[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.
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 andFantasy 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.
[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.
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 . . .
[By Rob Roehm; originally posted July 11, 2011 at the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and expanded to include a previously unavailable item from the January 1930 issue of The Junto and a recently discovered letter to the Brownwood Bulletin.]
The September 1929 Junto caused a bit of a ruckus with its members. Not only did Booth Mooney use “hell” and “damn” in a poem, but Norbert Sydow sent in a drawing depicting a woman with her breasts exposed (above). Just how much of the chiding on the mailing list was actual outrage is not known, but Truett Vinson wasn’t playing that game:
“The Junto” may be a cheap imitation of “Whiz Bang,” but you can’t read Bob Howard, Clyde Smith and Lenore Preece in Capt. Billy’s magazine! They take the honors in this issue. If Bradford wants to make something of The Junto, why doesn’t he write something? Until then, we may only conjecture what that something is! (To Harold: Let Mooney cuss. It won’t hurt him. You are quite a proficient cusser yourself!) The picture is rather good, and not objectionable to me, at least. Draw some more, Sydow! If “The Junto” is to “pick out” one good cause, let that cause be: downfall of prohibition and blue laws! TV.
The October 1929 issue has two contributions by Vinson, a bit in “The Commentary,” as well as new comments on the mailing list. The issue also has Clyde Smith’s “Flasback” which features Vinson, Preece, and REH having a few drinks at a bar. Vinson’s piece of “The Commentary” reveals his taste in poetry. He first disagrees with Juntite Alex Doktor’s positive assessment of Emily Dickinson, then rattles off a short list of poets he considered top notch:
I disagree loudly with Alex M. Doktor or Conrad Aiken in regard to Emily Dickinson. So far as I am concerned, there are only four American poets: Whitman, Poe, Benet (Stephen Vincent), and Bob Howard.
Later in his life, I’ve heard that Vinson characterized REH’s writing as “trash”; based on the two comments above, I’m guessing he didn’t always feel that way. Or perhaps he was just being kind.
Besides the above comment, “New Orleans Sketches” also appeared. (Warning: Some of the language here is offensive. This was written in Texas in 1930 and shows the casual racism that was prevalent at the time):
I am sitting near the back seat of a “rubberneck” bus, touring through the quaint and old world streets of New Orleans. Across from me is a hospital attendant (as I afterward learn) from St. Petersburg, Florida, who assumes a bored air as the blatant voice of our guide rushes at us through the August mid-day heat. But I am all attention as we turn off Canal Street near the smoky Southern Railway depot, and presently pass a depressing stone building with bare walls. A tall iron fence surrounds the place, and there is no sign of life. Our guide informs us there are nuns within the walls who will never come out into the New Orleans sunshine again, but who will spend their days praying for the sins of the rest of us who pass so noisily outside. The guide favors us with a childishly sarcastic laugh as he divulges this information.
Presently we pass the “tenement district” of New Orleans, sordid brick and rotten plank buildings, with dirty outside stairs and family washes hanging out in plenty. Our guide proudly likens New Orleans tenements with those of New York, to the utter disgust of a New York sight-seer who snorts a proud snort. There are no tenements so rotten and dirty and sordid and plentiful as New York’s!
We stop at a very old cemetery in the very midst of the negro tenement district. The guide tells us that the neighborhood is tough, and has to be cleaned out every little while. We can easily see that it is even more rottenly sordid than the white tenements, but we do not stop to investigate its toughness. We pass through the cemetery. Louisiana’s first governor is buried here, and we find numerous graves of early duelists.
The big yellow bus whirls us past the city’s points of interest. Our guide proudly shows us the Napoleon house, the haunted house, the site of the once famous French Opera House, now a dirty vacant lot with vaudeville heralds plastered on boards, and the very old house wherein Ben Turpin came into the world. New Orleans is proud of this squalid building in the French Quarter. Its place in the New Orleans sun is held equally with the more modern and more beautiful and more luxurious residence of Marguerite Clark out on St. Charles Avenue!
We are driven down to the docks, where brawny negro longshoremen unload the boats lined up on Old Man River. The Louisian August sun is beating straight down on the Mississippi, and in triumphant mood the Old Man swoops great heat waves back at us. The niggers are soaked in sweat, but they do not mind. The rubberneck guide’s tongue is never still as we go up one street and down the other. We pass out of the city, on past the Ford assembling plant (when will he ever be assembled?) and the American Sugar Refining Company and the saw mills, through the New Orleans battlegrounds. We stop at the ruins of the old, old plantation where the British general made his headquarters. Behind it is the most beautiful grove of trees, planted in mathematical lines, I have ever seen. The dirty Southern Railway passes nearby, and they are to cut down this grove to make way for oil tanks.
Back on Canal Street in the late afternoon. The Irish cops are coming out of their holes, where they have been during the great heat of the day. A dozen street cars clang and bump up and down Canal.
Late shoppers and theater patrons and office clerks are scurrying along the side walks and across the narrow intersecting streets in single jumps and across the mighty Canal in installments. The hospital attendant from St. Petersburg, in the meanwhile, has had occasion to introduce himself, and I accord him the gracious privilege of knowing me. He emerges from the bus at the sumptuous Monteleone Hotel, which towers above the French Quarter like a peacock. The New Yorker stalks out of the bus at the Roosevelt, and I tool on down Canal Street to my more modest abode.
That same issue has a description of Vinson’s August vacation, entitled “Through Colorado”:
Colorado Springs, Colo. August 26th
I suppose one could term this place as being ideal for a summer vacation: it is cool, the trees and flowers and grass are green and in full bloom all the summer. There is “wonderful” scenery; and if you are so minded, there are golf courses and polo fields and riding lanes and dance pavilions and etc. I have not been so minded, and so I have only indulged in an orgy of viewing mountain scenery. But the tourists! They pour in here (even as I poured) from Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. They trample you down on every street corner; and when you are really enjoying some magnificent mountain scene, a bunch of them break in on your thoughts with stupid and inane remarks. Of course I grant all tourists the same privilege of viewing scenery as myself, but let them view scenery intelligently—if that could be possible! That will never be possible, and so I shall take future vacations “far from the maddening crowd”—if that could be possible!
Here the tourists look out of the train windows and remark: “What an old and dirty town! I’ll be glad when we get to Colorado Springs!” Walsenburg is where they dig coal out of the earth, and where has taken place some bitter labor battles—always to the ultimate advantage of The Colorado Fuel and Iron Co! But what do tourists care for Poles and Slovaks and Wops who dig the coal that makes their engine steam?
Just a big smoky city—enlightened only by Judge Lindsay. Downtown Denver presents a depressing effect—the buildings are soaked with coal dust and smoke. They lack the freshness of buildings in Texas cities. Denver is noted for its theaters, but they are far surpassed by the theaters of San Antonio.
Cripple Creek, Colo.
Here they loaded about twenty wide-eyed tourists (including me) into cages and dropped us 1800 feet down the shaft of a gold mine. Amidst feminine squeals, a young, hard-faced miner explained the working details of the mine. During his discourse he kept referring to the fact that he had been talking that way since six o’clock in the morning, without anything to eat. But when a fellow worker offered to relieve him, he refused. He liked it!
Above the ground, on every side, squalid and dreary and dirty houses spread themselves. Dirty faced little girls waved at us as we drove away.
* * *
A train excursion through the Royal Gorge. I have been looking out the window at magnificent granite cliffs a half mile above the train, the Arkansas River roaring at the foot of the granite wall on the opposite side of the train. A pretty brunette rises up from her seat across from me, and leans far out of the window. I am presented with a lovely view of her legs: sheer black hose to her knees, held up by black garters, studded with imitation diamonds, and then firm, bare legs! Why, then, should I be interested in a granite wall?
Junto editor Lenore Preece added a short addendum: “Effect of ‘Junto’ on a hitherto modest young man.” Vinson addresses that comment and discusses the rest of the issue on the mailing list:
This issue lacks only a poem or sketch by Bob Howard. If Lenore Preece continues, she will be a very distinguished poet. She has a certain powerful quality usually only found in veteran male poets; very seldom in poets of the “talker” sex. (To Juntites: If you’ll come around some time, in a sort of quiet and secret manner, I’ll show you some pictures of Clyde Smith rather different from the distinguished one in this Junto [see page 66 of “So Far the Poet”]) I am glad Junto readers liked my Colorado and New Orleans sketches. I contend that a description of a woman’s leg can be as artistic and beautiful as a description of a granite wall a half mile high—and how much more interesting! For the benefit of Junto readers: I was quite a distinguished connoisseur of feminine legs and other appurtenances before I ever heard of The Junto! Bradford must have seen Denver through rose colored glasses. I grant that Denver’s parks are beautiful and quiet and clean. But downtown Denver’s buildings are dingy with coal dust. The federal buildings are positively black, except the new post office, and it is rapidly becoming that way. However, show me a city with manufacturing plants and meat packing plants, that is not dirty and smoky! Texas cities are cleaner than Denver and other northern cities because we burn oil in locomotives and gas in our stoves. To Bradford: Your remark [“Truett must have been thinking of that girl when he wrote that Denver was a smoky city.”] is worthy of a Chamber of Commerce. Now why didn’t you come to my defense and side in with me about San Antonio? You do not have the true civic pride, my boy! And another thing. I saw Denver three days before I saw the girl’s legs! TV
The only new item in the November 1929 issue comes from the mailing list:
Harold’s article [“The Religion of the Future”] is the best thing in this issue. To the lady poets: For God’s sake, write about something other than love for at least one issue. This issue is clean because it contained nothing by Bob Howard, Clyde Smith or myself! But wait! We shan’t disappoint you in the future! Booth: Write something sensible. You can do it.
Based on comments in Lenore Preece’s surviving letters to Clyde Smith, issues of The Junto tended to come out a week or so before the month on the cover; so, the November issue was probably in circulation at the end of September. On November 19, Harold Preece wrote to Clyde Smith from Austin:
Your satire, “Heigho’s Adventures Among The Redmen,” [perhaps a prequel to “Heigho Among the Redmen” in “So Far the Poet”] is amusing, but disjointed. You should have used more connectives. Too, the ending was not in good taste. No doubt but that you, Truett, and Bob, are “the three cleverest men in the world,” but why remind us of it?
In a January 18, 1930 letter to Smith, Preece gives us some insight into the three:
As for that premonition about your early death, forget it. It is merely your Calvinist heredity asserting itself. To the same source may be traced your fatalistic views. The great fault is that you, Truett, and, to a lesser extent, Bob, comprise a Mutual Admiration Society. You are a particularly zealous member of the society, as evidenced by your articles, extolling “the three,” in The Junto. All of you, particularly Truett and yourself, need to consider yourselves in the cold light of self-examination.
The January 1930 issue has a collection of quotes from The Scourge of Christ compiled by Vinson:
“The Scourge of Christ,” by Paul Richard By Truett Vinson
Compiler’s Note: these extracts are from a book I picked up in Colorado Springs, in a book store owned by two feminine creatures, one an old maid (I presumed), the other a very charming and pretty girl—an unusual ornament for a book store. So I lingered and found this book. The author is a Frenchman whose portrait is like that of Walt Whitman’s, with high white forehead and long, white beard. A famous philosopher and mystic.
“The Christianity of Christ ceased to be when Asia ceased to teach it.”
“The Sons of God have always been vagabonds.”
“In a Christian country Christ would be soon sent to prison for vagrancy.”
“The vagabond, when rich, is called a tourist.”
“This, O Tolstoy! Thou camest to understand when death drew near thee, that to enter the Heaven of the Divine Vagabond, thou must, like him, be a wanderer on the highways.”
“A wise man amidst fools appears a dunce.”
“‘Woe unto the rich!’ Not Lenin, but Christ, said this.”
“When the rich assemble to concern themselves with the business of the poor it is called charity. When the poor assemble to concern themselves with the business of the rich it is called anarchy.”
“A lucrative complicity with the world is what is called professional duty—Duty is but another name for profit.”
“I call duty the act for which no profit is expected, either in this world or in the next.”
“Thy luxury—the hunger of another.”
“Soul and body are one. They toil and spin together . . . He who sells his labour sells at the same time his body and soul. Some sell only their body. They are called prostitutes.”
“Each society has the criminals it deserves.”
“Legal murder is the legitimate father of the illegal ones.”
“No one yet has been able to kill Cain . . . To avoid recognition, Cain today covers himself with a uniform.”
“‘Civilization’—the privilege of a few peoples estimated by the number of their firearms.”
“‘Barbarism’—not to have your firearms up to date.”
“The act that gives death is moral, the act that gives life is not—so think the civilized.”
“Among the Christians the office of high-priest is filled by the butcher.”
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,’ saith the Christian, ‘But by every creature that can enter into the mouth of man.’”
“Tigers kill and eat. Men eat and slay. ‘We have not killed’.”
“When man kills the brutes of nature it is called sport. When Nature kills brutes of men it is called a catastrophe.”
“Several men betrayed Jesus—but not one woman. When Jesus was delivered, among all his disciples, women alone stood as men.”
From “The Scourge of Christ,” by Paul Richard. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. $2.50
This was followed by “In Defense of the Christ” in the February issue:
Most certainly I do not have any quarrel with the esteemed editor of “The Junto”; but to her remark that Jesus spewed forth from a manger, or words similar, I must make the charge that she is of the type of radicals who seek to shock people by making aspersive remarks concerning religion. I am not defending man’s religion, because I do not believe in most of it, and I am not defending Christ in the way that most defenses are made. Christ needs no defense. But the editor’s remark is not shocking; rather, it is disgusting and nauseating. It would be disgusting when applied to any case of birth, even if the child born were a future murderer, for the reason that the mother’s painful loins should be entitled to more respect. Childbirth is a very noble thing; the noblest and bravest achievement of woman, even tho a majority of the world’s inhabitants do not even know what the word “noble” means.
Most people think of Christ as a God, which is a mistake, because then they say: “He is a God and therefore perfect. I am man and can never be perfect. I will believe in him, and that will constitute my religion. When I am not in church, I will do as I please.” I do not think Christ was perfect, nor do I think we could follow him to the letter. If we all were to be chaste and continent as Christ taught, where would we be? But his other teachings, if followed, would make a far more decent place of this rotten world.
To the radicals, concerning religion, a word or two: Confine your efforts to the nauseating hypocrisies of church people. Then you will be achieving something.
There was probably a March issue, but no one’s got a copy of it, so we close the Junto file here and pick up with the 1930 Census. Of the Vinsons’ four children, only the second daughter, Grady, has left the house (married in Big Lake, Texas). The death of Lena’s fiancée probably has something to do with her still living at the folks’ house. The Census was enumerated on April 5, 1930; here’s the breakdown:
Ward 4, Brownwood Wade D., 61, (head) not working Abbie L., 67, (wife) Lena M., 38, (daughter) Book-Keeper at Furniture Co. W. Truett, 24, (son) Book-Keeper at Wholesale Grocery L. Blanche, 22, (daughter) Book-Keeper at Abstract Co.
They’ve even got a cousin rooming in the house; he’s employed at the post office, not as a bookkeeper.
The last bits on Vinson in 1930 come from Preece’s letters to Smith. On August 26, Preece wrote from Austin: “I regret that I had not arrived when you and Truett called.” On November 7, he asked, “Did Truett vote Socialist this year?”
And this item in Bruce M. Francis’s “Sports for Sportsmen” column in the Brownwood Bulletin for December 9, 1930:
Instead of hammering out a sports column for today we are going to let a couple of our correspondents handle the day’s assignment of putting together the usual amount of information that one and all await with outstretched hands each afternoon. The first correspondent today is one who has broken into print before, one Truett Vinson, who lives out to 1409 Second Street. The other is Bud Canady, sports editor of the Howard Payne Yellow Jacket. Vinson writes in a rather lengthy epistle that contains some interesting facts, statistics and what not on the Yellow Jackets while Bud has contributed his All-Texas Conference selections. Vinson’s letter is given first.
“Dear Mr. Francis:”
“It’s all over now but the shouting, and I’ll do my shouting here, space and your indulgence permitting. We had all better do our shouting now; it may be many a moon from now when a Brownwood football team wins three consecutive championships! (Unless Howard Payne repeats for the fourth time next year; a not impossible feat!)
“The Hot Stove Grid Team likes statistics, and I pass on a few here which I have compiled for my own satisfaction: The three time champions of the Texas Conference (in 1928, 1929 and 1930) have amassed a grand total of 691 points against all opponents during the three championship years. Their opponents have managed to accumulate 165 against them in the same period of time, 96 of these points being made by S.M.U. and Texas U. in four games. (And S.M.U. and Texas U. usually have good ball teams!) Compiling our statistics only in Texas Conference games for these three years, we find that the Yellow Jackets have scored 340 points while their T.C. opponents could only manage for 56! 49 touchdowns against 8 touchdowns, not counting the extra points, field goals, safeties and what have you! No Texas Conference team in these three years has made more than two touchdowns in one game against the Jackets; in fact no one of these teams has made more than two touchdowns even in the complete three year period; Southwestern made two touchdowns in the ’28 game. They haven’t scored since. Simmons managed a touchdown in ’28 and one in ’30. Austin could not cross the last white line until ’30. Trinity could only garner one touchdown in three years, in the ’29 game. The Saints scored once in ’29 and once in ’30. Are the Jackets three year champions in cold figures as well as in name?
“I didn’t see your 10,000 crowd at the H.P.C.-D.B.C. game, but it was a good game just the same. While we are handing out medals, we should pin a good sportsmanship medal on Ed Blair’s and Roy White’s Hill Billies. What a contrast: their clean, sportsmanlike play and the exhibition of dirty football put up by Texas Tech’s Matadors. As evidence, Johnny Baker received a broken jaw against Tech, but two weeks later he played sixty minutes of good football against the Billies, and none of them played for his jaw!
“Another good sportsmanship medal should go to Nig McCarver. Calling signals for his team in the Southwestern and Daniel Baker games, and being pressed for scoring honors by Lillis of Austin, and Smith of Sourthwestern, he had several chances to cross the goal while within striking distance, but he sent Gibbs and Masur over with the ball. He could have carried the ball for the last touchdown against D.B.C., or he could have sent Masur crashing the line (the logical thing to do), but he sent Johnny Baker (who had not been able to play in either the St. Ed’s or Southwestern games) over for the last touchdown ever scored by the three time champions!”
The end of The Junto wasn’t the worst thing to happen to Truett in the early 1930s—on March 3, 1931, his father, Wade D. Vinson (below), died.
As mentioned in the last installment, the impact of Klatt’s death appears to have subsided by July 1928. Late that month, Vinson traveled to Waco to visit Juntites Harold Preece and Hildon V. Collins. Preece described the visit to Clyde Smith in a July 26 letter:
I wish you could have been with Truett, Hildon, and myself, the early part of the week. We had a prolonged and interesting session, and nothing was too sacred for the gamut of conversation. Truett also made a very definite impression on Hildon’s girl cousin. Young Lochinvar again come out of the west.
Later that summer, Vinson wrote to his friend in Cross Plains; this is one of only two (I think) letters from Vinson to Howard that survive (envelope at head of post). Again, the letter reveals a wide range of interests, moving from talk of friends and visiting to things he has read and movies he has seen (“Vic McLaglen was disappointing in Hangman’s House, but there was nothing much to the picture”). There is some talk of a Howard poem “on the treatment of whores” which Vinson proclaims “is a dandy.” He also makes it clear that “Hildon’s girl cousin” made an equal impression:
I fear that I am “putting up” with Collins just because I want to remain in the good graces of his cousin!
Late that summer Vinson had a poem accepted by New Masses (he’ll have more to say about this magazine later). The piece appeared in the October 1928 issue.
Meanwhile, one of Vinson’s articles was causing a stir in the pages of The Junto. Probably published in the August 1928 issue, now lost, “Hell Bent” received a longish comment which was published in the October 1928 issue. Under the header “One of the ‘Hell Bent’ Speaks,” we get a taste of what Vinson’s piece contained:
I do not think of anything but drinking (and, my God, what stuff one does get nowadays), and of petting, and of acquiring siphilis [sic.]. I know this is true, for Truett Vinson said so. He is right. That is what I do think of. But I am not a hypocrite about it. I enjoy such things, and I intend to do what I enjoy, for I will go to Hell, anyway.
Signed by “A.M.Y” (“A Modern Youth”), much discussion in the comments section followed, including this, by Vinson himself: “To whom it may concern: I prefer to deal with people who sign their names to their opinions. Will a.m.y. reveal himself or herself? T.V.”
Robert E. Howard mentions the “A.M.Y. business” in a circa October 1928 letter to Clyde Smith:
The reason I’m sending The Junto to you instead of Truett, I want you as a damned personal damned favor to me, see, to put as a comment a slam on this A.M.Y. business about Hell Bent or else a boost for Truett’s article.
Now, I’m full of Virginia Dare, but I know what I’m talking about, see. We three birds are the holy and most revered Original Three and we must stand up for each other.
I have a hunch this A.M.Y. business is about fourteen and smokes corn husk cigarettes out behind the stable and thinks he’s on the high road to Hell.
That November, Vinson spent some time with various friends, in Waco and in Cross Plains.
In the same letter quoted above, Howard mentions that “Booth [Mooney] wants some autobiographies,” and the December 1928 issue contains Vinson’s “The Autobiography of a Bookkeeper”:
Name—Truett Vinson. (Author of “Hell Bent!”, etc. etc.) Born—September 26, 1905. Died—Not yet. Occupation—Bookkeeper—because of the “bread and cheese” I consume, which gives me strength to keep more books, that I may purchase more “bread and cheese,” which enables me—ah, ad infinitum! Nationality—Irish, Welsh, German. Religion—Baptist—because of heredity and environment, but I am outgrowing it. Really, I believe in the Golden Rule practiced in regard to sociology, economics, and morals. And I am NOT an atheist. Politics—Socialist. Clubs and Societies—Book-of-the-Month Club, Fellowship of Reconciliation, National Council for Prevention of War, Debs’ Memorial Radio Fund, League to Abolish Capital Punishment, Upton Sinclair Loan Fund, National Association Opposed to Blue Laws, Workers’ International Relief. Reading—From Upton Sinclair, Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells to A. Conan Doyle. Habits—Smoking, drinking. Weaknesses—Women, Football, and Sherlock Holmes. Sex Experience—Been kissed by at least three girls! “I’m a lady, by God!”
This issues also contains “The Galveston Affair,” by Bob Howard, which briefly describes the pair’s experience at Galveston’s International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue (mentioned in Part 3). After being trampled on by the crowd, Howard relates the following:
Truett swore with an energy that I could not muster on account of the heat. We glared at each other without optimism. We sat—and sat—and sat. Had we been merely waiting for some national hero to appear, we would have given it up and started a general slaughter as a diversion.
But we were there to see legs, and legs we were going to see if we sat there till Hell froze over and the Devil took sleigh rides on the ice.
In an article probably intended for The Junto, Clyde Smith’s “Gods in Arcady” (published in “So Far the Poet”), Smith describes a trip to his uncle’s ranch on the outskirts of Brownwood. Smith, Howard, and Vinson are present, and Clyde provides a few details that help flesh out Truett Vinson. When they arrive at the ranch, it is Truett who “lights the lamp”; the next morning, “[a] fire roars in the kitchen stove, due to Truett’s efforts”; and after taking a swim, Clyde hands Vinson his pants and he “turns around to put them on.”
Besides the above, the trio drink water from the cistern “as horses drink: with relish and noise”; they “go for a ramble in the woods”; and as they settle down for the night, “the conversation shifts to women.” Later, Truett reads to them from The Road to Buenos Aires. Written by French writer and investigative journalist Albert Londres and published in multiple languages in 1927, the book reports on the trafficking of French and Polish women to Buenos Aires, bound for prostitution. It is a vivid account of the trafficking, part factual reporting and part creative writing.
1928 ended with a visit from Harold Preece. Vinson sent him a post card (below) on December 27, saying “Come as soon as you can. We are expecting you. Advise us when you will arrive and someone will meet you.” In correspondence (and The Junto), these visits became known as “reunions” and were often threatened but rarely occurred.
Keeping in mind that Truett had a poem published in New Masses back in October 1928, his comments in the The Junto for January 1929 are interesting:
BOOKS AND THINGS By Truett Vinson
They tell you poetry will not sell on the book markets, but Stephen Vincent Benet’s latest narrative poem, “John Brown’s Body”, contained in a large book of 377 pages, has been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club as a first selection, and this assures a sale of practically 75,000 copies. Of course, the selection of this book by the judges of the Book-of-the-Month Club does not mean that the book is necessarily worthy of the perusal of 75,000 readers, but I think that they have not gone far wrong this time. The poem is something of an epic, covering the whole Civil War with one sweep. The critics contend that it is crude in places, and no doubt they are right, but as a whole the poem is virile and moving and stirring. It seems to me that the prelude is almost worth the rest of the book.
Behold! A magazine, supposed to be somewhat “respectable”, hints that Mayor Jimmie Walker of New York City is not exactly the executive and the darling that he is “cracked up” to be by our numerous popular newspapers and magazines. I quote from “The Film Spectator”, edited by one Welford Beaton, Hollywood, California, the issue of August 18th: “Everyone, so it seems, seems to agree that New York is the greatest ‘boob’ town on earth. Close contact with Jimmie Walker, whom it selected as its mayor, is the strongest proof that has yet been advanced in support of the charge.”
The new “New Masses” under the editorship of Michael Gold is a haven for those writers (and readers!) who are not smart (sic!) enough and cultured enough to find a place in the pages of our commercially dictated magazines. If you want to get to the real depth and truth of America, I advise you to regularly read “New Masses”. What a relief to pick up so virile and vital a magazine after turning the advertising pages of “Liberty” with its ancient caption at the head of the editorial page, that “patriotic” and imperialistic utterance of Stephen F. Decatur.
The same Michael Gold, editor of “New Masses”, finds himself as a character in Upton Sinclair’s new book, “Boston”. With nothing added to him and nothing subtracted from him. Just plain Michael Gold, in his younger days, of course. “Boston” was published last month, a mammoth two-volume book selling for five dollars. Sinclair tells the inside story of the Sacco-Vanzetti case and other “things” about Boston and America in general. I predict that it will make more firm and more certain his place which he now holds in American literature: A great writer, and one of the major prophets of America.
The April 24, 1929 Brownwood Bulletin has “Truett Vinson has returned from San Antonio, where he spent the week-end.” A few weeks later, the Cross Plains Review for May 10, 1929 tells us that “Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson of Brownwood spent week end with Robert Howard.”
Booth Mooney was the editor of The Junto until April or May of 1929, but after January 1929, none of his issues survive. Harold Preece’s sister, Lenore, revived the travelogue in June. The second of her issues, July 1929, has Vinson’s “An Open Letter to Texas’ Governor”:
1409 Second Street, Brownwood, Texas. June 9th, 1929.
Hon. Dan Moody, Governor of Texas, Austin, Texas.
My Dear Sir:
Aren’t you consulting only a small minority of Texas people when you take such a method of eradicating the dreaded “prize fight” from this state? Aren’t you consulting only those good brethren who exclaim loudly against Sunday movies, but whose children never enter church doors, instead parking their drunken cars on dark roadways?
You state that by encouraging prize fights we may bring a big championship bout to Texas, and that would be highly undesirable. But would it? The state needs something to make it alive! It is deader than Nevada!
As time passes, we have more censorships thrust upon us. In a few more years we’ll merely be automatons rushing to and from daily toil—nothing more. Now we can’t indulge in the sight of two physical giants battering each other, because it would bring an undesirable element among our already rotting youth. Instead I suppose we shall only be greeted by such manly contests as the recently invented yo-yo contest, in which the contestant sees how long he can dangle a silly little toy on a string, the meanwhile he is being fed milk through a straw!
Yours very sincerely,
That same month, another “reunion” between Howard, Vinson, Smith, and “Harold Creese” (obviously Preece) occurred:
The August 1929 Junto has Vinson’s “Movie Notes”:
The Vitaphone and Movietone may mark the era of a greater motion picture, but if sound pictures are to appease the appetites of people above the type of comic section habitues, the producers must change their ideas. Now they are calling in the theme song boys, those song and dance lads with the mentalities of George Jessels and Al Jolson, while the great artists of the screen, Emil Jannings and Charles Chaplin, are idle. Emil cannot speak English and Charlie doesn’t like sound pictures. He is supposed to be making a picture now, the story of a tramp’s love for a beautiful and blind flower girl, but it seems that he is hesitating because of the public’s now clamorous demand for sound, and he is essentially a pantomimic artist. I say, a picture with either Emil Jannings or Charlie Chaplin is worth all the stuff they are giving us now in sound!
Another thing: With sound pictures at their present status, the moving picture will be only a medium for American stories of the present time. What sense would there be in a magnificent costume picture of another country, and American slang phrases hopping all over the place? And of course they won’t give us pictures depicting people in other countries in their true linguistic settings because the American public pays at the box office, and they won’t pay for such pictures.
I am not ordinarily an awe-struck movie fan, and I hasten to assure you that I don’t indulge in movie “crushes,” but I have a weakness for Nancy Carroll [below], first, (really!) because of her very fine and versatile histrionic ability and then because she is red-headed and Irish and has pretty legs. So I sat down and wrote her what I considered a really sensible note, referring only to the first reason for my admiring her, and incidentally offering the suggestion that in the future she have them place the microphone so her voice will properly record all she is singing or saying. (Perhaps you have noticed this fault in Abie’s Irish Rose and The Shopworn Angel?) My awaited reply to this letter consists of a bunch of words printed on a government post card, thus:
I have your note and want to thank you very much for taking so much interest in me and my screen work.
I wish I could send you free of charge the photograph you desire, but because so many thousands of requests have been coming in of late, I have found it compulsory to ask my friends to help defray the actual expense of the photographs desired. If you care to do this, I will be indeed happy to send you any of the following variety of photos for the sum mentioned:” (Then she goes on with her price list, consisting of several sizes of her pictures.)
Oh! shades of Erin Isle and Terrence McSweeney! I didn’t want one of her pictures! My red-headed Irish movie star must have gotten fleas from Sandy MacDuff!
At the end of August, Truett took a trip to Colorado.
There’s not much on the record for Truett at the close of 1925. He is only mentioned a couple of times in Howard’s letters, and those in passing. Vinson, Smith, Howard, and Klatt did have a wild party at Clyde’s uncle’s ranch that Christmas, the details of that drunken spree are recounted in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, and here is a poem that Klatt sent to Smith in January:
We arrived in the night of a new day under a high leering green moon With a new norther and Truett drunk on three bottles of beer. We found well-under-porch-roof nondescript house, stove table, chairs. Bed and a cot, lamp and chaps, ax and a bottle of blackleg medicine setting on a two cent stamp. Talking, laughing, roaring. Clyde and Bob sick on Jake. Truett and Clyde slept and I and Bob sat at the stove and talked till the vague cutting cold sunless dawn.
There’s also not much for the early part of 1926. It’s clear from Howard’s surviving correspondence that visits were made and letters were written, but other than Post Oaks, there’s no real mention of Truett in other documents until the summer; he was a working man, after all.
According to the Brownwood Bulletin for July 6, 1926, Vinson and his sister Blanche visited one of their siblings at Big Lake, Mrs. M. A. Wilson, the former Grady Vinson. Later that summer, Truett took a vacation in New Orleans, as reported in the August 24 edition of the Bulletin. At the end of the summer, Lena Vinson’s fiancé died, and Truett went to Arlington for the funeral (all of the above articles are reprinted in School Days in the Post Oaks).
School started, and both Clyde and Bob were attending classes through the rest of 1926 and the first half of 1927, but in early May 1927, Truett and Bob took a train ride to Galveston to see the “Bathing Girls Review” (according to Dark Valley Destiny). Then, after Howard’s August 3 graduation, the guys took another train ride, this time to San Antonio:
Before arriving in Austin, Truett sent a postcard to one of his correspondents, Harold Preece:
In his recollection of their first meeting, from “The Last Celt,” Preece sets the date in July, but it seems unlikely that Howard would have gone to Austin twice in this short period, not to mention Galveston and San Antonio, never mind Mexico as Preece remembers below:
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. July should have been the month, 1927 was the year. I remember that the evening was the first one set for the execution of those poor heretics, Sacco and Vanzetti, though Massachusetts would extend a few weeks more of its granite-ribbed clemency before burning its latest witches.
Bob took over the three-way conversation as I recall, but by some easy, natural right of knowledge. Truett, I suppose, was used to being his willing auditor. I found my-self eagerly listening.
This meeting was one of the important steps on the way to The Junto, which probably began with the April 1928 issue, mailed out in March. Between the August 1927 meeting and the April 1928 “publication” of the first Junto, Preece describes what happened, again from “The Last Celt”:
Friendships kept converging and, through letters, kept broadening. Bob began writing also to my sister, Lenore, who was winning poetry prizes at the University of Texas, and to Booth Mooney, a Lone Scout and son of an old grassroots Baptist rebel in that Bible-tamed cowtown of Decatur. In Dallas, Maxine Ervin and her sister, Lesta, were teaching me bridge, a game that I soon forgot and never relearned after the girls vanished from my world. A scattered little circle of mavericks began developing; Bob, the one professional among us, was its star.
Out of this mix of friends, which also included Herbert Klatt, The Junto was born. Glenn Lord described the venture as follows:
The little monthly travelogue consisted of one typewritten copy per issue, distributed from member to member on its mailing list, which probably never exceeded twenty persons at one time.
After reading an issue, members wrote their comments beneath their names on the mailing list, and then sent the issue on to the next person on the list. When the issue had made the rounds, it was sent back to the editor, who then typed up the best of the comments and included them in the next issue, under the heading “The Commentary.”
That first issue of The Junto had probably just been returned to Booth Mooney when one of its members sickened to die. Herbert Klatt was institutionalized in late April [correction: early February] and died on May 10, 1928. The cause of death is listed as “pernicious anemia.”
Klatt’s death moved members of the mailing list to action, spearheaded by Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson, who sent the following to Clyde on May 16:
Mooney proposes that we issue a press printed edition of his Junto in honor of Klatt, the edition to be solely devoted to appreciatory articles about Klatt by Bob, you, Mooney, Preece, myself, etc. Also I suggested that we include some of his own writings, excerpts from his letters, etc.
So get in touch with Mooney, if you favor such a scheme, and send him an article anyway, because if the press printed edition is not issued, his regular typewritten travelogue will be issued as a memorial number. And will you contribute a dollar or two in order to put out the press printed edition?
On May 21, Vinson sent out a circular letter to as many friends as he thought would be interested. The letter contains a note about Klatt’s funeral, and the following:
Booth Mooney says that we can print a 6 x 9 press printed paper (the 6 x 9 press printed sheet holding as much as a 8 x 11 typewritten sheet) for the nominal cost of $1.00 per page per one hundred copies. That would certainly be cheap, and I think we should issue possibly a six or eight page paper in honor of Herbert. Clyde Smith suggests for us to wait and issue a pamphlet containing our appreciations, also (mainly) an anthology of Herbert’s writings, or perhaps a real cloth bound book instead of a paper bound pamphlet. Let us have your suggestions at once. Will you be willing to contribute to either or both? We might issue a paper now, containing our appreciatory articles, and then issue the anthology later. But let us know what you think!
Booth Mooney received the above letter and wrote the following to Clyde:
The July issue of THE JUNTO will be the Klatt Memorial Edition. It will be typed as are regular issues, but it will contain only material by and regarding Klatt. Will you send something for that issue? It would be appreciated, I assure you.
By May 25, Vinson had more details:
Bob Howard, Clyde Smith, Hildon V. Collins, and I believe Harold Preece, and I are all in favor of letting the memorial number of THE JUNTO slide by—that is the press printed issue. As Collins expresses it, it will be false economy to spend money on such an issue, and then turn around to raise money for a book containing our appreciations of Herbert Klatt, also his anthology. If Booth Mooney feels like issuing his JUNTO as a memorial number, sending it out just as he has been doing, then we want to help him, but we propose that we all save our money and issue a regular book later on, to contain our appreciations, also extracts from Herbert’s letters – in fact these extracts to make up the large part of the book. These letters, we feel, contain things which should be preserved for other people – and then, we should erect some kind of a memorial in Herbert’s honor, and what better could we do than edit and publish his thoughts on various subjects? It would make a very readable and instructive and worth while book!
He goes on to outline costs and discuss strategies, proposing a Herbert Klatt Memorial Fund to raise money for the venture. In a June 5 bulletin, he elaborates:
I suggest that we arrange our campaign to secure money for this undertaking to cover a period of one or two years. We then would accept pledges from everybody concerned, the pledges to be paid within this period of time. In that time we can be arranging material for the book, and not be so rushed but that we can make it just what it ought to be. If it costs $200.00 to publish this book, we should have forty people contributing $5.00 each, or more people contributing less money. But each person should not be asked for more than $5.00. What do you think? But then, where are the forty people? This circular letter is going to only about seven or eight. You must help me get in touch with the other thirty-two people! Send me their names and talk this thing up!
What happened from here is anyone’s guess. There is no mention of Klatt or the memorial fund in Harold Preece’s first letter to Clyde Smith, dated July 26, 1928, nor in any of the surviving correspondence between any members of the Junto group (at least the letters I’ve seen). In Glenn Lord’s “The Junto: Being a Brief Look at the Amateur Press Association Robert E. Howard Partook In as a Youth,” he writes the following: “Reportedly the July 1928 issue was the Herbert Klatt memorial issue.” If the issue actually was sent out, it may have cooled interest in the book publication mentioned in Vinson’s letters, but we’ll probably never know for sure. This appears to have been one of the issues that were destroyed in a fire at Mooney’s parents’ home.
While Klatt had gone west, the Junto lived on. More on that next time . . .
Shortly after graduating from Brownwood High School in May 1923, Truett Vinson enrolled in the commercial school at Howard Payne College. In the past, there has been some confusion between Howard Payne’s Commercial School and its Academy. Before we continue, let’s see if we can clear that up.
As most of this blog’s readers probably know, to be eligible for college entry in Texas in the 1920s, students needed 11 years of schooling. The problem was that many schools at the time, especially “country” schools, only went as far as the 10th grade—Cross Plains High School, for example. So, many rural students needed a place to go to pick up that extra year. There were a couple of options available in nearby Brownwood: Robert Howard completed his 11th year at the public high school there and, a couple of years later, his friend Lindsey Tyson chose option #2, the Howard Payne Academy.
The Academy at HP offered a complete high school education, all four years (8th grade to 11th), with special attention paid to preparing students for the rigors of college coursework. It had its own principal (in 1924 it was A. Hicks, who also taught Science and Spanish), teachers, and facilities separate from the regular college campus. Students could take as many classes as they needed to complete the college requirements. The following excerpts from the Academy section of the June 1924 college catalogue should help clear things up:
Housed in the Academy building, but not limited to Academy students, was the Commercial School. Academy students were encouraged to take commercial courses to help them in college (typing, penmanship, etc.), but more in-depth coursework was available for anyone wishing to pursue a career in bookkeeping, stenography, banking, etc. This was the option Truett Vinson (and, later, Bob Howard) chose. See the following from the same catalogue:
Vinson attended the Commercial School from the fall of 1923 through the spring of 1924, taking instruction from J. E. Basham. While enrolled, he was a member of the college’s Brownwood High School Club with others from his BHS class, including C. S. Boyles and Claude and Travis Curtis, all of whom may be in the picture that heads this post. Vinson graduated on May 21, 1924, with a diploma for bookkeeping. Unlike his friend Bob Howard, Truett would use his.
At least by April 1925 Vinson was employed, possibly with the Walker-Smith company in Brownwood. In a letter to Clyde who was vacationing in the South, Vinson wrote, “Starting next Saturday, I get off at one o’clock instead of five.”
At least two Vinson letters from the above exchange survive. The first, dated April 15 , reveals Truett’s interest in the muckraking of Upton Sinclair—an interest that went on for many years—as well as his interest in the ladies: “a certain young lady by the name of Z— B—- still lives on Center Avenue!” (This must be Zana Brown, who was a freshman at BHS when Truett was a senior and lived at 800 Center Avenue.)
It appears that the whole crew (Vinson, Smith, Howard, and even Herbert Klatt) were under the spell of Sinclair. Vinson wrote the following in the April 15 letter:
Mr. Howard, the noted muck raker, has not countered, again, with a “Right Hook,” but I expect that when he does, we will think it is a right hook and left hook put together! You will probably note with interest that Robert is laying off so much of that “Easturn Bull” and is writing in true Sinclair style now. I am certainly glad to know it, and I believe he will make a good muck raker!
In a follow up letter on April 26, Vinson told Clyde the following:
When I take a trip to the wicked city, I too, am certainly going to see all there is to be seen in the way of legs! I suppose legs are my one weakness! They’ll probably put this inscription on my tombstone: “Here lies a fool. He was not a thief; he was not a murderer; he was not a libertine; BUT he had one weakness—-LEGS!”
I wrote another letter to U. Sinclair a few weeks ago, asking him for his opinion of Christ and what he thought of Papini’s “Life of Christ.” He answered by saying that he considered Papini’s book a pitiful production, and that he was sending me a copy of his book, “The Profits of Religion.” It arrived OK and I have finished reading it. He rather shocked me, as he took some “muckraking” cracks at nearly every religion in the world! He sure jumped on Billy Sunday, Gypsy Smith, Thomas Dixon, Dr. Lyman Abbot and Roman Catholicism! But I find that he is really more of a real Christian than most church members, and that he regards Jesus in a far more worthier way.
Besides girls and Upton Sinclair, the boys were all experimenting with amateur journalism. At the same time that Clyde Smith was producing The All-Around Magazine, Vinson had his own paper going. No issues of his The Toreador survive from 1923, but Robert Howard mentions subscribing to it in his October 5, 1923 letter to Smith. This is right around the time Howard was producing his own Golden Caliph. All of these publications appear to have ended before 1923 was over, but in 1925 The Toreador made a comeback with at least two issues (June 1925 and July 5, 1925); Bob Howard, too, revamped his publication into the aforementionedRight Hook. The boys’ correspondent, Herbert Klatt, contributed to both, and all of them exchanged letters fairly regularly.
The Cross Plains Review for Friday, May 22, 1925 reports that “Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson of Brownwood spent Saturday night and Sunday with Robert Howard.” Perhaps they were discussing their amateur papers.
In the April 26 letter mentioned above, Vinson gives us a peek at what was going on behind the scenes:
H. Klatt is now corresponding with Robert, and he tells me in his last letter that Robert advises him to read Talbot Mundy for some real thrills. Robert tells him that you and I don’t agree with him on the subject of T. Mundy, and so I write Klatt and tell him that we don’t.
Klatt appears to have been a level-headed young man. Putting such minor differences as described above aside, Klatt pitched his plan for the future to Clyde Smith in a May 27, 1925 letter:
Truett tells me about your trip to Cross Plains, its attendant incidental experiences. I wish I could have been with you in that talk on books and other things that lasted till 3 o’clock in the morning. It must have been interesting. [. . .] I have an idea: Since the four of us being more or lees “Men of letters” and so-called radicals, we should be able to form an interesting and mutually helpful company. The Fiery Fearless Four. We could have some letterheads with our heading printed. And then what about jointly publishing an official organ? By each contributing $2.00 per month we could make The Toreador an interesting little six or eight page paper. Truett could manage it, mail the subscription copies and divide the rest among us to keep or mail as samples. We could make it our very own channel of expression. What do you think about the plan in general? I have a lot more plans in connection with it.
On July 10, 1925, Robert E. Howard spent the night at Clyde Smith’s house in Brownwood. The next day, he was on the receiving end of a practical joke engineered by Smith, and apparently with Vinson’s assistance. The Brownwood boys knew that Howard was girl-shy, so it was arranged for Smith’s girlfriend, Echla Laxson, to come on to Howard while they rode around in the back seat of Smith’s car. Howard turned the tables on his friends, however, by returning Laxon’s advances, even going so far as to kiss the girl. According to Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, this caused a brief falling out between himself and the Brownwood boys.
In a circa September 1925 letter to Robert E. Howard, some of which was used in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, Vinson continues the themes from his letters to Smith:
I have just been thinking about girls and marriage today! Funny subject isn’t it? I like girls and some day I’d like to get married to one of them—but, ye gods! Which one? I’ve never seen a girl yet that would make an ideal wife for me. Is it because I’m so plague taked different? Tell me! “I like girls but they don’t like me!”
And . . .
I note that Upton Sinclair is nominated for Governor of the noble state of California by the Socialist party. What do you think of it, anyway? Upton has a new book now—“Letters to Judd” is the title of it. I’ll send you a paper bound copy this week. Be sure to read it.
Lest people think that Vinson was a two-trick pony, it is important to note that he, and everyone mentioned above, was above all things a Reader. Practically all of his letters mention something he has read; this, plus the fact that he was a book dealer on the side, serve to portray him as a pretty well-rounded fellow, with a healthy interest in the opposite sex, and an equally healthy interest in the world around him. In the four letters mentioned in this and my previous post (all from Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives), Vinson mentions having read the following titles: Desert of Wheat by Zane Grey, Tarzan the Terrible by Burroughs, Life of Christ by Papini (see excerpt from The Toreador below), The Profits of Religion by Sinclair, Autobiography of Benito Cellini, and Letters to Judd by Sinclair; he also mentions authors Talbot Mundy and Arthur B. Reeve, though no specific work is named. All this in just a little more than four typed pages.
With the summer of 1925 over, Smith enrolled at Daniel Baker College, Howard tried to make a living in Cross Plains, and Vinson continued at his job. Their amateur journals ceased publication, but a new one was coming.
[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in two parts as “The Vinson Papers – Part 1” and “The Vinson Papers – Addendum” on July 2, 2011, and July 25, 2011, at the now defunct REH Two-Gun Raconteur Blog. This version updates and combines the two.]
For a long time Truett Vinson was kind of a shadowy character to me, never speaking up as Clyde did, and not saving his correspondence with Robert E. Howard. All I really knew, at first, was that he and Bob went to school together, contributed to The Junto, and, later, had dated Novalyne Price—thereby causing some friction, however unbeknownst at first. Well, here’s more information on Truett Vinson than anyone probably needs, but when you’re a teacher on summer break, what else is there to do?
Wade Truett Vinson was born in Erath County, Texas, on September 26, 1905. By 1910, the family had moved to McCulloch County (the county that adjoins Brown County to the southwest), possibly near Rochelle, Texas, as “Rochelle, precinct 4” is lined through on the 1910 Census form that also provides the following information:
Vinson, W. D. (head), 41, listed as “Clergyman,” born in Alabama Abby [or “Abbie”] (wife), 44, born in Alabama Lena (daughter), 18, born in Alabama Grady (daughter), 16, born in Alabama Truitt [sic.] (son), 4, born in Texas Blanche (daughter), 2, born in Texas
[Update: October 23, 2021. At some point before the summer of 1916, the Vinson’s had moved to Brownwood. Beginning with the May 28, 1916 edition, the Brownwood Daily Bulletin began running school notices with mentions of young Truett Vinson. In that May 28 edition, under “Many Good Grades in Public School,” he is listed at the Coggin School, as a “4th grade Exemption,” meaning that he was excused from finals due to his perfect attendance, 80 or better in academics, and 90 or better in deportment. Similar items appear after he advances to the 5th grade. The October 12, 1916 edition has him on the Honor Roll for Physiology; in the November 5 issue, it’s Physiology and Spelling; on December 3, it’s Grammar; and the January 14, 1917 edition, under “High Scholarship in Public Schools,” lists him on the Coggin School honor roll for 5th grade Geography and Arithmetic.]
By mid-April 1919, the family had settled in at 1409 Harrel Avenue (now E. 2nd Street) in Brownwood. On April 26, 1919, Truett’s name and address was published in the latest issue of Lone Scout, a publication of the Lone Scouts of America.
Created by Chicago publisher W. D. Boyce, the Lone Scouts of America (LSA) was intended for “country boys” who were too isolated to join a regular Boy Scouts of America (BSA) troop. The Lone Scouts had equivalents for most of the Boy Scout functions. BSA merit badges were awarded for completing various tasks, like tying knots and building fires; LSA totem pins were given to Lone Scouts for completing “Degrees,” like identifying birds and building lean-to structures. Degree tests were strictly on the honor system. When a Lone Scout completed the various components for one of the seven degrees, he sent in a statement to the “Long House” in Chicago, along with sufficient postage to cover costs, and he received his pin in the mail and earned the title LSD (Lone Scout Degree). Other awards and titles were given for “Boosting” (publicity) and Contributing. The absence of troops meant that there was no way for Lone Scouts to have regular meetings, or even contact with, other Scouts. Boyce solved this problem by creating Lone Scout, a weekly publication that held the boys together. In its pages, Lone Scouts connected with other members, participated in contests, and learned the ins and outs of Scoutdom—they also earned points for contributing, and Lone Scout, or Lonie, quickly became a publication for the boys, created by the boys themselves.
Vinson’s name and address appeared in the magazine in a section called the “Lone Scout Messenger Department.” This was a place for scouts to publish their address along with their interests using a code provided by the editors, in order to begin correspondence with other scouts who had similar interests. Truett listed his interests as B-C-E-O-R, which translated to “B, for Books, History, Fiction, Poems”; “C, Collecting Stamps, Coins”; “E, I want to exchange things with you, and Electricity”; “O, Scouts who live in foreign countries”; and “R, Relics, Indian and Ancient.” His name appears in the Messenger Department again in the September 11, 1920 issue, with interests listed as Astronomy, Collecting, Exchanging, Nature and Woodcraft, and Electricity.
Correspondence wasn’t the only thing on Vinson’s mind. The May 3, 1919 issue of Lone Scout has a short piece by “Lone Scout Truett Vinson” entitled “A Comanche War Raid”:
Some years ago a tribe of Indians, the Comanches, were raiding all Texas. They scalped all the white people and plundered all the towns. A few miles from the present site of Hamilton, Texas, on the Leon River, was a log cabin schoolhouse. A lady from Massachusetts was teaching school. Before she came to Texas a man in Massachusetts was in love with her, and asked her to marry him. She refused for some reason, and he declared revenge.
One day as she was teaching school and happened to glance out of the window she saw the Comanches coming. She told the children to hide and they hid in various places. All of them, except two, were hidden by the time the Comanches got there. They were captured. The teacher whose name was Ann Whitney was shot. The two captives afterward declared that there was a white man in the party of Indians, and that he cried, “At last I have got you.”
It is supposed that he joined the party of Indians to get revenge on her. In the Hamilton Cemetery there is a tombstone erected by the school children of Hamilton County at her grave.
Lone Scout Vol. VIII, No. 28 for May 3, 1919, page 7
Similar items would follow: “Facts About Star Science” in the May 10, 1919 issue; “Gee! Just Think!” in the August 9, 1919 edition; and a mention in the November 1, 1919 editor’s column, “Around the Council Fire,” under the heading “Concerning Neptune.”
On January 27, 1920, the Vinsons were recorded on the US Census as the “Vincent” family. Wade D. is listed as a Baptist Minister, and everyone is ten years older than the last Census. [Update: October 23, 2021. The June 23, 1920 edition of the Brownwood Bulletin reports that Vinson was elected president of his church’s Junior Young People’s Union.]
We pick up the paper trail on July 6, 1921. On that day, the 15-year-old Vinson wrote a letter to his younger friend, Clyde Smith, who was in Austin with his family. (This, and a handful of other letters from Vinson to Smith, are part of the REH collection at Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives.) The letter is typical teenage fare, with talk of books and jobs. There are, though, a couple of interesting nuggets.
Toward the end of the letter, Truett writes, “I will see you soon and we will have the club.” He even signs off by saying, “Yours ‘clubbingly’.” This is followed by a comic drawing of a character with “Rankin” written below it. Now what’s all this talk about a “club,” and who is “Rankin”? To find the answers, we must consult Tevis Clyde Smith’s “The Magic Name” and “So Far the Poet . . .” (both conveniently reprintedby the REH Foundation)
In “The Magic Name,” Smith briefly discusses his short-lived publication, The All-Around Magazine, and the club that inspired it. This club was almost certainly intended as a Lone Scout “tribe”: the LSA’s answer to the Boy Scouts’ troops. Another big part of LSA activity was the “tribe paper”—little newsletters circulated between the boys and across the country, including Canada and other parts of the world. Clyde’s paper, The All-Around Magazine, was definitely a tribe paper. One of the issues has an ad for a Los Angeles tribe paper, the Pueblo Totem, and other issues feature work or ads by other Lone Scouts. Regarding all of this, Smith wrote:
This little paper was a follow-up to The All-Around Club, which meant that a group of boys banded themselves together to have a literary program, followed by a game of sandlot—or in this case front yard—football. Our rules were strict, if one sided. For instance, if you took part in the program, you had to take part in football; on the other hand, you could play football without being a club member, or attending a meeting of the society. Our treatment of one boy who was very brilliant, but adamant about participation in anything other than the society programs, was very callous. We requested his resignation.
“The Magic Name” in “So Far the Poet . . .” & Other Writings by Tevis Clyde Smith: REH Foundation Press, 2010
Years later, Smith felt badly about this episode with the unnamed boy and an apology of sorts was arranged through an intermediary in New York, of all places. But I digress. Smith says that the club “was disbanded” before he met Bob Howard, which he says was March or April of 1923, right around the time The All-Around Magazine was started.
So that explains the club, and you’ve probably already guessed that “Rankin” was that unnamed boy, but let’s go through the motions anyway. In Smith’s notes for a Howard biography, published as “So Far the Poet . . .,” we find this interesting passage:
Asked Truett if he knew Bob and to introduce me — he said “There he is now.”
Truett was assistant Editor of The All-Around Magazine — All-Around Club — our treatment of [Rankin*] one boy because he wouldn’t play football, as well as take part in the debates and literary discussions — Truett named the Club and we followed with the name for the paper.
The name Rankin is struck out on Clyde’s original manuscript. Apparently, even at that late date, he still had some guilt feelings about the incident and didn’t want to open the wound again by mentioning the boy’s name. (The boy may have been Robb Rankin, a member of Clyde’s class at BHS.) Anyway, we jumped ahead a bit; let’s back up.
In September of 1922, Truett and Clyde were students at Brownwood High School. That same year, a new student named Bob Howard joined Truett’s class. There are no stories about how these two met; I’ve got a theory, though, but that’s for another time. It may be as simple as the two sharing a class. At any rate, Truett met Bob. Then, in the spring of 1923 Clyde started up The All-Around Magazine. Volume 1, Number 1, is dated March 1923, and the lead-off piece is by the assistant editor, Truett Vinson:
A TENDERFOOT’S HIKE
The pleasant job assigned me by the noble editor of this periodical is to tell you gentle readers about the hike of three tenderfeet. I will mention no names, but if you will put your ear close, I will tell you that one of the hikers was the aforementioned Ed. and another one no more than noble me.
The hike was to begin at four o’clock in the afternoon and to last until ten at night. We were to hike to a neighboring mountain two miles or so away.
I will skip all details up to the time we reached our destination. After loitering around awhile we cooked supper, which consisted, among other things, of potatoes and meat. I veritably believe the spuds would have killed a cow had she eaten them. Any way, we ate—
About ten thirty we decided to come home. So packing up we marched bravely down the mountain side. The noble author of this novel led the way and he did no more than run into a barbwire fence and fall into a gully. Anyway, we got home . . .
But whoa! that’s not all! The next morning oh! mama how those chigger bites itched!
MORAL: AIN’T GOT ANY.
And so it went. Beside the above, Vinson also contributed a little piece entitled “Astronomy” to that first issue. The second issue, dated April 1923, has “Texas” by Vinson, and an ad for his father’s furniture business (at end of this post). Around this time, the high school’s annual, The Pecan, appeared, with photos of Vinson and Howard, all the senior class, as well as a page for the Heels Club. Both Vinson and Howard have the organization listed by their photos, but of the two, only Vinson signed the heel in the yearbook (below).
Vinson and Howard graduated from BHS in May, their names appearing twice in the local paper with all the other graduates. This could account for the combined “May & June 1923” issue of The All-Around. This is the issue that contains the first installment of the Smith-Howard collaboration, “Under the Great Tiger.” This is definitely one of the more rare Howard items out there, as Smith claimed his magazine’s circulation was only about fifteen copies. Vinson is also present in that issue with “Read These!” as well as an ad for books he is selling. In an unsigned piece entitled “Eureka!” set in 1986, an elderly Truett Vinson encounters a bevy of bathing beauties and exclaims, “I now know why Methuselah lived to be 900!”
In a June 22, 1923 letter to Smith, Robert E. Howard says, “I got your paper and it’s really good. Hurray for the ‘Great Tiger’! If you want to, you might put this in the next issue, ‘Take my advice and buy your books from Truett Vinson. They’re worth the money. Take it from a guy who knows!’ R.E.H.”
We’ll pick up with the college years next time. Go to Part 2.
[All of Vinson’s writings mentioned in this post, as well as everything known by Herbert Klatt, are available in Lone Scout of Letters.]
[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted on September 10, 2011, at rehtwogunraconteur.com. This version lightly edited and updated.]
With football season getting started, I was reminded of my first post on the Two-Gun Raconteur blog, “Post Oaks and Football.” In that post, I talked about how accurate the opening scene of Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is. This got me thinking, so I pulled the Grant edition from the shelf and read the chapter again. [The text is the same in the new edition put out by the REHF Press.] The following conversation between Steve Costigan (Howard) and Clive Hilton (Tevis Clyde Smith), which takes place right after the football game discussed in my first post, grabbed my attention:
“That was sure a great run Franey made, wasn’t it?” remarked Steve. “Yes, it was,” Clive acquiesced. “Guess you’re here writing the game up for The Rattler?” “Yes. I guess the student body’ll read it, on account of Franey.” [. . .] “I guess I’ll have the title lines in ten point type,” Clive said suddenly. “I think I’ll try a new style for the front page this week. The students won’t know the difference but a man appreciates his own work.”
Given how accurate Howard’s description of the football game had been in this fictional work, I wondered if he had played fast and loose with the post-game conversation or kept mostly to the facts. Luckily, I had a way to fact check it.
At Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, they’ve got Smith’s collection of The Tattler, including the edition that came out right after the November 27, 1924 game between Howard Payne and Simmons. Both of my questions are answered on the front page.
First, “Clive” says he’s writing an article about the game for the paper. In the real world, Clyde Smith was editor-in-chief of The Tattler for the 1923-24 school year. The paper’s staff box does not list a sport’s editor, so I guess we can’t be certain who wrote the following story, but my money’s on Clyde:
After that, “Clive” says he’s going to experiment with a new style for the paper that week. Clyde Smith did exactly that:
Written in 1928, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is presented as fiction, but it’s sure got a lot of fact included. If nothing else, this underlines how good Howard’s memory was. I can’t remember a conversation from last week, never mind four years go.
In a July 22, 1977 interview with Norris R. Chambers (NRC) who had been a friend of the Howard family, L. Sprague de Camp asked if Dr. and Mrs. Howard were close. Chambers responded, “I’d say that Doctor Howard and his wife weren’t too close.” This prompted the following exchange with Catherine de Camp (CdeC):
CdeC: We got that feeling, yeah. NRC: Because they—they never did separate, or anything like that, but lots of times they didn’t get along too well. CdeC: Was there a lot of family bickering or fighting? NRC: I don’t know about that. I don’t think that there was a whole lot of bickering. I think that he was just gone so much of the time that he wasn’t there, and she was, so much, I think.
In a March 6, 1978 interview with Norris’s older sister, Deoma Morgan (DM) recalled the Howards’ time in Burkett, circa 1918. Talking about Dr. Howard, Morgan told the de Camps that “He and Mrs. Howard didn’t get along too well at times.” The chat continues:
DM: [. . .] he’d tell my father about the problems he and Heck [Hester] were having. Maybe threaten to “take out,” but Papa – CdeC: Did he really threaten, back – DM: Ah, he did. But Papa always tried to – to iron things out. And he did. And first thing you know, they’d be getting along better.
At some point, de Camp learned that Dr. Howard had transferred his church membership from Cross Plains to Spur—a little town over in Dickens County, more than 100 miles northwest of Cross Plains—and started asking questions. In a July 7, 1978 letter, Norris Chambers responds:
Received your letter asking about Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur? I heard a little about this, but all I knew then (I was pretty young in 1929 [11 or 12 years-old]) was that he was thinking of moving his practice out there. I remember he talked some in later years about the country out there, but I never really knew that he went out there with the intention of “taking out.” However, this could easily have been the case. He often spoke of moving to various parts of the country, but we had heard this talk so much that we just listened to it and figured that nothing would come of it. The Dr. talked of doing many things that he never did. Sometimes he would start on something, but usually got other interests or changed his mind before he went very far with the actual act.
In a July 17, 1978 letter to Charlotte Laughlin, who was helping with some research, de Camp’s ideas are starting to solidify:
[I]n 1929, Dr. Howard went to Spur, Dickens County, TX, where he joined the Baptist Church and registered as a physician in that county. It is known that he and Hester Jane Howard did not get along well; he frequently complained to his friends about his domestic situation and sometimes threatened to “take out” as he expressed it. He also was much given to forming grandiose plans for moving somewhere else, and he did in fact move a great deal, even for a Texan, down to the time he settled in Cross Plains in 1919-21. One of his plans, of which he talked, was for moving his practice to Dickens County. Now, did he move to Spur as an abortive attempt to desert his family? Or did he expect them to join him there? If so, did they refuse to move from CP? In any case, he was soon back in Cross Plains.
In an August 28, 1978 letter, de Camp told Mrs. Lindsey Tyson that he’d “discovered that in 1929, Dr. Howard left his family and joined the church in Spur, Texas, where he also registered as a physician. Next year he was back in Cross Plains.” He then asked, “Does Lindsey recall any quarrel in the Howard family at this time, which might have led to this temporary separation?”
De Camp’s partner in crime, Jane Whittington Griffin, was also asking questions. Jack Scott responded to her in an August 31, 1978 letter: “I was in college in 1929 at the time you say Dr. I. M. Howard moved to Spur and opened temporary practice. Consequently, I have no knowledge of that. Neither am I familiar with any unhappiness in his marital life.” In de Camp’s “Notes on talk with Jack Scott, 2/21/80,” de Camp wrote, “The reason for IMH’s stay in Spur was a cotton boom in that region, which he thought would give him a chance to make some money.”
All of this information was used to create the following paragraphs in 1983’s Dark Valley Destiny:
Early in 1929 a professional colleague had told Isaac Howard of a cotton boom in sparsely-inhabited Dickens County. This was the real West Texas cattle country, the Lower Plains adjoining the High Plains still further west. The vegetation there was thin. The climate, while not so severe as on the High Plains, was exacting enough, with over twenty inches of annual rainfall, temperatures ranging from 10°F to well over 100°, and lots of wind. Dr. Howard learned that many new people would be coming into the region to grow cotton by irrigation. Undoubtedly they would have need of a physician. Thinking this a chance to make some quick cash, Isaac Howard went to Spur, a town of moderate size in Dickens County, 112 miles northwest of Cross Plains. On May 4, 1929, he took out his license to practice medicine in Dickens County. He transferred his letter of membership in the First Baptist Church of Cross Plains, which he had joined in 1924, to the Baptist Church in Spur. He evidently meant to stay for some time in Spur, one of those places on the fringe of things to which he had always been drawn. We can only guess what part was played in Isaac’s move by his discomfiture over his wife’s royal pretensions, his son’s animosity, and the necessity of sharing his small house with a roomer. While the dates of Isaac’s moves are uncertain, it appears that his sojourn in Spur lasted at least half a year. He must have come back often to Cross Plains to visit his family, for the townsfolk of Cross Plains seem to have been unaware of his absences. In mid-1929 he probably returned home to stay for at least half a year, because of Robert Howard’s absence during this time. We do not know whether the doctor returned to Spur during the first half of 1930; in any event he transferred his church membership back to Cross Plains on August 28, 1930.
All of which has the following footnote: “Interview with J. Scott, 21 Feb. 1980; letter from Rev. T. Irwin, 25 Aug. 1977.”
And here’s how it’s all handled in the 2nd edition of Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder, the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard (2011):
Between the money made by Robert for his prize-fighting fiction and the three hundred dollars that Weird Tales paid him for “Skull-Face,” Robert was sitting pretty in 1929. However, his home life was in a turmoil; the Howards had taken in lodgers again, and the house was filled to capacity. Robert, then, decided to go to Brownwood for six months. No records indicate why he did so, but he left sometime in July, 1929, and returned to Cross Plains in December, 1929. Considering that his parents’ marriage had broken down to the point of partial estrangement, it is possible that Robert just needed a change of scenery from cold silence and hostility from his mother and loud complaining about his wife’s lack of attention and bouts of pretension from his father. What Robert did in Brownwood and who he stayed with are unknown. During the first part of 1929, Isaac Howard went to Spur, Texas, either to test the waters and see if he could set up a practice there, or to get away from Hester, or maybe both. Robert, then, may have moved away to force his father to come home and take care of her. No one can say for sure what maneuverings took place at the end of 1929, nor what prompted them. Robert wrote to Smith, after returning from his six month furlough in December 1929, “Here I am doing business at the old stand or trying to. I don’t know if I’ll be able to write worth a damn here or not.” Apparently, things hadn’t settled down at home just yet.
So. While there aren’t a lot of people who testify to it, it does seem that there was some marital discord in the Howard house, at least when they lived in Cross Cut and Burkett. (And I haven’t even mentioned Annie Newton Davis’s interview, in which she tells of Hester Howard pining for a lost love and regretting her marriage to Dr. Howard altogether.) Even without marital discord, though, there was a lot going on in the Howard home in mid-1929. [Update: The Coleman Democrat-Voice for December 27, 1928 tells us that “Dr. I. M. Howard of Cross Plains was here Wednesday, enroute to Spur on business.”] While I have not uncovered the August 25, 1977 letter from Rev. T. Irwin that tells of Dr. Howard transferring his church membership from Cross Plains to Spur, there is this May 3, 1929 notice in the Cross Plains Review:
Dr. I. M. Howard left on Wednesday [May 1] of this week for Spur, Texas, where he has gone with a view of tentatively locating there for the practice of his profession. If the climate of that locality is more agreeable to his health he may make it a permanent location; otherwise, he announces, he will return to Cross Plains. Dr. Howard has been one of the most prominent physicians of Cross Plains and this community for a number of years. Barney Lindley, former owner of the City Drug Store here, is now operating a drug store in Spur.
That same day, The Texas Spur announced, “Dr. Howard and family, of Cross Plains, are moving to Spur. Dr. Howard will be with the City Drug Store and engage in the practice of medicine.” It is interesting to note the “and family” portion of this note. If Dr. Howard’s intention was to “take out” and leave Hester, he certainly wouldn’t be bringing his family along. Let’s just chalk this up to a writer’s exuberance. On the very next day, a Saturday, while Robert E. Howard entertained Clyde and Truett in Cross Plains (see notice in Cross Plains Review from May 10), Dr. Howard was registering his credentials at the Dickens County courthouse. He had arrived.
Or had he? The following Friday’s Review (May 10) has this note: “Dr. I.M. Howard left on Wednesday [May 8] of this week for Spur, Texas, where he has gone with a view of tentatively [locating] there for the practice of his profession.” That same day, The Texas Spur had a front page item:
Probably unrelated to the tale of Spur, on May 14, T. H. Collins of Burkett filled out a promissory note to “Howard & Young” for $290. The note gives him one year to repay the amount. It was recently found in a stash of Dr. Howard’s papers. No further details are available at present.
On May 17, The Texas Spur picks up the tale:
Robert Howard was long out of school by 1929, so it is unclear why “the close of the school term” would provide the green light for Dr. Howard to move. Perhaps the Howards had a boarder who was leaving then, or maybe the reporter just assumed. In any case, the article seems to imply that the whole family is relocating.
The next edition of The Texas Spur, May 24, has more details:
If this item can be believed, it sure puts a damper on the idea that Dr. and Mrs. Howard were having marital problems at the time, much less that he was planning to leave his wife. After spending some time with Isaac in Spur, Dr. Howard returned the favor by visiting Hester in Cross Plains on June 1-2, as this item from the June 7 Review attests: “Dr. Howard, who has moved to Spur, visited with his family here past week end.” The paper also reports that “Robert Howard is visiting relatives in Brownwood this week.”
The Texas Spur for June 7 reports that Dr. Howard attended a funeral in Belle Plains. It also has a “Professional Announcement” regarding the opening of his offices in the Campbell Building, but far more interesting is this third item:
It seems unlikely that Mrs. Howard had actually moved to Spur, but there’s nothing to say with certainty that she didn’t. Edit: Actually, it looks like Hester didn’t last the week, as this clipping from the June 14 Spur paper points out (thanks to Patrice Louinet for bringing this to my attention):
Whatever the case, by June 21, Dr. Howard is advertising in the local paper and visiting Cross Plains, again, the following week, June 28.
The same ad appears in The Texas Spur on June 29 and July 5, but it appears that it did not induce people to visit the good doctor. On the same day that his final ad appeared in Spur, July 5, the Cross Plains Review was reporting that “Dr. Howard Moving Back to Cross Plains”:
DR. HOWARD MOVING BACK TO CROSS PLAINS
Dr. I. M. Howard, who went to Spur about two months ago with the view of investigating the prospects of a permanent location there, has returned to Cross Plains and will resume his practice in this locality. He will occupy his former offices at the Cross Plains Drug Store. The doctor’s many patrons and friends are glad that he decided to return to Cross Plains.
Around the same time, Robert Howard was receiving visitors from Brownwood. The July 12 Cross Plains Review has not one, but two items for Howard:
Item: Truett Vinson and Clyde Smith of Brownwood spent past weekend with Robert Howard here. Item: Harold Creece [Harold Preece] of Austin visited with Robert Howard last week.
The July 26 edition has this: “Robt. Howard, son of Doctor and Mrs. I.M. Howard, spent the past week-end on a visit to Brownwood.” Perhaps he was moving there, and not just visiting, as the August issue of The Junto lists Howard’s address at 816 Melwood, in Brownwood. It was a good time to move there: Tevis Clyde Smith graduated from Howard Payne on August 7.
On August 9, the Review reported “Lindsey Tyson visited with Robert Howard, at Brownwood, the past week-end.” The September, October, and November issues of The Junto have Howard in Brownwood. The December issue has not been located.
Following his return to Cross Plains, there is scant reference to Dr. Howard in the papers, [Edit: though he does appear in the August 2 edition, where it is reported that he and his wife attended a July 28 dinner party together. The August 22 Brownwood Banner-Bulletin has the good doctor in the small community of May “prospecting.” (hat-tip: Patrice Louinet)] He also appears in a November 1 item in the Review: “Robert Howard returned to Brownwood Monday after spending several days with his parents, Dr. and Mrs. I.M. Howard, here.”
There is no further mention of Spur on the record.
[Originally published in Onion Tops #80 in REHupa 281, February 2020. This version has a few corrections.]