The Vinson Papers — Part 4

[By Rob Roehm; originally posted July 10, 2011 at the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and expanded.]

Part 3

From the Brownwood Bulletin for July 18, 1928.

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.

From the Brownwood Bulletin for November 13, 1928.
From the Cross Plains Review for November 23, 1928.

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.

From the Cross Plains Review for January 25, 1929.

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,

Truett Vinson

That same month, another “reunion” between Howard, Vinson, Smith, and “Harold Creese” (obviously Preece) occurred:

From the Cross Plains Review for July 12, 1929.

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:

“Dear Friend:

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. More to come . . .

Nancy Carrol

The Vinson Papers — Part 3

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 6, 2011, on the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and edited.]

Part 1

Part 2

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:

Stone Ranch

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:

Brownwood Bulletin for August 16, 1927

Before arriving in Austin, Truett sent a postcard to one of his correspondents, Harold Preece:

The front of this card is at the top of this post.

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.

From the August 29, 1927 issue of the Brownwood Bulletin.

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 and died on May 10, 1928. The cause of death is listed as “pernicious anemia.”

The Klatt family at Herbert’s grave in Aleman, Texas.

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 . . .

[For Herbert Klatt’s complete story, see Lone Scout of Letters.]

Herbert Klatt on the farm in Aleman, circa 1926.

The Vinson Papers — Part 2

From the 1924 edition of The Pecan, Howard Payne College’s yearbook.

[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted July 3, 2011 on the REH Two-Gun Raconteur blog. This version updated and lightly edited.]

Part 1 is here.

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.

Above: Vinson on April 21, 1924. Photo courtesy of Christopher Oldham, by way of Todd Vick.

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 [1925], 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!”

And this:

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 aforementioned Right 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.

The Vinson Papers — Part 1

From The Pecan, Brownwood High School’s 1923 yearbook.

[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 reprinted by 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).

For a larger image, click here.

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.]

Post Oaks and Football–Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Texas Spur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So. While there aren’t a lot of people who testify to it, it does seem that there was some marital discord in the Howard house, at least when they lived in Cross Cut and Burkett. (And I haven’t even mentioned Annie Newton Davis’s interview, in which she tells of Hester Howard pining for a lost love and regretting her marriage to Dr. Howard altogether.) Even without marital 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.]

Contact Without Friction!

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

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

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

Contact Without Friction!

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Name Is Earl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross Plains Review, December 17, 1920

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squire James Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They went to Texas.

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

The “Best” of the old REH Foundation Website

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

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

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

Robert E. Howard and the Movies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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