I'm currently re-reading Novalyne Price Ellis' book titled One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard: The Final Years. I first read this work about 8 or so years ago, but I've gleaned much more from its pages during this reading. This is due to nearly a decade of REH studies on my part. I will actually be posting a detailed book review along with my thoughts about the work when I finish reading the book this time around.
My intent here is to point out a few nice nuggets about the creative/writing habits of Robert E. Howard. Ellis gives details about how Howard used to work, some of his habits, his creative ways, etc. I have found these aspects of Howard's personality quite fascinating. Here are a few . . .
"When I am with him, he talks a blue streak. I watch him closely, knowing he's trying to work out something in his mind. Other than learning about writing, I don't know what I see in him or why I still, in spite of everything, like the big lummox.
[. . .]
Some people might think Bob is just loafing around and not working at anything at all. But that's not true. His mind is hard at work. Although he doesn't get too far from home, he drives around over the country, thinking of stories, talking them out loud to himself. He'll stop the car on some little hill, get out and walk around, listening to the wind blowing across the prairies. He says that on the wind he hears the tuneless little whistles the cowboys made as they rode, stretching themselves now and then, throwing a leg over the saddle horn to ride sideways to relieve strain, being almost unseated when the horse shied at a prairie-dog or rattle snake. These are the things he wants to write about . . .someday.
While he's riding around in the country, he may see an old man sitting on a porch by himself. Bob stops the car, gets out and visits with the old man, just to hear his stories of the country when it was new and fresh and uncluttered with the trappings of civilization.
He reads history, too—the history of this country, about the settling of it." (Price 143)
Places Howard goes to find stories . . .
"Bob's been to Comanche, Coleman and Santa Anna, hunting stories, old books. Anything he can find. He's been to newspaper offices to go through old files, hunting stories and the things that interest people. He's filling the reservoir with these things, he says, so that someday soon, he can spend all his time writing about this country." (Price 143)
The work of writing, writing habits, styles & formulas . . .
"People don't understand me or my mother," he said defensively. 'Writing is pounding out one damn yarn after another, pounding them out whether you want to or not, and it takes a family who understands that and who tries to help you by keeping you from being disturbed every minute of the day. I know people think I'm a freak and a damn nut, but the only way I can get anything done is to keep pounding away.' He moved about running his fingers through his hair. 'But what I have makes up for what people here think. I mean the writer friends I have. I think it's pretty damn good that Ed Price came out here to see me." (Price 115)
"'By God, girl." His voice boomed out cheerfully. "In this writing game, you have to read as much or more than you write. You've got to read the magazines you want to write for and the ones you do write for.' He stopped and looked at me, smiling. "Do you read the confessions?"
I shrugged my shoulders. 'I don't read them from cover to cover and practically memorize them the way you do the magazines you want to write for. I don't like the confessions much.'
'Well for God's sake,' he laughed. 'How in hell do you think you can write for them? You have to read 'em to write 'em. At least I do.'
[. . .]
'What works for one won't work for another. It just seems to me that you've got to study the magazines you want to write for. I mean study them. Tear each yarn apart. Put it together again. Try to figure out why that one sold and yours didn't.'" (Price 159)
"'You don't care about ordinary people stories?"
'No. That's where we're different,' he said. 'But maybe you're right. Illegitimate children are the product of civilization with its myriad problems, its rules and regulations. Civilized man makes rules against his nature, then beats his damn brains out because he can't live up to them. I write a lot of my yarns about a different age, a different way of life.'
'Like "The Devil in Iron" where a man fights an enormous snake?'
He nodded emphatically. 'And against a strange pagan god. But that's my formula—man struggling to survive in an elemental way. Life and death in a new world.'" (Price 62)
"'When you tell a story and someone listens to it, you are really publishing it. Then when you sit down to write, it just doesn't come. You're not excited about it anymore. You're not trying to discover something new. I mean, of course, that's the way it works for me. Maybe it wouldn't work that way with you. No two people write exactly alike. But I don't usually give advice. If you want to tell me your story, go ahead.'
'I know what you mean,' I said. 'When you tell somebody something, the creativeness flows out with the telling.'
[. . .]
'Don't get me wrong. I've done exactly what I'm telling you not to do, but when I do it, the yarn always comes out wooden. Not easy, flowing, light.'" (Price 77)
Moving in new writing directions . . .
"'I've been pounding out another yarn.'
'Another Conan story?'
'Yeah, but this may be the last one. I'm getting tired of Conan.' He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. 'This country needs to be written about. There are all kinds of stories around here.'" (Price 77)
There are dozens more of these nice insights into Howard the writer. If you have not read Price's book then I highly recommend it. It is a first hand autobiographical account about the last three years of Robert E. Howard's life.
Around the same time that
Robert E. Howard was writing his James Allison tales (in which a young, dying
Texan remembers adventures from various past lives), he crafted one of his most
clearly anti-modernist tales, “The Thunder-Rider,” in which his now infamous
tendency toward racism is tempered by a palpable reverence for indigenous
American peoples. Most notable in this rough draft is Howard’s use of
Mesoamerican myth, specifically that of the legendary city of Tollan and the dark sorcerer Tezcatlipoca who
brought about its downfall.
Quetz vs. Tezcat
Published posthumously in Marchers of Valhalla and The Black Stranger, The Thunder-Rider
centers on John Garfield, a college-educated Comanche man who works in an early
twenty-century office building. Despite having fully assimilated to the
mainstream Western European culture of the US,
himself increasingly in the grip of violent urges he ascribes to his ancestry.
After some internal struggle and pointed criticism of the vices of modern
American culture, Garfield
sets out to seek guidance from an aged shaman called Eagle Feather, who offers
to open up the younger Comanche’s spiritual memory through a grueling,
torturous ritual. Upon reliving moments from his previous incarnations, the
medicine man affirms, Garfield
will sate his appetite for violence.
The blood rite brings him close
to death, but the young man survives and is able to access memories of his
former selves. One of these is Iron Heart, a Comanche warrior wandering the
Southwest around the year 1575. Garfield
recounts a particularly eldritch adventure of his. Recognized by enemies
through epithets like “the Scalp-Taker, the Vengeance-Maker, the
Thunder-Rider,” Iron Heart takes his mounted war party south toward Mexican
settlements in search of more horses (Howard spends several generally plausible
paragraphs explaining why the tribe has learned to ride more than a hundred
years before history records that innovation).
Lipan Apache Raider
But the party turns aside to
attack and slaughter a group of Lipan Apaches near the San Saba River.
Unfortunately for Iron Heart, these Lipan have an alliance with the Tonkawa and
peoples, who butcher the Comanche until a remnant of fifteen warriors flee
north, being chased for more than a hundred miles. Their luck is such that they
run right into another group of Apache enemies. Barely escaping, the war party
ends up wandering a vast, featureless plain.
Then, unexpectedly, they cross
into the DarkeningLand, the silent realm of
spirits. All around them in the mists they see huge tipis fashioned from the
hides of white buffalo. Within these ancient, abandoned homes they find the
undecayed bodies of giants—the Terrible People of legend, a race long dead.
From one of these, Iron Heart takes a massive axe of green jade.
Before he can much delight in
this beautiful weapon, a group of Pawnee surround the Comanche, led by the
pure-blood Spanish woman Conchita, who was stolen as an infant and raised to be
a “war-bird.” Just as the two groups begin to clash, they are incapacitated by
the arrival of another group of
feather-clad people who Iron Heart compares to the Puebloans in appearance and
whose magical gong helps them capture Pawnee and Comanche alike. They are taken
to a sort of ziggurat on a low hill, surrounded by a wall on the gate of which
is carved a feathered serpent. From here rules a tall, cruel man who calls
himself Tezcatlipoca, a name Conchita recognizes and fears—one of the sun’s
incarnations, Howard suggests.
Tezcatlipoca is excited to have
the jade axe—weapon of a long-dead foe of his—and he imprisons Iron Heart while
having his gong-ringer Xototl take Conchita to the Room of Gold to await his
pleasure. Visiting her, he gives his villain monologue, explaining how he left his
ancient kingdom in Mesoamerica before the
“barbaric Toltecs wandered into it,” coming north to establish a magical
stronghold and to enthrall a tribe of Puebloans, whom his cruelty has reduced
in number down the centuries.
As the Pawnee and Comanche are
sacrificed one by one, Xototl sneaks into the Room of Gold to have his way with
Conchita, but she kills him and frees Iron Heart. They start to escape, but
Tezcatlipoca intervenes. He and Iron Heart struggle, but Conchita tricks the
ancient creature by shouting that the long-dead giants have risen to attack the
palace. Taking advantage of the distraction, Iron Heart kills Tezcatlipoca with
the jade axe. Then he subdues the fiery Conchita, beating her until she relents
and promises to accompany him to his people. Analysis With some revision and editorial refining, The
Thunder-Rider might have been a truly epic tale of conflict among
indigenous North Americans whose cultures and religions historically overlapped
in ways that encourage creative exploration of shared themes. Using the myth of
Tezcatlipoca was particularly inspired, if not fully realized in the extant
For Mesoamerican peoples,
creation had occurred several times (either four or five, depending on the
particular culture). Each age was called a sun,
because a different god served that function from era to era. The principal
creator gods were twin brothers, most commonly known to Nahuatl-speakers as
Quetzalcoatl (the Feathered Serpent) and Tezcatlipoca (the Smoking Mirror). Two
halves of a single process, the brothers represented order and chaos,
respectively. Their conflicts were often the cause of cataclysms that brought
one age to end and ushered in another.
Tezcatlipoca, as Howard notes
in The Thunder-Rider, was an
“incarnation of the sun,” having served as that source of life for the First
Age. The beings that peopled the earth during that epoch were giants, much like
the Terrible Beings of Howard’s tale. It may be that the author was inspired to
imbed an ancient conflict between the giants and Tezcatlipoca by the fact that
the First Age came to an end when the god of chaos, displeased with the
inhabitants of the earth, sent his his nahualli
or animal spirit, the huge jaguar Tepeyollotl
or “Mountainheart,” into the world.
Mountainheart transformed some giants into were-jaguars and led them in
a vicious war against their brothers and sisters.
According to Aztec annals, in
the year 1-Reed, on the day 4-Jaguar, Mountainheart and his army of jaguars
devoured nearly every giant on the face of the earth. Quetzalcoatl wrestled his
brother from the sky, and the First Age came to an end. Three more eras with
three more attendant suns would come and go before our present epoch, the Fifth
Age, illuminated by the son of Quetzalcoatl, Nanoatzin. And it is in the
forgotten history of Mesoamerican of the present age when myths and blend to
The Nahua peoples or Chichimeca
were a group of interrelated tribes that immigrated into the high plains of
over several centuries beginning about a millennium ago. Today we call them
“Aztecs,” though that name actually describes their legendary overlords in
their place of origin, Aztlan. They discovered the vast ruinous cities of the
Tolteca, a glorious civilization whose benighted descendants now lived in small
city-states at the edges of the once-mighty empire. The Chichimeca—especially
the Mexica, last tribe to arrive—aped many of the cultural trappings and gods
of the ancients. The term for artistic excellence in Nahuatl, toltecayotl, is a reflection of their
reverence for the past.
In The Thunder-Rider, Howard has clearly availed himself of one of
many Toltec stories folded into Nahua lore—that of Tollan, a long-forgotten
metropolis often associated with the cities ofTeotihuacan and Tula,
whose ruins still inspire awe today. From the modern perspective it seems
likely that a noble named Ce Acatl (“One Reed”) and titled Topiltzin
Quetzalcoatl—“our revered lord the feathered serpent”—ruled Tollan during the
10th century CE. However, as with the historical figure underlying
King Arthur, Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl became conflated with a myth—in
this case, the actual god Quetzalcoatl.
The resulting legend—told in
one fashion or another from the highlands all the way to modern El Salvador—depicts
the incarnation of the creator god, born to a woman who swallowed a piece of
jade and was thereby impregnated. This child, Ce Acatl, would grow to be a
pious, good-hearted man who was selected to rule Tollan. Accompanied by his
equally virtuous sister Quetzalpetlatl, Ce Acatl abolished human sacrifice,
ushering in a time of prosperity and cultural revival. His people hailed him as
The story further recounts that
the priests of the old order were incensed at the changes to the state
religion. Chief among them was Tezcatlipoca, a dark mage whom the Nahua peoples
conflated with the god of chaos, Quetzalcoatl’s brother. Setting out to destroy
the righteousness of the ruler, Tezcatlipoca insinuated himself into the royal
palace in a disguise and used his wiles to trick Quetzalcoatl into getting so
drunk that he forgot his ritual duties (and, in some versions, had sex with his
sister). Disgraced, the ruler of Tollan abandoned the city with a small
retinue, traveled for several years through what is now southern Mexico doing
penance, and then immolated himself on the Gulf shore, vowing to return.
As for Tezcatlipoca’s fate, the
annals are less clear. The final ruler of Tollan, Huemac, continued to contend
with the dark priest, who brought down one magical disaster after another until
the city itself fell. Howard clearly means for the antagonist of The Thunder-Rider to be this same
Tezcatlipoca, as he “came from the south more than a thousand years before,”
fitting with the 10th century setting of the original legend.
If we take Howard’s
Tezcatlipoca to be the same who deceived Quetzalcoatl in Tollan, the
appropriation of the feathered snake (to be found on the gates of the palace to
which Iron Heart and Conchita are taken) makes more sense; though it may still
simply be conflation of the two mythical figures by the author. The snake
diadem worn by Tezcatlipoca and the massive serpent that does his bidding until
slain by Iron Heart could both be interpreted on this view as mockeries of the
dark priest’s principal enemy. That the cruel demigod meets his demise via
Conchita’s ruse then becomes deliciously ironic, as such deception was his own
favorite tool in Tollan.
A few final notes. Upon
arriving in the mist-shrouded kingdom of Tezcatlipoca, Iron Heart calls it the
“Darkening Land,” which itself is a Cherokee concept—the realm to which all
dead spirits are bound. It is not clear why Howard would not have used the
similar Nahua term Mictlan, the Land of the Dead sometimes located in the
North, or the Mayan Xibalba, Place of Fear. Perhaps further revisions would
have prompted the use of such a Mesoamerican or Southwestern equivalent.
The name of the gong-ringer and
would-be-rapist, Xototl, is not a true Nahua name. Instead, Howard has probably
mis-transcribed or distorted “Xolotl,” the nahualli
or animal twin of Quetzalcoatl. God of lightning, Xolotl would accompany the
sun each night as it traversed the Underworld.
A revamped version of the tale correcting the spelling of this name would
have added more poignancy to Tezcatlipoca’s usurpation of Quetzalcoatl’s power
and his eventual destruction at the hands of mere mortal warriors.
In the final analysis, The Thunder-Rider represents a
heartening respect for and interest in the mythologies of the indigenous
peoples of what is now Mexico
and the US Southwest. It is a real shame that Robert E. Howard was unable
during his lifetime to return to this story and give it the final polish it
needed, but we can nonetheless enjoy its flawed extension of a vital Toltec
further reading, I recommend several
colonial-era documents translating Aztec codices: Historia de los Mexicanos por sus pinturas, Libro de oro y tesoro
indico, Histoire du Mechique, Leyenda de los soles, Historia general de las
cosas de Nueva España. Modern works with English versions of these
documents and other pertinent pre-Colombian codices include Bierhorst’s History and Mythology of the Aztecs, Markman
and Markman’s The Flayed God, and Carrasco’s Quetzalcoatl and the Irony of Empire: Myths and Prophecies in the Aztec Tradition. About David Bowles
A product of an ethnically diverse family with Latino roots,
David Bowles has lived most of his life in the Río
south Texas, where he teaches at the University of Texas. Recipient of awards from the
Texas Institute of Letters and Texas Associated Press, he has written several
books, among them Flower, Song, Dance:
Aztec and Mayan Poetry and Border Lore.
Additionally, his work has been published or is forthcoming
in venues such as Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Metamorphoses, Rattle, Translation Review, Concho River Review, Red
River Review, Huizache, The Thing Itself, Eye to the Telescope and James
Gunn’s Ad Astra.
Shortly after this year’s REH Days
my friend David Piske & I took a brief single day road trip. Since we were
both staying in Brownwood, TX
for this year’s events, I checked the proximity of Fort
McKavett to Brownwood:
only 102 miles, about an hour and a half drive. So, we planned accordingly.
At REH Days, in a conversation with
Rob Roehm, I brought up the intended FortMcKavett trip. Rob perked
up and began to tell me that he thought they may have done some
re-work/refurbishing of the Fort. He wondered if the famous “Howard Spot”
would still be there as it was when he visited. He thought he had heard that the State may have rebuilt some of those buildings. I explained that we brought
along his book, and he said it had the exact coordinates of “the spot." So I surmised with those
coordinates we should be able to find the location regardless of any changes
made to the structures. Rob also mentioned that the Presidio de San Saba was on
the way to FortMcKavett, and we should stop there and
look around. He told me he had included it in his book: Howard’s Haunts. So I
added that to our road trip itinerary.
Early Sunday morning David and
I loaded the car and took off. We made a quick stop at the GreenleafCemetery in Brownwood, TX,
saw the Howard family grave site, and searched a bit for Tevis Clyde Smith’s
grave site but had no luck finding it. The offices at Greenleaf were close
(since it was Sunday) so we were unable to ask for help. We then piled back
into the car and took off for FortMcKavett, TX.
Presidio de San Saba
The Presidio de San Saba
Sure enough, just as Rob had
explained, the Presidio de San Saba was a short hop down 190 (the same highway to Fort McKavett) slightly southwest of Menard,
TX. The Presidio sits right next
to the San Saba river, which, by the way, was filled with water due to recent
hard rains in Texas.
Being a Sunday, the offices to the
Presidio were closed. But, that did not deter us from wandering around the
"The Presidio de San Sabá was
established in 1757, to protect nearby Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá
constructed at the same time. An
additional incentive was to pursue rumors of silver riches nearby. At the time of its construction, the fort
represented the northernmost point of Spanish authority in Texas.
It is still the largest Spanish fort in the state." (http://www.presidiodesansaba.com)
Robert E. Howard has this to say about the Presidio,
“You will read much of San Saba
river and the surrounding territory in Coronado’s
Children. It is on the San Saba that the famous Lost Bowie Mine is suppose to
be located. (Though some maintain it was on the Rio de Las Chanas, now called LlanoRiver).
Near Menard, through which I passed on my way to FortMcKavett,
are the ruins of San Luis de Amarillas, the presidio built by the Spaniards to
protect workers in Los Almagres mine.” Robert E. Howard to August Derleth, in a
letter dated July 1933. (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard; 3.94)
The San Saba river as seen from
the Presidio de San Saba
We spent about a half an hour at
the Presidio, taking pictures, reading the various markers, and wandering
around the area. There were only two other people visiting this site at the
same time, a couple from Abilene. They asked us why we were there
visiting. I explained to them we were on our way to visit FortMcKavett,
stopped off here, and told them about Robert E. Howard. As is pretty much
always my experience, they did not know who Robert E. Howard was, but when I
mentioned Conan, they knew about him.
Me on the walls of the
The Presidio had been fully
restored with cement and the left over bricks/rocks from the original fort. So,
it looked quite different than the pictures from Rob Roehm’s book. Because of these renovations I began to really wonder if the “spot” where Howard took his famous snap shot would be
restored. Would it now be surrounded by what was once the original building?
Would that make it more difficult to find? Without hesitation, we got back in
the car and drove.
Farther down the road we
encountered the sign for FortMcKavett. And, while I
thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Presidio, my eagerness grew as we approached FortMcKavett.
Fort McKavett, Texas
“I’m enclosing a snap shot of
myself, taken among the ruins of Old Fort McKavett. I drove there last Sunday
and took a few pictures. Didn’t have time to work up an article, though. FortMcKavett
is in MenardCounty, about 155 miles southwest of
Cross Plains. It was established in 1871, and abandoned the same year. Again in
1872 it was occupied by two companies of cavalry and five of infantry—largely
negroes. It was abandoned permanently in 1883; and thereby hangs a tale, which is
not likely ever to be written—not by me, at least. I will merely remark that
the Federal soldiers found their most dangerous enemies not to be Comanches. FortMcKavett
is situated near the head waters of the San Saba river, and folks live there in
the less ruined buildings which once formed the barracks and officer’s
quarters.” Robert E. Howard to August Derleth, in a letter dated July 1933.
(The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard 3.93-94)
Robert E. Howard at Fort McKavett
Excitement raced through me as we
approached the front drive to enter FortMcKavett. The first thing
that struck me was how large the grounds actually were. To be honest, I was
expecting a quaint area with maybe two or three buildings. Instead, the entire
Fort and it’s surroundings cover a whopping 147 acres. There were buildings,
both dilapidated and complete, standing all over the area. However, the
buildings followed a concise structure in the shape of a large square with a
U.S. Flag in its center. According to the Fort McKavett State Historic website,
“In March 1852, the 8th U.S.
Infantry established FortMcKavett to protect West Texas
settlers and serve as a rest stop for California-bound immigrants. In 1859, FortMcKavett
was abandoned due to a decline in warfare with Native Americans as a result of
the establishment of reservations in Texas and
immigrants using a more southerly route to California. In 1868, the Army reopened FortMcKavett
as a military post when hostilities between local Comanche Indians and the
settlers increased after the Civil War. From 1868 to 1883, FortMcKavett
served as a major supply depot providing food and provisions for most of the
military campaigns, scientific and mapping explorations and other forts in West Texas. By 1875, hostilities in the area had been
resolved, resulting in the mandatory relocation of Native Americans to
reservations in Oklahoma, and FortMcKavett
was finally abandoned by Company D of the 16th Infantry Regiment in 1883. Soon
after the Army left, settlers began to move into the vacant buildings and the
town of Fort
McKavett was born, with the last residents moving out of the original buildings
in 1973. FortMcKavett was designated a state historic
site on May 17, 1968 to help preserve its important role in history for the
enjoyment of present and future generations.” (http://www.visitfortmckavett.com/index.aspx?page=530)
When Howard visited FortMcKavett,
back in 1933, as indicated in his letter to August Derleth (see above) there
were people still living in the barracks and officer’s quarters.
Fort McKavett view from the car lot
After we parked the car, our first
order of business was to go to the visitor's center and pay the daily fee of
$5.00 to visit and walk the grounds. I was afraid that the site would be closed
since it was Sunday. However, Texas State Historic Sites/grounds are open from sunrise to
sunset 7 days a week, so we were in luck. We spoke with the office attendant,
explained why we were there, and she walked over to a large filing cabinet,
opened the top drawer and pulled a file labeled Robert E. Howard. A smile grew
on my face as she opened the file and explained to us exactly where “the spot”
would be located on the Fort grounds. She pulled a copied picture of Howard’s
famous snap shot and a copy of the pages from Rob Roehm’s book Howard’s Haunts.
From the window of the office she
pointed out the area where the ruins were located and told us we should walk
the small museum adjacent to the guest office before walking the grounds. I must
admit, I had a hard time walking through the small museum and reading the
material. My mind was distracted by the idea of finding "the spot" where Robert
E. Howard stood and took that snap shot. But, after a few minutes, I forced myself
to quiet my mind and take in the history presented in the museum. If you ever
visit FortMcKavett, be sure and walk through this
mini-museum, it has some nice historical information, original items and
A model scene of the Fort in the
museum at the guest center
Finally, we left the visitor center
and museum and made the trek toward where Howard would have snapped his photo.
As we approached we noticed several of the buildings were not in ruins. I wondered if
those had been restored, and would the spot now be inside one of those
buildings. But, according to the attendant in the front office, the building
she pointed out, next to the old Captain’s quarters (which was still in ruins),
was also itself in ruins. We checked our map, wandered around the Captain’s
quarters for a little while trying to decide which of the two other ruined
buildings close-by was the actual location.
We trekked to what we thought was
the building. It was definitely in ruins and several of the fireplace areas
looked like the ones in Rob’s book (and thus Howard’s snap shot).
After a few minutes of searching, we found the spot. Everything lined up from
Rob’s photograph in Howard’s Haunts. An unusual feeling of excitement overcame
me; the same feeling I felt when I stepped inside the Howard House for the very
first time. Here I was standing in the same spot as Robert E. Howard, one of my
favorite authors. My imagination took hold and all the history of the Fort and what I knew of Robert E. Howard flooded my mind.
Me at "the spot"
“Ruins of FortMcKavett,
July 9, 1933; I like this snap; it makes me feel kind of like a Vandal or Goth
standing amidst the ruins of a Roman fortress or palace.” To H.P. Lovecraft
from Robert E. Howard, July 9, 1933. (The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard 3.92)
I was having a moment like what Howard described in his letter to H.P. Lovecraft, and the fact that Howard had been here too made it even more special. We actually
spent about 20 or more minutes at the spot, taking pictures, wandering around,
and talking about the history of the place. After we had soaked in the
excitement of finding the place where Howard snapped his shot, we then turned our
attention to the rest of the Fort.
My friend, David, at "the spot."
I can't even begin to depict how
stirring the Fort was. Seeing the buildings, canons, soldier’s quarters, and
reading the various plaques with historical information, all of these things certainly spark the
imagination. At one point, we rounded a building and David said, “Can you
imagine being here in the late 1800s when all the soldiers were here?” He
pointed off in the distance and said, “It would be so cool to just ride up on horseback
toward one of the soldiers after scouting the area and shout, “Hey, soldier,
where’s the Captain? I have my report!” This is the kind of thing the Fort
elicits from the imaginative mind. I can see why Howard was so taken in by the
Several of the quarters were open,
so we entered them and explored the buildings. What surprised me most about the
inside of the buildings was the fact that even though it was in the upper 90s
outside (quite hot), it was much cooler inside. I placed my hand on one of the
walls and the brick was actually cool. The buildings were designed to let the
outside air enter in the front, swirls around several of the rooms and then exit out a back window or door; all the while cooling the rooms as it passed
We spent several hours wandering
the grounds. When we finally decided to leave, I mentioned going back to the
visitor center to look around before we took off. However, I wanted to see the
“Howard spot” one last time. So, we split up. David headed back to visitor center,
and I made my way back to Field Grade Officer’s Quarters where Howard took his
snap shot. I spend a few minutes, took a few more pictures, walked a little
around the ruins of the old building, and imagined what it would have been like
when Howard was here. I then made my way back to the guest center.
Upon arriving at the guest center I
discovered David talking to a different person than when we first arrived.
Fortunately, this gentleman was the site manager. He gave us a brief history of
the Fort and told us of the spring head and lime kiln about a quarter
mile down a certain trail over by the picnic area. We talked a little about
Robert E. Howard, he knew much more than the first person we encountered in the
guest office. He also told us that periodically people came from all over the
country just to visit the spot where Howard took his famous photograph. He explained that nothing had been altered since the Fort was first built. This
was good information. He said they had not intended to do any
renovations on the Fort because they wanted to keep it faithful to its
historical roots. I was glad to hear this.
An original engraving on the outside wall of one of the
After talking with the site
manager. We made our way to the picnic area in order to walk the quarter mile
down the trail to the limestone kiln and spring head. The kiln was still there, but
mostly filled in with large limestone rocks. I could imagine the men creating
these exceedingly hot fires to melt the limestone in the kiln. Just on the
other side of the kiln was a direct drop of about 20 or more feet. I leaned a
little over the edge and could see a large hole in the side of the cliff where
the fire was created.
Farther down the path, we entered
another world entirely. From open ground, high grass and rocks to trees thick
as a forest. This change occurred almost abruptly, so I knew we had to be close
to the spring head because only a constant flow of water could provide the area with this many trees. At the end of the trail we ran right into the spring
head. The water came out through the rocks pouring its way into a small creek
and flowing away toward the San Saba river. We were told that the spring head
never dried up. I can now see the importance of FortMcKavett’s
location and how people could survive in this area with this constant flow of
I’m so glad we decided to take this
small excursion after REH Days this year. To tromp around in the very places Howard did is quite exciting, especially having read his accounts of these
places. If you ever decide to make the trek to Texas
and visit the Presidio De San Saba and FortMcKavett,
I can tell you now it is well worth the trip. To visit the historical sites
that made Texas
what it is today and to see first-hand how the state was maintained, protected, and served, is an experience like no other. It definitely helps those readers of
Robert E. Howard’s work understand why he wrote some of what he wrote. It's quite obvious that Texas certainly had a
huge influence on the barbarian from Cross Plains.
Above is a brief video of a pictorial tour with a bit of historical information included.
For Further Research on the Presidio de San Saba & Fort McKavett:
Additional Facts about Fort McKavett . . . (From the Fort McKavett State Historic Website)
Fort McKavett was home to soldiers from all four of the famous Buffalo Soldier regiments. Many of these African American soldiers used the educational and financial opportunities given to them by the Army to become successful businessmen after their service.
Sgt. Emanuel Stance of the 9th Cavalry received the first Medal of Honor awarded to an African American soldier after the Civil War for his service at Fort McKavett.
Women were employed by the Army at Fort McKavett as laundresses. It was common for a woman to do the laundry of 19 men for $1 per soldier a month, including housing and food. Although it was difficult work, these women made $19 or more a month while an Army private made $13.
Under direction of the Fort McKavett surgeon, Army personnel at the fort became the first weathermen in the area by keeping records of temperatures and rainfall at the post.
Fort McKavett’s structures are considered among the most well-preserved of the Texas frontier forts.
How are you going to celebrate the gul-orious Fourth, which is tomorrow? Of late years that occasion has been observed a right smart in the Southwest. When I first remember,, the Fourth of July was just another day. Too hot to shoot fire-crackers; at least we considered it so then. We saved our fire-works for Christmas, and I recall with a slight shudder the homemade fire-works my pal and I used to experiment with: dynamite caps, blasting powder, and six shooters."
To Novalyne Price, July 4th, 1935:
I take my typewriter in hand to write you a letter on this grand and suspicious—I mean auspicious occasion—when the zoom of the horse-race and the rodeo is heard in the land, punctuated by the flap of waving flags, the rumble of patriotic speeches, and the howls of patriots getting their scalps burnt off by premature fire-crackers.
To August Derleth, July 4th 1935:
I seem to ramble, but ignore it. It is merely a result of being too full of beer, Burgundy wine and a peculiarly potent blackberry brandy liqueur I discovered in Socorro, New Mexico. This is the glorious fourth, dear patriotic hearts from the sunny slopes of Maine to the muscle-bound coasts of San Diego, and I must do my patriotic duty.
I wanted to go to the annual rodeo of Stamford, but not enough to drive a hundred and fifty miles in this heat and my present state of finances. Will Rogers was there, and I understand there was—or is—a distinguished bevy of bronc busters, calf-ropers and bull-throwers—particularly the latter. I'll maybe get to go next year—probably won't.
[. . .]
Now that's but a poor thought on the fourth of July. But the liquor has stirred up old memories and set the ghosts of the dead walking in my mind.
Happy 4th of July from Texas!
All the above letters are from The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (Vols. 1-3) by Robert E. Howard, edited by Rob Roehm.