Voodoo and Bat Wing

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted March 4, 2007, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

I have definitely abandoned the detective field, where I never had any success anyway, and which represents a type of story I actively detest. I can scarcely endure to read one, much less write one.

— Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft: May 13, 1936

Many fans of Robert E. Howard’s work who wish to follow in his literary footsteps have taken to acquiring and reading the books that Howard once read. One of Howard’s favorite authors was Sax Rohmer. This master of the “Oriental Menace” story is best-known for his many tales of Fu-Manchu, the Asian mastermind bent on world domination. Howard had several of the Fu-Manchu books on his shelf; their influence is most clearly seen in Howard’s novella “Skull-Face.”

Besides the Fu-Manchu books, Howard also owned several other titles by Rohmer, including Bat Wing. This novel was first published in 1921 by Doubleday and was reprinted in 1925 and again in 1930. A Victorian murder-mystery, it tips its hat several times to the genre’s creator, Edgar Allan Poe, with the main character’s repeated references to Poe’s pioneering sleuth Auguste Dupin, as well as a character in the novel who resembles Poe himself. Despite Howard’s claim that “I actively detest” this type of story, there were plenty of works belonging to the genre on his shelf, including works by Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. Indeed, despite its numerous Poe references, Bat Wing seems more derivative of Conan Doyle than Poe.

The story centers on Paul Harley, a connected Londoner with ties to Scotland Yard. With his faithful companion Mr. Knox, Harley travels to Cray’s Folly, a country estate, at the request of Colonel Menendez, who has spent considerable time in Voodoo-haunted Cuba. Harley has been summoned to prevent the murder of Menendez himself, which will, of course, take place on the night of the next full moon. Menendez tells Harley of the Obeah curse laid upon him, in the form of a bat wing nailed to his door. I don’t want to ruin it for future readers, but rest assured, the novel is full of dead-end leads, false assumptions, and characters which have become stereotypical of the genre: a bumbling police detective, a pipe-smoking amateur, and the clueless side-kick.

The most striking similarities between Bat Wing and Howard’s work come with the short story “The Hand of Obeah.” According to Rusty Burke’s Robert E. Howard Fiction and Verse Timeline, “The Hand of Obeah” was submitted to Adventure in 1925; upon reading the tale, it’s easy to see why it was not accepted: while entertaining, it is clearly not Howard’s best.

The story centers around a teenager (I assume) named Steve and his young friends Skinny and Chub. After some tom-foolery with a black worker, Steve and Skinny follow him and observe a Voodoo ritual. This is followed with murder, intrigue, and mistaken identities. The story itself is quite different than Rohmer’s Bat Wing, but there are many similarities:

Both have a Chinese servant: Rohmer’s “Ah Tsong” and Howard’s “Tong.”

Both have Spanish mulattoes: Rohmer’s “Ysola de Valera” and Howard’s villain whose real name is not revealed, but who is disguised as “Lopez da Vasca.”

While the Voodoo meeting and location are background material in Rohmer’s novel, they take center stage in Howard’s story. Both, however, are described similarly:

Rohmer: In the neighborhood of the hacienda [. . .] there was a belt of low-lying pest country [. . .] which was a hot-bed of poisonous diseases. It followed the winding course of a nearly stagnant creek. From the earliest times the Black Belt—it was so called—had been avoided by European inhabitants, and indeed by the colored population as well. Apart from the malaria of the swampy ground it was infested with reptiles and with poisonous insects of a greater variety and of a more venomous character than I have ever known in any part of the world. [. . .]

On the following evening, suitably equipped, [we] set out, leaving by a side door and striking into the woods at a point east of the hacienda, where, according to his information, a footpath existed, which would lead us to the clearing we desired to visit.

Howard: The Haunted Brakes are kind of freakish, in a way. They’re about a half square mile of cane brakes, surrounded on all sides except one by a narrow strip of swamp. The swamp just swarms with snakes and that’s where it gets its name [Moccasin Swamp]. A long time ago they found a strange Negro there with no head onto him. And no Negro would go near that swamp afterwards [. . .] nobody cared to be around there after dark.

The swamp and the brakes lie about five miles south and a little east of the town, with about a quarter-mile of marshy swamp-ground between the brakes and the river. But on that side a strip of solid high ground runs from the brakes clear to the river bank. Some say there was an old road there once.

The narrators of both stories reach similar clearings in the Black Belt/Haunted Brakes where they observe similar Voodoo rituals:

Rohmer: [W]e saw the light of many torches amid the trees ahead of us [. . .] in which naked figures danced wildly, uttering animal cries. [. . .] This was a meeting-place of Devil-worshippers, or devotees of the cult of Voodoo! One man only could I see clearly so as to remember him [. . .] He seemed to be a sort of high priest or president of the orgies.

Howard: [T]he cane had been cleared away for a large space and at the center a large fire was blazing. All around the fire were seated Negroes [. . .]. Most of all the ones we knew and about a hundred we’d never heard of.

And standing by the fire, waving his arms and talking, was ‘Lisha!

The stories diverge significantly after these Voodoo rituals take place. Rohmer’s evolves into a finely crafted murder-mystery with a decent, though fairly obvious, twist at the end. Howard’s, well, he was trying hard.

Bat Wing is available here, or the other usual places.

“The Hand of Obeah” can be found in Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works, put out by the Robert E. Howard Foundation, or one of the publications mentioned here.

Honoring The Howard Collector

 

Howard Days 2006 027e

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted February 27, 2007 at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

Robert E. Howard died in June of 1936, but his work lived on. He may have lived long enough to see “Black Canaan” in the June issue of Weird Tales replaced by “Red Nails” in the July issue if, as in current practice, magazines appeared a month in advance of their cover date. The fact that Howard was dead and gone in no way slowed his publication; he had stories in Argosy, Action Stories, Weird Tales, and others throughout the rest of 1936. Action Stories’ January ’37 issue contained a Howard yarn; Golden Fleece published “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance” in their November ’38 issue and “Gates of Empire” in the January ’39 number; Weird Tales continued a fairly steady stream of Howard’s poetry and prose until August of 1939. And then things went quiet—for a while.

The very early 1940s saw little Robert E. Howard. Fight Stories continued the practice they’d begun in 1937 of reprinting Howard’s stories once or twice a year using the “Mark Adam” byline; their last reprint appeared in the Fall 1942 issue. Spicy Adventure Stories reprinted three of Howard’s yarns, also in 1942, but again, his name was absent. From late ’39 all the way through 1943, none of Howard’s fantasy or horror tales appeared in any mainstream publication; it seemed that Robert E. Howard had finally gone west. But then “Texas John Alden” appeared in Masked Rider Magazine for May of ’44, and August Derleth included “The Black Stone” in the anthology Sleep No More. In 1945, Crawford Publications brought out their eponymous The Garden of Fear booklet. Things were looking up.

In 1946, Arkham House got the ball rolling. Skull-Face and Others, despite reportedly sluggish sales, got Howard back on the radar. Throughout the late ’40s and into the early ’50s, Howard’s work appeared in the top fantasy magazines of the day: Avon Fantasy Reader, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Fantasy Fiction Magazine. The early ’50s saw several of Howard’s westerns also reprinted. Meanwhile, the folks over at Gnome Press were busy making sure that Howard’s most famous creation wouldn’t be trapped in the pages of crumbling pulp magazines; Conan the Conqueror, the first of seven Conan volumes, appeared in 1950, with new volumes appearing fairly often until 1957. That same year Glenn Lord made his first big splash in Howard publishing by issuing Always Comes Evening, the first major collection of Howard’s verse. But then things slowed down again.

The late ’50s saw very little Howard publishing. The well-known fan endeavor, Amra, began, but had next to nothing to do with any of Howard’s works besides Conan. Donald Wollheim included “The Cairn on the Headland” in his The Macabre Reader. And then—nothing.

Fortunately, Glenn Lord was far from finished.

Glenn

After compiling Always Comes Evening, Lord began his search for other obscure Howard items. In a recent letter, Mr. Lord told me, “I began buying large runs of Action Stories and Fight Stories as I knew they ran a lot of Howard’s work. Fortunately, at the time, pulps were cheap — I paid $1 each for them from Midtown Magazine Service in New York City.” He also got in touch with Lenore Preece, who sent him copies of The Junto and Howard’s letters to her brother, Harold. George Haas provided copies of letters to Clark Ashton Smith. And, through a series of contacts beginning with E. Hoffmann Price, Lord was able to track down the legendary “Trunk” of Howard’s unsold manuscripts and other assorted items.

The items slowly trickled in and Lord began work on a preliminary bibliography. As that work progressed, he told me, “I began thinking of putting this data and material in a fanzine. I named it The Howard Collector after Ray Zorn’s The Lovecraft Collector.” And thus, in the summer of 1961, smack dab in the middle of a severe Howard drought, appeared The Howard Collector #1. In his “Editorial Notes” for that issue, Lord states that THC “is dedicated to the memory of Robert E. Howard and will contain material by and about him. Frequency of publication, or continuation, will depend upon reader response.” No worries there.

That first issue provided a model that has been followed by nearly every Howard fan publication since: a little biography, “Facts of Biography” and “Letter: Dr. I. M. Howard to Frank Torbett”; a little commentary, E.H. Price’s “Robert Ervin Howard”; a little bibliography, “Verse Index”; some Howard fiction and verse, “Midnight,” “With a Set of Rattlesnake Rattles,” “The Sands of Time,” and “Sonora to Del Rio.” And Lord was just getting started. He published a total of 18 issues of THC, from that groundbreaking first issue in the summer of 1961 to the final edition, a 52-page extravaganza, in the autumn of 1973.

Anyone who has ventured into the publishing arena has some stories to tell; it’s not as easy as some might think. Lord started having problems fairly early on: “Alvin Fick printed the first issue; he did nice printing but could not continue to print for me,” said Lord. And he needed a printer; of the 150 copies of THC #1 that were prepared, most had sold. When THC #2 appeared, in the spring of ’62, Lord’s “Editorial Notes” stated, “Response to the first issue of The Howard Collector has been favorable. A few copies still remain for those interested.” Luckily, Donald Grant stepped in, but he would not be the last printer, as Lord reveals:

Donald Grant printed several issues, until he finally got so busy that he could no longer do so. With THC #9, I found out that 150 copies were no longer enough, so I reprinted that one and upped the print run to 300 copies. After Grant quit printing THC, I managed to borrow an IBM Executive typewriter, with a Bold Face No. 2 typeface — the same one used by Grant at the time — from a secretary at my workplace, and typed out the next two or three issues, sending the prepared Text to a print shop in Missouri that I was told about. And then I managed to purchase a reconditioned IBM typewriter, same typeface, of my own and I used that for the remainder of the issues.

While advanced in its day, the IBM typewriter was worlds away from modern desktop publishing:

The IBM Executive spaced the letters so that you could justify the right margins. You had to do a first typing, then add or delete spaces in the second typing, so that it all came out at the right evenly. And certain letters took up more space — an “i” for instance was one space, an “a” was two, a “w” was three, if I recall correctly.

Despite the printing problems, Lord managed to present to salivating Howard-heads everywhere some truly unique and original material, coupled with extremely rare (at the time) items that had appeared in publications as diverse as they were limited: The Tattler, The Poet’s Scroll, The Yellow Jacket, and so on. In 1979 Lord collected the best of the material from his Journal and sent it off to Ace Publications, where it saw print in the volume aptly entitled The Howard Collector. This is still the best place to find the nuggets of Howardia that were published within those fragile pages. Other publishers have reprinted many of the items included in the journal, but some still remain locked in its pages, especially the non-Howard items, like a letter from Chandler Whipple to Glenn Lord, reviews by Fritz Leiber and Fred Blosser, poetry by Tevis Clyde Smith, Manly Wellman, de Camp, and others, articles by E.H. Price, Lin Carter, and so on.

With Amra doing its thing in the Conan world, The Howard Collector was an important voice for Robert E. Howard during this time—Amra even helped, as Lord recalls: “I got notices in Amra and ran ads in Bibby’s Fantasy Collector, possibly one or two others, for subscribers but quite a few probably found out by word of mouth from other subscribers.”

And what a list of subscribers it was. The first fans were lucky enough to be in contact with people who had actually known Howard, as well as some of the pioneers in the field. Lord remembers a few of those important readers: “Larry McMurtry subscribed, at the time he was running a used book store in Houston. The Preeces were also subscribers—Louise Preece, Lenore Preece, Harold Preece, Kathering (Preece) Luparello. Clyde Smith bought five copies of each issue.”

During his time publishing THC, Lord acquired “The Trunk” and became agent for Howard’s literary rights. Business was soon booming, fed in part by the growing popularity of the Lancer Conan volumes, which began their historic rise in 1966. As Lord reports in the final THC, “This will be the final issue of this magazine. This is its twelfth year of publication and while I dislike having to terminate it, there are a number of factors that dictate that policy, not the least of which is lack of time.” Lord explained further in a recent letter: “I cut it off when my agenting business got so busy that I had little free time—I was still working at my regular job also.”

So, at the dawn of the Howard Boom, The Howard Collector closed up shop. But it had done its job; it had kept the name of Robert E. Howard alive and well when Conan had threatened to eclipse him. For a complete listing of all items that appeared within the pages of that first Howard ‘zine, have a look here. I’ll let Glenn Lord sign off: “And I guess that is all for THC. It did run to more issues than I anticipated, after all.”

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“Uncle Gus”: A Footnote

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(Photo found here.)

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted February 4, 2007 at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

Superbowl Sunday: halftime.

Among the obscure references found in Robert E. Howard’s correspondence is the following, from a letter to H.P. Lovecraft, dated October 3, 1935:

Here are some clippings which might interest you. The one about “Uncle Gus” and the one about the generous plutocrat who gave the boy a dime for returning a $39,000 check were on the same page of the same paper, and I was struck by the contrast of human natures, and of the methods of the old-time frontier people with modern go-getting business men. There were plenty of “Uncle Gus’s” [sic.] in the past generations of Texas, though not many were financially as able to exercise their quiet philanthropy as he. But there’s damn few “Uncle Gus’s” [sic.] being produced by this highly-advanced age, anywhere.

References like the above never fail to intrigue: who was “Uncle Gus”? What did his “quiet philanthropy” consist of? Where did Howard read about him?

I’ve been unable to find a newspaper with stories about Uncle Gus and a “generous plutocrat” on the same page, but I have found the following, from The Galveston Daily News, Thursday, October 3, 1935:

McKinney Buries Man Who Gave Away Fortune to Deserving Poor

McKinney, Tex, Oct. 2.—AP—Simply, Collin County buried its 91-year-old farmer-philanthropist today.

In the coffin and under the tombstone he selected and paid for ten years ago rested A. M. (Uncle Gus) Wilson, distributor of an $800,000 fortune among deserving farm folk.

Elder R. C. Horn, himself an octogenarian and a Christian minister for 60 years, said last rites for his old friend. The same simplicity of Wilson’s life marked the funeral service.

He was buried in the family plot, just a few paces from the log cabin in which he lived 86 years. The burial ground and home were remnants of a huge fortune, dissipated by philanthropic deeds.

Uncle Gus erected churches, regardless of denomination; built schools and homes for teachers; underwrote teachers’ salaries when doors of the schoolhouse were threatened with closing because of lack of funds; gave youth a financial boost when the cause seemed worthy.

Natives recalled his many deeds of kindness. They remembered the day he walked along a lane, stopped to watch a farm boy hoeing cotton. The boy did not look up at Uncle Gus. He hoed down the row. Uncle Gus gave the lad $1000 in stocks because he worked—did not stop to talk.

The wealthy landowner, who chose the dress of the farmer and lived the same life, held many mortgages, but it didn’t make much difference. A farm couple who toiled long each day to pay off a debt on their farm to Uncle Gus, lifted their supper plates one night and found the heavy balance marked “paid in full.”

He took a group of Boy Scouts on an extended trip across the continent; had new automobiles waiting in the garages of newly-married couples when they returned from honeymoons and gave rich farming land to men of the soil who struck him as being industrious and appreciative.

Uncle Gus never missed a world’s fair until the Chicago century of progress. Ill health kept him away.

He was unmarried and lived alone with a faithful dog who died a few years ago. He buried the dog on his grounds and erected a handsome tombstone.

He lies within a few paces of his dog.

There’s not much information about “Uncle Gus” Wilson on the web, if any. All I’ve been able to find is that at the 84th annual meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, in April 2000, “Pioneer Angel: Uncle Gus Wilson” was a session topic.

Well, Prince has finished singing; time for kickoff. Go Colts!

 

Addendum: “Uncle Gus” Mystery Solved
Posted February 8, 2007
by Rob Roehm

Thanks to a couple of Cimmerian Blog readers, the “Uncle Gus” mystery has been solved. After reading the initial post, Rusty Burke contacted me:

“Good work on the ‘Uncle Gus’ story [. . .] This certainly helps narrow down the date for the ‘Uncle Gus’ story. I’ll wager that the Dallas News is where Bob saw it; I’m pretty sure that’s the Dallas paper that was available as a dual subscription with the [Cross Plains] Review.”

Later that same day, I received the following from Cimmerian Award nominee David Hardy:

“Rusty sent me an e-mail about your Blog entry on the Cimmerian. I did a bit of checking and found the stories in the Dallas Morning News.”

So, the clippings that REH sent HPL were from the front page of the Dallas Morning News, October 2, 1935. Besides a very similar “Uncle Gus” clipping, the News also ran the following story about the “generous plutocrat”:

Return of $39,000 Check Wins Dime Reward for Boy

First Offer Was Nickel, but Donor Thought That Hardly Enough

ST. LOUIS, Mo. Oct. 1 (AP)—For returning a $39,000 bank check he had found, Woody Robinson, 18-year-old messenger boy, received a dime reward Tuesday.

As the youth was crossing the street he noticed a slip of paper covered with tire marks. It was a Mississippi Valley Trust Company check for $39,000, indorsed David E. Woods, 12 Garrswold Park.

“The man seemed awfully happy to get the check back,” Woody said. “He dug down in his pocket and pulled out a nickel. Then he told me he thought it was worth more than that and handed me a dime. I hardly knew what to say.”

Woods declined to comment.

Well, that’s one mystery solved . . .

A Tale of Two Letters

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[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted August 11, 2006, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

So I’m going through The Last Celt the other day, looking through the letters section in the back, and I see the letter to “Managing Editor Denis Archer Publisher” dated May 20, 1934. This letter briefly explains the genesis of Howard’s one and only Conan novel, and ends by stating “Under separate cover I am sending you a 75,000 word novel, entitled ‘The Hour of the Dragon’ . . .” Fine, I think, Howard sends the letter to the publisher in advance, and later, when he gets around to it, packages and sends the typescript. This gets me thinking, though, and I pull out a copy of Glenn Lord’s Ultima Thule to read the rest of the letters in this series.

On June 15, 1933, Howard sent a letter to Hugh G. Schonfield at the Denis Archer publishing house, enquiring about a collection of his short stories. On January 9, 1934, he got the famous response about there being a “prejudice that is very strong . . . against collections of short stories” in England at the time and a recommendation that he “produce a full-length novel of about 70000-75000 words.” Apparently Howard took that advice; he was ready to send The Hour of the Dragon off to England in late May of that year. We all know that Denis Archer never published the story, however, but that it appeared in Weird Tales, instead.

But I’m getting off my subject. A couple of years ago I found a copy of the May 20 letter on the internet, I forget where; I think it was the Necronomicon Press website. Wherever it was, they had a nice scan of the letter on their page, and I downloaded and saved it. More recently, Glenn Lord sent me a few photocopies of letters when I was preparing to reprint Ultima Thule. Just for kicks, I pulled out the photocopies and leafed through them. When I came across the letter to Denis Archer, something wasn’t right: it was dated May 22.

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That can’t be right, I thought. So I pulled out Ultima Thule and checked the letter: May 20. That’s right, sports fans, Howard wrote two letters to the publisher, but don’t get too excited. Besides the different dates, the only difference in the letters is the beginning of the second paragraph. The May 20 letter starts “Under separate cover I am sending,” and the May 22 letter starts “Enclosed I am sending.” No big deal, I guess.

But I wish I knew how these two letters came about. Did Howard send the one on the 20th and include the other with the typescript on the 22nd? Did he change his mind and decide to send both the letter and the story in the same package instead of separately? Maybe he was just too lazy to go to the post office on the 20th? Who knows?

And people say I’m obsessed.

Hawkshaw & Howard

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[by Rob Roehm. Originally published March 18, 2010, at rehtwogunraconteur.com.]

The February 15, 1923 issue of Brownwood High School’s student newspaper, The Tattler, introduced readers to one of Robert E. Howard’s very first (maybe, the first) series characters, Hawkshaw the Detective. With the Colonel, his blundering sidekick, Hawkshaw appeared in three stories: “Unhand Me, Villain!” “Aha! or The Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace,” and “Halt! Who Goes There?”; this last published in The Yellow Jacket, Howard Payne College’s newspaper, in 1924. For those not familiar with the tales, they are detective parodies along the lines of the Fu Manchu spoofs that appeared in some of Howard’s letters, though these poke fun at Sherlock Holmes and Watson, instead. At least I thought that was where the idea came from.

I was thumbing through an old copy of the Comic Book Price Guide the other day, looking for comics I used to have, when the following title caught my eye: The Adventures of Hawkshaw. “Huh,” I muttered, and then read the following note: “See Hawkshaw the Detective.”

First published in 1917, Hawkshaw the Detective is a 48-page collection of “Sunday strip reprints” by Gus Mager. In 1994 it was worth $160 in near mint condition. A print-on-demand version of this is available at lulu.com.

Robert E. Howard would’ve been eleven years old in 1917, seventeen in 1923 when his first Hawkshaw story appeared in print. I don’t doubt that Howard was reading things in 1917, but would he have remembered a comic book six years later? Well, he didn’t have to. According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, Hawkshaw the Detective, the newspaper strip, ran from 1913 to 1922; so, if Howard had access to one of the newspapers that ran the strip, he’d easily remember it a few months later.

The term “hawkshaw” was fairly prevalent in the 1920s and was synonymous with “detective,” so it would be easy to write these two Hawkshaws off as a coincidence, but when you throw in the sidekick Colonel, it becomes unlikely. Have a look and see if the comic strip posted here doesn’t match Howard’s description of the duo from “Unhand Me, Villain!”: “One was a tall, thin man and the other a short stocky man.”

hawkshaw141116

I think it’s safe to assume that Howard, as well as readers of The Tattler, were familiar with the characters from the comic strip long before they appeared in the stories mentioned above. Add Gus Mager to the list of Howard’s influences.

Oh, and Hawkshaw’s fame is enduring, apparently. Hawkshaw the Detective: A Morally Uplifting Melodrama by Tim Kelly was published in 1976 by Hanbury Plays and was recently performed at the Golden Chain Theatre “in scenic Oakhurst,” California.

Dating The Right Hook

[by Rob Roehm. Originally published February 9, 2010, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version lightly edited.]

The Robert E. Howard Foundation’s recent publication of Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works contains the first real publication of The Right Hook numbers 2 and 3; number 1 appeared in a small press publication, Power of the Writing Mind, back in 2003. Consisting of several typewritten sheets, The Right Hook appears to be Robert E. Howard’s version of a “tribe paper” (his second, in fact; the first was The Golden Caliph in the summer of 1923). These were amateur publications produced by boys in the Lone Scouts of America. All three issues appeared in REHupa mailing #117 for September 1992, but only 30 people have that, and I’m not one of them. So we’ve got these three issues of Howard’s amateur paper, and none of them are dated. The best I’ve ever heard is “circa spring 1925.” Let’s see if we can do better than that.

In the first issue, there are a few references that can help date the publication. In “The Great Munney Ring,” Howard discusses Ed “Strangler” Lewis’  loss of the wrestling title to Wayne Munn, a former football star. That event occurred on January 8, 1925.

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Ed “Strangler” Lewis’

(Photo from Wrestling Museum)

On “The Sporting Page” Howard states that “Louis Kaplan has been given the title vacated by Johnny Dundee who retired some months ago, on the strength of his defeat of Danny Kramer.” Kaplan was awarded the title on January 2, 1925. There is also reference to the Sammy Mandell-Sid Terris boxing match which occurred on February 6, 1925. Other fights mentioned are from February 1925 or earlier.

The only item that argues against a late-February 1925 release is Howard’s mention of Upton Sinclaire’s Mammonart. This book began life as a serial published in late 1924 and into 1925. I’ve been unable to pin down the exact date of the complete book’s release, but a little “internet archaeology” did reveal a couple of mentions in the Harvard Crimson: one on March 21, and the other—a short review—on March 23. Another article in the April 1, 1925, Appleton, Wisconsin, Post-Crescent states that Mammonart was “just published.” All of these items suggest a March 1925 release date for the book. Of course, there’s no way of knowing exactly when Howard picked up the title, or if he even had when he wrote the comments in his paper, all of which could have been culled from newspapers. Perhaps a look at the other Right Hooks will help narrow down the date of the first; after all, it stands to reason that the first issue was published some time before the second. [UPDATE: I scored a first edition of Mammonart. The publication date is listed as “February, 1925.”]

The second issue of The Right Hook begins with the announcement that Munn, mentioned in number 1, has already lost the wrestling title to “Stanilaus Zybissco” (the correct spelling is Stanislaus Zbyszko). That match occurred on April 15, 1925. Another dateable reference in the second issue comes in the form of Howard’s prognostication of the upcoming McTigue-Berlenbach light-heavyweight title match. This contest was decided on May 30, 1925. Howard’s predictions were not accurate.

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(Photo from Online World of Wrestling)

The two items above give us a nice window for The Right Hook #2: it must have come out after April 15 and before May 30, 1925. And, since the first issue had to come out before the second, we can now date that issue as well: The Right Hook #1 appeared sometime between the publication of Mammonart in late March and the Munn-Zbyszko match in mid-April 1925.

(A little side note: Narrowing down the date of the second issue helps us place a comment therein about Tevis Clyde Smith’s trip to the Old South. This helps us date Howard’s mention of that same trip described in his autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs.)

The third issue of The Right Hook is largely taken up with fiction; therefore, there is little help in dating it. The only factual report in the number is Howard’s attempt to classify boxing champions by skill, hitting ability, toughness, and several other factors. Given the lack of specific fights to track down, the best we can do with this one is say it came after #2. Howard does say, however, that he has “been neglecting this magazine,” which suggests that the time between #2 and #3 was longer than the time between #1 and #2. So let’s say probably in June or July 1925.

To recap, given the evidence presented in each issue, The Right Hook probably had the following publication dates:

The Right Hook Volume 1, Number 1 — March/April 1925
The Right Hook Volume 1, Number 2 — April/May 1925
The Right Hook Volume 1, Number 3 — June/July 1925

These dates square with a period of renewed interest in the Lone Scouts of America by Howard and his friends. Tevis Clyde Smith had produced a tribe paper in 1923 (The All-Around Magazine) with the help of Howard and Truett Vinson. In 1925, Vinson produced The Toreador with the help of Howard, Smith, and Herbert Klatt.

Post Oaks and Football

2018 02-01 Post Oaks

[by Rob Roehm. Originally published February 3, 2010, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version lightly edited.]

I always wonder how we know what we know about Robert E. Howard. Depending on the author, sometimes even his birth date is called into question, which shows that sometimes there is more than one way to interpret information, and we may only be seeing one side—the side that particular writer wants us to see. So, whenever I run into a statement that makes a claim, I always want to know what evidence supports the conclusion. If none is provided, I like to try to find it myself.

For example, we’ve all heard that Post Oaks & Sand Roughs is a “semi-autobiographical” novel; the characters may have different names, but they do many of the things that real people in Howard’s life actually did. Howard uses the name “Steve Costigan” for himself; Clyde Smith becomes “Clive Hilton,” and so on. The first I ever heard of the book was on the old Barbarian Keep website, which states that Post Oaks “relates events that occurred in Howard’s life sometime between 1924 and 1928, when REH was 18-22 years of age.” Well, I wondered, how do we know that? Of course, that was many years ago, and at the time I just didn’t know enough about good ol’ Bob to even begin to try to see how accurate that statement was. Times change.

On a recent trip to the Brownwood Genealogy Library, I actually came prepared. This was no spontaneous, spur of the moment trip: it’d been planned for several months and I had a checklist of things I wanted to research. One of those things was the 1924-28 timeline suggested for Post Oaks.

It’s pretty easy to arrive at the end date, 1928. Toward the end of the novel, page 133 to be exact, we learn that “Hubert Grotz” has died. “Grotz” has been identified as Herbert Klatt, and all the evidence suggests that that identification is solid. Then we have Howard’s letter to Tevis Clyde Smith eulogizing Klatt; the letter is dated circa May 1928. As the novel only runs to 161 pages, and with everything after page 142 entirely fictional, the1928 date seems to be a good one.

2018 02-01 Football

The start date took a little work. The novel begins at a football game between Gower-Penn and Semple Universities. These have been identified as Howard Payne and Simmons (Hardin-Simmons today). Bob attended Howard Payne, so that ID is a no-brainer, and “Semple,” as stated in the novel, is “from Abilene,” which is where Simmons is located. The game is played right at the beginning of the Thanksgiving break. So, how do we know it’s 1924? Wouldn’t Howard Payne face off against Simmons every year? Read on.

There are several elements in Howard’s description of the football game which allow us to determine when it was played. Howard wrote that “the Association title [was] in sight” and that “Gower-Penn” wins that title. He also says that the team’s captain, “Joe Franey,” was playing his last college game. “Franey’s” exploits are described in some detail: he “stepp[ed] back under the very shadow of the Gower-Penn goal posts, he caught the soaring sphere and raced like a ghost down the field. [. . .] he had run a full hundred yards through the center of the entire Semple team for a touchdown!” In the back of Post Oaks, Glenn Lord identifies “Joe Franey” as Joe Cheney. That provides another little nugget for our search.

So, to find the exact start time of the novel, all one has to do is find when the game between Howard Payne and Simmons was played in which Howard Payne wins the Association title and the captain of the team (Joe Cheney, or at least someone) runs the length of the field for a touchdown. And it would also be nice if it were that player’s last game. No problem.

Before leaving for Texas, I did a little “internet archeology” and found the College Football Data Warehouse [now defunct]. As near as I can tell, it lists the scores for practically every college football game that’s ever been played. I found the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets and had a look at their records. From 1920 to 1929 they beat Simmons six times; they tied once and lost the other three. The Howard Payne versus Simmons game was the last game in each of those seasons. The Yellow Jackets were the Texas Collegiate Athletic Conference Champions three times in that ten year span: 1924, 1928, and 1929. Interestingly, the coach for those last two wins was one Joe Bailey Cheaney. Hmm, might that Joe be a former player who had run the length of the field in 1924 to win the conference title? The spelling of the last name notwithstanding. Good enough; now I needed to be in Texas.

Once in Brownwood, I took a trip to the offices of the Brownwood Bulletin and checked out a couple rolls of microfilm. The microfilm viewer is at the genealogy library. From there it was a simple matter to scroll the microfilm to November 28, 1924—the day after the game had been played—and see what I could find. Paydirt.

Under the page five headline, “HOWARD PAYNE CINCHES CHAMPIONSHIP OF T.I.A.A.” is the smaller heading “YELLOW JACKETS BEAT SIMMONS AT PARK HERE BEFORE BIG CROWD.” A few paragraphs later, I read the following:

Captain Joe Bailey Cheaney, the light half of the Yellow Jackets, the signal-calling, line-plunging, passing and kicking captain of the Jackets, playing his last game in the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association, was the star in the game.

A little later, with tongue firmly in cheek, we learn that “the best [Cheaney] could do [. . .] was to run 100 yards in the early part of the first quarter for the Jacket’s first touchdown.” True, Howard says the run occurred at game’s end, but I think we can chalk that up to Howard wanting to make the win more dramatic. Everything else fits: the Jackets win the title; it’s the captain’s last game; he runs the length of the field for a touchdown; the game is played at the beginning of the Thanksgiving break, which the college’s catalogue says began on November 27, 1924, the same day the game was played.

2018 02-01 Cheaney

Another little note about Cheaney (pictured above): In Post Oaks, Howard says that “Gower-Penn worshiped the youth with a blind passion.” To confirm that, one need only look at the Howard Payne yearbook for the 1924-25 school year. Cheaney’s accomplishments are legion: he was the president of his class for each of the four years he attended; he was captain of the track team his first three years and captain of the football and basketball teams during his senior year, and even tried out for the Olympics in Boston. He was a member of the Press Club—which was affiliated with The Yellow Jacket, so he may have known Bob Howard who had a story published in the paper in September of ’24—he was on the B.S.U. Council, in the Glee Club and the H Club (a letterman’s organization), and served as Athletic Editor for The Lasso yearbook. To top it all off, he was selected “Best All-Round Boy.” I wonder what his grades were like?

Anyway, I think it’s safe to assume that the time period covered in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is indeed 1924 to 1928, but we can be a little more specific than that. The novel begins on November 27, 1924 around 7:00 p.m.—the newspaper says, after all, that the Simmons Cowboys were boarding their homeward bound train around 8:00. I love it when things work out.

Oh yeah, the score was 23 – 6.