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 dischord, though, there was a lot going on in the Howard home in mid-1929. While I have not uncovered the August 25, 1977 letter from Rev. T. Irwin that tells of Dr. Howard transferring his church membership from Cross Plains to Spur, there is this May 3, 1929 notice in the Cross Plains Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DR. HOWARD MOVING
BACK TO CROSS PLAINS

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no further mention of Spur on the record.

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

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)

The Practical Joke

1929-03-23 v1n45 p01

If Robert E. Howard was ever an actual member of the Lone Scouts of America (LSA) , it was probably during his Cross Plains High School days. In the summer of 1919, C. S. Boyles, Jr., a classmate and future publisher of Howard’s (in Brownwood High School’s Tattler), contributed to that organization’s official organ: Lone Scout. The magazine was the glue that held the membership—isolated almost by definition—together and kept them in contact with each other. Besides Boyles, there was at least one other confirmed Lone Scout in Cross Plains: Renerick Clark. All three of these boys were part of a group that installed “an up to date radio plant” in the Cozy Drug Store in August 1922.

After moving to Brownwood for his final year of high school, Howard met two more former Lone Scouts: Truett Vinson and Clyde Smith. According to Smith, by the time he met Howard in the spring of 1923, he had put “childish things” aside and was no longer an active member of the LSA. Despite that, he produced a handful of issues of what could easily be described as a LSA “tribe paper,” which were mini versions of Lone Scout. One of Smith’s contributors was Herbert Klatt, who may also have been a correspondent of Vinson’s at this time. Smith, Klatt, and Vinson had all sent in their addresses to the “Lone Scout Messenger Department,” which served as a meeting place for would-be correspondents. Later, through Klatt, Vinson “met” Harold Preece, and through Preece, everyone met Booth Mooney.

Over in Bosque County, one of Klatt’s regular Lone Scout contacts was Menloe Jermstad. The two had attended the 1925 Central Texas Encampment on the Leon River and together were responsible for the 1926 Bosque County Lone Scout Rally. Their friendship ended with Klatt’s death in 1928, but it appears that Jermstad had also been introduced to at least some of the Howard circle.

Menloe Andrew Jermstad was born January 24, 1907, and was raised on a farm in Bosque County, Texas. Following his marriage to Clomer Allen on October 6, 1928, he decided to increase his Lone Scout activity for 1929. He started by conducting a Lone Scout department in the Clifton Record and then decided to run for Council Chief of Region 9. And therein lies a tale that involves Robert E. Howard—at least tangentially.

1929-03-09 v1n43 p08

Following the merger of the Lone Scouts with the Boy Scouts in 1924, disgruntled Lone Scouts redoubled their efforts with tribe papers. One of these, Lone Scout Weekly News out of Stigler, Oklahoma, became one of the meeting-places for our cast of characters in 1928-29. The publication featured contributions from several of Robert E. Howard’s acquaintances from The Junto, including Roy McDonald, Roy DeMent, Alex Doktor, Hildon Collins, as well as Preece and Mooney. Early in 1929, Menloe Jermstad announced his candidacy for 1930 council chief. At some point he talked to Harold Preece about his decision and Preece told him the following, which Jermstad contributed to the March 9, 1929 issue of Weekly News:

1929-03-09 v1n43 p01

Since October 1928, Harold Preece had been running a series of articles in Weekly News called “Outstanding Personalities of Region Nine.” He took a break from this for the March 16, 1929 issue and instead ran “Texas Scouts Now in Professional Ranks”:

1929-03-16 v1n44 p04

The March 23 issue revealed the “Joke on Jermstad”:

1929-03-23 v1n45 p07

It seems that the “Texas Scouts” piece was designed, in part, to present Bob Howard’s credentials and thus wind up Jermstad a bit. There is no evidence in Preece’s letters to Clyde Smith or Howard’s letters to Preece that anyone else was even aware of the prank.

A side note: Menloe died on April 24, 1936. I found this little story about his death at ancestry.com:

Clomer Allen Jermstad was tried and convicted for the murder of her husband, Minlow [sic.] Jermstad. The charge was “Murder with Malice” and she was tried in the Meridian, Bosque Co., Texas court house. On October 19, 1936 she was found guilty and sentenced to 45 years in prison. After serving 11 of the 45 years, Clomer received a full pardon dated January 26, 1948 and signed by the Texas State Governor.

In the trial Clomer’s defense had been that she had been forced to poison her husband by her boyfriend, George Pace. Clomer contended that George had threatened to kill her daughter if she did not kill her husband, Minlow. She said that she had given Minlow strychnine mixed with coffee while George watched through the window. Minlow died very soon after consuming the poison and was buried on the same day. George Pace was also tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to prison.

George Pace’s sister, Nancy Anna Bell Pace, was married to Alvin Allen, Clomer’s brother. Alvin AlIen’s son, Charles Birt Allen, insisted that the truth about the murder of Minlow Jermstad was that Clomer had bought the strychnine (rat poison) herself and tried to get George to poison her husband for her. When George refused to do the dirty deed, Clomer poured the poison into Minlow’s coffee.

[Originally published in Onion Tops #53, REHupa mailing #242, August 2013.]

Training Dr. Howard

IMH in 1908 web

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted May 14, 2015 at rehtwogunraconteur.com. This version updated and expanded.]

When researching Robert E. Howard’s father, Doctor Isaac Mordecai Howard (seen above circa 1908), the devil is in the details. He almost always used only his initials when registering somewhere: Dr. I. M. Howard. The problem here is that his handwriting was terrible. His “I. M.” was often transcribed as “J. M.” or “S. M.” or some other scribble. And, there were a lot of Doctor Howards practicing medicine in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There was a D. M. Howard in Mineral Wells at the same time I. M. Howard was in the county, and another Dr. Howard in Cornish, Indian Territory, around the same time that our man was registered in Petersburg, Indian Territory, just to name two.

I am not the only researcher to follow the wrong Dr. Howard down a rabbit hole:

When Isaac Howard decided to study medicine, he was following a family precedent. His uncle J. T. Henry, a great favorite of Isaac’s mother, Eliza Howard, was a distinguished physician who was graduated from the University of Nashville in Tennessee in 1883 [sic: 1873]. In practice near the Arkansas-Missouri line, Dr. Henry became a role model for his nephew Isaac, who doubtless sought Dr. Henry’s advice and may have studied under him.

Physicians of that day often welcomed their kin as medical students. Such associations with older physicians afforded young would-be doctors opportunities for observation, access to medical books, and such didactic sessions as the preceptor thought necessary in exchange for the apprentice’s help in maintaining the dispensary, cleaning the office, and tending the horse and buggy if there was one. After a few years, when the older man deemed his candidate worthy, he would issue him a certificate to practice medicine. For an ethical man with strong family ties, the certification by a kinsman would be a real throwing of the torch.

Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register gives its first listing of “I. Howard” in 1896 as practicing in Forsyth, Missouri, in Taney County, just over the Missouri line, a short distance from his uncle’s home in Bentonville, Arkansas. It is unclear whether Isaac Howard apprenticed himself to his uncle or whether Dr. Henry had passed him on to another doctor in Forsyth. The dates suggest the former. If Isaac Howard had left Texas in the early nineties, when he turned twenty-one, he could have finished his training and been ready to set up his own practice by 1896.

The young physician did not long remain in Missouri. Perhaps he was homesick. Whatever his reasons, on April 19, 1899, Isaac M. Howard of Limestone County, Texas, was examined by the State Board of Medical Examiners in Texarkana, Texas, and awarded a certificate of qualification to practice medicine. Then he went home.

—L. Sprague de Camp, Dark Valley Destiny

I did a little digging and found an Isaac Howard on the 1860 US Census in Webster County, Missouri. He’s 41, married to Esther, born in Rhode Island, and has “M.D.” listed under “Profession.” After the Civil War, the 1870 Census has the same Isaac as a “Farmer” in Swan Township, Taney County; the post office is listed as Forsyth and Isaac Howard appears to have been the enumerator—his name is signed at the top of the document as “Ass’t Marshal.” In 1880, he’s listed as a “Physician” in Oliver Township, Taney County. He’s 62 years old here. The 1886 edition of Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register shows him in Forsyth, Taney Co. Most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a fire, so no help there. All this would make Isaac 78 at the time of the 1896 edition of Polk’s Medical and Surgical Register. Seems pretty clear that the “I. Howard” de Camp found in that early edition of Polk’s is not our man.

With the only piece of evidence that might place our Isaac M. Howard near his Uncle J. T. Henry at that time removed, his actual whereabouts are a complete mystery. It’s still possible that he received his medical training there; in fact, this has pretty much become an accepted part of the biography. To wit:

By 1891, Isaac Howard had decided that he was not cut out to be a farmer. He left the family farm, sold his share in the property to his brother, and decided to practice frontier medicine.

Isaac’s medical education, a combination of on-the-job training, apprenticeship to his uncle, himself a doctor, and attendance at a variety of schools, lectures, and courses, would spread out over the next four decades. His initial training took four or five years, and allowed him to practice medicine as early as 1896. From that time on, Dr. Isaac Howard moved frequently from place to place, venturing as far out as Missouri and back to the family farm in Limestone County again.

—Mark Finn, Blood and Thunder

JTHenry web

That J. T. Henry (above) was a doctor is well established; that Isaac M. Howard apprenticed under him, not so much. While I am not a fan of speculation, I recently ran across not one but two doctors who, in my opinion, make more sense as possible trainers of Dr. Howard. So, as long as there’s no proof either way, I’ll throw my speculations out there too.

Robert E. Howard said that his family moved to Texas in 1885. The earliest I can place them there is 1889. According to a “Widow’s Application for Pension” filled out by Isaac’s mother in 1910, Isaac’s father, William B., died “near Mt. Calm, Texas, on 3rd day of August in year of 1889” [possibly 1888]. While William’s death in Texas contradicts de Camp’s version, it agrees with Robert E. Howard’s account in an October 1930 letter to Lovecraft:

My branch of the Howards came to America with Oglethorpe 1733 and lived in various parts of Georgia for over a hundred years. In ’49 three brothers started for California. On the Arkansas River they split up, one went on to California where he lived the rest of his life, one went back to Georgia and one, William Benjamin Howard, went to Mississippi where he became an overseer on the plantations of Squire James Harrison Henry, whose daughter he married. In 1858 he moved, with the Henry’s, to southwestern Arkansas where he lived until 1885, when he moved to Texas. He was my grandfather.

There is a document dated 1885, but it wasn’t recorded until 1898, so I’m a tad skeptical. The document is basically a contract between Isaac Howard and his brother David Terrell Howard of Prairie Hill, Texas, in Limestone County. Dave agrees to purchase Isaac’s land in the county and has ten years to pay for it, starting in 1885. How a 13-year-old Isaac managed to possess that land is a mystery. De Camp speculates that it was Grandpa James Henry’s originally, and James did die in 1884, a fairly prosperous guy, so that’s reasonable, but there’s no mention of Texas land in his Arkansas will.

On November 6, 1893, Isaac’s sister Willie married William Oscar McClung in Limestone County. They moved to Indian Territory shortly thereafter, but probably not before attending brother Dave’s wedding on November 12 (or possibly December 12). This is where things get interesting.

fannie-web

Dave’s bride was Fannie Elizabeth Wortham (seen above quite some time after her marriage). From 1894 to 1919, the couple would produce 12 children. This isn’t so unusual when you figure that Dave had eight siblings and Fannie had seven. We’ll get back to one of Fannie’s siblings in a minute, but first, let’s look at her dad, Mortier (or Mortimer) LaFayette Wortham.
Born in Tennessee in 1822, Wortham moved to Texas while in his early 20s. He shows up on an 1846 tax list in Harrison County, east Texas. He appears to have hooked up with an unknown lady and had at least one child, John, before she died or left. The 1850 Census has an “L. M. Wortham” who is farming with the Martin family in Harrison County. He has with him “J. Wortham,” who is 2 years old. No wife is mentioned.

The 1860 Census of Anderson County has the now 12-year-old John, with father “L. Wortham,” joined by wife “E. Wortham” (the former Elizabeth Chaffin). The senior Wortham’s profession is listed as “Doctor.” On a pension application, Elizabeth says that she married Mortier in 1855. Her family had been in Texas since at least 1843, in Anderson County, which is two counties east of Limestone, with Freestone County in-between.

On March 6, 1862, “M. L. Wortham,” of Palestine, Anderson County, reported for infantry duty in the Confederate Army, Company K, 22nd Regiment, under Colonel R. B. Hubbard. It looks like he served all over the place, doing some time in Louisiana and Arkansas, before returning to Anderson County. He shows up on an 1868 voter registration list there.

“M. L. Wortham” appears on the Anderson County tax rolls for 1861, 1865, 1867, 1869, and 1870. While there are several Worthams on the lists throughout the 1880s, our guy doesn’t appear; this is probably because he had moved to Limestone County, where he and the family appear on the 1880 Census. His profession there is listed as “Farming.” The 1890 Census was mostly destroyed by fire, but in 1891 Mortier is back on the tax lists in Anderson County, appearing as “Dr. M. L. Wortham.” So, Dave Howard’s soon-to-be father-in-law went back to medicine (if he ever left) just before his daughter’s marriage. How convenient for Dave’s younger brother, who just happened to be interested in the medical profession.

[A quick, non-chronological note: On Fannie Wortham Howard’s 1960 death certificate, her father is identified as “Dr. W. M. Wortham”; on another daughter’s 1932 death certificate, he is identified simply as “Dr. Wortham.”]

And there’s more. When the Howards arrived in Texas they settled in around Mount Calm, which is in Hill County, but right on the line with Limestone County. They soon spread into Limestone, in the little community of Delia, which is close to Prairie Hill. The 1900 Census has Dave Howard’s growing clan listed with the Prairie Hill inhabitants. One of those was John C. Clark, who was married to another of Mortier Wortham’s daughters and happened to be, you guessed it, a doctor.

Born in 1847 in Jamaica to English parents, Clark was living in Texas by the end of the Civil War. He married Louisa E. Wortham in 1877 and was living in rural Limestone County at the time of the 1880 Census, where he is listed as a “Physician.” The 1890 edition of Polk’s Medical and Surgical Registry has him as the only doctor in Prairie Hill, with no report received in answer to their inquiry regarding his graduation from medical school. This probably means that he didn’t attend a school, but was trained by another doctor . . . perhaps his father-in-law?

So, in the early 1890s we’ve got a young Isaac Howard, purportedly not interested in the family business of farming. He’s got a doctor uncle in far-off Arkansas who seems to be doing pretty well for himself, and his older brother Dave marries into a family with at least two doctors, one of whom is practicing in the very town in which they live, the other in a nearby county. [I say “at least two” because one of Mortier’s sons, James Franklin Wortham, is identified as a doctor on an ancestry.com family tree, but there is no documentation provided to support that claim and I haven’t looked into it yet.] And right around this time, the mid-1890s, Dave is paying for Isaac’s land. Hmm, I wonder what Isaac was doing with the cash?

Meanwhile, brother Dave purchased some more land in 1897 from Gussbaum and Morris, whoever they were. Then, the 1885 document was filed for record on January 15, 1898, and on February 12, 1898, Isaac Howard filed a quit claim, closing the land deal with his brother. The next time Isaac M. Howard appears on paper it is as a doctor:

The Medical Board of Examiners, Fifth Judicial District, State of Texas, done at Texarkana, Texas, April 19, 1899, I.M. Howard of Limestone County received his Certificate of Qualification to Practice Medicine in any or all of its branches throughout the State of Texas.

The first place he appears is Freestone County, where he registered his new credentials on July 20, 1899. Right next door to Limestone, this makes sense, but, as long as I’m speculating, let me go a step further. On a recent trip to Groesbeck, the county seat of Limestone, I asked about their Medical Register—the book that lists the doctors who had registered their credentials in the county. Isaac M. Howard was not listed in that book, but the book only went back to 1907. Turns out the older records were destroyed by fire. So I’ll bet Isaac did indeed go home—right back to Limestone County, then to Freestone. But again, that’s just speculation.

Dr. Howard next appears up north near Indian Territory in Montague County, where his uncle, George Walser, was living. I have no idea if the two had any contact at this time, though I would think it odd if they didn’t. Dr. Howard registered in the county on May 30, 1901. This appears to be just before Isaac started practicing in Petersburg, just across the Red River in Indian Territory, and not far from where his sister Willie had moved after marrying Oscar McClung. The doctor couldn’t have spent too much time in Indian Territory, though, he had a date with destiny back in Texas, Palo Pinto County, where a certain lady named Hester was spending time with her siblings in Mineral Wells.