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.]

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

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.

2018 02-01 2 Ed Lewis

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.

2018 02-01 2 Munn

(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.