The Kline Connection

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[by Rob Roehm. Originally published May 1, 2011, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version lightly edited.]

Born in Chicago on July 1, 1891, and author of at least thirteen novels (most appearing as serials in the pulps), not to mention all the short stories, articles, letters, and even poems, Otis Adelbert Kline is perhaps best-known to readers of the Two-Gun blog as the author of The Swordsmen of Mars, and as the one-time agent for Robert E. Howard. In the 1920s, Kline hobnobbed with Farnsworth Wright and E. Hoffmann Price at his Chicago home. A successful pulp writer himself, Kline started agenting for others in 1932 or 1933. At the suggestion of Price, himself a client of Kline’s, Robert E. Howard joined the stable of authors that Kline served.

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The earliest Kline-Howard connection that I’m aware of is Kline’s May 11, 1933 letter to Howard. In that missive, Kline mentions having at least four Howard stories already on hand: “The Yellow Cobra,” “The Turkish Menace,” “The Jade Monkey,” and “Cultured Cauliflowers.” Not only did Kline attempt to place Howard’s fiction in different markets, he offered tips and strategies to more effectively produce those stories.

According to the Kline Agency ledger, “Wild Water” was received on June 15, 1933. The very next day Kline returned it, saying that while it was loaded with “excellent local color, powerful characterizations and fast action,” he was afraid he couldn’t sell it “because the plot is not powerful enough to support a story of this length.” While I don’t agree with Kline’s assessment, he apparently knew what he was talking about at the time. Howard rewrote the story and sent it back that October. It was shopped around by V. I. Cooper, who sent it to Fiction House, Wild West Stories, and others, to no effect. The story remained unpublished long after Howard’s death.

And so it went; Kline continued to place, or not place, Howard’s work. In 1935, business must have been going well, as Kline enlisted the aid of Otto O. Binder. Binder went to New York late in 1935 to be closer to the publishing scene than Kline’s Chicago offices allowed. And he had some success, placing several of Howard’s “Spicy” stories with Trojan Publications, as well as other items, like “Black Wind Blowing” and “The Curly Wolf of Saw-Tooth.” After a rough start in New York, when things started picking up, Binder wrote the following to his brother Earl on June 7, 1936:

The business is beginning to pick up a bit at that, though. I wish all our authors were like Robert E. Howard. Since I’ve been here, I’ve sold $700 worth of his stuff, getting him into Argosy, and into Star Western, and Complete Stories S&S. He’s thirty years old and has sold 22 different magazines and over 125 stories altogether. I’ve seen his picture—he’s a rough and ready Texan and claims he wears no underwear because there’s no sense to it!

Howard’s suicide a few days later certainly negated that “wish.” Binder sent a postcard to Richard Frank, a friend in Pennsylvania, mentioning the suicide. Rich responded in a July 9, 1936 letter:

Give me more dope on the suicide of ROBERT E. HOWARD. Funny thing about my hearing of the tragedy. Your card arrived telling me of the suicide and while I was waiting at the post office I saw a magazine thrust into my box. I pulled it out and it was the July issue of WEIRD TALES with Howard’s latest story, “Red Nails,” featured on the cover. It gave me a peculiar feeling to hear of an author’s death and then, in the same mail, receive his latest tale.

And while there would be no new Howard items to show, Kline Associates got first crack at the fabled trunk, and Kline continued to represent Howard through his father, Doctor I. M. Howard. During this time, A Gent from Bear Creek was published, and the foundations for Skull-Face and Others were laid. This stormy relationship would last until the doctor’s death in November 1944, but that was not the end of Otis Kline Associates’ relationship with the works of Robert E. Howard.

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In his will, Doctor Howard left “all property, both real and personal” to his friend Doctor P. M. Kuykendall. This included the literary rights to Robert’s work. And, while the actual items—typescripts, clippings, letters, etc.—were shipped off to E. Hoffmann Price in California, Dr. Kuykendall received royalty checks from Kline. Business was slow.

Kline died in October 1946, but his agenting business lived on. His daughter, Ora Rossini (later Rozar), took over the practice for a year and a half, but when her husband was transferred to Texas, of all places, she “turned over everything to Oscar Friend, including material published and unpublished, records, files, etc.” Oscar Jerome Friend was a veteran writer himself, as well as editor of Thrilling Wonder Stories from 1941 to 1944. Upon purchasing Kline’s business, he set out to fatten it by contacting various authors, including Binder and British science fiction writer Eric Frank Russell, and asking them to let him represent them. The Howard items were probably not very high on his priority list. Things change.

In 1950, a small specialty publisher purchased the rights for Howard’s The Hour of the Dragon—Gnome Press. Conan the Conqueror, as the novel was re-titled, was the first in a series of books covering the Cimmerian’s exploits. From all accounts the series wasn’t exactly lucrative, but it did show some possibilities. Enter L. Sprague de Camp.

According to de Camp’s introduction to Gnome’s King Conan (1953), he had been acquainted with Oscar Friend and, when he learned from Donald Wollheim that Friend had “a whole pile of unpublished Howard manuscripts,” he rushed right over. This was November 30, 1951. Upon his arrival, he met Harold Preece, and then Friend “hauled out the carton of manuscripts—about twenty pounds of them.” Among the stash, three Conan tales were discovered, and “it was agreed that [de Camp] should rewrite these stories—not, however, to turn them into typical de Camp pieces, but to create as nearly as possible what Howard would have produced if in his later years he had undertaken to rewrite them himself with all the care he could manage.”

Meanwhile, Doctor Kuykendall had decided that he’d had enough of the literature business and made Friend an offer: “We would consider a sale price of three thousand dollars for all rights, and a complete release of any claim to future royalties that might accrue.” Friend responded on March 14, 1954, saying that the property wasn’t really worth that much, and offered $1,250, instead. The reasons for this reduction in price seem quite reasonable, for the time. There was, after all, no guarantee that the Conan name would take off.

Friend described his efforts to continue the Conan series, and the amount of work that would entail:

Now let us consider the future prospect of a continuation. In the first place, I have to guide, cajole, help plot, supervise, etc., the future books, and keep a firm rein and control—or the project would go completely haywire and finally bog down in complete ruin. There is one rather smart writer now who has been doing some work for us in rewriting several Howard stories, and he keeps pressing for a larger cut and keeps slipping in side remarks to the effect that if he wants to he can and will go ahead on his own and write about Conan as the author is dead, etc., etc. And I’ve warned him that I’ll sue the pants off him if he makes one silly move of this nature before the CONAN material runs out of copyright (56 years).

We all know how that worked out.

Sometime later, Kline’s daughter recalled that “Oscar moved to another place and I suspect disposed of practically all OAK material, records, and files.” This may be when the Howard items listed on the Kline lists disappeared. Items like “The Phantom Tarantula” and “Footprints of Fear,” which are listed on the list, but no copies have ever turned up.

Young GL

Friend enlisted the aid of his wife, Irene M. Ozment, as vice president, and his daughter, Kitty F. West, as early as 1955, with West acting as secretary for Kline Associates and sending letters to the above-mentioned Eric Frank Russell. Around this time, also, a young Howard fan named Glenn Lord secured the rights to Howard’s poems and published Always Comes Evening (1957) with Arkham House. Friend’s health began to fail in the early 1960s, and he died on January 19, 1963. His wife and daughter continued the agency through 1964. In the interim, Dr. Kuykendall had also died, leaving the rights to Robert Howard’s works to his wife and daughter. With the Kline agency closing up shop, the heirs were in need of a new agent.

In Costigan #7 (REHupa mailing #9, May 1974), Glenn Lord explains what happened next: “The Howard heirs asked Mrs. West to find another agent to handle the Howard material, and L. Sprague de Camp was asked, but turned it down due to his own writing. De Camp suggested that I might be a good possibility.”

The Kuykendalls apparently agreed and, in the winter 1965 issue of The Howard Collector, Lord made the announcement: “Otis Kline Associates, the agent for the Howard Estate, went out of business at the end of 1964. I have accepted the handling of the Howard material for the Estate.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

[Note: Most of the information used to write the above came from the forthcoming collection from the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, The Collected Letters of Doctor Isaac M. Howard. Ora Rozar’s information is from OAK Leaves #2, Winter 1970-71, edited by David Anthony Kraft. The letters to and from Otto Binder are unpublished; copies were provided by the Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A&M. Binder’s list of sales appeared in OAK Leaves #5, Fall 1971. Letters from Kline Associates to Erick Frank Russell are unpublished; they are housed at the University of Liverpool Special Collections and Archives.]

Footnotes #2

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Now the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, the old Baylor College for Women in Belton, Texas, ran an annual high school poetry contest starting in 1922. When they opened the contest up to boys in 1923, Robert E. Howard submitted “The Sea.” I wrote about this contest a few years ago in “The Poetry Contest.” For that article, I had to rely on community newspapers for the bulk of the information regarding the contest in which Howard won an Honorable Mention. Now I’ve found a better source.

In his June 22, 1923, letter to Clyde Smith, Howard doesn’t mention the Honorable Mention, but he does describe the fate of his poem:

I got a letter from the assistant editor of The Campus, S.M.U. He said he saw my poem “The Sea” in The Baylor United Statement [sic.] and he asked me to contribute to The Campus. I sent him a poem.

Moved to action by this reference, several years ago I spent an afternoon in front of the microfiche reader at Southern Methodist University in Dallas looking through old issues of their newspaper, The Campus. I didn’t find any Howard poems. I have also been on the lookout for issues of The Baylorian and The United Statements, especially the issue containing “The Sea,” which, as far as I know, no one has ever seen. If Howard hadn’t mentioned it to Smith, we wouldn’t know about that appearance. Not long after visiting SMU, I contacted the library at Mary Hardin-Baylor and learned that they did have some issues of those papers, but not the ones I was looking for. So, I put those papers on the back burner and moved on to the next thing.

Not long ago I reopened the investigation and discovered several digital copies of the college’s publications from the right time period, including the issue of The Baylorian that contains the rules for the 1923 poetry contest. At the bottom of that page, partially obscured by their “Courtesy of . . .” watermark, is the following publication information:

Announcement of the awards, together with the publication of the poem winning first place, will be made through the press of the state; and all poems winning prizes or honorable mention will be published in the May issue of the Baylorian.

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The May 1923 issue of The Baylorian is available, and it does contain a lot of poetry, but none of it is from the poetry contest. So, it seems that at some point it was decided to publish the poems in The United Statements, instead. News of the contest winners started appearing in state newspapers as early as May 9, 1923. Presumably, “The Sea” must have appeared in The United Statements around then. There are two 1923 issues available at the website, but neither the March 31st nor the May 19th edition has a poem by Robert E. Howard.

And the search continues.

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What’s in a Name?

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[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted October 25, 2007, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

The process by which Robert E. Howard named his settings and characters has been a topic of discussion since H. P. Lovecraft chided him for using thinly disguised historical names in his fantasies. L. Sprague de Camp disapproved of this practice as well and, in Dark Valley Destiny, added, “Because of his linguistic naiveté, or perhaps because he simply refused to take the time and trouble, [Howard] tends to give his characters names that are often unpleasing and confusingly similar.” Modern scholars give Howard a bit more credit, saying that he was purposeful in selecting vaguely historic names for the connotations they would convey. I’ll leave this discussion to the Big Brains, but I do have some fuel for the fire.

Back in “Curly Elkins of Bear-Tooth Creek” (The Cimmerian V3n4), I discussed the differences between “A Elkins Never Surrenders,” a Breckinridge Elkins tale, and its rewritten form, “A Elston to the Rescue” (aka “The Curly Wolf of Sawtooth,” Star Western, September 1936), starring one Bearfield Elston. The changes went beyond simple Elkins to Elston switches, affecting the characterization of the main character. A simple curiosity, or so I thought.

Recently, I had the opportunity to examine some early drafts of various Howard stories; one of them being “The Dead Remember” (Argosy, August 15, 1936). I received two different typescripts for the story: one was an early draft, the other, stamped “copy,” was almost identical to the published version. Amidst various punctuation changes and minor word alterations was an interesting name switch—Elkins to Elston.

Now, maybe I’m the only Howard-head who finds these little items interesting—probably not, but the discovery that “John Elkins,” the trail boss in the early draft of “The Dead Remember,” had been changed to “John Elston” in the later version was quite intriguing. Was Howard working on “A Elkins Never Surrenders” at the same time as “The Dead Remember”? Did he change “John Elkins” to “Elston” to avoid confusion? What? I guess we’ll never know.

Voodoo and Bat Wing

[by Rob Roehm. Originally posted March 4, 2007, at thecimmerian.com; this version lightly edited.]

I have definitely abandoned the detective field, where I never had any success anyway, and which represents a type of story I actively detest. I can scarcely endure to read one, much less write one.

— Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft: May 13, 1936

Many fans of Robert E. Howard’s work who wish to follow in his literary footsteps have taken to acquiring and reading the books that Howard once read. One of Howard’s favorite authors was Sax Rohmer. This master of the “Oriental Menace” story is best-known for his many tales of Fu-Manchu, the Asian mastermind bent on world domination. Howard had several of the Fu-Manchu books on his shelf; their influence is most clearly seen in Howard’s novella “Skull-Face.”

Besides the Fu-Manchu books, Howard also owned several other titles by Rohmer, including Bat Wing. This novel was first published in 1921 by Doubleday and was reprinted in 1925 and again in 1930. A Victorian murder-mystery, it tips its hat several times to the genre’s creator, Edgar Allan Poe, with the main character’s repeated references to Poe’s pioneering sleuth Auguste Dupin, as well as a character in the novel who resembles Poe himself. Despite Howard’s claim that “I actively detest” this type of story, there were plenty of works belonging to the genre on his shelf, including works by Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle. Indeed, despite its numerous Poe references, Bat Wing seems more derivative of Conan Doyle than Poe.

The story centers on Paul Harley, a connected Londoner with ties to Scotland Yard. With his faithful companion Mr. Knox, Harley travels to Cray’s Folly, a country estate, at the request of Colonel Menendez, who has spent considerable time in Voodoo-haunted Cuba. Harley has been summoned to prevent the murder of Menendez himself, which will, of course, take place on the night of the next full moon. Menendez tells Harley of the Obeah curse laid upon him, in the form of a bat wing nailed to his door. I don’t want to ruin it for future readers, but rest assured, the novel is full of dead-end leads, false assumptions, and characters which have become stereotypical of the genre: a bumbling police detective, a pipe-smoking amateur, and the clueless side-kick.

The most striking similarities between Bat Wing and Howard’s work come with the short story “The Hand of Obeah.” According to Rusty Burke’s Robert E. Howard Fiction and Verse Timeline, “The Hand of Obeah” was submitted to Adventure in 1925; upon reading the tale, it’s easy to see why it was not accepted: while entertaining, it is clearly not Howard’s best.

The story centers around a teenager (I assume) named Steve and his young friends Skinny and Chub. After some tom-foolery with a black worker, Steve and Skinny follow him and observe a Voodoo ritual. This is followed with murder, intrigue, and mistaken identities. The story itself is quite different than Rohmer’s Bat Wing, but there are many similarities:

Both have a Chinese servant: Rohmer’s “Ah Tsong” and Howard’s “Tong.”

Both have Spanish mulattoes: Rohmer’s “Ysola de Valera” and Howard’s villain whose real name is not revealed, but who is disguised as “Lopez da Vasca.”

While the Voodoo meeting and location are background material in Rohmer’s novel, they take center stage in Howard’s story. Both, however, are described similarly:

Rohmer: In the neighborhood of the hacienda [. . .] there was a belt of low-lying pest country [. . .] which was a hot-bed of poisonous diseases. It followed the winding course of a nearly stagnant creek. From the earliest times the Black Belt—it was so called—had been avoided by European inhabitants, and indeed by the colored population as well. Apart from the malaria of the swampy ground it was infested with reptiles and with poisonous insects of a greater variety and of a more venomous character than I have ever known in any part of the world. [. . .]

On the following evening, suitably equipped, [we] set out, leaving by a side door and striking into the woods at a point east of the hacienda, where, according to his information, a footpath existed, which would lead us to the clearing we desired to visit.

Howard: The Haunted Brakes are kind of freakish, in a way. They’re about a half square mile of cane brakes, surrounded on all sides except one by a narrow strip of swamp. The swamp just swarms with snakes and that’s where it gets its name [Moccasin Swamp]. A long time ago they found a strange Negro there with no head onto him. And no Negro would go near that swamp afterwards [. . .] nobody cared to be around there after dark.

The swamp and the brakes lie about five miles south and a little east of the town, with about a quarter-mile of marshy swamp-ground between the brakes and the river. But on that side a strip of solid high ground runs from the brakes clear to the river bank. Some say there was an old road there once.

The narrators of both stories reach similar clearings in the Black Belt/Haunted Brakes where they observe similar Voodoo rituals:

Rohmer: [W]e saw the light of many torches amid the trees ahead of us [. . .] in which naked figures danced wildly, uttering animal cries. [. . .] This was a meeting-place of Devil-worshippers, or devotees of the cult of Voodoo! One man only could I see clearly so as to remember him [. . .] He seemed to be a sort of high priest or president of the orgies.

Howard: [T]he cane had been cleared away for a large space and at the center a large fire was blazing. All around the fire were seated Negroes [. . .]. Most of all the ones we knew and about a hundred we’d never heard of.

And standing by the fire, waving his arms and talking, was ‘Lisha!

The stories diverge significantly after these Voodoo rituals take place. Rohmer’s evolves into a finely crafted murder-mystery with a decent, though fairly obvious, twist at the end. Howard’s, well, he was trying hard.

Bat Wing is available here, or the other usual places.

“The Hand of Obeah” can be found in Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works, put out by the Robert E. Howard Foundation, or one of the publications mentioned here.

Hawkshaw & Howard

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[by Rob Roehm. Originally published March 18, 2010, at rehtwogunraconteur.com.]

The February 15, 1923 issue of Brownwood High School’s student newspaper, The Tattler, introduced readers to one of Robert E. Howard’s very first (maybe, the first) series characters, Hawkshaw the Detective. With the Colonel, his blundering sidekick, Hawkshaw appeared in three stories: “Unhand Me, Villain!” “Aha! or The Mystery of the Queen’s Necklace,” and “Halt! Who Goes There?”; this last published in The Yellow Jacket, Howard Payne College’s newspaper, in 1924. For those not familiar with the tales, they are detective parodies along the lines of the Fu Manchu spoofs that appeared in some of Howard’s letters, though these poke fun at Sherlock Holmes and Watson, instead. At least I thought that was where the idea came from.

I was thumbing through an old copy of the Comic Book Price Guide the other day, looking for comics I used to have, when the following title caught my eye: The Adventures of Hawkshaw. “Huh,” I muttered, and then read the following note: “See Hawkshaw the Detective.”

First published in 1917, Hawkshaw the Detective is a 48-page collection of “Sunday strip reprints” by Gus Mager. In 1994 it was worth $160 in near mint condition. A print-on-demand version of this is available at lulu.com.

Robert E. Howard would’ve been eleven years old in 1917, seventeen in 1923 when his first Hawkshaw story appeared in print. I don’t doubt that Howard was reading things in 1917, but would he have remembered a comic book six years later? Well, he didn’t have to. According to Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, Hawkshaw the Detective, the newspaper strip, ran from 1913 to 1922; so, if Howard had access to one of the newspapers that ran the strip, he’d easily remember it a few months later.

The term “hawkshaw” was fairly prevalent in the 1920s and was synonymous with “detective,” so it would be easy to write these two Hawkshaws off as a coincidence, but when you throw in the sidekick Colonel, it becomes unlikely. Have a look and see if the comic strip posted here doesn’t match Howard’s description of the duo from “Unhand Me, Villain!”: “One was a tall, thin man and the other a short stocky man.”

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I think it’s safe to assume that Howard, as well as readers of The Tattler, were familiar with the characters from the comic strip long before they appeared in the stories mentioned above. Add Gus Mager to the list of Howard’s influences.

Oh, and Hawkshaw’s fame is enduring, apparently. Hawkshaw the Detective: A Morally Uplifting Melodrama by Tim Kelly was published in 1976 by Hanbury Plays and was recently performed at the Golden Chain Theatre “in scenic Oakhurst,” California.

Dating The Right Hook

[by Rob Roehm. Originally published February 9, 2010, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version lightly edited.]

The Robert E. Howard Foundation’s recent publication of Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works contains the first real publication of The Right Hook numbers 2 and 3; number 1 appeared in a small press publication, Power of the Writing Mind, back in 2003. Consisting of several typewritten sheets, The Right Hook appears to be Robert E. Howard’s version of a “tribe paper” (his second, in fact; the first was The Golden Caliph in the summer of 1923). These were amateur publications produced by boys in the Lone Scouts of America. All three issues appeared in REHupa mailing #117 for September 1992, but only 30 people have that, and I’m not one of them. So we’ve got these three issues of Howard’s amateur paper, and none of them are dated. The best I’ve ever heard is “circa spring 1925.” Let’s see if we can do better than that.

In the first issue, there are a few references that can help date the publication. In “The Great Munney Ring,” Howard discusses Ed “Strangler” Lewis’  loss of the wrestling title to Wayne Munn, a former football star. That event occurred on January 8, 1925.

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Ed “Strangler” Lewis’

(Photo from Wrestling Museum)

On “The Sporting Page” Howard states that “Louis Kaplan has been given the title vacated by Johnny Dundee who retired some months ago, on the strength of his defeat of Danny Kramer.” Kaplan was awarded the title on January 2, 1925. There is also reference to the Sammy Mandell-Sid Terris boxing match which occurred on February 6, 1925. Other fights mentioned are from February 1925 or earlier.

The only item that argues against a late-February 1925 release is Howard’s mention of Upton Sinclaire’s Mammonart. This book began life as a serial published in late 1924 and into 1925. I’ve been unable to pin down the exact date of the complete book’s release, but a little “internet archaeology” did reveal a couple of mentions in the Harvard Crimson: one on March 21, and the other—a short review—on March 23. Another article in the April 1, 1925, Appleton, Wisconsin, Post-Crescent states that Mammonart was “just published.” All of these items suggest a March 1925 release date for the book. Of course, there’s no way of knowing exactly when Howard picked up the title, or if he even had when he wrote the comments in his paper, all of which could have been culled from newspapers. Perhaps a look at the other Right Hooks will help narrow down the date of the first; after all, it stands to reason that the first issue was published some time before the second. [UPDATE: I scored a first edition of Mammonart. The publication date is listed as “February, 1925.”]

The second issue of The Right Hook begins with the announcement that Munn, mentioned in number 1, has already lost the wrestling title to “Stanilaus Zybissco” (the correct spelling is Stanislaus Zbyszko). That match occurred on April 15, 1925. Another dateable reference in the second issue comes in the form of Howard’s prognostication of the upcoming McTigue-Berlenbach light-heavyweight title match. This contest was decided on May 30, 1925. Howard’s predictions were not accurate.

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(Photo from Online World of Wrestling)

The two items above give us a nice window for The Right Hook #2: it must have come out after April 15 and before May 30, 1925. And, since the first issue had to come out before the second, we can now date that issue as well: The Right Hook #1 appeared sometime between the publication of Mammonart in late March and the Munn-Zbyszko match in mid-April 1925.

(A little side note: Narrowing down the date of the second issue helps us place a comment therein about Tevis Clyde Smith’s trip to the Old South. This helps us date Howard’s mention of that same trip described in his autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs.)

The third issue of The Right Hook is largely taken up with fiction; therefore, there is little help in dating it. The only factual report in the number is Howard’s attempt to classify boxing champions by skill, hitting ability, toughness, and several other factors. Given the lack of specific fights to track down, the best we can do with this one is say it came after #2. Howard does say, however, that he has “been neglecting this magazine,” which suggests that the time between #2 and #3 was longer than the time between #1 and #2. So let’s say probably in June or July 1925.

To recap, given the evidence presented in each issue, The Right Hook probably had the following publication dates:

The Right Hook Volume 1, Number 1 — March/April 1925
The Right Hook Volume 1, Number 2 — April/May 1925
The Right Hook Volume 1, Number 3 — June/July 1925

These dates square with a period of renewed interest in the Lone Scouts of America by Howard and his friends. Tevis Clyde Smith had produced a tribe paper in 1923 (The All-Around Magazine) with the help of Howard and Truett Vinson. In 1925, Vinson produced The Toreador with the help of Howard, Smith, and Herbert Klatt.

Post Oaks and Football

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[by Rob Roehm. Originally published February 3, 2010, at rehtwogunraconteur.com; this version lightly edited.]

I always wonder how we know what we know about Robert E. Howard. Depending on the author, sometimes even his birth date is called into question, which shows that sometimes there is more than one way to interpret information, and we may only be seeing one side—the side that particular writer wants us to see. So, whenever I run into a statement that makes a claim, I always want to know what evidence supports the conclusion. If none is provided, I like to try to find it myself.

For example, we’ve all heard that Post Oaks & Sand Roughs is a “semi-autobiographical” novel; the characters may have different names, but they do many of the things that real people in Howard’s life actually did. Howard uses the name “Steve Costigan” for himself; Clyde Smith becomes “Clive Hilton,” and so on. The first I ever heard of the book was on the old Barbarian Keep website, which states that Post Oaks “relates events that occurred in Howard’s life sometime between 1924 and 1928, when REH was 18-22 years of age.” Well, I wondered, how do we know that? Of course, that was many years ago, and at the time I just didn’t know enough about good ol’ Bob to even begin to try to see how accurate that statement was. Times change.

On a recent trip to the Brownwood Genealogy Library, I actually came prepared. This was no spontaneous, spur of the moment trip: it’d been planned for several months and I had a checklist of things I wanted to research. One of those things was the 1924-28 timeline suggested for Post Oaks.

It’s pretty easy to arrive at the end date, 1928. Toward the end of the novel, page 133 to be exact, we learn that “Hubert Grotz” has died. “Grotz” has been identified as Herbert Klatt, and all the evidence suggests that that identification is solid. Then we have Howard’s letter to Tevis Clyde Smith eulogizing Klatt; the letter is dated circa May 1928. As the novel only runs to 161 pages, and with everything after page 142 entirely fictional, the1928 date seems to be a good one.

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The start date took a little work. The novel begins at a football game between Gower-Penn and Semple Universities. These have been identified as Howard Payne and Simmons (Hardin-Simmons today). Bob attended Howard Payne, so that ID is a no-brainer, and “Semple,” as stated in the novel, is “from Abilene,” which is where Simmons is located. The game is played right at the beginning of the Thanksgiving break. So, how do we know it’s 1924? Wouldn’t Howard Payne face off against Simmons every year? Read on.

There are several elements in Howard’s description of the football game which allow us to determine when it was played. Howard wrote that “the Association title [was] in sight” and that “Gower-Penn” wins that title. He also says that the team’s captain, “Joe Franey,” was playing his last college game. “Franey’s” exploits are described in some detail: he “stepp[ed] back under the very shadow of the Gower-Penn goal posts, he caught the soaring sphere and raced like a ghost down the field. [. . .] he had run a full hundred yards through the center of the entire Semple team for a touchdown!” In the back of Post Oaks, Glenn Lord identifies “Joe Franey” as Joe Cheney. That provides another little nugget for our search.

So, to find the exact start time of the novel, all one has to do is find when the game between Howard Payne and Simmons was played in which Howard Payne wins the Association title and the captain of the team (Joe Cheney, or at least someone) runs the length of the field for a touchdown. And it would also be nice if it were that player’s last game. No problem.

Before leaving for Texas, I did a little “internet archeology” and found the College Football Data Warehouse [now defunct]. As near as I can tell, it lists the scores for practically every college football game that’s ever been played. I found the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets and had a look at their records. From 1920 to 1929 they beat Simmons six times; they tied once and lost the other three. The Howard Payne versus Simmons game was the last game in each of those seasons. The Yellow Jackets were the Texas Collegiate Athletic Conference Champions three times in that ten year span: 1924, 1928, and 1929. Interestingly, the coach for those last two wins was one Joe Bailey Cheaney. Hmm, might that Joe be a former player who had run the length of the field in 1924 to win the conference title? The spelling of the last name notwithstanding. Good enough; now I needed to be in Texas.

Once in Brownwood, I took a trip to the offices of the Brownwood Bulletin and checked out a couple rolls of microfilm. The microfilm viewer is at the genealogy library. From there it was a simple matter to scroll the microfilm to November 28, 1924—the day after the game had been played—and see what I could find. Paydirt.

Under the page five headline, “HOWARD PAYNE CINCHES CHAMPIONSHIP OF T.I.A.A.” is the smaller heading “YELLOW JACKETS BEAT SIMMONS AT PARK HERE BEFORE BIG CROWD.” A few paragraphs later, I read the following:

Captain Joe Bailey Cheaney, the light half of the Yellow Jackets, the signal-calling, line-plunging, passing and kicking captain of the Jackets, playing his last game in the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association, was the star in the game.

A little later, with tongue firmly in cheek, we learn that “the best [Cheaney] could do [. . .] was to run 100 yards in the early part of the first quarter for the Jacket’s first touchdown.” True, Howard says the run occurred at game’s end, but I think we can chalk that up to Howard wanting to make the win more dramatic. Everything else fits: the Jackets win the title; it’s the captain’s last game; he runs the length of the field for a touchdown; the game is played at the beginning of the Thanksgiving break, which the college’s catalogue says began on November 27, 1924, the same day the game was played.

2018 02-01 Cheaney

Another little note about Cheaney (pictured above): In Post Oaks, Howard says that “Gower-Penn worshiped the youth with a blind passion.” To confirm that, one need only look at the Howard Payne yearbook for the 1924-25 school year. Cheaney’s accomplishments are legion: he was the president of his class for each of the four years he attended; he was captain of the track team his first three years and captain of the football and basketball teams during his senior year, and even tried out for the Olympics in Boston. He was a member of the Press Club—which was affiliated with The Yellow Jacket, so he may have known Bob Howard who had a story published in the paper in September of ’24—he was on the B.S.U. Council, in the Glee Club and the H Club (a letterman’s organization), and served as Athletic Editor for The Lasso yearbook. To top it all off, he was selected “Best All-Round Boy.” I wonder what his grades were like?

Anyway, I think it’s safe to assume that the time period covered in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs is indeed 1924 to 1928, but we can be a little more specific than that. The novel begins on November 27, 1924 around 7:00 p.m.—the newspaper says, after all, that the Simmons Cowboys were boarding their homeward bound train around 8:00. I love it when things work out.

Oh yeah, the score was 23 – 6.