Yes, there was a cow. I saw the critter. Her name was Delhi, and hump shouldered to suggest Indian blood—Asian-Indian, I mean.—E. Hoffmann Price to L. Sprague de Camp, 11 Feb 1977 (IMH 297)
LT: A Guernsey milk cow, named Delhi (pron. dell-high). I think I told you about that one time.—Lindsey Tyson, interview with L. Sprague & Catherine Crook de Camp, 7 Mar 1978
|Howard House date unknown|
We are not farmers. We live in a small town and have only a very small piece of land, but we have enough to keep a little stock and raise a garden. Right now we have far more than we need of greens, radishes, turnips, and the like. We have been taking cattle, hogs and canned stuffs on debts, as well as grain and feed. We have a good supply of hay, oats, cotton-seed, maize, and corn, and we have meal and flour ground from corn and wheat we got the same way. We have milk from our own cow, and plenty of meat. We had a whole calf canned — it’s surprizing how much meat a good fat calf makes — cans of steak, roast-beef, soup, hash, chili, liver, heart, tongue — everything but the hoofs.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Jan 1932 (CL2.297, MF1.259)
This was the first reference to the Howards owning a cow, possibly taken in trade by Dr. Howard, as the Great Depression made itself known and cash was in short supply. Novalyne Price recalled: “A lot of people couldn’t pay a doctor bill, but they could give a dozen eggs.” (DS 10) and observed that Dr. Howard took payment in meat and vegetables. (OWWA 167, cf. CL2.450, MF1.396)
The Agricultural Outlook for 1932 produced by the U. S. Department of Agriculture noted that in the face of weakening demand the price of beef—and cattle—had declined; average price per head had dropped from $56.69 in 1929 to $26.64 in 1931, for a national loss in value of $730 million dollars. (31) The response from the government was the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, a New Deal program under which the government purchased millions of stock animals, not to butcher or process, but simply to kill them and reduce the supply. Milch cows (or milk cows, the terms were used interchangeably) were often advertised for sale and trade in the local newspapers—there are many advertisements thus in the Cross Plains Review, Brownwood Bulletin, and Abilene Morning Reporter—but cash prices are difficult to come by.
How long the Howards kept this cow, or even its name and breed, is unknown. Presumably it was this cow or a successor to which Howard refers when he wrote:
Nip suckles all impartially, with the possible exception of the stray kitten, who however, seems quite capable of taking care of itself, and which I’m trying to teach to stand on its hind-legs and drink milk squirted from the cow’s teat into its mouth. I haven’t had a cat that did that since Bebe.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.850)Nip and Bebe were two of the many cats around the Howard house. Dr. Howard would later recall:
At the time of Robert's death, there were thirteen cats who had gathered up around the house. They were strays. I had spoken to him about carrying them away myself. He discouraged this, and continued milking his goats and feeding his cats. (IMH 269, WIW 151)The ‘32 cow may or may not have been Delhi; Lindsey Tyson in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp dated 18 Feb 1977 claims the Howards owned the cow “4-5 years” before Robert E. Howard’s suicide in 1936, which would place ownership back to 1931 or ‘32. However, Delhi was not the Howard’s first cow, which Robert E. Howard described as:
[...] a Jersey, and wild as a kite. Her teats were small, and she kicked and tossed her head and hooked, and raised hell generally and her calf was worse than she was. If she got through eating before I got through milking she’d turn her head, stare at me in feigned amazement as if she never saw me before and wondered what the hell I was doing there, and then kick out with both hind legs and go careering off around the lot, and sometimes I’d have to lasso her before I could catch her again. She was mean and vicious, and hooked me every chance she got, to say nothing of kicking the milk bucket out of my hand and stamping on my foot. Once I was leading her in at the lot gate, and she hooked me in the back, hooked me in the face when I turned, and an instant later hooked me beneath the heart and tore some skin off my ribs. This irritated me, and I gave her a bust on the jaw with my fist that knocked all the fight out of her and nearly broke her jaw. After that she never attempted to hook me again, but pulled all her other tricks, and her infernal calf nearly cost me an eye. Just a few days before it was traded off, along with her, I went into an adjoining lot to catch it and bring back to feed, and it refused to be caught, racing around wildly all over the lot, as big a fool as the old cow, and even meaner. I never could throw a rope worth a hang, and after a few attempts I lost patience, and ran at it and made a sort of flying tackle, aiming to grab it around the neck with my arms. Which I did, but it threw up its head just in time to spike me on its short, sharp horn. It caught me on the brow and instantly my eye was full of blood, but I hung on to the wretched beast, and got the rope on it and dragged it home — dragged is the word, because it always braced its legs and fought back every step of the way. All the time I was feeding the stock blood kept running into my eyes so I could hardly see, and when I got through and went into the house and looked into a glass, I found the horn had struck me just over my left eye, making a deep gash which penetrated to the bone. A fraction of an inch lower and it would have destroyed my eye, past doubt. I put some rub alcohol on it and it healed quickly, leaving only another scar of the many which decorate my features and body.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.851)
The Howards traded this animal for Delhi, although it isn’t clear when. In April 1934, E. Hoffmann Price and his wife left his job in a garage in Oklahoma for his native California, and stopped in Cross Plains on the way—and by then, the Howards definitely had Delhi, which he described to Lovecraft:
We have plenty of milk for them, because our cow came in fresh recently, but with a bull calf, to my disgust. I’d hoped for a heifer. The cow, Delhi, otherwise called the Begum, is a fine milch-cow, Guernsey with a touch of Brahma, or Holy Cow of India, which gives her more poise and a better temper than a Jersey cow generally possesses. She was bred with a registered Jersey bull, and I hoped much for the result, if it happened to be a heifer. But a mixed-breed milk bull is no good; all you can do is can him, so we gave him away. That is to say, you can’t make any money out of him, because everybody wants to breed their cows to a pure-bred registered animal. Price was much interested in Delhi’s Indian blood, and found her milk much to his liking. Indeed, her milk does taste better than any I ever drank, and tests out a very high percentage of butter fat; almost the maximum. On good grass she gives about four gallons a day, and in a dry lot, when well fed, she gives two to three gallons, enough for a medium sized family. I like her better than any cow I ever tried to milk. She has a splendid bag, and large teats, easy to juice, and she’s sensible, gentle and not nervous, as so many Jerseys are. [...] You have no idea what a relief it is to have a cow like Delhi.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, May 1935 (CL3.323-324, MF2.850-851)
European colonizers brought their cattle (Bos taurus taurus) to the Americas in waves; including English breeds like the Jersey and Guernsey. Beginning in the late 19th century, however, some ranchers imported zebu, or Indian cattle (Bos indicus), to interbreed with their stock. The Indian breeds Nellore, Gir, Guzerat, and Krishna Valley were favored for their tolerance to heat, ability to withstand drought, and resistance to insects—traits that were passed down to offspring when crossbred with the European-derived cattle stock. (Parr 20) Cattle with significant zebu heritage are usually discernible by the characteristic hump on their back and dun color to their coat, as was the case with Delhi.
In America, these cattle were called Brahma or Brahman, after the Hindu deity Brahma (and, by extension, the Brahmin varna which specialized in priests and teachers), and Robert E. Howard’s characterization of her as the “Holy Cow of India” portrays the common misconception of Hinduism’s complex relationship with cattle. Cattle feature prominently in Vedic literature, and an overall trend in Hindu religion promoted by the Brahmins since that period was for the cow to be held in higher esteem for its production of ritual offerings particularly ghee (clarified butter), and symbolic of various goddess-figures, and subject of various religious festivals, celebrations, and ceremonies. In some sects, penalties became associated with killing a cow or eating beef, and the doctrine of ahmisa (non-injury of living creatures) became a communal point for Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. (Brown)
The name “Delhi” likely comes from the famous Indian city; Lindsey Tyson’s pronunciation suggests either he or Robert E. Howard had never heard the city’s name spoken aloud. The nickname “Begum” comes from Turkish, the wife of the beg (or bey, baig, beig, begh, etc.), usually translated as “lord” or “chieftain”; “Lady,” in the sense of a title, would probably be a fair approximation of how Howard ment it. The term was used thus for several characters in Harold Lamb’s stories of the Middle East and Asia, which Howard read and borrowed terminology from, and it may be so again here.
Lovecraft, as a cat-lover, was more enthusiastic about the Howard felines than bovines, but wrote to his Texas friend about his cattle: