On June 19th of 1935 Robert E. Howard and his good friend Truett Vinson set off on a road trip to
. During that same trip they visited the
historic town of Santa Fe, New
Mexico Lincoln, New Mexico. Howard had always been
fascinated with Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County Wars, so when Truett
needed to take a trip to Santa Fe,
Howard certainly took the opportunity to go with him. Fortunately, for us
today, Howard detailed this trip in a letter to his long-time correspondent
and fellow writer friend, H.P. Lovecraft.
I can’t help but wonder if Howard plotted this trip in such a way that passing through
on their journey to Santa Fe
would be inevitable. According to Howard, the day he and Vinson left, they
drove over 500 miles and made it all the way to .
About that town Howard declares, “ Roswell, NM Roswell is a neat,
spotless modern town, with the usual streams of tourists pouring through
continually.” (Howard 3: 344) The next
morning they loaded up the car and made their way into Lincoln.
|The Old Courthouse (Murphy's Shop) ca 1930s|
In June of 1935,
virtually the same as it was 55 years earlier during the Lincoln County Wars.
The roads were still unpaved and none of the buildings were yet owned by the State.
In fact, the Lincoln, NM County of Lincoln obtained the Murphy house (a.k.a “The
House”)—what later became the old c where Billy
the Kid made his notorious escape— on December 15th, 1880 for
$15,000. It wasn’t until 1937 that the State of ourthouse New Mexico bought this building, and in 1949
other buildings and sites were purchased and transferred to the Old Lincoln
County Memorial Commission. Additionally, in 1977 the town officially became an
historical site fully owned by the State of New Mexico. So when Howard and Vinson
the Murphy House (courthouse) was empty and used as a storage building.
When Howard and Vinson entered from the East into
they had their minds set on finding that one particular building . . .
“[T]he old courthouse whence Billy made the most dramatic escape ever made in the Southwest. We rounded a crook in the meandering street and it burst upon us like the impact of a physical blow. There was no mistaking it.” (Howard 3: 346)
They parked the car and explored the exterior of the courthouse for some time. Since the building was not being used for anything other than storage, it was locked. Looking around, Howard described that they noticed, across the street, the La Paloma Saloon “which bears a sign that claims existence in the Kid’s day.” (Howard 3: 346)
|Evening at the La Paloma Bar, Lincoln, NM ca 1945. |
Roman Maes inside of bar leaning on screen door
(Picture by Walt Wiggins)
It was in this establishment where Howard and Vinson met a man named Roman Maes. In his letter to H.P. Lovecraft, Howard describes not only meeting Mr. Maes but also gives Lovecraft a brief history about one of Maes’ relatives who fought in the Lincoln County Wars. Here is how Howard details it,
“The owner [of the La Paloma] is one Ramon [sic] Maes, grandson of Lucio Montoya, ‘Murphy’s Sharpshooter’ as he told us with pride—a supple well built man, tall for a Mexican and broadshouldered, with a thin-nostrilled Mountain Indian look about his face. The name of Montoya is woven into the Kid’s saga. He took part in the three-day fight in which McSween was killed; he lay on the mountain that commanded the Montana House, with Crawford, firing from behind a boulder.” (Howard 3: 346)
Howard and Maes talked for some time, probably about Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County Wars. In his letter to Lovecraft Howard declares,
“He [Roman Maes] was very courteous and eager to point out interesting spots, and answer our questions,
[. . .]
Maes gave us the key to the old courthouse, which was once Murphy’s store. It is used as a storeplace for junk now, and there is talk, we were told, of tearing it down to build a community hall. It should be preserved.” (Howard 3: 347)
|(L to R) Roman Maes & Robert E. Howard|
ca June 1935
Howard and Vinson spent some time in the courthouse, wandering around, walking through the rooms, and imagining everything that happened that infamous day when Billy made his notorious escape. Sometime between getting the key from Roman Maes and spending time in the old courthouse, Robert E. Howard and Roman Maes posed for a picture, now popular in Howard fandom (The actual picture is above, taken in front of the old courthouse). In the past it had only been speculated that the man to the left of Howard in the photo was Roman Maes. Thanks to several
park rangers I was able, through social media, to track down the granddaughter
of Roman Maes. She confirmed for me that the man in the photograph with Robert
E. Howard was, in fact, her grandfather. Lincoln, NM
According to the Maes family, Roman Maes lived in
his whole life. He acquired the La Paloma in 1935 and operated it until the mid-1980s when his wife became ill (cancer) and was forced to shut
down operations. During World War II, Maes could not get liquor for the bar so he turned
the La Paloma into a small grocery store and later sold Indian curios. Roman Maes’ daughter, Priscilla Maes, would have been 6 years old when Robert E. Howard
visited Lincoln, NM . She stated that she remembered people
would stop in town at the bar, talk with her father, and he would show them around, but she
never remembered anyone’s name. So, it's quite possible that she could
have met Robert E. Howard when she was a child. Both Roman Maes and his wife, Theodora, are buried in the old cemetery of Lincoln on the East side of town. Lincoln, NM
|I took a picture with a zoom lens of the|
peak where Maes climbed.
During my visit to
spoke with several park rangers. While discussing the La Paloma and Roman Maes,
one of the park rangers told me that back in the 1940s, Maes, with a donkey, climbed the mountain on the southern side of town in order to place a cross on its peak. When he and the donkey neared the peak of the mountain, the
donkey lost its footing, tumbled and slid all the way back down the
mountainside. Concerned for the animal, Maes worked his way back down to find the donkey was uninjured. He took this as a sign from God,
loaded the wood back on the donkey, and proceeded to climb the mountain again.
This time he reached the peak, built a wooden cross on the mountain top, and slowly worked his way back down the mountainside.
Today, Maes’ cross has been replaced with PVC pipe, but it still stands on the
peak of the southern mountain. Lincoln, NM
After spending a few hours in
Lincoln, Howard and Vinson traveled toward Carrizozo, then
up to Albuquerque, and northward reaching Santa Fe by nightfall.
The following day, June 20th 1935, in ,
Howard mailed a postcard to fellow writer and friend, August Derleth, with this
handwritten message on the back of the postcard: Santa Fe, NM
“This card was purchased in
from a descendant of a participant in the Bloody Lincoln County Wars. REH.” (Howard 3: 329) Lincoln, NM
The postcard had the famous tin photograph of Billy the Kid on the front. Howard purchased a few of them from Roman Maes at the La Paloma Bar. Below is the actual postcard (Front & Back) sent to August Derleth.
|The Front of the Postcard sent to|
August Derleth, ca June 20th 1935
|The Back of the Postcard sent to August Derleth|
(The Postcard is from the Wisconsin State Historical Society)
 Howard called the La Paloma a “Saloon” in his letter to H.P. Lovecraft. This is, in fact, what it would have been (a saloon) in Billy’s day back in the late 1870s early 1880s. However, at the time of Howard’s visit it would have been named The La Paloma Bar.
 In his letter Howard actually typed the name Ramon Maes. The man Howard and Vinson met was actually named Roman Maes. After corresponding with Rusty Burke (one of the editors of A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard: 1933-1936) about this, he concluded that Howard probably misheard Roman’s name. I will continue to quote Howard’s letters exactly as Robert E. Howard wrote them, but note that "Ramon Maes" is actually named Roman Maes.
 For a more detailed account of this event refer to Frederick Nolan’s book, The West of Billy the Kid, pages 151, 155, and especially 158.
 I will be writing a second article about this aspect of Robert E. Howard’s visit to
. Lincoln, NM
 This information was provided to me by Roman Maes’ granddaughter, Roberta Maes Baker. She and her mother (Priscilla Maes)—Roman Maes’ daughter—were very helpful in providing me with facts and information for this article.
 I just recently took a trip to
(July 25th to 26th,
2015) to research facts and information for this article and an article to soon
be written. Lincoln,
 Roman Maes did in fact sell postcards from the La Paloma back in 1935, a fact confirmed by the Maes family. Maes was also the grandson of Lucio Montoya, involved in the Lincoln County Wars.
 Thanks to Rob Roehm for providing me scanned copies of the postcard. I would also like to thank Rusty Burke for answering several questions about the REH letters. And lastly, thank you to the Maes family and especially to Roberta Maes Baker and Priscilla Maes for providing answers to all my questions about Roman Maes and the La Paloma Bar.
Howard, Robert E. The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Ed. Rob Roehm. Vol. 1-3.
Robert E. Howard Foundation, 2007. Print. Plano, TX
Nolan, Frederick W. The West of Billy the Kid.
Norman: U of Oklahoma, 1998. Print.