The Vinson Papers — Part 4

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

Part 3

From the Brownwood Bulletin for July 18, 1928.

As mentioned in the last installment, the impact of Klatt’s death appears to have subsided by July 1928. Late that month, Vinson traveled to Waco to visit Juntites Harold Preece and Hildon V. Collins. Preece described the visit to Clyde Smith in a July 26 letter:

I wish you could have been with Truett, Hildon, and myself, the early part of the week. We had a prolonged and interesting session, and nothing was too sacred for the gamut of conversation. Truett also made a very definite impression on Hildon’s girl cousin. Young Lochinvar again come out of the west.

Later that summer, Vinson wrote to his friend in Cross Plains; this is one of only two (I think) letters from Vinson to Howard that survive (envelope at head of post). Again, the letter reveals a wide range of interests, moving from talk of friends and visiting to things he has read and movies he has seen (“Vic McLaglen was disappointing in Hangman’s House, but there was nothing much to the picture”). There is some talk of a Howard poem “on the treatment of whores” which Vinson proclaims “is a dandy.” He also makes it clear that “Hildon’s girl cousin” made an equal impression:

I fear that I am “putting up” with Collins just because I want to remain in the good graces of his cousin!

Late that summer Vinson had a poem accepted by New Masses (he’ll have more to say about this magazine later). The piece appeared in the October 1928 issue.

Meanwhile, one of Vinson’s articles was causing a stir in the pages of The Junto. Probably published in the August 1928 issue, now lost, “Hell Bent” received a longish comment which was published in the October 1928 issue. Under the header “One of the ‘Hell Bent’ Speaks,” we get a taste of what Vinson’s piece contained:

I do not think of anything but drinking (and, my God, what stuff one does get nowadays), and of petting, and of acquiring siphilis [sic.]. I know this is true, for Truett Vinson said so. He is right. That is what I do think of. But I am not a hypocrite about it. I enjoy such things, and I intend to do what I enjoy, for I will go to Hell, anyway.

Signed by “A.M.Y” (“A Modern Youth”), much discussion in the comments section followed, including this, by Vinson himself: “To whom it may concern: I prefer to deal with people who sign their names to their opinions. Will a.m.y. reveal himself or herself? T.V.”

Robert E. Howard mentions the “A.M.Y. business” in a circa October 1928 letter to Clyde Smith:

The reason I’m sending The Junto to you instead of Truett, I want you as a damned personal damned favor to me, see, to put as a comment a slam on this A.M.Y. business about Hell Bent or else a boost for Truett’s article.

Now, I’m full of Virginia Dare, but I know what I’m talking about, see. We three birds are the holy and most revered Original Three and we must stand up for each other.

I have a hunch this A.M.Y. business is about fourteen and smokes corn husk cigarettes out behind the stable and thinks he’s on the high road to Hell.

That November, Vinson spent some time with various friends, in Waco and in Cross Plains.

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

In the same letter quoted above, Howard mentions that “Booth [Mooney] wants some autobiographies,” and the December 1928 issue contains Vinson’s “The Autobiography of a Bookkeeper”:

Name—Truett Vinson. (Author of “Hell Bent!”, etc. etc.)
Born—September 26, 1905.
Died—Not yet.
Occupation—Bookkeeper—because of the “bread and cheese” I consume, which gives me strength to keep more books, that I may purchase more “bread and cheese,” which enables me—ah, ad infinitum!
Nationality—Irish, Welsh, German.
Religion—Baptist—because of heredity and environment, but I am outgrowing it. Really, I believe in the Golden Rule practiced in regard to sociology, economics, and morals. And I am NOT an atheist.
Politics—Socialist.
Clubs and Societies—Book-of-the-Month Club, Fellowship of Reconciliation, National Council for Prevention of War, Debs’ Memorial Radio Fund, League to Abolish Capital Punishment, Upton Sinclair Loan Fund, National Association Opposed to Blue Laws, Workers’ International Relief.
Reading—From Upton Sinclair, Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells to A. Conan Doyle.
Habits—Smoking, drinking.
Weaknesses—Women, Football, and Sherlock Holmes.
Sex Experience—Been kissed by at least three girls! “I’m a lady, by God!”

This issues also contains “The Galveston Affair,” by Bob Howard, which briefly describes the pair’s experience at Galveston’s International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue (mentioned in Part 3). After being trampled on by the crowd, Howard relates the following:

Truett swore with an energy that I could not muster on account of the heat. We glared at each other without optimism. We sat—and sat—and sat. Had we been merely waiting for some national hero to appear, we would have given it up and started a general slaughter as a diversion.

But we were there to see legs, and legs we were going to see if we sat there till Hell froze over and the Devil took sleigh rides on the ice.

In an article probably intended for The Junto, Clyde Smith’s “Gods in Arcady” (published in “So Far the Poet”), Smith describes a trip to his uncle’s ranch on the outskirts of Brownwood. Smith, Howard, and Vinson are present, and Clyde provides a few details that help flesh out Truett Vinson. When they arrive at the ranch, it is Truett who “lights the lamp”; the next morning, “[a] fire roars in the kitchen stove, due to Truett’s efforts”; and after taking a swim, Clyde hands Vinson his pants and he “turns around to put them on.”

Besides the above, the trio drink water from the cistern “as horses drink: with relish and noise”; they “go for a ramble in the woods”; and as they settle down for the night, “the conversation shifts to women.” Later, Truett reads to them from The Road to Buenos Aires. Written by French writer and investigative journalist Albert Londres and published in multiple languages in 1927, the book reports on the trafficking of French and Polish women to Buenos Aires, bound for prostitution. It is a vivid account of the trafficking, part factual reporting and part creative writing.

1928 ended with a visit from Harold Preece. Vinson sent him a post card (below) on December 27, saying “Come as soon as you can. We are expecting you. Advise us when you will arrive and someone will meet you.” In correspondence (and The Junto), these visits became known as “reunions” and were often threatened but rarely occurred.

Keeping in mind that Truett had a poem published in New Masses back in October 1928, his comments in the The Junto for January 1929 are interesting:

BOOKS AND THINGS
By Truett Vinson

They tell you poetry will not sell on the book markets, but Stephen Vincent Benet’s latest narrative poem, “John Brown’s Body”, contained in a large book of 377 pages, has been selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club as a first selection, and this assures a sale of practically 75,000 copies. Of course, the selection of this book by the judges of the Book-of-the-Month Club does not mean that the book is necessarily worthy of the perusal of 75,000 readers, but I think that they have not gone far wrong this time. The poem is something of an epic, covering the whole Civil War with one sweep. The critics contend that it is crude in places, and no doubt they are right, but as a whole the poem is virile and moving and stirring. It seems to me that the prelude is almost worth the rest of the book.

Behold! A magazine, supposed to be somewhat “respectable”, hints that Mayor Jimmie Walker of New York City is not exactly the executive and the darling that he is “cracked up” to be by our numerous popular newspapers and magazines. I quote from “The Film Spectator”, edited by one Welford Beaton, Hollywood, California, the issue of August 18th: “Everyone, so it seems, seems to agree that New York is the greatest ‘boob’ town on earth. Close contact with Jimmie Walker, whom it selected as its mayor, is the strongest proof that has yet been advanced in support of the charge.”

The new “New Masses” under the editorship of Michael Gold is a haven for those writers (and readers!) who are not smart (sic!) enough and cultured enough to find a place in the pages of our commercially dictated magazines. If you want to get to the real depth and truth of America, I advise you to regularly read “New Masses”. What a relief to pick up so virile and vital a magazine after turning the advertising pages of “Liberty” with its ancient caption at the head of the editorial page, that “patriotic” and imperialistic utterance of Stephen F. Decatur.

The same Michael Gold, editor of “New Masses”, finds himself as a character in Upton Sinclair’s new book, “Boston”. With nothing added to him and nothing subtracted from him. Just plain Michael Gold, in his younger days, of course. “Boston” was published last month, a mammoth two-volume book selling for five dollars. Sinclair tells the inside story of the Sacco-Vanzetti case and other “things” about Boston and America in general. I predict that it will make more firm and more certain his place which he now holds in American literature: A great writer, and one of the major prophets of America.

From the Cross Plains Review for January 25, 1929.

The April 24, 1929 Brownwood Bulletin has “Truett Vinson has returned from San Antonio, where he spent the week-end.” A few weeks later, the Cross Plains Review for May 10, 1929 tells us that “Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson of Brownwood spent week end with Robert Howard.”

Booth Mooney was the editor of The Junto until April or May of 1929, but after January 1929, none of his issues survive. Harold Preece’s sister, Lenore, revived the travelogue in June. The second of her issues, July 1929, has Vinson’s “An Open Letter to Texas’ Governor”:

1409 Second Street,
Brownwood, Texas.
June 9th, 1929.

Hon. Dan Moody,
Governor of Texas,
Austin, Texas.

My Dear Sir:

Aren’t you consulting only a small minority of Texas people when you take such a method of eradicating the dreaded “prize fight” from this state? Aren’t you consulting only those good brethren who exclaim loudly against Sunday movies, but whose children never enter church doors, instead parking their drunken cars on dark roadways?

You state that by encouraging prize fights we may bring a big championship bout to Texas, and that would be highly undesirable. But would it? The state needs something to make it alive! It is deader than Nevada!

As time passes, we have more censorships thrust upon us. In a few more years we’ll merely be automatons rushing to and from daily toil—nothing more. Now we can’t indulge in the sight of two physical giants battering each other, because it would bring an undesirable element among our already rotting youth. Instead I suppose we shall only be greeted by such manly contests as the recently invented yo-yo contest, in which the contestant sees how long he can dangle a silly little toy on a string, the meanwhile he is being fed milk through a straw!

Yours very sincerely,

Truett Vinson

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

From the Cross Plains Review for July 12, 1929.

The August 1929 Junto has Vinson’s “Movie Notes”:

The Vitaphone and Movietone may mark the era of a greater motion picture, but if sound pictures are to appease the appetites of people above the type of comic section habitues, the producers must change their ideas. Now they are calling in the theme song boys, those song and dance lads with the mentalities of George Jessels and Al Jolson, while the great artists of the screen, Emil Jannings and Charles Chaplin, are idle. Emil cannot speak English and Charlie doesn’t like sound pictures. He is supposed to be making a picture now, the story of a tramp’s love for a beautiful and blind flower girl, but it seems that he is hesitating because of the public’s now clamorous demand for sound, and he is essentially a pantomimic artist. I say, a picture with either Emil Jannings or Charlie Chaplin is worth all the stuff they are giving us now in sound!

Another thing: With sound pictures at their present status, the moving picture will be only a medium for American stories of the present time. What sense would there be in a magnificent costume picture of another country, and American slang phrases hopping all over the place? And of course they won’t give us pictures depicting people in other countries in their true linguistic settings because the American public pays at the box office, and they won’t pay for such pictures.

I am not ordinarily an awe-struck movie fan, and I hasten to assure you that I don’t indulge in movie “crushes,” but I have a weakness for Nancy Carroll [below], first, (really!) because of her very fine and versatile histrionic ability and then because she is red-headed and Irish and has pretty legs. So I sat down and wrote her what I considered a really sensible note, referring only to the first reason for my admiring her, and incidentally offering the suggestion that in the future she have them place the microphone so her voice will properly record all she is singing or saying. (Perhaps you have noticed this fault in Abie’s Irish Rose and The Shopworn Angel?) My awaited reply to this letter consists of a bunch of words printed on a government post card, thus:

“Dear Friend:

I have your note and want to thank you very much for taking so much interest in me and my screen work.

I wish I could send you free of charge the photograph you desire, but because so many thousands of requests have been coming in of late, I have found it compulsory to ask my friends to help defray the actual expense of the photographs desired. If you care to do this, I will be indeed happy to send you any of the following variety of photos for the sum mentioned:” (Then she goes on with her price list, consisting of several sizes of her pictures.)

Oh! shades of Erin Isle and Terrence McSweeney! I didn’t want one of her pictures! My red-headed Irish movie star must have gotten fleas from Sandy MacDuff!

At the end of August, Truett took a trip to Colorado. More to come . . .

Nancy Carrol

The Vinson Papers — Part 3

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

Part 1

Part 2

There’s not much on the record for Truett at the close of 1925. He is only mentioned a couple of times in Howard’s letters, and those in passing. Vinson, Smith, Howard, and Klatt did have a wild party at Clyde’s uncle’s ranch that Christmas, the details of that drunken spree are recounted in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, and here is a poem that Klatt sent to Smith in January:

Stone Ranch

We arrived in the night of a new day
under a high leering green moon
With a new norther and Truett
drunk on three bottles of beer.
We found well-under-porch-roof
nondescript house, stove table, chairs.
Bed and a cot, lamp and chaps, ax and a bottle
of blackleg medicine setting on a two cent stamp.
Talking, laughing, roaring. Clyde and Bob sick on Jake.
Truett and Clyde slept and I and Bob sat at the stove
and talked till the vague cutting cold sunless dawn.

There’s also not much for the early part of 1926. It’s clear from Howard’s surviving correspondence that visits were made and letters were written, but other than Post Oaks, there’s no real mention of Truett in other documents until the summer; he was a working man, after all.

According to the Brownwood Bulletin for July 6, 1926, Vinson and his sister Blanche visited one of their siblings at Big Lake, Mrs. M. A. Wilson, the former Grady Vinson. Later that summer, Truett took a vacation in New Orleans, as reported in the August 24 edition of the Bulletin. At the end of the summer, Lena Vinson’s fiancé died, and Truett went to Arlington for the funeral (all of the above articles are reprinted in School Days in the Post Oaks).

School started, and both Clyde and Bob were attending classes through the rest of 1926 and the first half of 1927, but in early May 1927, Truett and Bob took a train ride to Galveston to see the “Bathing Girls Review” (according to Dark Valley Destiny). Then, after Howard’s August 3 graduation, the guys took another train ride, this time to San Antonio:

Brownwood Bulletin for August 16, 1927

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

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

In his recollection of their first meeting, from “The Last Celt,” Preece sets the date in July, but it seems unlikely that Howard would have gone to Austin twice in this short period, not to mention Galveston and San Antonio, never mind Mexico as Preece remembers below:

Our first session was held in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel at Austin, my home town. Those two were returning home from a vacation, I believe, in Mexico. July should have been the month, 1927 was the year. I remember that the evening was the first one set for the execution of those poor heretics, Sacco and Vanzetti, though Massachusetts would extend a few weeks more of its granite-ribbed clemency before burning its latest witches.

Bob took over the three-way conversation as I recall, but by some easy, natural right of knowledge. Truett, I suppose, was used to being his willing auditor. I found my-self eagerly listening.

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

This meeting was one of the important steps on the way to The Junto, which probably began with the April 1928 issue, mailed out in March. Between the August 1927 meeting and the April 1928 “publication” of the first Junto, Preece describes what happened, again from “The Last Celt”:

Friendships kept converging and, through letters, kept broadening. Bob began writing also to my sister, Lenore, who was winning poetry prizes at the University of Texas, and to Booth Mooney, a Lone Scout and son of an old grassroots Baptist rebel in that Bible-tamed cowtown of Decatur. In Dallas, Maxine Ervin and her sister, Lesta, were teaching me bridge, a game that I soon forgot and never relearned after the girls vanished from my world. A scattered little circle of mavericks began developing; Bob, the one professional among us, was its star.

Out of this mix of friends, which also included Herbert Klatt, The Junto was born. Glenn Lord described the venture as follows:

The little monthly travelogue consisted of one typewritten copy per issue, distributed from member to member on its mailing list, which probably never exceeded twenty persons at one time.

After reading an issue, members wrote their comments beneath their names on the mailing list, and then sent the issue on to the next person on the list. When the issue had made the rounds, it was sent back to the editor, who then typed up the best of the comments and included them in the next issue, under the heading “The Commentary.”

That first issue of The Junto had probably just been returned to Booth Mooney when one of its members sickened to die. Herbert Klatt was institutionalized in late April and died on May 10, 1928. The cause of death is listed as “pernicious anemia.”

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

Klatt’s death moved members of the mailing list to action, spearheaded by Clyde Smith and Truett Vinson, who sent the following to Clyde on May 16:

Mooney proposes that we issue a press printed edition of his Junto in honor of Klatt, the edition to be solely devoted to appreciatory articles about Klatt by Bob, you, Mooney, Preece, myself, etc. Also I suggested that we include some of his own writings, excerpts from his letters, etc.

So get in touch with Mooney, if you favor such a scheme, and send him an article anyway, because if the press printed edition is not issued, his regular typewritten travelogue will be issued as a memorial number. And will you contribute a dollar or two in order to put out the press printed edition?

On May 21, Vinson sent out a circular letter to as many friends as he thought would be interested. The letter contains a note about Klatt’s funeral, and the following:

Booth Mooney says that we can print a 6 x 9 press printed paper (the 6 x 9 press printed sheet holding as much as a 8 x 11 typewritten sheet) for the nominal cost of $1.00 per page per one hundred copies. That would certainly be cheap, and I think we should issue possibly a six or eight page paper in honor of Herbert. Clyde Smith suggests for us to wait and issue a pamphlet containing our appreciations, also (mainly) an anthology of Herbert’s writings, or perhaps a real cloth bound book instead of a paper bound pamphlet. Let us have your suggestions at once. Will you be willing to contribute to either or both? We might issue a paper now, containing our appreciatory articles, and then issue the anthology later. But let us know what you think!

Booth Mooney received the above letter and wrote the following to Clyde:

The July issue of THE JUNTO will be the Klatt Memorial Edition. It will be typed as are regular issues, but it will contain only material by and regarding Klatt. Will you send something for that issue? It would be appreciated, I assure you.

By May 25, Vinson had more details:

Bob Howard, Clyde Smith, Hildon V. Collins, and I believe Harold Preece, and I are all in favor of letting the memorial number of THE JUNTO slide by—that is the press printed issue. As Collins expresses it, it will be false economy to spend money on such an issue, and then turn around to raise money for a book containing our appreciations of Herbert Klatt, also his anthology. If Booth Mooney feels like issuing his JUNTO as a memorial number, sending it out just as he has been doing, then we want to help him, but we propose that we all save our money and issue a regular book later on, to contain our appreciations, also extracts from Herbert’s letters – in fact these extracts to make up the large part of the book. These letters, we feel, contain things which should be preserved for other people – and then, we should erect some kind of a memorial in Herbert’s honor, and what better could we do than edit and publish his thoughts on various subjects? It would make a very readable and instructive and worth while book!

He goes on to outline costs and discuss strategies, proposing a Herbert Klatt Memorial Fund to raise money for the venture. In a June 5 bulletin, he elaborates:

I suggest that we arrange our campaign to secure money for this undertaking to cover a period of one or two years. We then would accept pledges from everybody concerned, the pledges to be paid within this period of time. In that time we can be arranging material for the book, and not be so rushed but that we can make it just what it ought to be. If it costs $200.00 to publish this book, we should have forty people contributing $5.00 each, or more people contributing less money. But each person should not be asked for more than $5.00. What do you think? But then, where are the forty people? This circular letter is going to only about seven or eight. You must help me get in touch with the other thirty-two people! Send me their names and talk this thing up!

What happened from here is anyone’s guess. There is no mention of Klatt or the memorial fund in Harold Preece’s first letter to Clyde Smith, dated July 26, 1928, nor in any of the surviving correspondence between any members of the Junto group (at least the letters I’ve seen). In Glenn Lord’s “The Junto: Being a Brief Look at the Amateur Press Association Robert E. Howard Partook In as a Youth,” he writes the following: “Reportedly the July 1928 issue was the Herbert Klatt memorial issue.” If the issue actually was sent out, it may have cooled interest in the book publication mentioned in Vinson’s letters, but we’ll probably never know for sure. This appears to have been one of the issues that were destroyed in a fire at Mooney’s parents’ home.

While Klatt had gone west, the Junto lived on. More on that next time . . .

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

Herbert Klatt on the farm in Aleman, circa 1926.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

[By Rob Roehm. Originally published in Onion Tops #62, Feb. 2015. A revised version was posted on March 17, 2015, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version slightly updated.]

Mary Ervin, aka “Maxine,” the youngest of her Ervin clan, was born at Big Spring, Texas, on October 12, 1906, to William Vinson Ervin, Sr. (Hester Howard’s brother) and Ida Ezzell Ervin (the sister of Hester Howard’s former heart-throb, Frank Ezzell). In January 1908, the Ervin family played host to William’s sister, Hester, her husband, Dr. I. M. Howard, and their baby boy, Robert. The Howards stayed a few weeks “due to illness” and then made their way to Seminole, up in Gaines County.

The 1910 US Census for Howard County, Texas, lists W. V. Ervin, age 48, as “Editor” for a “Paper” in Big Spring, with wife, Ida, 38; two sons, Vinson, 15, and Jessie, 13; and two daughters, Lesta, 8, and Maxine, 3. By the time of the 1920 Census, Jessie had flown the coop, W. V. was upgraded to “Publisher,” and everyone was 10 years older.

In 1921, Maxine participated in at least two declamation contests for the Big Spring high school, winning first place at one of them. She was on the Seventh Grade Exercises program with a “Reading” (sister Lesta performed a piano solo).

There is little evidence of the Ervins in the Big Spring High School yearbooks, the El Rodeo: only the senior photo of Lesta from 1919 and the “Irven” in the “Public Speaking Club” from 1922 that heads this post. My guess is that’s Maxine. She bears a striking resemblance to her Aunt Hester, if you ask me.

In the early 1920s, W. V. Ervin appears to have been starting newspapers in several small Texas towns, including Gail, Westbrook, and Putnam, all practically ghost towns today (yes, I’ve been to all of them). This caused him to be away from the family much of the time, but items in the newspapers show that he visited home frequently, and that his daughters often returned the favor—when they had a break from school. While working on the paper at Putnam, in Callahan County, the Ervins visited the Howards in Cross Plains:

The Misses Maxine and Lesta Erving [sic.], of Big Springs [sic.] were visiting their uncle, Dr. Howard and family, last week. They formerly were in the newspaper business, and for a time the two girls published a paper at Putnam, doing all the work themselves. They stated that they thought Cross Plains was a splendid town, and their visit here was a pleasant one.

Cross Plains Review – Oct. 5, 1923

In a letter dated the same day as the newspaper, Robert E. Howard told Tevis Clyde Smith a little more about the visit: “I’ve had two cousins visiting me, whom I hadn’t seen for fifteen years. They’d read the International Adventure Library and from what they said, Dracula is a hum-dinger. I’m going to order the set right away.”

In 1924, Maxine ran an ad in the Big Spring paper: “I am prepared to take a few pupils in expression. Maxine Ervin.” Also in 1924, sister Lesta moved to the big city and landed a job with the Dallas News; by 1927, Maxine had joined her as both appear in that year’s Dallas City Directory at 2515 Maple Avenue. Early in 1927, Lesta switched from the newspaper game to Etna Insurance. In November, their father William died.

In his essay, “The Last Celt,” Harold Preece reports on Maxine’s activities at the time: “During 1927, while I was enrolled at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, I was introduced by a fellow student to a visiting Dallas girl named Maxine Ervin. Maxine was employed as a clerk by a Dallas newspaper, though she shared my then very incipient literary ambitions. She was a remarkably intelligent woman, and a friendship of some years would follow.”

In another of Preece’s essays, “Robert’s Lady Cousin,” he describes Maxine as handsome and conservative, and says that she once described her cousin Robert as “a Tristan” from Celtic legendry. That essay also describes a 1927 Lone Scout convention that gave rise to a group called The Junto. Maxine was responsible for a photo of those Lone Scouts that appeared in the paper (an alternate shot appears above), was mentioned in the 1927 Texicoma Yearbook (a copy is here), and ended up being a member of The Junto, as well, but not many of her contributions have surfaced.

In 1928, Maxine is listed as a “journalist” with her sister at 4933 Victor Street in the city directory, but she wasn’t in Dallas for the whole year; on September 21, 1928, the Big Spring Herald reported the following: “Miss Maxine Ervin arrived from Dallas to accept a position with the West Texan, the new weekly publication, which is to make its advent here in the near future.” By 1929, Maxine appears to have moved back to Dallas. Both she and Lesta are at 2505 Maple in the city directory. Maxine again listed as “journalist.”

In March 1928, The Junto began its circulation. The first contribution by Maxine that survives is a comment on a previous issue that appeared in the October 1928 mailing:

Good Lord! What are we, cut throats? Have we lost sight of our treasured philosophy, our staunch independence, etc., etc? Did somebody accidentally drop a bomb that wasn’t a dud? I feel like I’d just been in a volcano or something after all this. The Junto is very good. Who is A.M.Y.? No fair hiding behind an alias. Anyway, what he or she said about Truett isn’t quite fair. As for “Our Beloved Barbarian” he can take care of himself.

Her only contribution to the December 1928 issue is this short comment about the November issue: “Not as good as usual.”

Around this time, Junto editor Booth Mooney was asking for biographies of the members. Robert E. Howard was less than enthusiastic about this, telling Clyde Smith in a letter that “I’ve decided I don’t care to have mine appear in the Junto. There are several reasons, the main one being that as several of my cousins receive it, my mother would be pretty near bound to hear about it and there are a good many things in my life that I don’t want her to know about.”

By July 1929, Maxine was back in Big Spring again; on The Junto’s mailing list for that month, Maxine had crossed out the Maple Avenue address and written “Box 1224, Big Spring, Texas.” She also had this comment about the mailing: “The best issue we have had in a long time, and it still has plenty of room for improvement.”

The August 1929 Junto contains a rather sexist piece on women by Harold Preece. Maxine wrote the following on the mailing list: “This issue is very good. I agree with Schultze that Harold is all off about women. Fact is, all men are.” She followed this short comment up with a longer one in the September mailing:

More about Mr. Preece
by Maxine Ervin

I may be putting my foot into it, but I feel like Harold has rather flung a challenge at some of “us girls” and that it should be taken up.

Don’t misunderstand me—I’m not defending womanhood against any mere male’s implications, accusations, attacks, satires, or what not for the simple reason that it isn’t necessary and it isn’t needed. Woman stands alone. She doesn’t give two “whoops and a holler” (quoting hill slang) what the world thinks of her; not if she is all genuine woman, she doesn’t; she may pretend she does, but deep down in her heart, she knows it isn’t so, and that she is going to go her own sweet way and enjoy herself.

The trouble is that women are just now beginning to find themselves. They have been so hampered and fettered by these generations past of strong men that they haven’t had the time nor the opportunity to find out what they really and truly do want. They are just now beginning to understand what life is all about and the vital part that they can play in it. They are learning that they have rights and the power to assert those same rights.

Pistols and horse whips have played a large part in woman’s emancipation, for she has learned that she, too, can meet brute force with brute force when it becomes necessary. If more women would shoot and horse-whip men who insult them and try this cave-man stuff, there’d be less of it, believe it or not.

The fact of the business is that men don’t like to see their chattels, toys, buffoons, slaves and what-not getting on an equal footing with them, economically, socially, or otherwise. It doesn’t suit his male desire for supremacy, for bullying, and brow-beating. He is denied having a meek, helpless something on which to vent the rage and other emotions that he is not man enough to control.

Oh, be fair. I think that all of this double-standard business is the most asinine, insane, and idiotic rot that ever was. I also think the same thing about this constant war of the sexes. We are human; we have human desires, aspirations, and hopes; we have our peculiarities, but first, last, and all the time we are HUMAN. Why can’t we behave as such and live and let live? Of course, there are some men who are unspeakable and some women who are unspeakable, but there are so many, many times their number who are real that I think it is silly to think of the few misfits and rotters when there are so many wonderful ones to think about.

Perhaps women haven’t yet become artists and musicians to rank with their brothers, but give them time. There never has been anything yet that women haven’t been able to attain once they set themselves to it. Anything within reason and that can be accomplished without a great deal of force as wars, for instance.

This is the way I feel about the subject. But I agree with Schultze that Harold should study his subject more. I am inclined to think that for some reason Harold is prejudiced and has not yet been able to re-assume an open minded attitude on the subject. Yet he swears he’s a genuine socialist!

This was the last of Maxine’s contributions to The Junto, as far as we know. The mailing list for the February 1930 issue has her address as “Maxine Ervin, c/o Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont.” The US Census for that year has her there with her sister Lesta B., lodgers in the hotel of William Martin; Maxine’s occupation is listed as “newspaper work.”

By 1934 she’d moved to Longview, where she appears in the city directory with her mother and brother, William Vinson, Jr. In 1935 she had a short story, “They Die by Night,” published in Murder Mysteries. She appears to have spent some time writing radio scripts in Texas and California after this. In 1937, her first novel appeared, Death in the Yew Alley. I found a copy of this and can’t recommend it, nor its digest release, retitled If I Die, It’s Murder (1945). An October 30, 1938 article in the Wichita Daily Times (click here) has Maxine living in Wichita Falls, but the 1940 Census has her back in Longview, working as a reporter, with two years of college under her belt. Her mother Ida died in November of that year; the obituary reports Maxine’s address as Houston. On August 14, 1945, Maxine was the “informant” on sister Lesta’s death certificate. Her residence is reported as Fort Worth, profession is “writer.”

On July 27, 1948, the Breckenridge American had this: “Mary Ervin has come up from Mineral Wells to help out with society a while, telephone her your news.” Two days later, they ran a follow up:

Miss Mary Ervin has come as a relief worker on society to the Breckenridge American. She is away from California about three years. We asked today to give us her first impression of Breckenridge. She wrote:

“A gradual descent extending over more than three years has taken me from San Francisco’s forty-five degree hills to Mineral Wells’ not-so-steep hills, to the smooth, level prairie that is Breckenridge. My notion was Breckenridge leaned more to hills and woodlands than to prairie, so I had a surprise. It is all one piece of that long West Texas stretch which reaches from Fort Worth to El Paso. Breckenridge is a nice place to be in and part of, even if it hasn’t an up and down side to it.”

This didn’t last long though. The August 10 issue has this: “Miss Mary Ervin, who has been helping out in American office, in hospital in Mineral Wells—Society news will be printed as sent in until successor arrives.”

The early 1950s has Mary working the Society column for the Liberty Vindicator, out of Liberty, Texas. An introductory piece, “Mary Ervin New Editor of Page,” appeared on August 30, 1951. Her pieces appeared until at least mid-1952.

On July 25, 1963, Mary “Maxine” Ervin died of heart failure at the Wichita Falls State Hospital. Her residence at the time was the Jerome Hotel in Mineral Wells. Her profession was recorded as “reporter.” She is buried in an unmarked grave at the Riverside Cemetery in Wichita Falls.

The empty space between the headstone on the right and the two headstones on the left is the unmarked grave of Mary “Maxine” Ervin.

The Practical Joke

1929-03-23 v1n45 p01

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

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

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

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

1929-03-09 v1n43 p08

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

1929-03-09 v1n43 p01

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

1929-03-16 v1n44 p04

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

1929-03-23 v1n45 p07

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Missing Mexico Trip

1928 06-00 REH to HPa 1-web

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted November 30, 2012 at rehtwogunraconteur.com. This version slightly expanded.]

One of the items found in the collection of Glenn Lord (1931-2011) was a postcard, seen above, from Robert E. Howard (who signed with his X-triple bar brand) to Harold Preece. In the picture, the last words above the doorway, partially obscured by the tree’s branches, are “Piedras Negras,” which is a Mexican town just across the river from Eagle Pass, Texas. This is a picture of the border customs house. The flip-side of the card is below.

1928 06-00 REH to HPa 2-web

With the stamp long gone, and with it some of the post mark, the date is not known. So, when was Robert E. Howard in Eagle Pass and/or Mexico? None of the standard biographical material mentions Mexico much. Howard’s 1934 trip with Truett Vinson—through New Mexico, El Paso, and over the river to Juarez—is about it. Howard’s July 5, 1934 letter to Robert Barlow explains that he has been on “a sojourn in the extreme western part of the State, and into New and Old Mexico.”

Howard also mentions Mexico in at least two letters from 1935: his March 6th letter to Emil Petaja (“As for Old Mexico, I’ve been across the Border a few times but haven’t spent enough time in the south to learn much of the language”); and a circa July letter to H. P. Lovecraft (Santa Fe, New Mexico, is “much like towns I have visited in Old Mexico, with the exception that it is much cleaner and neater”). The above quotes indicate that Howard had been to Mexico on more than one occasion. So what do his pre-1934 letters have to say?

Howard’s earliest trip to Mexico appears to have been in 1924 when the whole family visited the Rio Grande Valley, way down on the Texas-Mexico border. In an illustrated letter/poem from Weslaco dated September 7, 1924, Howard tells his friend Clyde Smith, “I went across the Rio Grande / And viewed the great Tequila land. / The Rio Grande I went across, / It cost just fifty centavos. / There is a bar on every street. / You get quite thirsty in the heat.” Their return was noted in the Cross Plains Review for September 19:

1924 09-19 CPR p05

Another reference to his being in Mexico comes from a January 1932 letter to Lovecraft: “I’m no gambler. I don’t like to risk money I worked hard to get. I was never a very welcome guest in the gambling houses of Mexico, for I was merely a looker-on.” Later that year, circa July 13, 1932, he tells Lovecraft, “My entrails have been insulted with so many damnable concoctions for so many years, that I fear I may have lost the ability to appreciate good liquor—though on my pilgrimages to Mexico I find that knack unimpaired so far.” And on November 2, “I’m in favor of the open saloon; and legalized prize-fights and horse-races, licensed gambling halls and licensed bawdy-houses. I wish I was in Mexico right now.” Howard’s late-December 1933 letter to August Derleth has more:

I’ve drunk only Prima, Budweiser, Pearl, Old Heidelberg, Schlitz, Rheingold, Savoy, Sterling, Blue Ribbon, Fox, Country Club, Atlas Special, Jax, and Superior. None of it was as good as the Sabinas I used to drink in Old Mexico. I understand that company is going to move their brewery to San Antonio, and I hope they do. That was mighty good stuff.

Shortly after his trip with Vinson, circa July 1934, Howard tells Lovecraft that Juarez “was just as dirty and lousy as any border town I ever saw—more so than Piedras Negras, for instance, and swarming with the usual pimps and touts. We drove around awhile, made a brief exploration of what is politely known as ‘the red light district,’ and of course imbibed some.” Around the same time, Howard told Carl Jacobi: “I prefer Piedras Negras, which lies across the river from Eagle Pass, and is somewhat cleaner and more progressive. The main charm about those Mexican towns to most people is, of course, the liquor, and El Paso is now just as wide open as anything south of the Rio Grande.” These are not Howard’s first mentions of Piedras Negras.

His March 2, 1932 letter to Lovecraft has the following: “I don’t know whether they’ve run the Chinese out of Piedras Negras or not. When I was there a few years ago—it’s the town opposite Eagle Pass, Texas—it was largely dominated by Chinese. They owned small irrigated farms along the river, and ran most of the best cabarets and saloons in the town.” And there’s one more mention, but we’ll look at that one a bit later.

1928 06-04 back-web

All of the above indicates that Robert E. Howard was in Piedras Negras at least, as he told Lovecraft, “a few years” before 1932. We need a little more help to pin this down. Luckily, Harold Preece moved around quite a bit in the late 1920s due to his work on the city directory crew. In January 1928, Howard told Tevis Clyde Smith to write to Preece at “905 Main Street, Dallas.” In February, we learn that Preece is “now in Wichita Falls.” A postcard (above) postmarked June 4, 1928 is addressed to Preece at the same Fort Worth address as the Piedras Negras postcard that heads this post. Preece’s July 26, 1928 letter to Clyde Smith is addressed from “202 Provident Bldg. / Waco, Texas,” and mentions a prize fight Preece and Howard “attended together in Ft. Worth.” In October, Preece was back home in Austin. All of this suggests that Preece was living in Fort Worth for a relatively short time in June and possibly July 1928. None of his other surviving letters, nor those of his sister Lenore, nor the surviving envelopes (the ones I’ve seen, anyway) or letters from Robert Howard—none of these suggest another time that Preece was in Fort Worth “a few years” before 1932; however, 1929 is pretty sketchy, with big holes in all of the correspondence, but the Junto mailing list for July and August don’t have him anywhere near Fort Worth, either. So, with 1929 a remote possibility, given all of the above, I date the Piedras Negras postcard to circa June 1928. And that unlocks another little mystery.

In volume 3 of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard is an undated letter to Tevis Clyde Smith that begins, “Not even a movie in this god forsaken town.” That letter has the final reference to Piedras Negras that I mentioned above:

I didn’t see such a hell of a lot of Eagle Pass but I saw Piedras Negras—and the hottest girl I’ve seen in many a day—a skirt in a Mexican whore house away out of the polite section. Also I learned several new vulgarities in Spanish. Some nice looking strumpets in what they name The Reservation across the border and most of them brazen as hell—five dollars [which is 67.64 in 2012 dollars].

Looks like circa June 1928 will work for this one, too. I love it when things come together.

Footnotes #1

Beginning a series of footnotes for Robert E. Howard’s letters. Most are far too obscure for publication.

1930 03-27 HaroldPreecefrom Lenore scrapbook-crop-sm

Preece’s Nose

Toward the end of 1928, Harold Preece, one of Robert E. Howard’s correspondents, was complaining about a nose problem. In his ca. December 1928 letter, Howard responded:

Hate to hear about your nose. What is that—sinus trouble, or septum or what? It must be Hell. Be careful about it.

Little details like this stick in my brain for some reason so, when I stumbled on the following passage from “The Spirit of Old” by Harold Preece, I immediately made the connection:

Within a month [of meeting Hildon V. Collins, a member of The Junto, in Waco] necessity forced me to undergo an operation upon my nose. Hildon went with me to the doctor’s office on the day of the operation. He conducted me back to the hotel and sat up all night with me. In a few days I was able to go to my home in Austin and recuperate. Hildon assisted me in getting my baggage to the station, seeing also that I was comfortably seated on the train. All this kindness to a youth he had known a short time [. . .]”

So the timeline for Preece’s nose trouble goes like this:

On July 13, 1928, Robert E. Howard and Harold Preece attended a prize fight together in Fort Worth, Texas (see “Dula Due to Be Champion” in Collected Letters vol. 1). That August, Howard wrote to Preece in Waco: “Glad you enjoyed our reunion at Fort Worth. I sure as Hell did. Yes, I’d have liked to have been with Truett, Hildon and yourself at Waco.”

1928 12 Lone Indian 00

“The Spirit of Old” appears in the December 1928 issue of The Lone Indian, a “tribe paper” put out by a member of the Lone Scouts of America, an organization to which both Preece and Collins belonged (Clyde Smith, Truett Vinson, and possibly Robert Howard as well). In the article, Preece explains when he first met Collins:

Two months previous to the time of this writing, I came to Waco, Texas, to fill an assignment made by the concern by which I am employed [the city directory crew]. Shortly after arriving, I became acquainted with Hildon V. Collins, LSB, who joined the LSA in 1926. We became quite intimate friends.

If tribe papers came out the month before the date on their covers, we can assume that the “time of this writing” is sometime in October or November, which places the time that Preece first met Collins around August. But in a letter from Waco, Texas, dated Thursday, July 26, 1928, Preece told Tevis Clyde Smith: “I wish you could have been with Truett, Hildon, and myself, the early part of the week. We had a prolonged and interesting session, and nothing was too sacred for the gamut of conversation.” That would place the meeting early in the week of July 23, 1928.

So, putting it all together, Preece and Howard attend a boxing match in July. A week and a half later, Preece meets Hildon V. Collins for the first time, somewhere around July 23. “Within a month,” Preece has an operation on his nose with Collins taking him to the doctor’s office and then seeing him to the train station to recuperate in Austin, this would be in late August or September. And we can do a bit better than that.

As luck would have it, Preece was a stickler for starting his letters with dates and places. His September 15 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith is from Waco. The September 30 letter is from Capital Station in Austin and begins, “Back home again. It is my intention to attend the State University for the spring term. I think that I can stand Austin for the next nine months, provided I am going to school.” So I’m betting that the operation happened between September 15 and 30.

All of which would end up like this in a footnote:

Hate to hear about your nose. 1

1 Preece had an operation on his nose at Waco in September.

And people say I’m obsessed.

1928 12 Lone Indian p29 Preece