes away McMurry will have lost a great little joy spreader, and the world will have gained through McMurry’s loss.

After visiting relatives at Big Spring that summer, Odom started teaching at Denton, just south of Clyde. The 1930 Census has her living in Callahan County, with her parents. The War Whoop gave its students an update on their popular alumnus in its May 16, 1930 edition:

Alumni Directory
Edith Odom, B. A. 1927. Edith is still spanking youngsters at her home in the hinterland near Clyde. She is hard pressed for time to teach by stove sellers, hardware peddlers, school teachers, farmers and highway inspectors. The “Queen” is still as friendly as ever.

As the summer ended, Odom changed locations and was up in Miami, Texas, in the panhandle, teaching school for the 1930-31 school year. The next summer she was married:

(Pampa Daily News – Aug. 31, 1931)
MIAMI, Aug. 31. — (Special) —A marriage of much interest in this community was solemnized recently at Abilene when Miss Edith Odom became the bride of Bill O’Loughlin of this city. The bride is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. S. E. Odom of Clyde, and was a teacher in the public schools here last year. The groom is a son of Mr. and Mrs. M. W. O’Loughlin of Miami.

After her marriage, Mrs. Bill O’Loughlin shows up pretty regularly in the Pampa Daily News’ “Society Page” as a member of a bridge club and president of the Junior Home Progress club. The February 16, 1940 War Whoop reported some sad news:

ABOUT OUR EXES
[. . .] They also told us of the recent death of Edith Odom’s father. Edith, as many of you know, is Mrs. Bill O’Loughlin of Miami and has a two-year old daughter, Ann.

Odom also had at least one other child, a son, whom the Pampa Daily News reported on May 27, 1955, won the American Legion Award and was valedictorian of his 8th grade class. And that’s where the record ends. Odom died on July 19, 1969 in Pampa, Gray Co., Texas; she is buried in Miami Cemetery, Miami, Texas.

The Cisco Kid

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted on June 22, 2015 at the now-defunct REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version has been updated]

This year at Howard Days, I talked to a couple of people about my obsession with the minutia of Robert E. Howard’s life. While I am a firm believer that the more we know, the clearer the picture of the writer from Cross Plains will become, I still think some of the things that intrigue me are pretty far out in left field. But the folks I talked to said that they found these things interesting, too, and that I should keep on keeping on. Well, I’ve got a few things lined up that may change their minds. Read on, if you dare.

When I first became interested in Howard’s life he seemed to be characterized as kind of a lone nut, with only a couple of friends over in Brownwood and maybe one or two more in Cross Plains. But when you start digging, others emerge. Without mentioning any female companionship (we’ll get to that at some future date), Howard had more friends than just Clyde Smith, Truett Vinson, Dave Lee, and Lindsey Tyson.

Reading Howard’s correspondence and autobiographical writings reveals other friends, including Aud “Slue Foot” Cross, Winfred Brigner, and Ottie Gill, not to mention Harold Preece and E. Hoffmann Price who both visited Cross Plains on more than one occasion. The de Camp papers at the Harry Ransom Center in Austin contain interviews with other Howard pals like Austin Newton, Leroy Butler, and Tom Ray Wilson. Even Howard’s hometown newspaper, the Cross Plains Review, has items of interest like this one from July 25, 1924: “Earl Baker of Ballinger visited Robert Howard last week.” (Baker was a buddy from the Burkett days.) These were all people who came in and out of Howard’s life, friends of circumstance like we all have from time to time, while our core group remains somewhat stable. To this list we should add Ray Adams.

Not too long ago Patrice Louinet sent me a clipping from the November 16, 1923 edition of the Cross Plains Review.

One little clipping, and a question: did I know anything about Ray Adams? At the time, I’d never even heard of him, now I know more than anyone outside of his family needs to know. I’ll share the relevant bits here.

Alton Ray Adams was born in Eastland County, Texas, on October 11, 1905, the first child of William and Fannie. His father was a farmer. Sometime after the 1910 enumeration of the U.S. Census but before the end of the year 1919, the Adams family had moved to Cross Plains and gained two more members: Kermit and Bonnie. And if they hadn’t met earlier, Ray Adams and Robert E. Howard would have bumped into each other at the Methodist Church on Christmas Eve 1919 where they are both on the program giving readings, as reported on December 19.

Presumably, Adams attended school in Cross Plains and, since he was just a few months older, may have had some classes with Robert E. Howard, whose family had moved to Cross Plains in 1919. But Adams didn’t finish school in Cross Plains, as this May 26, 1922 piece from the Cross Plains Review shows:

Back home, at least for the summer, Adams is one of the young men, along with Howard, mentioned in the following July 28, 1922 CPR item:

After the radio experiment, Robert E. Howard went off to Brownwood for another year of high school. Ray Adams went back to De Leon and was visited by another familiar face (CPR Nov. 10, 1922):

After high school, he moved back to Eastland County, Cisco to be precise. But he and Howard appear to have been good enough friends that they tried to stay in touch. When Howard returned to Cross Plains from Brownwood in 1923, Adams visited at least once, as the clip at the head of this post indicates.

How long the pair remained friends is a mystery. Like many school friendships, it may have simply dwindled away, or perhaps they became pen pals, though I haven’t found reference to Adams in Howard’s surviving correspondence. Whatever the case, sometime before the death of his father, W. M. Adams in June 1934, Ray had moved to Montana. He died there in 1942.

Cross Plains Review June 29, 1934

The Vinson Papers — Part 10

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 23, 2011, at the REH: Two-Gun Raconteur Blog.]

Part 9

Following his 1981 death, Truett Vinson’s stature continued to grow, at least in the minds of Robert E. Howard’s fans. Vinson plays a significant role in Dark Valley Destiny (1983); he is a major player in Novalyne Price Ellis’ One Who Walked Alone (1986); and he is fleshed out even further in Necronomicon Press’ Day of the Stranger (1989), Selected Letters Vol. 1 (1989) and Vol. 2 (1991), and Report on a Writing Man (1991). Of course, he really comes to life in Robert E. Howard’s Post Oaks and Sand Roughs (2019). All of these items are out in the world, so I didn’t feel the need to include much material from them in this series of posts.

After compiling the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (2007-2008), I started researching the large cast of characters I’d encountered in those letters. Some of the results have been posted here, but one person remained shadowy: Truett Vinson. Probably due to their publishing, Clyde and Novalyne get much more play than Truett. People visited their graves, at least. Well, I wanted to pay Mr. Vinson a visit. The problem was, no one seemed to know where he was buried. Before I uncovered most of the material in “The Vinson Papers,” I’d heard he was buried in Brownwood, in Austin, even as far away as El Paso—no one seemed to know for sure. Well, that’s no good.

I crossed Greenleaf off the list easily enough, and when I saw that he’d moved to Austin, I began to focus my attention there, but he’s not listed in any of the online grave finding services that I frequent. I was up against a wall. Then, I happened upon a family tree that gave me Truett’s first name, Wade, and other information followed.

After I found his wife’s name, I uncovered a “snippet view” of her obituary in an Austin paper. Naturally, the one piece of information I wanted, the site of her burial, was one of the things “snipped.” I needed someone with some access to give me all the details.

Now, before I continue, we’ve all heard how hard-headed Howard fans can be, at least I’ve heard them (me included) described that way. But I wouldn’t have been able to post the picture above without the help of two prominent Howard-heads. To wit:

After finding the aggravating “snippet” of Grace Vinson’s obituary, I contacted Dave Hardy (you’ve all read his introductions to the Del Rey and REHF Press’s El Borak books). Within a day or two he sent me the following, from the March 22, 1995 Austin American-Statesman:

GRACE VINSON

Grace Vinson, 86, of Austin died Wednesday, March 22, 1995.

Mrs. Vinson was born October 4, 1908, in Malvern, Iowa, to Frank and Maud (Crow) Churchill. Mrs. Vinson retired from the Austin Independent School District as head teacher at Dill School. She married Truett Vinson in November of 1949. He preceded her in death in 1982.

Graveside funeral services will be held Friday, March 24, 1995, at Cook-Walden/Capital Parks.

Survivors include two sisters; one nephew and one niece.

Arrangements by Cook-Walden Funeral Home, 6100 N. Lamar.

Now that I had a “full view,” I knew where to look. I contacted the Cook-Walden Funeral Home to find out if Grace had joined her husband. Indeed she had. They refused to take a picture for me, since I’m not a relative, so I needed a man on the ground in Austin. I didn’t want to wait until next year’s Howard Days to see the headstone (though I do plan on paying my respects).

I’d already bothered Hardy, so I pestered my other favorite Austinite, Dennis McHaney. Not long after my request, I received an email with “Ghoul” in the subject line. The picture at the head of this post was attached.

Who says Howard fans aren’t nice, cooperative people?

And that’s that, the end of “The Vinson Papers.”

Back to Part 1.

The Vinson Papers — Part 9

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 21, 2011, at the now defunct REH: Two-Gun Raconteur Blog. This version has been updated.]

Part 8

Now then, let’s back up just a bit. Following the 1957 publication of Always Comes Evening, Glenn Lord got into contact with Lenore Preece, who supplied him with information and various copies of the surviving issues of The Junto. Lord also got in touch with Clyde Smith, who was standoffish at first, but later warmed up. In the summer of 1961, a milestone, Glenn Lord published the first issue of The Howard Collector. He began by running items obtained from The Junto, and elsewhere, but in the fourth issue (summer 1963), he ran Clyde Smith’s “Report on a Writing Man.” This was the first real glimpse of the man who had created Conan, and while Vinson’s name is not mentioned, Smith’s article makes it clear that Howard wasn’t the isolated loner he had previously been described as.

The next issue, summer 1964, introduced Vinson as one of the three swordsmen shown above. The winter 1965 issue has the first Howard letter that mentions Truett, others would follow. Then, in the summer 1966 issue, Harold Preece includes Vinson in an important circle of friends:

Yet the personal impact of Bob Howard has to be defined in terms of the total influence of that whole little Brownwood group on me and on the work I would do later — Truett Vinson, Clyde Smith, Gladys Brannan, Ottie and Mary Gill. They were my very first intellectual circle anywhere.

Preece further cemented Vinson’s standing in his essay “The Last Celt,” which appeared in the spring 1968 issue:

[Summer 1927] was the apropos season to be excited by a poem, by the turn of a girl’s thigh, or by this and that proclamation of the New Jerusalem delivered by Upton Sinclair in California or Norman Thomas in New York. Fittingly, that year when I was twenty-one, it was a good time to meet, in the flesh, people like Truett Vinson and Bob Howard.

Our first session was held in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel at Austin, my home town. Those two were returning home from a vacation, I believe, in Mexico.

That same issue has Howard’s “Musing of a Moron,” a humorous sketch involving Howard, Smith, Preece, and Vinson. By the time The Howard Collector ceased publication in 1973, Howard fans had a general idea of Vinson’s place in the Howard biography. And that was about all they were going to get for a while.

Following the demise of The Howard Collector, Clyde Smith changed venues. Work by Smith started to appear in Jonathan Bacon’s fan publications, Fantasy Crossroads and Fantasy Crosswinds. Aware of Smith’s personal connection to Howard, Bacon commissioned him (and Harold Preece, too) to write a biography. The first and only installment, “The Magic Name,” appeared in Fantasy Crossroads #10/11 in March 1977 (reprinted in “So Far the Poet”).

It was probably around that time that Smith contacted Vinson, who is without a doubt the unnamed person in this quote from Smith’s article:

Another friend, very, very close to Bob, declined to write a biography. He said, “No, you are the one to write it—you were closer to him than I was.” So, much valuable information will be lost, but I respect this man’s wishes, and will not reveal his name, or keep asking him to do something which he does not wish to do.

Sadly, Smith died before completing the work, but his notes survived and were published as “So Far the Poet” in the Necronomicon Press chapbook Report on A Writing Man in 1991 (also reprinted in “So Far the Poet”). In those notes, Clyde clears up any mystery about the identity of the “friend” above:

My request to Truett to write a biography — Felt he was closer to Bob — he said “No — you are the one to write it — You were closer to him than I was.”

And Clyde wasn’t the only one looking for more information about Bob Howard in the 1970s. L. Sprague de Camp was also writing a biography. He’d found Vinson and written him a letter which, apparently, went unanswered. Later, de Camp acquired Vinson’s telephone number and gave him a call on June 28, 1977.

Probably thinking he’d hit the jackpot, de Camp was disappointed, describing Vinson as “close-mouthed and relatively uncommunicative.” In his short answers, Vinson doesn’t provide any information to support de Camp’s various theses, in fact he debunks a few (of course, that didn’t change de Camp’s mind, but that’s another story). As a matter of fact, Vinson is so tight-lipped that he doesn’t say anything about Novalyne Price, except to agree that she was “lively and attractive.”

The following day, June 29, 1977, Vinson wrote a letter to de Camp. Again, he discusses things in a fairly innocuous way, providing no fuel for de Camp’s fires. While there is nothing “new,” in his letter, he does say that he never really understood Bob Howard and was surprised when he killed himself. He “never detected any sort of animosity” between father and son, though he acknowledged that Bob was closer to his mother, who was “a good cook!”

While it seems clear from his comments in The Junto that Vinson appreciated Howard’s poetry, the same cannot be said of his fiction. In the telephone conversation, de Camp noted that Vinson described Howard’s stories as “trash”; in his follow-up letter, Vinson dialed it back a bit and said that Bob’s stories were not “edifying.” This conclusion, he says, following “a very meaningful religious experience.” He closed the letter with the following:

Now, I do not care to have any part, at this late date, forty years in time, of trying to take Robert Howard apart to find out what “made him tick.” I am opposed to this sort of thing for anybody, whether he be “strange” or not. And so I will greatly appreciate your leaving me out of your “study” of Robert Howard, and please do not ask me any more questions concerning him.

With that, Vinson fades from the record. He died in December 1981, taking whatever he knew about Robert E. Howard with him to the grave. De Camp’s biography came out two years later. While Dark Valley Destiny leaves a lot to be desired, if one can sift through de Camp’s interminable psychoanalysis of his subject, his guesses as to what motivated different people, it does provide a general outline of Howard’s life. Most of the errors of fact can be explained by his limited access to some of the information that has since been unearthed; of course, he did choose to ignore some information, but again, that’s another story. One thing DVD does establish is Truett Vinson’s central location in the life of Robert E. Howard. And we’ll leave it at that.

Until next time . . .

The Vinson Papers — Part 8

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 18, 2011, at the now-defunct REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version has been updated.]

Part 7

Following his November 4, 1949 marriage to Grace Troxell, the couple spent the 1950s traveling back and forth from their home in Austin, Texas (above), to their families’ homes in Texas, Iowa, and Nebraska. Most of the items this time don’t need much comment.

1950, Sept. 6 – Beatrice [Nebraska] Daily Sun:

Buys Theater

Buys Theater—Irvin Beck, mayor of Wilber, has purchased the Moon Theater from Mrs. Truett Vinson of Brownwood, Tex. The theater has been operated by Jerry Horacek and was formerly operated by W. M. Troxell. The theater will be closed from Sept. 11 to 14 for cleaning and re-equipping and will reopen Friday, Sept. 15.

1953, March 22 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Mrs. Vinson Is Celebrating 90th Birthday

Mrs. Wade D. Vinson, 1818 Coggin, who has been seriously ill for the past ten days, is quietly observing her ninetieth birthday today at her home.

Born near Goldwater, Ala., during the Civil War, Mrs. Vinson was married to the late Rev. Wade D. Vinson in 1890. He died here in 1931.

The family moved to Brownwood in 1899 and with the exception of ten years has resided here since that time. Rev. Vinson entered Howard Payne College and served as field representative for the college in the administration of Professor J. H. Grove.

Before her marriage Mrs. Vinson was Abbazena Comer. She has four children: Miss Lena Vinson of Brownwood, Mrs. Mark A. Wilson of Big Lake, Truett Vinson of Austin and Mrs. David B. Chancellor of Alexandria, Virginia. She also has two grandchildren, Mrs. William Goree of McCamey and Mrs. Sanford Brown of Big Lake, and one great-grandchild, Paul Ray George.

I. O. Comer of Brownwood is a nephew.

At the dedication service Saturday at Howard Payne College, an apartment in the Ministerial Courts was dedicated to Mrs. Vinson’s late husband.

Mrs. Wilson of Big Lake, Mr. and Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin are here for the occasion.

1953, May 24 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Edward Laffman, HPC, Receives Vinson Award

Rev. Edward Laffman, a World War II veteran who entered Howard Payne College on examination, was the recipient of the Vinson Award at the Joint commencement exercises of Howard Payne and Daniel Baker Friday night.

The Vinson Award is a Biblical Commentary given annually by Truett Vinson and Miss Lena Vinson to the ordained Baptist minister having the highest scholastic standing of all ordained Baptist ministers in the senior class for the year.

Rev. Laffman entered Howard Payne by taking an examination. He had attended the James Monroe High School, Bronx, New York City, for three years.

He was a pilot Instructor in the Air Force in World War II and attended Howard Payne under the G. I. Bill of Rights program. He is now pastor of the Baptist Church at Mercury. The late Rev. Wade D. Vinson, father of the donors of this award, was pastor of the same church more than 40 years ago. Rev. Laffman also served as pastor of the Stoddard Mission of the Coggin Avenue Baptist Church since entering Howard Payne.

The award recipient had 114 honor points for his senior year, and a total of 365 since entering Howard Payne. Only 120 honor points are required for graduation.

He plans to enter the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N. C., this fall.

1953, July 17 – The Big Lake Wildcat:

Mrs. Wilson’s Mother Dies in Brownwood

Mrs. M. A. Wilson left yesterday

morning for Brownwood in response to a message that her mother, Mrs. Wade D. Vinson had passed away Wednesday night following a heart attack. Mrs. Vinson, who observed her 90th birthday anniversary last March, was a native of Alabama, having come to Texas about 58 years ago. She was the widow of the late Rev. Vinson, early day Baptist preacher in Central Texas. He died in 1931.

Funeral services are to be held this afternoon at 3:30 o’clock from the Coggin Ave. Baptist Church in Brownwood, and burial will be in the Greenleaf Cemetery.

Survivors include one son, Truett Vinson of Austin; three daughters, Miss Lena Vinson of Brownwood, Mrs. M. A. Wilson of Big Lake, and Mrs. David B. Chancellor of Alexandria, Va.; two grandchildren, Mrs. Wm. G. Goree of Fort Stockton and Mrs. Sanford B. Brown of Fort Smith, Ark.; and one great grandson, Paul Goree of Fort Stockton.

Mrs. Goree joined her mother here to accompany her to Brownwood.

1953, July 22 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Relatives Return Home After Mrs. Vinson’s Funeral Service

Relatives, who have returned to their homes after attending Mrs. Wade D. Vinson’s funeral Friday, are Truett Vinson of Austin, Mrs. Mark A. Wilson of Big Lake; Mrs. William Goree and son, Paul, Fort Stockton; Mrs. Eva Laws, Cisco; Miss Sue Steele of Dallas.

Other relatives, who attended the funeral, and are visiting relatives here are Mrs. David B. Chancellor of Alexandria, Va., and A. H. Comer of Fort Worth.

1954, July 22 – Malvern [Iowa] Leader:

News of Malvernians

Mrs. Frank Churchill came Friday for a visit of several weeks in the W. A. Caldwell home here and H. L. Nims home at Strahan. She has been in Lincoln with Mr. and Mrs. Glen Moomaw for several weeks after spending the winter in Texas, with Mr. and Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin and with Mr. and Mrs. B. N. Thompson of Ft. Worth.

1955, April 5 – Yellow Jacket:

Registration at College Becoming a Family Affair for “Miss Lena”

Signing up new students at Howard Payne College is getting to be a family affair for Miss Lena Vinson, HPC office secretary. Last month she registered Nathan Dyer, a cousin from Lubbock, her 15th relative to enroll for classes at Howard Payne since the school opened in 1889.

Other relatives enrolled at HPC have included her father, two sisters, her brother, a niece, a nephew, a brother-in-law, a sister-in-law, and six other cousins.

Miss Lena’s father, the late Rev. Wade D. Vinson, enrolled as a ministerial student during the early days of the college. Miss Lena herself first enrolled at Howard Payne as a child in 1900—in Mrs. J. H. Grove’s primary department. She was again enrolled in 1918 as a regular college student.

Her other relatives who have been students at HPC are as follows: two sisters, Mrs. Mark A. Wilson (the former Grady Vinson), Big Lake, and Mrs. David B. Chancellor (the former Blanche Vinson), Alexandria, Va.; a brother, Truett Vinson, Austin; a brother-in-law, the late Mark A. Wilson; a sister-in-law, Mrs. Truett Vinson, Austin; a niece, Ruth Wilson Goree, Fort Stockton; and six other cousins: I. O. Comer, Brownwood; Mrs. Eva Fisher Laws, Cisco; Mrs. Willie Gene Fisher Syler, Amarillo; F. E. Fisher, Dublin; Ronald Comer, Colorado City; and Eby Dyer of Lubbock.

Nathan Dyer, the cousin who registered last month, was the last student to enroll for the spring semester. He was serving with the U. S. Army in Germany until his discharge, and barely made it to HPC before the spring enrollment deadline.

Nathan is the grandson of the late Rev. Hood Vinson, well known leader in this section during the early part of this century.

Miss Lena Vinson became office secretary at Howard Payne in 1934 and has enrolled some 20,000 students since that time.

“Several of that number have been relatives,” she says.

1956, May 27 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Vinson Ministerial Award at HPC Goes to Rev. F. G. Heard

Rev. Floyd Gene Heard, Howard Payne senior from Olney, was declared winner of the Vinson Award, during commencement exercises Friday afternoon. Howard Payne president, Dr. Guy D. Newman, made the presentation.

The Vinson Award, offered annually by Truett Vinson of Austin, and Miss Lena Vinson, office secretary Howard Payne College, is a Biblical Commentary given to the ordained minister having the highest scholastic standing of all ordained Baptist ministers of the senior class. Rev. Heard finished out his senior year with a ninety plus average.
[. . .]

1957, Nov. 1 – Yellow Jacket:

Miss Lawrence and Mr. Venson [sic.] Make Gifts to the Library

Eloise Lawrence and Truett Vinson recently have donated gifts to the Walker Memorial Library of Howard Payne College.
[. . .]
Mr. Vinson, a brother of Miss Lena Vinson, college cashier, has given The Life of Johnny Reb (B. I. Wiley), Treasure of Great Mysteries, a two-volume set edited by Howard Heycroft, and the book reviewed this week, The American Story (E. S. Miers).

1958, Jan. 10 – Yellow Jacket:

Donation Made to Walker Library

Truett Vinson of Austin, brother of Miss Lena Vinson of the business office, has given the Walker Library three more books: So Help Me God, by Felix Jackson, Divided We Fought . . . 1861-1865, by David Donald, and Fall of a Titan, by Igor Gouzenko.

1958, Jan. 17 – Yellow Jacket:

More Donations to Walker Library

Announcement of two more donations to Walker Memorial Library were made this week by Miss Frances Burrage, librarian.
[. . .] Donations from Truett Vinson include Zambesi (J. F. McDonald) and A Secret Understanding (Merle Miller).

1958, March 25 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Social Calendar

Weekend Visitors – Visiting in the home of Miss Lena Vinson over the weekend were Dr. Waldine Tauch and Mrs. W. C. Tauch, both of San Antonio and Mr. and Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin.

1958, June 19 – Malvern [Iowa] Leader:

News of Malvernians

Mrs. Maude Churchill who has spent the winter at Fort Worth and Austin, Tex., and her daughter, Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin, were over night visitors in Malvern Monday. Mrs. Churchill was a guest in the W. A. Caldwell home and Mrs. Vinson in the Miss Mae Churchill home. They went to Lincoln Tuesday where they will visit in the Glenn Moomaw home. Mrs. Churchill will return later for a visit here.

1958, July 13 – Beatrice [Nebraska] Daily Sun:

Wilber News

Visitors of Mrs. A. W. Greer, were Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin, Tex., Mr. and Mrs. Ray Stanley of Vernonia, Ore., and Mr. and Mrs. Frank Stanley of Wathena, Kan.

1958, Dec. 5 – Yellow Jacket:

Gifts Are Made to Walker Library

[. . .]
Truett Vinson of Austin has given the library a copy of J. T. Flynn’s While You Slept. [. . .]

1959, May 31 – Brownwood Bulletin:

Library Listening Post

Tethers End a mystery by Margery Allingham was a gift of Truett Vinson of Austin to the library this week.

1962, July 26 – Malvern [Iowa] Leader, in its “News of Malvernians” column:

Mr. and Mrs. Truett Vinson of Austin, Texas, and Mr. and Mrs. G. C. Moomaw of Lincoln, Nebr., were Friday visitors in the Henry Nims home.

We’ll have a little more fun next time . . .

The Vinson Papers — Part 7

Truett with a niece

Part 6

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted on July 13, 2011, at the now defunct REH Two-Gun Raconteur Blog. This version has been updated.]

Following his break-up with Novalyne Price, Truett Vinson appears to have spent some time cleaning out his personal library and getting a bit more involved with his alma mater. The June 1939 Howard Payne catalogue includes the two items mentioned last time (Wade D. Vinson’s Library and the Vinson Athletic Award); these entries remain pretty much the same through 1944, but in 1945 there is an interesting change, as we will see below.

Vinson also starts making regular appearances in the Yellow Jacket. The October 5, 1939 edition has “Library Board to Meet Next Week,” which includes the following bit: “During the last two weeks donors have given approximately forty-six new books to the library. [. . .] Allen’s “Toward the Lame,” second edition, presented by Truett Vinson [. . .]” On March 14, 1940, his donations get a little more play:

Vinson Donates More Books to HP Library

Truett Vinson, whose interest and contributions to the Howard Payne College library have made possible some of the library’s most interesting literary works, recently donated three new books to the institution.

An office employee of the Walker Smith firm of Brownwood and a brother of Miss Lena Vinson, college secretary, Mr. Vinson presented the college library with copies of New Russia’s Primer by Ilin, John Brown’s Body by Benet, and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Moore in his most recent contribution.
[. . .]

A month later, April 11, he’s at it again:

Additions Made to Library—
Most Interesting Collection Is The War On All Fronts Volumes

[. . .]
Perhaps the most interesting volumes in this collection, according to Mrs. Katie Cooper Lee, librarian, are the books that make up the series The War on All Fronts donated to the library by Truett Vinson. [. . .]
Vinson also has presented the library with two works by Liddell Hart, Through the Fog of War, and Europe in Arms.

And so it goes. By October 2, 1941, it’s time for Truett’s sister, Lena (seen above from the 1944 Lasso yearbook), to get a little play in the Yellow Jacket:

Faculty Personalty—
Popular Miss Lena is a Pal and Friend of HP Students

Everyone on campus has by this time met and learned to like Miss Lena Vinson. Miss Lena came to Brownwood from Alabama with her parents, Mr. [and Mrs.] W. D. Vinson. Her father was a Baptist minister and missionary and attended Howard Payne. Rev. Vinson was also field secretary for the college. Miss Lena attended Howard Payne College in the primary department which was taught by Mrs. J. H. Grove, wife of the president of HPC. The Vinson connection with Howard Payne is quite prominent since not only Miss Lena and her father attended Howard Payne but her brother, her two sisters, and her brother-in-law were also students at this institution.

A daughter of a Baptist minister Miss Lena has lived in a number of towns in West Texas. For a high scholastic rating the young Miss Vinson was awarded a scholarship to John Tarleton College.

From college Miss Lena entered the business world. For a number of years after the World War she worked for the Empire Furniture Co.

In August of 1934 she came to HPC as cashier and bookkeeper.

Miss Vinson is an active member of Coggin Avenue Baptist Church. Much of her leisure time is spent in the raising of money for the Lois Howard Mashburn Memorial Fund, the interest from which goes to carry on Missionary work in provinces of Shantung, China.

As a hobby Miss Lena makes a study of South West Texas. This information, along with materials on the Indians of the Southwest, go to make up the scrap books of which she is very fond. She also collects perfume bottles. She prefers semi-classical music to swing music. She likes pastel colors and her favorite flower is the violet.

The Wade D. Vinson Sociology and Theology Collection has been donated to the college by Miss Lena, her mother, Mrs. Wade D. Vinson, and her brother, Dr. [?] Truett Vinson. This collection contains numerous works of Theology and Sociology.

Miss Lena has a definite interest in the athletic program of Howard Payne College and is jokingly called “Olive Oil” by a number of the football boys. Each year she and Dr. Truett Vinson offer a cash prize to the highest scholastic ranking student who is a letter man in either football, basketball, or track.

When we think of Miss Lena, we think of a person who is considerate, understanding, and ever ready to help the students in every way.

The “Dr.” title given to Truett above is probably a goof, I’ve not found any other documents claiming Truett earned a degree. Anyway, under the title “Vinson Family Will Be Long Remembered To HPC Students,” the November 26, 1942 Yellow Jacket summarizes all of the above, and previous information presented here, on the Vinsons, saying at the start: “Among the names associated with the past history of Howard Payne stands the word ‘Vinson.’”

In “Draft Board Lists Men to Go June 9th,” in the May 31, 1942, Brownwood Bulletin, Wade Truett Vinson is among “the names of men to report June 9 for induction into the Army.” But it appears that Vinson didn’t get in. He is mentioned occasionally throughout the war in the local papers, travelling to visit his sister in Big Lake and donating to the Red Cross. Lyndsay Tyson told the de Camps that Vinson tried to do his part, but “They turned him down when he tried to get in the Army because he had some kind of heart condition.” Vinson was (re-?) elected to the Carnegie Library Board in 1944.

In April 1945, the Howard Payne College Bulletin, Vol. XXXIV, No. 1, has an interesting change to its prior Vinson mentions. The Wade D. Vinson Library’s listing remains essentially unchanged, but the Vinson Athletic Award has changed to the following:

Vinson Ministerial Award. Mr. Truett Vinson and Miss Lena Vinson offer annually a Biblical Commentary to the ordained Baptist minister having the highest scholastic standing of all ordained Baptist ministers of the senior class. To be eligible for the award the minister must have an average of B on the regular required course per semester, and must be a member of the senior class. The award will be made on commencement day in May of each year.

These listings remain through 1965, and possibly beyond, though the Wade D. Vinson Library listing is collapsed with the other donations under the “Walker Memorial Library” listing. (As an aside, in the 1970s, when L. Sprague de Camp was looking for people that knew Robert E. Howard, Vinson was not interested in talking about his former friend. He told de Camp that one of the reasons for his reticence was “a very meaningful religious experience.” One wonders if that “experience” occurred just prior to the switch from an athletic to a ministerial award.)

Besides the annual appearances in the college bulletins, the only other Vinson mention I’ve located for the period between April 1945 and early 1948 is the following, from the February 24, 1948 Yellow Jacket. Under the “Library News” column, we hear that “Mr. Truett Vinson, brother of Miss Lena Vinson, recently presented the library with a number of books, too. The books which Mr. Vinson gave were said to be in excellent condition.”

I’m speculating here, but it seems likely (based on the information below) that one of the reasons for Truett’s absence from the papers, besides the possible “religious experience,” is that he had met another woman. By the time he shows up in the papers again, things must have been fairly serious, as he’s spending time with the woman’s family in Nebraska. The December 27, 1948 Beatrice Daily Sun, a Nebraska paper, in its “Wilber News” column, reports the following:

Truett Vinson of Brownwood, Tex., was a Thanksgiving guest of Mrs. Grace Troxell at the William Bohacek home.

Less than a year later, the couple are married, as reported in the December 11, 1949 Council Bluffs, Iowa, Nonpareil:

November Rites Told

MALVERN—Word has been received of the marriage of Grace Troxell of Wilbur, Neb., and Wade Truett Vinson of Brownwood, Tex., which took place Nov. 24 at the Baptist church in Brownsville [sic: Brownwood], Tex.

The bride is the daughter of Mrs. Frank Churchill of Malvern. Mrs. Churchill and the bride’s brother-in-law and sister, Mr. and Mrs. Glen Moomow of Lincoln, flew to Texas for the wedding.

The following day, the Beatrice Daily Sun reported on the event as well:

Ex-Teacher Wed

The marriage of Mrs. Grace Troxell and Mr. Truett Vinson was solemnized on Thanksgiving morning at 10 a. m. at the Coggin Avenue Baptist church in Brownwood, Tex., with Dr. E. Hargorve, pastor officiating. Only the immediate relatives were present. Following the ceremony a wedding dinner was served at Hotel Brownwood. Mr. and Mrs. Vinson left for a short trip in San Antonio, Tex. Mrs. Vinson taught school in Wilber for a number of years and is owner of the Moon Theatre in Wilber.

Grace Adeline Churchill was born in Iowa in 1908, attended college in Nebraska, and became a teacher. She married William Morton Troxell in 1936. A theater operator, Troxell died in 1945 “following a lingering illness.” It is not known how his widow met Truett Vinson. Her photo, below, is from the 1930 Nebraska State Teacher’s College yearbook.

Go to Part 8.

The Vinson Papers — Part 6

Part 5

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted on July 13, 2011, at the now defunct REH Two-Gun Raconteur Blog. This version has been updated.]

Following the collapse of The Junto and the death of his father, Truett Vinson picked up the pieces and got on with his life. The April 22, 1931 issue of Stamp-itis, a stamp collecting publication put out by the Texas Philatelic Association, notes his application for membership. The July 1st issue acknowledges his acceptance into the association. By the Christmas of 1933, things appear to have returned to normal, with Robert Howard telling August Derleth about his holiday:

A friend came over from Brownwood (a cattleman named Truett Vinson) and we saw a couple of shows in Cisco. Drove over to Ranger Sunday trying to find a good show, and finally saw a lousy one at Cisco. Went back the next day and saw another.

In July of 1934, Howard sent the following to H. P. Lovecraft:

I went to Brownwood Saint Patrick’s Eve and Truett Vinson and I celebrated in our small way. I wish you could know Vinson — a fine, upstanding man a few months older than myself, six feet two in his socks, about 185 pounds with no fat on him, shoulders broader than a barn door, and all man. I knocked him down once when we were both drunk, but nobody ever floored him when he was sober. He’s an accountant for a big wholesale company and a stock-raiser for himself. Keen witted, with a natural knack for finances. Once an ardent Socialist, but too strongly individualistic for that, as I often told him. Well educated and very well read.

After talking about a boxing match they saw, and some fun with one of Vinson’s mares and some booze, Howard continues with the following:

Last month Vinson had his vacation and he spent a week with me. We had a most enjoyable time. I had an unbroken case of Sterling bock all ready when he arrived, but much to my regret he had a slightly corroded gut and had to go easy on his imbibing. He got to Cross Plains on Monday and in search of a show, we went to Ballinger that afternoon. Ballinger lies about seventy miles southwest of Cross Plains, an old town that has a romantic and sometimes violent past. The county is dry but the town is wet and the citizenry favors Rheingold — Sterling bock is Cross Plains’ favorite drink, and still farther west they go in for Blatz’ Old Heidelberg in a big way, from Midland clear to El Paso. Discussing plans for amusement we decided to take a small swing westward the next day, so returned to Cross Plains early and got to bed before midnight.

That “small swing” included a trip to the Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and went as far west as El Paso. On the return trip, it appears that Vinson and Howard stopped to visit Truett’s sister, Mrs. M. A. Wilson, the former Flora Grady Vinson. The Big Lake Wildcat for June 29, 1934 says that “Truett Vinson of Brownwood spent Friday [June 22] afternoon with his sister, Mrs. M. A. Wilson. He was enroute home from Carlsbad Cavern.” Perhaps the photo below was snapped by Robert E. Howard.

Mark A. Wilson with his brother-in-law, Truett Vinson

According to L. Sprague de Camp’s interview notes, in the spring of 1935 Truett met Novalyne Price, the future Mrs. Ellis. There are several short mentions of Vinson in the Novalyne file, all pretty much saying the same thing:

She went with Vinson for three years, 1935-38, although REH was angry. When she spoke of intending to date Vinson, REH scoffed, saying he would never date her. This angered her and caused her to encourage a date with Vinson. Then, when she had begun such dating, REH would not, at first, believe it.

The notes also say that given a choice of all three, REH, Clyde Smith, or Vinson, Novalyne would have married Truett as he was the one “with the widest range of interests.” These interviews took place in the late 1970s.

Sometime after the death of Wade Vinson, the family donated his collection of books to Howard Payne College. A note about the collection appeared in every issue of the college’s bulletin until at least 1965, and possibly beyond. The 1935 notice reads as follows:

The Wade D. Vinson Sociology and Theology Collection is the gift of Mrs. Wade D. Vinson, her daughter, Miss Lena Vinson, and her son, Mr. Truett Vinson, of Brownwood, Texas. This collection contains numerous works of theology and sociology which had been a part of the library of the late Rev. Wade D. Vinson. In addition the collection contains the files of several magazines on the subject of missionary endeavor together with several volumes of clippings on missions. One of the most valuable features of the collection is made up of a collection of clippings and pamphlets dealing with the American Negro. Former friends of the Reverend Mr. Vinson have added a number of current books on sociology to the collection.

In June of 1935, Vinson and Howard again traveled to New Mexico, this time visiting Lincoln, the scene of some of Billy the Kid’s famous exploits and the “Bloody Lincoln County War.” Vinson probably took the photo above. The gentleman with REH is probably Ramon Maes, who showed them around the town while they were there.

They get as far as Santa Fe when “Vinson got in a swivet to get home, for some reason which he never made entirely clear, but which seemed so important to him that I didn’t press the matter.” Perhaps tension was flaring between the two due to the girl they were both dating. Or perhaps it was a bit later, but by July 9, things had reached a head, with REH writing to Novalyne, “you and Truett haven’t played fair with me, in concealing the fact that you were going together.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram for Friday, September 20, 1935, has this:

Came this letter from Truett Vinson of Brownwood:

“A bunch of us here would like to know if the Texas Christian-Howard Payne game, to be played Saturday afternoon, will be broadcast by WBAP? Can you tell us?

“Incidentally, I will bet you a nice little wager that this game will be more open and more spectacular than the Texas Tech-Hardin-Simmons game in Abilene, which is being called by you sports writers (and Hardin-Simmons publicity agents) the classic of West Texas.

“Why should Hardin-Simmons have a ‘classic’ team? They can’t even ‘go places’ in the Texas Conference. It might interest you to know that of the 14 games played in the last 15 years between Howard Payne and Hardin-Simmons the Cowhands have won exactly three games and tied two, and their record with other members of the Texas Conference is not much more impressive.”

To which the editor replied:

WBAP hasn’t decided definitely on a broadcast of Saturday’s game, but it is almost certain that one of the Fort Worth stations will put the game on the air.

There is no doubt but what the T.C.U.-Howard Payne game will be a spectacular one, with both observers rated the ends fair, the guards good and the center questionable.

The June 1936 Howard Payne bulletin has another Vinson item listed under “Endowments”:

Vinson Athletic Prizes: Mr. Truett Vinson and Miss Lena Vinson offer annually two cash prizes of ten dollars and five dollars, respectively, to the highest scholastic ranking athletes who are letter men in either football, basketball, or track. To be eligible for the first prize the athlete must have an average of B on a regular course of fifteen hours per semester. The highest ranking athlete will be awarded the first prize and the second highest ranking athlete will be awarded the second prize. The awards will be made on commencement day in May of each year.

Also in June that year, Robert E. Howard killed himself. Novalyne told the de Camps that Vinson was one of two people who sent her a postcard notifying her of the tragedy.

On November 26, 1936, the Howard Payne Yellow Jacket ran “New Books Are Given Library”:

The library has been receiving many new books lately. The English department has added twelve modern books dealing with Folk Love [sic: Lore] in the Southern United States. The Howard collection received four more novels this week, Mr. Truett Vinson being the donor.

The books that have been donated to our college by the Howard family have added much to the reading material in the library. Many interesting and modern novels are to be found in the collection. The popular novel, America’s Way Out, by Norman Thomas, is among the novels received this week.

For the next couple of years, Vinson and Price continued to date. They broke up some time in 1938. On December 3rd of that year, Truett makes his next appearance in the Yellow Jacket:

Valuable Book Collection in HP Library
In the north east corner of the Howard Payne College administration building lies one of her greatest treasures—the library. It contains more than twenty thousand volumes, consisting of references and reading material for all subjects. And, among these twenty thousand volumes, five different collections are found. Some of these deal with special subjects, others cover a varied field.
[. . .]
In the line of general literature falls the collection in the memory of Robert E. Howard, author, who died June 11, 1936. This group was presented by Dr. I. M. Howard, father of the deceased, and contains a complete file of magazines in which the published works of Howard appeared prior to his death. This, by the way, is the only collection which is kept together.

Vinson Sociology and Theology
The Rev. Wade D. Vinson collection of Sociology and Theology is possibly the largest in the library. A one time student and past field secretary of Howard Payne College, Rev. Vinson collected a vast array of sociology and theology books. At his death his library was added to the Howard Payne library. Included in this collection are magazines relating to missionary endeavor and missions, and one of the most valuable features is the collection of clippings and pamphlets dealing with the American Negro. Rev. Vinson was the father of Miss Lena Vinson and Truett Vinson of Brownwood, who, with Mrs. Wade Vinson, presented the collection to our library. Former friends have added a number of sociological books to the collection.

Not to be outdone by his father, Truett Vinson has well under way a collection of his own. He is a graduate of the commercial department of Howard Payne College, and one of the staunchest rooters. His reason for the collection was an interest in furthering Howard Payne. Books of all kinds are coming in in a steady stream; they range from history and historical novels and biographies to current novels. Two of the most recent additions to this collection are The Bellamy Trial, a recent Crime Club mystery novel, and Young’s They Seek a Country, the latest novel of the Book of the Month Club.

More on Vinson’s interest in the college library next time . . .

Part 7