[By Rob Roehm. Originally posted on September 10, 2011, at rehtwogunraconteur.com. This version lightly edited and updated.]
With football season getting started, I was reminded of my first post on the Two-Gun Raconteur blog, “Post Oaks and Football.” In that post, I talked about how accurate the opening scene of Howard’s semi-autobiographical novel Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is. This got me thinking, so I pulled the Grant edition from the shelf and read the chapter again. [The text is the same in the new edition put out by the REHF Press.] The following conversation between Steve Costigan (Howard) and Clive Hilton (Tevis Clyde Smith), which takes place right after the football game discussed in my first post, grabbed my attention:
“That was sure a great run Franey made, wasn’t it?” remarked Steve. “Yes, it was,” Clive acquiesced. “Guess you’re here writing the game up for The Rattler?” “Yes. I guess the student body’ll read it, on account of Franey.” [. . .] “I guess I’ll have the title lines in ten point type,” Clive said suddenly. “I think I’ll try a new style for the front page this week. The students won’t know the difference but a man appreciates his own work.”
Given how accurate Howard’s description of the football game had been in this fictional work, I wondered if he had played fast and loose with the post-game conversation or kept mostly to the facts. Luckily, I had a way to fact check it.
At Texas A&M’s Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, they’ve got Smith’s collection of The Tattler, including the edition that came out right after the November 27, 1924 game between Howard Payne and Simmons. Both of my questions are answered on the front page.
First, “Clive” says he’s writing an article about the game for the paper. In the real world, Clyde Smith was editor-in-chief of The Tattler for the 1923-24 school year. The paper’s staff box does not list a sport’s editor, so I guess we can’t be certain who wrote the following story, but my money’s on Clyde:
After that, “Clive” says he’s going to experiment with a new style for the paper that week. Clyde Smith did exactly that:
Written in 1928, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is presented as fiction, but it’s sure got a lot of fact included. If nothing else, this underlines how good Howard’s memory was. I can’t remember a conversation from last week, never mind four years go.
In a July 22, 1977 interview with Norris R. Chambers (NRC) who had been a friend of the Howard family, L. Sprague de Camp asked if Dr. and Mrs. Howard were close. Chambers responded, “I’d say that Doctor Howard and his wife weren’t too close.” This prompted the following exchange with Catherine de Camp (CdeC):
CdeC: We got that feeling, yeah. NRC: Because they—they never did separate, or anything like that, but lots of times they didn’t get along too well. CdeC: Was there a lot of family bickering or fighting? NRC: I don’t know about that. I don’t think that there was a whole lot of bickering. I think that he was just gone so much of the time that he wasn’t there, and she was, so much, I think.
In a March 6, 1978 interview with Norris’s older sister, Deoma Morgan (DM) recalled the Howards’ time in Burkett, circa 1918. Talking about Dr. Howard, Morgan told the de Camps that “He and Mrs. Howard didn’t get along too well at times.” The chat continues:
DM: [. . .] he’d tell my father about the problems he and Heck [Hester] were having. Maybe threaten to “take out,” but Papa – CdeC: Did he really threaten, back – DM: Ah, he did. But Papa always tried to – to iron things out. And he did. And first thing you know, they’d be getting along better.
At some point, de Camp learned that Dr. Howard had transferred his church membership from Cross Plains to Spur—a little town over in Dickens County, more than 100 miles northwest of Cross Plains—and started asking questions. In a July 7, 1978 letter, Norris Chambers responds:
Received your letter asking about Dr. Howard’s trip to Spur? I heard a little about this, but all I knew then (I was pretty young in 1929 [11 or 12 years-old]) was that he was thinking of moving his practice out there. I remember he talked some in later years about the country out there, but I never really knew that he went out there with the intention of “taking out.” However, this could easily have been the case. He often spoke of moving to various parts of the country, but we had heard this talk so much that we just listened to it and figured that nothing would come of it. The Dr. talked of doing many things that he never did. Sometimes he would start on something, but usually got other interests or changed his mind before he went very far with the actual act.
In a July 17, 1978 letter to Charlotte Laughlin, who was helping with some research, de Camp’s ideas are starting to solidify:
[I]n 1929, Dr. Howard went to Spur, Dickens County, TX, where he joined the Baptist Church and registered as a physician in that county. It is known that he and Hester Jane Howard did not get along well; he frequently complained to his friends about his domestic situation and sometimes threatened to “take out” as he expressed it. He also was much given to forming grandiose plans for moving somewhere else, and he did in fact move a great deal, even for a Texan, down to the time he settled in Cross Plains in 1919-21. One of his plans, of which he talked, was for moving his practice to Dickens County. Now, did he move to Spur as an abortive attempt to desert his family? Or did he expect them to join him there? If so, did they refuse to move from CP? In any case, he was soon back in Cross Plains.
In an August 28, 1978 letter, de Camp told Mrs. Lindsey Tyson that he’d “discovered that in 1929, Dr. Howard left his family and joined the church in Spur, Texas, where he also registered as a physician. Next year he was back in Cross Plains.” He then asked, “Does Lindsey recall any quarrel in the Howard family at this time, which might have led to this temporary separation?”
De Camp’s partner in crime, Jane Whittington Griffin, was also asking questions. Jack Scott responded to her in an August 31, 1978 letter: “I was in college in 1929 at the time you say Dr. I. M. Howard moved to Spur and opened temporary practice. Consequently, I have no knowledge of that. Neither am I familiar with any unhappiness in his marital life.” In de Camp’s “Notes on talk with Jack Scott, 2/21/80,” de Camp wrote, “The reason for IMH’s stay in Spur was a cotton boom in that region, which he thought would give him a chance to make some money.”
All of this information was used to create the following paragraphs in 1983’s Dark Valley Destiny:
Early in 1929 a professional colleague had told Isaac Howard of a cotton boom in sparsely-inhabited Dickens County. This was the real West Texas cattle country, the Lower Plains adjoining the High Plains still further west. The vegetation there was thin. The climate, while not so severe as on the High Plains, was exacting enough, with over twenty inches of annual rainfall, temperatures ranging from 10°F to well over 100°, and lots of wind. Dr. Howard learned that many new people would be coming into the region to grow cotton by irrigation. Undoubtedly they would have need of a physician. Thinking this a chance to make some quick cash, Isaac Howard went to Spur, a town of moderate size in Dickens County, 112 miles northwest of Cross Plains. On May 4, 1929, he took out his license to practice medicine in Dickens County. He transferred his letter of membership in the First Baptist Church of Cross Plains, which he had joined in 1924, to the Baptist Church in Spur. He evidently meant to stay for some time in Spur, one of those places on the fringe of things to which he had always been drawn. We can only guess what part was played in Isaac’s move by his discomfiture over his wife’s royal pretensions, his son’s animosity, and the necessity of sharing his small house with a roomer. While the dates of Isaac’s moves are uncertain, it appears that his sojourn in Spur lasted at least half a year. He must have come back often to Cross Plains to visit his family, for the townsfolk of Cross Plains seem to have been unaware of his absences. In mid-1929 he probably returned home to stay for at least half a year, because of Robert Howard’s absence during this time. We do not know whether the doctor returned to Spur during the first half of 1930; in any event he transferred his church membership back to Cross Plains on August 28, 1930.
All of which has the following footnote: “Interview with J. Scott, 21 Feb. 1980; letter from Rev. T. Irwin, 25 Aug. 1977.”
And here’s how it’s all handled in the 2nd edition of Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder, the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard (2011):
Between the money made by Robert for his prize-fighting fiction and the three hundred dollars that Weird Tales paid him for “Skull-Face,” Robert was sitting pretty in 1929. However, his home life was in a turmoil; the Howards had taken in lodgers again, and the house was filled to capacity. Robert, then, decided to go to Brownwood for six months. No records indicate why he did so, but he left sometime in July, 1929, and returned to Cross Plains in December, 1929. Considering that his parents’ marriage had broken down to the point of partial estrangement, it is possible that Robert just needed a change of scenery from cold silence and hostility from his mother and loud complaining about his wife’s lack of attention and bouts of pretension from his father. What Robert did in Brownwood and who he stayed with are unknown. During the first part of 1929, Isaac Howard went to Spur, Texas, either to test the waters and see if he could set up a practice there, or to get away from Hester, or maybe both. Robert, then, may have moved away to force his father to come home and take care of her. No one can say for sure what maneuverings took place at the end of 1929, nor what prompted them. Robert wrote to Smith, after returning from his six month furlough in December 1929, “Here I am doing business at the old stand or trying to. I don’t know if I’ll be able to write worth a damn here or not.” Apparently, things hadn’t settled down at home just yet.
So. While there aren’t a lot of people who testify to it, it does seem that there was some marital discord in the Howard house, at least when they lived in Cross Cut and Burkett. (And I haven’t even mentioned Annie Newton Davis’s interview, in which she tells of Hester Howard pining for a lost love and regretting her marriage to Dr. Howard altogether.) Even without marital discord, though, there was a lot going on in the Howard home in mid-1929. [Update: The Coleman Democrat-Voice for December 27, 1928 tells us that “Dr. I. M. Howard of Cross Plains was here Wednesday, enroute to Spur on business.”] While I have not uncovered the August 25, 1977 letter from Rev. T. Irwin that tells of Dr. Howard transferring his church membership from Cross Plains to Spur, there is this May 3, 1929 notice in the Cross Plains Review:
Dr. I. M. Howard left on Wednesday [May 1] of this week for Spur, Texas, where he has gone with a view of tentatively locating there for the practice of his profession. If the climate of that locality is more agreeable to his health he may make it a permanent location; otherwise, he announces, he will return to Cross Plains. Dr. Howard has been one of the most prominent physicians of Cross Plains and this community for a number of years. Barney Lindley, former owner of the City Drug Store here, is now operating a drug store in Spur.
That same day, The Texas Spur announced, “Dr. Howard and family, of Cross Plains, are moving to Spur. Dr. Howard will be with the City Drug Store and engage in the practice of medicine.” It is interesting to note the “and family” portion of this note. If Dr. Howard’s intention was to “take out” and leave Hester, he certainly wouldn’t be bringing his family along. Let’s just chalk this up to a writer’s exuberance. On the very next day, a Saturday, while Robert E. Howard entertained Clyde and Truett in Cross Plains (see notice in Cross Plains Review from May 10), Dr. Howard was registering his credentials at the Dickens County courthouse. He had arrived.
Or had he? The following Friday’s Review (May 10) has this note: “Dr. I.M. Howard left on Wednesday [May 8] of this week for Spur, Texas, where he has gone with a view of tentatively [locating] there for the practice of his profession.” That same day, The Texas Spur had a front page item:
Probably unrelated to the tale of Spur, on May 14, T. H. Collins of Burkett filled out a promissory note to “Howard & Young” for $290. The note gives him one year to repay the amount. It was recently found in a stash of Dr. Howard’s papers. No further details are available at present.
On May 17, The Texas Spur picks up the tale:
Robert Howard was long out of school by 1929, so it is unclear why “the close of the school term” would provide the green light for Dr. Howard to move. Perhaps the Howards had a boarder who was leaving then, or maybe the reporter just assumed. In any case, the article seems to imply that the whole family is relocating.
The next edition of The Texas Spur, May 24, has more details:
If this item can be believed, it sure puts a damper on the idea that Dr. and Mrs. Howard were having marital problems at the time, much less that he was planning to leave his wife. After spending some time with Isaac in Spur, Dr. Howard returned the favor by visiting Hester in Cross Plains on June 1-2, as this item from the June 7 Review attests: “Dr. Howard, who has moved to Spur, visited with his family here past week end.” The paper also reports that “Robert Howard is visiting relatives in Brownwood this week.”
The Texas Spur for June 7 reports that Dr. Howard attended a funeral in Belle Plains. It also has a “Professional Announcement” regarding the opening of his offices in the Campbell Building, but far more interesting is this third item:
It seems unlikely that Mrs. Howard had actually moved to Spur, but there’s nothing to say with certainty that she didn’t. Edit: Actually, it looks like Hester didn’t last the week, as this clipping from the June 14 Spur paper points out (thanks to Patrice Louinet for bringing this to my attention):
Whatever the case, by June 21, Dr. Howard is advertising in the local paper and visiting Cross Plains, again, the following week, June 28.
The same ad appears in The Texas Spur on June 29 and July 5, but it appears that it did not induce people to visit the good doctor. On the same day that his final ad appeared in Spur, July 5, the Cross Plains Review was reporting that “Dr. Howard Moving Back to Cross Plains”:
DR. HOWARD MOVING BACK TO CROSS PLAINS
Dr. I. M. Howard, who went to Spur about two months ago with the view of investigating the prospects of a permanent location there, has returned to Cross Plains and will resume his practice in this locality. He will occupy his former offices at the Cross Plains Drug Store. The doctor’s many patrons and friends are glad that he decided to return to Cross Plains.
Around the same time, Robert Howard was receiving visitors from Brownwood. The July 12 Cross Plains Review has not one, but two items for Howard:
Item: Truett Vinson and Clyde Smith of Brownwood spent past weekend with Robert Howard here. Item: Harold Creece [Harold Preece] of Austin visited with Robert Howard last week.
The July 26 edition has this: “Robt. Howard, son of Doctor and Mrs. I.M. Howard, spent the past week-end on a visit to Brownwood.” Perhaps he was moving there, and not just visiting, as the August issue of The Junto lists Howard’s address at 816 Melwood, in Brownwood. It was a good time to move there: Tevis Clyde Smith graduated from Howard Payne on August 7.
On August 9, the Review reported “Lindsey Tyson visited with Robert Howard, at Brownwood, the past week-end.” The September, October, and November issues of The Junto have Howard in Brownwood. The December issue has not been located.
Following his return to Cross Plains, there is scant reference to Dr. Howard in the papers, [Edit: though he does appear in the August 2 edition, where it is reported that he and his wife attended a July 28 dinner party together. The August 22 Brownwood Banner-Bulletin has the good doctor in the small community of May “prospecting.” (hat-tip: Patrice Louinet)] He also appears in a November 1 item in the Review: “Robert Howard returned to Brownwood Monday after spending several days with his parents, Dr. and Mrs. I.M. Howard, here.”
There is no further mention of Spur on the record.
[Originally published in Onion Tops #80 in REHupa 281, February 2020. This version has a few corrections.]
[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.
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.]
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.
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.]
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)
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.
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:
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”:
The March 23 issue revealed the “Joke on Jermstad”:
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.]
[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
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.
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.
In 1849, Henry Howard, my great-grandfather, a planter and a school teacher, was living on a farm in Oglethorpe County, in what I would describe as the middle northeastern part of the state, no great distance from the Savannah River. As far as I know, my grandfather, William Benjamin Howard, was born on that plantation.
Robert E. Howard, “The Wandering Years”
Given the state of Henry Howard’s finances, it is doubtful that he owned a “plantation.” And, while William Benjamin Howard was, in fact, born in Oglethorpe County, by 1849 Henry Howard had relocated to Upson County. The 1830 US Census for Oglethorpe County, Captain Lumpkin’s District, lists Henry (aged 30-40) in a household with two boys aged five years or less (Isaac M. and William B.); one boy between 5 and 10 (Charles H.); one girl between 5 and 10 (Rebecca J.); one woman between 30 and 40 (wife Betsy); and one female slave between 10 and 24 years old. Later that year, July 6, his son, John Hubbard Howard was born. By the time of the 1840 Census, the whole family, with additional children, were over in Upson County.
Henry Howard was down on his luck in 1845, when he filled out a stack of notices to more than a dozen people, including his brother-in-law Charles V. Collier, proclaiming his intent to “avail myself of the benefit of the Act entitled an Act for the Relief of Honest Debtors” in court that April. And things don’t appear to get a whole lot better, which could account for his sons hitting the road a few years later:
In 1849 [W. B.] started for California with two of his brothers. At Pine Bluff, Arkansas, cholera struck the party, wiped out most of them, and so weakened my grandfather that he was forced to turn back. One of his brothers went on to California [Isaac M.] and the other returned to Georgia [probably John Hubbard Howard]. William Howard did neither. He turned southward, into Mississippi, and obtained the position of overseer on the plantations of Squire James Henry, whose daughter, Louisa, he married in 18–.
Robert E. Howard, “The Wandering Years”
All of which sounds like family legend, passed along by word of mouth. We do know that W. B. was in Mississippi by January 1855 when he is said to be “of the State of Mississippi” in an “Indenture Made in Upson County, Georgia” between his family members. The family Bible says that W. B. married L. E. Henry on December 6 (possibly 16), 1856. From this point forward, William Howard’s fortunes were tied to the Henry family.
The newlyweds got to work and their first child, Mary Elizabeth, was born in Mississippi on November 27, 1857. In 1858, according to an REH letter, the Mississippi Howards and Henrys moved to southwestern Arkansas. And it is there, on December 18, 1858, that William’s first son, James H. “Jim” Howard, was born. Daughter Martha Rebecca came along in 1860 and son David N. in 1862, neither of whom lived longer than a few months.
The 1860 US Census has William Howard (born GA, 33, farmer, value of personal estate: 600, no real estate), Louisa (born AL, 25), Mary E (3, born MISS), James H. (1, born ARK); all living at Holly Springs, Dallas Co., ARK. There appears to have been close contact between the Henrys and Howards in Arkansas. The two families lived close to each other, on either side of the Dallas-Ouachita County line. The Henrys prospered; the Howards not so much, though it does appear that W. B. was able to procure some public land due to an 1820 Act of Congress. And then the Civil War came calling.
In a letter to Lovecraft published as circa December 1930 (which should be circa November 1930), Howard says “both my grandfathers rode for four years with Bedford Forrest.” As with many things Howard says in letters, this is either the product of family legend or an exaggeration.
There is a 34-year-old William B. Howard in the 16th Arkansas Infantry from 1861 to June 1862 when he was “sent to hospital,” but I’m not sure that is our Howard as he was enlisted way up north in Fayetteville. On January 10, 1863, our W. B. Howard enlisted in Company G, 3rd Arkansas Cavalry much closer to home in Camden. The available documents have him present through 1863, but no mention is made again until he is paroled “at Chesterville, South Carolina, May 5, 1865.” His home is listed in “Remarks”: “Ouachita County, Ark.” If the birth of a daughter, Willie Price Howard, on June, 2, 1864, is any indication, he must have been home from time to time. Also in 1864, William’s brother, Charles H. Howard, died at Walthal Junction, Chesterfield, VA.
When L. Sprague de Camp interviewed Fanny McClung Adamson (one of REH’s first cousins), she claimed to have a relic of W. B.’s: “I have his billfold. He carried it in the Civil War.” She added that there was a message inside, “written in his own blood, you know, on the inside of course. It’s so ragged and all. There’s a message he wrote and it’s all dried. It’s so dim. I can’t read it. Somebody might could with good eyes, a magnifying glass.” Where it is now is not known. Adamson also told de Camp that the family used to sing, “We’re gonna hang Abe Lincoln to a sour apple tree.”
In a September 9, 1978 telephone conversation with de Camp, another of Robert E. Howard’s cousins, Ollie Lorene Davis, commented on her grandfather, William Benjamin Howard. De Camp noted, “Her Howard grandfather fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War, was wounded, and was an invalid through the latter part of his life.”
Invalid or no, the Howards continued to reproduce upon William’s return from the war. David Terrell Howard was born in March 1866 and Alfonzo T. Howard in 1869. They all appear on the 1870 US Census for Ouachita Co., Freeo township. W.B. is 43, a farmer with real estate valued at 800, and personal estate at 100; under “Is the person [on the day of the Enumerator’s visit] sick or temporarily disabled, so as to be unable to ordinary business or duties? If so, what is the sickness or disability?” “chronic rheumatism” is written. I think. Isaac Mordecai Howard was born two years later, in 1872. His brother Alfonzo would die a year later at the age of four. In December that same year, 1873, Susan Aimee Howard was born.
[9/8/2020 Update] On February 2, 1877, it seems William Howard was in a pickle and had to borrow some cash 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.”
Few other details about William Howard survive. REH told Lovecraft in a 1931 letter that both of his grandfathers were “six feet two inches tall.” A little more information appears in Howard’s other correspondence:
The only one of my recent masculine ancestors I can think of who didn’t drink was my grandfather William Benjamin Howard. When I see some sappy youngster sneering at some one for not drinking, as if abstinence were unmanly, I think of my grandfather, who stood six feet two in his socks, and weighed two hundred pounds, was a pioneer, a ’49er, and a soldier, and who never drank. The others of the family, Ervins, Henrys, and the like, drank regularly but never got drunk.
Letter to August Derleth, circa October 1933
Beside these things, one must rely on official documents. The 1880 Census lists him as “maimed or crippled.” On January 19, 1883, he and his siblings picked up $50 each from a land sale in his mother’s estate. Two years later, he was dead—according to de Camp. Both of the Howard cousins mentioned above told de Camp that W. B. died in Arkansas in 1885. There are better sources.
Robert E. Howard said that in 1885, far from dying, W. B. and family packed up and moved to Texas. This must have come from REH’s father, who would certainly know. The Howards landed in the nexus of Hill and Limestone Counties and it is there, in 1887, that William’s oldest son, Jim, died. His father didn’t last much longer: the family Bible says William Benjamin Howard died on August 2, 1888. A Civil War Pension application filed by his wife, Louisa, in 1910 states that William died in Texas on August 3, 1889, “near Mt. Calm.” I’d go with the Bible.
REH’s cousins agree that Jim and his mother are buried under an old cedar tree in Mount Antioch Cemetery, ” their grave is just a plain marker…. it don’t have a thing on it.” The tree is surrounded by other Howards and, it seems to me, is the most likely resting place for William B. Howard; after all, Mount Antioch is also “near Mt. Calm.”
[Originally published in Onion Tops #81, REHupa mailing #283, June 2020.]
[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted September 12, 2016 at rehtwogunraconteur.com. This version updated and lightly edited.]
Before getting too far into this, have a look at the section of a 1905 Rand-McNally map above. On the left is Palo Pinto County; near the center of the northern edge is a place called Christian, where a young doctor I. M. Howard practiced in the early 1900s. He also practiced in several nearby communities: Graford, just below Christian about five miles to the south; Oran, about five miles to the east; Whitt, just over the Parker County line to the east of Oran (the little circle next to the vertical “Creek”); and Peaster, Robert E. Howard’s birthplace, about ten miles southeast of Whitt and 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth (off the map to the right). The distance from Christian to Peaster is 25 miles, as the crow flies. On today’s roads, interested travelers can tour all of these tiny towns in one or two hours.
After a brief stint in the Indian Territory, where he had most likely gone to help out his favorite sister, Willie, Dr. Isaac Mordecai Howard (IMH) returned to Texas, where his Physician’s Certificate was filed for record in Palo Pinto County on January 8, 1902. Polk’s Medical Register and Directory for 1902 has him in both Petersburg, Indian Territory (which I assume is a holdover from a previous notification), and Graford, in Palo Pinto County, population 19. He is the only doctor listed there. The 1904 edition has him still in Graford, but the population has grown to 24, one of that number being another doctor, J. M. Patterson.
But the Polk’s directory doesn’t tell the whole story, and maybe not even the correct story. I’m guessing that the 1902 mention at Graford is probably correct, but by the middle of 1903, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Christian, not Graford, which would make the 1904 listing another holdover. Polk’s does list one F. R. Bowles practicing in Christian in 1902 (population 50) and 1904 (population 90), but no IMH. The Standard Medical Directory of North America for 1903-04 lists both IMH and Bowles at Christian. It also adds that IMH was “licensed by examination without college diploma” and began his career in 1899.
And, since the good doctor was listing his address as Christian up to November 21, 1904, it’s safe to assume that that is where he and Hester Jane Ervin made their first home together after their January 12, 1904 marriage. (Today, the only remnant of that town is a road sign, “Old Christian Rd,” about five miles north of Graford.)
There are few documents to testify where the Howards were from December 1904 to May 1905, but we can hazard a few guesses. The first is over Palo Pinto’s northern county line in Jack County, the tiny town of Bryson. The only evidence for this is an April 13, 1905 item from the Jacksboro News: “Dr. Howard, formerly of Christian but now located at Bryson was in Jacksboro yesterday on business.” The Jack County courthouse had no records pertaining to the Howards when I visited there several years ago. Their Physicians Registry did not go back to 1905, so it’s impossible to know when Howard arrived or if he actually meant to stay there.
During this period, the number of medical schools in Texas was expanding and Dr. Howard picked up his diploma from Gate City Medical College, over in Texarkana, on May 1, 1905. While “the founders of these schools had the best intentions to offer bona-fide instruction in medical science, [. . .] they had too few resources. Most of them ceased operations or were absorbed by other schools within a short time.”  Gate City was closed in 1911 when it was caught selling diplomas, but I think it’s safe to assume that IMH spent at least a little time in Texarkana before being awarded his.
Also during that time, the newlywed Howards approached IMH’s older brother, David Terrell Howard, about adopting his youngest son. Wallace Howard told L. Sprague de Camp that Dr. and Mrs. Howard, “they come to mama and papa and wanted to take me and raise me as their, their foster son.”  David Howard was farming in Limestone County at the time, some 125 miles southeast of Christian, and had quite a large family (six children in 1904, and 12 before he was finished having children in 1919). In 1977, Wallace Howard wondered if he “wouldn’t have been better off” going with the doctor, but nothing came of the plan and before the summer of 1905, Hester would have known that she was pregnant.
Another possibility is Dark Valley, a few miles southwest of Graford. In July 1977, L. Sprague de Camp interviewed Florence Green, who was close to 100-years-old at the time. In his notes, de Camp writes that “Hester and I. M. Howard came from Christian miles away to Dark Valley as a young married. They lived for several months with Mrs. Green who had a house a few feet away from the creek.” According to Green, the Howards stayed with her until their own place was built, “a little ways down the creek from the Green’s” and when it was time for Hester to give birth, “She went to Peaster, a much bigger town in those days, 1906, and some buggy ride away—a day’s journey—to have the child.” After Robert’s birth, the family returned to Dark Valley for a while, but “[t]hey moved away while Robert was a babe in arms—meaning anywhere from 1-2 years of age.” 
There are some problems with Green’s account. There is no record of the Howards buying any land in the vicinity of Dark Valley Creek; why build a home on property they did not own? Mrs. Green also, apparently, didn’t think it was relevant that it was Dr. Howard who recorded the birth of her daughter in 1907 (where he listed Graford on the Record of Birth); at least, it doesn’t show up in de Camp’s notes. Also, in Dark Valley Destiny, de Camp says, “During her pregnancy, Hessie was all smiles and laughter, forever joking with her neighbors, but she never left her husband’s side. She traveled with Dr. Howard wherever he went” (pg. 32), information that must have come from Green, but how would she have known this when, shortly after receiving his diploma, Isaac Howard registered his credentials over in Parker County on May 12, 1905, and his name begins appearing on birth and death records that same month? Hester would only have been about one month pregnant at the time. And Peaster wasn’t the first place they went to in Parker County.
On May 23, 1905, Dr. I. M. Howard filed a “Report of Death” for a two-day-old child. The doctor’s address is listed as “Whitt.” The 1904 Polk’s directory lists three doctors in Whitt and sets the population at 430, same as the 1906 edition; none of the listed doctors is IMH.
Shortly after his arrival in Whitt, Dr. Howard appears to have partnered with one of those other doctors, J. D. Pickens, as their names appear together frequently on birth and death records in June and July. The last birth record filed by Pickens/Howard is dated July 19; all of these records list IMH’s address as Whitt. After that July 19 filing, the record goes quiet until August 16, 1905, when Dr. Howard was awarded a “Certificate of Registration” from the Texas Board of Pharmacy indicating that he had “given satisfactory evidence that he is a Qualified Pharmacist.” After that, he moved to Peaster.
From late September to just after Christmas 1905, IMH was listing his address on birth and death records as Peaster. Like Whitt, Peaster already had a doctor or two. In fact, besides J. A. Williams, the doctor who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth, there was also a Dr. J. M. Blackwell, with whom Dr. Howard planned to share office space, as reported in “Peaster Items,” from the Weatherford Weekly Herald for October 19, 1905:
All three doctors appear in the 1906 edition of Polk’s, which has the population of Peaster pegged at 240. (A July 8, 1921 article in the Cross Plains Review announced Blackwell’s arrival in the area and says that he “comes well recommended for his work. He is an old time friend of Dr. I. M. Howard of this place, and a former partner with him in the practice of medicine.”) All of which begs the question: Why was it Williams and not IMH’s partner, Blackwell, who recorded Robert E. Howard’s birth? If you’ve read this far, you probably already know the story. The Howards celebrated REH’s birthday on January 22, 1906, but, probably due to a delay in filing, Williams reported the birth as January 24. He filed the document on February 1st.
The last known sighting of the Howards in Peaster is a notice from the February 19 column, “Peaster Pencilings,” which appeared in the February 22, 1906 edition of the Weatherford Weekly Herald: “Dr. Howard is boasting of the only boy baby of Peaster in 1906.” After that, the trail is cold until a May 31, 1906 “Report of Birth” places him back in Graford, which is probably only where he received mail, since he was no doubt living in Dark Valley at the time.
All of the above makes the following paragraph from Dark Valley Destiny a bit shaky:
Robert Ervin Howard was born on January 24, 1906, in Peaster, Texas, a village in Parker County, ten miles northwest of Weatherford and thirty-five miles due west of Fort Worth. The Howards at that time lived in Dark Valley, a community of some fifty souls in Palo Pinto County, near the Parker County border; but Dr. Howard had taken his wife to Peaster, a larger settlement in the adjacent county, as her confinement drew near. He wished, presumably, to insure adequate medical facilities for her lying-in, as well as the services of Dr. J. A. Williams, the physician who attended Mrs. Howard at the birth of her only child. [pg. 18]
Patrice Lounet pointed out the biggest problem with this a few years ago in his introduction to “The Long Road to Dark Valley” from the now defunct Two-Gun Raconteur Blog: “If Dr. Howard wanted to ‘ensure adequate medical facilities’ for his wife, Peaster would not have been his first choice, but more likely the much larger Weatherford. Or even halfway from there, Mineral Wells, where physicians would be numerous.”  But if not for medical attention, then why?
In a 1977 interview with L. Sprague de Camp, Wallace Howard explained it this way: “The Howards are a moving people.”  And I can’t do much better than that. IMH seems to have been constantly on the look for greener pastures, and he never shied away from a dramatic move. Being a doctor himself, and having a partnership with another doctor (even though his partnerships never lasted for long), makes the “adequate medical facilities” argument seem a bit thin. I’m more inclined to believe that IMH saw an opportunity there that just didn’t pan out.
I’m fairly confident that one of the reasons IMH came to the Palo Pinto-Parker region in the first place was the railroad: “The Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern completed twenty-five miles from Weatherford to Mineral Wells in 1891. That year the company owned two locomotives and ninety cars. In 1895 it earned $15,561 in passenger revenue and $38,070 in freight revenue. The line was bought by the Texas and Pacific Railway Company in 1902,” the same year that IMH arrived.  And once the mainline was complete, the competition for spurs off of that line began, with rumors and speculation being reported in area newspapers every week; there was even some wild talk of turning the road into “a great transcontinental line” . Of course, nothing quite so grand happened; however, “Construction of an extension of the line to the city of Oran was completed in 1907, and on to Graford the following January.” 
It may have been these rumors and speculation that encouraged IMH to begin purchasing land in Palo Pinto County. On October 11, 1905, while living in Peaster, Dr. Howard purchased part of lot 1, block 7 in the town of Oran for $50. This must have been a simple investment since, as we have seen, after leaving Peaster the Howards settled in Dark Valley. IMH listed his residence as Graford on birth and death notices from May 31, 1906 until at least May 5, 1907. But he may have been planning a move even before then.
On January 19, 1907, he purchased Lot 6 in Block 54 of the town of Oran for $45. Then, on May 25, 1907, he spent $200 for lots 7 and 8 in Block 7. A few weeks later, June 14, 1907, IMH and wife Hester sold “the North East one fourth (1/4) of Block Seven (7)” for $300. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the Howards. Not long after that, if not before, the family was living in Oran. From August to December 20, 1907, IMH lists his address as Oran. The week before Christmas, he re-filed his credentials in Palo Pinto County to correct a transcription error in his initials from “S. M.” to the correct “I. M.” Two weeks later, he was in Big Spring, way over in Howard County. The West Texas adventure had begun.
7: “Doing Our Best,” The Daily Herald. (Weatherford, Tex.), Vol. 7, No. 218, Ed. 1 Monday, September 24, 1906.
8: The Weatherford, Mineral Wells, Northwestern Railroad Depot, photograph, 1990?; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth29853/: accessed September 11, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Boyce Ditto Public Library.