Thursday, March 8, 2018

Robert E. Howard on the Llano Estacado and the Collection at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library by Rob King

Texas Tech University's Southwest
Collections/Special Collections Library

No Howard scholar need be lectured on the wealth of Texan perspective found in the letters of Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft as collected in A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. One could hardly thumb through thirty pages without landing on a reference. Widely exaggerated and held in a reverence all his own, Howard’s history of Texas requires each reader to approach it with a zeal and skepticism alike. If there is a goal to this brief article, it is to begin to focus on a portion however brief—a portion of his letters and a portion of Texas. The author of this article is a librarian at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library who has attended three of Cross Plains’ Robert E. Howard Days over the past four years and was responsible for digitalization and metadata for the majority of the Cross Plains Review. It is with that background that interest in Howard’s letter from October 1930 began. The letter runs fifteen pages long, barring reference notes. In that packed page count, the topics vary from appreciation of publications to genealogy to the Llano Estacado, etcetera. In the letter, Howard claims to have “but recently returned” from the Llano Estacado landscape. For the purposes of this study, the focus will be on the month of October of 1930 to give context to Howard’s communicated experiences traveling on the Llano Estacado and then look at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections as uniquely positioned to study the author and his assertions.

At the time of this letter’s composition, one immediately learns that H.P. Lovecraft’s novella “The Whisper in the Darkness” has just been accepted for publication. For comparison, it is noted by letter’s end that Howard has also just sold Weird Tales his short story “The Children of the Night,” wherein he has firmly embraced his Bran-cult along with all of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods and Necronomicon. The attention needed here, though, looks to the last paragraph appearing on page ninety of A Means to Freedom. It allows for examination of Howard’s statements on Texas as he states “And it must indeed be said, that though most native Texans are of Southern blood, there is a great difference between them and natives of the Old South. I notice it every time I go to Lousiana [sic] or Arkansaw. [sic] We think of ourselves, and really are, not Southerners nor Westerners, but Southwesterners. Our accent is more like the South than the North or the Middle West, but it differs greatly from the true Southern accent.”[1] This is largely true and speaks somewhat to the idea of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library’s scope and purpose. As Howard speaks to this distinction, the question almost always becomes “where does West Texas begin?” Many would say it begins west of I-20, near Fort Worth—this is Howard’s position—while those born further into the region might claim it begins west of Abilene up into the Panhandle. For context against this particular letter, I’ll look at digitized newspapers for Lubbock and Slaton to get a clearer picture of the environment Howard would have been referencing for Lovecraft in the following passages.

I have but recently returned from a trip to the great northwest plain which, beginning about the 33rd parallel run on up into Oklahoma and Kansas. Texas is really, especially in the western part, a series of plateaus, like a flight of steps, sloping from 4000 feet in the Panhandle to sea-level. You travel for a hundred or so miles across level plains, then come to a very broken belt of hills and canyons, then passing through them you come on to another wide strip of level country at a lower or higher elevation according to the direction in which you are travelling-and so on, clear to the Gulf. I was on the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, so called from the fact that Spanish priests, crossing the plains long ago, marked the way with buffalo skulls stuck on stakes. Twenty years ago most of that country was cattle-range; now the great majority is in cultivation. The Llano Estacado is the last stand for the big-scale Texas farmer. Farms of a thousands [sic] acres, every inch under cultivation are not uncommon. A farm of that size requires a tractor and a veritable herd of work horses to cultivate it properly. During busy seasons the work goes on day and night; they work by shifts and labor from sunrise to sunrise. The average elevation is better than 3000 feet and the country is perfectly flat. You can see for miles in every direction; there are no trees except such as have been planted. Its a great, raw, open new country with mighty possibilities,
but I'd go dippy living there. I was born and mainly raised in the Central Texas hill country and I have to have hills and trees!

The Llano Estacado is largely in the hands of native Texans of old American stock. You see, its really a pioneer country. The European scum sticks to the lowlands and the Gulf coast, waiting for the Old Americans to open the country up and get it going-and paying. THEN they'll swarm in and take it over.[2]

Howard is prone to exaggerating the pioneer adventure of a region in his letters, sometimes for effect, some for honest belief. This was not uncommon in communications on the territory, though motivations differ. We can look to another holding in the Southwest Collection Library for some clarification. One of the earliest published land promotional materials held by the library is the 1901 A Prospector’s Guide to West Texas and Llano Estacado by W.P. Florence, who would later become the first Superintendent for Slaton, TX schools. “The Llano Estacado, Staked Plain, is very little understood, in general, and badly misrepresented by some who wish to keep back immigration. From the study of our school books, one would think this a desert waste, where nothing could live but snakes, prairie dogs, cattle, cowboys, and desperadoes, but lately, there seems to be aroused a general suspicion that something good exists beyond the ‘cap rock.’”[3] Given that, one must certainly note Howard’s admiration for the hardworking farmers of the region, and his note on the sloping steps of plateaus is near dead-on. Florence backs that up, stating “The Cap Rock is an almost perpendicular mountain wall about 300 to 400 feet high, extending irregularly through the counties of Briscoe, Motley, Dickens, Crosby, Garza, Borden, and Martin.”[4] Then, even for all of the facts, one must be careful of land promotion claims per their very interests, to sell one on the land. The Southwest Collection currently holds the largest collection of land promotions on the area next to Yale University Library. From these, one could learn a perspective on territory boasting that in effect could match Howard’s own verbose salesmanship.  

Still, the newspapers of the period might paint a better picture of the environment in which Howard had so recently traveled at the time of this letter. In looking to the student paper for then Texas Technological College from October 1930, “At a meeting of the board of directors of the college last Saturday in Fort Worth, plans were made to use $20,000 on hand to build a power house on the Texas Technological College campus.”[5] Development remained at large the agricultural cultivation Howard claimed, but as seen in the statement above, the college was bringing in an altogether new addition to the economy, one perhaps less noted in the narration of the West’s history at the time. In Slaton, cotton development is noted around the same time period. “The five Slaton gins that are op-crating this season had received a total of 1,562 bales of this season’s cotton up to last Saturday afternoon, it was shown by a tabulution (sic) of figures at that time. This represented receipts totalling 310 bales for the preceding two weeks’ period, it was announced.”[6] Unfortunately, looking to The Post Dispatch and the Cross Plains Review, there are no issues for 1930 available. The idea here is to note the context these archival materials can lend to the credence of Robert E. Howard’s claims in letters to Lovecraft.

In the 1980’s, the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library had a librarian on staff who encouraged the library to collect Howard’s works. I have taken on that mantel since that time. While budgets currently restrict new purchases—this is occurring in libraries through the United States—it is hoped that future patrons will be able to use these current holdings to explore such research. Earlier than that, librarians on staff worked diligently in the days of microfilming to secure loyalties to communities in need of preserving their local materials. In that endeavor, the collection was fortunate to establish that relationship with Cross Plains, which allowed for the recent digitization (a microfilming phase two of sorts) of the community’s newspapers, which can be found here: Following is a collected bibliography of Texas Tech University’s holdings for researchers.

Texas Tech University's Southwest
Collections/Special Collections Library

A Bibliography of Robert E. Howard Works in Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library:

Burke, R. (2006). Robert E. Howard in Cross Plains : A Guide for the Howard Fan. Rusty Burke.
The Cross Plains Review. (1910).
De Camp, L., Griffin, C., & Griffin, Jane Whittington. (1983). Dark Valley destiny : The life of Robert E. Howard.
Ellis, N. (1986). One who walked alone : Robert E. Howard, the final years (First ed.).
Finn, M. (2006). Blood & thunder : The life & art of Robert E. Howard.
Herron, D. (1984). The Dark barbarian : The writings of Robert E. Howard : A critical anthology(Contributions to the study of science fiction and fantasy, no. 9).
Howard, R., & Lord, G. (1977). Always comes evening : The collected poems of Robert E. Howard.
Howard, R., Fenner, A., Underwood, T., Frazetta, B., Lovecraft, F., Frazetta, Frank, & Lovecraft, H. P. (2008). --and their memory was a bitter tree-- : Queen of the Black Coast and others (First ed.).
Howard, R. (2008). Beyond the Black River (Howard, Robert E. (Robert Ervin), 1906-1936. Works. Selections ; v. 3).
Howard, R. (1979). Black colossus.
Howard, R., & Tompkins, S. (2005). The black stranger and other American tales (Howard, Robert Ervin, 1906-1936. Works of Robert E. Howard).
Howard, R. (1950). Conan the conqueror; the Hyborean Age.
Howard, R., & Drake, D. (1987). Cthulhu : The mythos and kindred horrors.
Howard, R. (1963). The dark man and others.
Howard, R. (1976). The devil in iron.
Howard, R. E. (1928, November-December). Drums of the Sunset. The Cross Plains Review.
Howard, R. (1972). Echoes from an iron harp.
Howard, R., & Burke, R. (2005). The end of the trail : Western stories (Howard, Robert Ervin, 1906-1936. Works of Robert E. Howard).
Howard, R. E. (1931). The Ghost of Camp Colorado. Frontier Times, 420-422.
Howard, R., & Tierney, R. (1979). Hawks of Outremer.
Howard, R., & Tucker, E. (1989). The hour of the dragon.
Howard, R. (2008). Hour of the dragon (Howard, Robert E. (Robert Ervin), 1906-1936. Works. Selections ; v. 4).
Howard, R. E. (2015). The Hyborian Age : facsimile edition. Talahassee : Skulos Press.
Howard, R. (1976). The iron man : & other tales of the ring (First ed.).
Howard, R. (1979). Jewels of Gwahlur.
Howard, R., & Kuper, P. (1984). The last cat book (First ed.).
Howard, R., & Eagleson, G. (1981). Lord of the dead (First ed.).
Howard, R. (1977). Marchers of Valhalla.
Howard, R. (1979). Mayhem on Bear Creek.
Howard, R., Frazetta, F., & Corben, R. (1976). Night images : A book of fantasy verse (First ed.).
Howard, R. (2007). People of the dark : The weird works of Robert E. Howard (Weird works of Robert E. Howard ; $v. 2).
Howard, R. (1986). The pool of the black one.
Howard, R. (1990). Post oaks & sand roughs (First ed.).
Howard, R., & Kirk, T. (1977). The pride of Bear Creek (1st ed.). West Kingston, R.I.: Donald M. Grant.
Howard, R. (1978). Queen of the Black Coast.
Howard, R., & Gentzel, D. (2005). The riot at Bucksnort and other Western tales (Howard, Robert Ervin, 1906-1936. Works of Robert E. Howard).
Howard, R. (1985). Robert E. Howard's Kull (First hardcover ed.).
Howard, R. (1976). Rogues in the house (Deluxe ed.).
Howard, R., Lovecraft, H., Havoc, J., Mitchell, D., & Serra, D. (2012). Skullcrusher : Selected weird fiction. Volume 1.
Howard, R. (2004). Shadow kingdoms : The weird works of Robert E. Howard. Volume 1 (First ed.).
Howard, R. (1976). Black Vulmea's vengeance & other tales of pirates (First ed.).
Howard, R. (1980). The vultures of Whapeton.
Howard, R. (1979). Wolfshead.
Howard, R., Roehm, R., Burton, D., & Project Pride , publisher. (2008). A word from the outer dark : A sampling of poetry.
Keller, D., Breuer, M., Lovecraft, H., Eshbach, L., Crawford, W., & Howard, R. (1945). The garden of fear and other stories of the bizarre and fantastic.
Lansdale, J., Fox, N., Stewart, D., & Howard, R. (2009). Pigeons from hell (First ed.).
Lord, G. (1976). The Last Celt : A bio-bibliography of Robert Ervin Howard (First ed.).
Lovecraft, H., Howard, R., Joshi, S., Schultz, D., & Burke, R. (2011). A means to freedom : The letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (First softcover ed.).
Nielsen, L. (2010). Robert E. Howard : A collector's descriptive bibliography of American and British hardcover, paperback, magazine, special and amateur editions, with a biography.
Roehm, R., & Roehm, Bob. (2010). The Brownwood connection : A guide for Robert E. Howard fans. Plano, Tex.: Robert E. Howard Foundation Press.
Sammon, P. (2007). Conan the phenomenon (First ed.).
Walker, D. (1989). Mavericks : Ten uncorralled Westerners.

A Bibliography of Robert E. Howard Works in Texas Tech University’s Library:

Howard, R., & Lord, G. (1991). Selected letters, 1931-1936.
Schweitzer, D. (1978). Conan's world and Robert E. Howard (First ed., The Milford series).
Thomas, R., Windsor-Smith, Barry, & Howard, Robert E. (2003). The chronicles of Conan. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Comics.
Thomas, R., Macchio, R., Chaykin, H., & Howard, R. (2009). The chronicles of Solomon Kane.

[1] Lovecraft, H. P., Robert E. Howard, S. T. Joshi, David E. Schultz, and Rusty Burke. A Means to Freedom : The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Second Softcover edition. Hippocampus Press, 2017, p. 90.
[2] Lovecraft, H. P., Robert E. Howard, p. 90.
[3] Florence, Will P. A Prospector's Guide to West Texas and Llano Estacado. [Southwest Collection Land Promotion Material]. W.P. Florence, 1901.
[4] Florence, p. 2.
[5] Emison, Frank. Toreador, The, October 31, 1930. Accessed 03/04/2018.
[6] Roderick, T.E.. Slaton Slatonite, October 24, 1930. Accessed 03/04/2018.

About The Author: Rob E. King


Rob E. King is a librarian for Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library where his work is focused in metadata, cataloging, discovery systems, and digital publishing. He has published in the West Texas Historical Review and is an Associate Editor and Staff Writer for 25 Years Later: A Site Both Wonderful & Strange, a Twin Peaks fan-driven publication. His work is focused in West Texas history and in the popular culture communities related to the Southwest.