Sunday, March 31, 2019

Robert E. Howard’s Cow by Bobby Derie

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
The Howard House in Cross Plains, Texas sits on a grassy lot, some ways away from Main Street (Highway 206) and the downtown district, with a field behind it. When the Howards lived there, the property included a barn, and though not rural in any real sense—the Howards could easily see their next door neighbors—the country was not far off, and they had space to grow vegetables and keep a few animals. H. P. Lovecraft, a native to cities, was under the impression that they lived on a small farm (ES2.523-524, LFB 32), but Robert E. Howard declared:
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)

The average pregnancy for a cow is 280 days; if Delhi gave birth around April or May, and the Howards had bred her, then it was impregnated around August 1933, so the Howards must have owned her since at least that time.
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:

Your cows are likewise an interesting lot—and the touch of HIndoo ancestry adds picturesque atmosphere. Sorry the calf didn’t turn out to be a heifer—but better luck may occur next time. The vicious Jersey surely was a termagant, and your fight with her might have been an even more serious matter than it was. Glad you traded her off—I fancy she’ll be more useful as beef than as a milk factory!—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 11 Jul 1935, MF2.856
The description of Delhi emphasizes her connection with the visit by the Prices to Cross Plains in ‘34 (Price and his wife would be through again later in 1935). E. Hoffmann Price was something of an Orientalist, fond of everything from the Middle East to the Far East, where he set many of his stories. Anecdotes of his life often involve his fondness for Persian rugs, Turkish coffee, using a Chinese chop to sign his name, Indian curry, and other exoticisms; all material he drew on for his contributions to Oriental Stories, a market he shared with Robert E. Howard. On his visit to Robert E. Howard in ‘34, Price noted:
In our correspondence, Robert and I had, following our play of whimsy, placed much emphasis on the nomad's preference for sour rather than sweet milk; and because of my association with a good many Syrians in New Orleans, I had developed a genuine taste for leban, so Mrs. Howard never failed to set out a pitcher of buttermilk or "clabber" with each meal. (IMH 259, WIW 143)
E. Hoffmann Price
Leban (labneh) is a strained yogurt dish, often used as a dip or dessert, whose characteristic sour taste comes from the lactic acid produced by bacteria as the milk product ferments. In the United States before pasteurization or refridgeration were common, the unpasteurized milk could be churned for butter and cream, and the liquid left behind (often a bit sour, as the milk had already begun to ferment) would be buttermilk. Clabber is another sour milk product, where the milk was allowed to curdle until it thickened like yogurt.
Sweet or sour, Robert E. Howard like his dairy:
Milk — I see people coaxing children to drink milk, and I can’t understand their dislike for it. I always drank it in huge quantities, and believe it’s one reason I was always so healthy. Cheese—give me limburger cheese, German sausage and beer and I’m content—yes, and a bit of what they call “smear-cake”—a rather unsavory name, for what we call cottage- or cream-cheese.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 2 Nov 1932 (CL2.458-459, MF1.436)
Neither Price nor Howard mention one of the more famous sour milk products—kumis. Any sugar can potentially be converted into alcohol, including lactose—the sugar expressed in milk.
Kumis (also commonly kumiss or koumiss) is a fermented dairy product, traditionally created from fermented mare’s milk, although it can also be made from any other milk (the Cross Plains Review dated 31 Dec 1926 actually contains a recipe for it). A culturally important in the cultures of many Central Asian peoples, kumis was an appropriately exotic element of the alien cultures that Howard was fascinated with, and crops up a few times in his fiction, notably “The Sowers of the Thunder,” “The Daughter of Erlik Khan,” and “The Garden of Fear.”
Price reflected on Delhi more than once in his recollections of the visit with the Howards, recalling:
[...] the cottage near the outskirts, convenient to the pasture where Delhi, the little dun cow, grazed between milkings. (IMH 259-260, WIW 144)
How we led the Sacred Cow to pasture [...] (WIW 220)
The home churned butter was only a start: there was also clabber. Thanks to Delhi, the little hump-backed cow who divided her time between her back yard shelter and the grazing areas of a number of vacant lots, dairy products were plentiful. (BOD 75)
In view of my fondness for pitchers of clabber and buttermilk, he knew that I was always interested in Delhi's well being. (IMH 265, WIW 148)

Robert E. Howard’s conscientiousness in the regard to keeping Price informed of Delhi’s health involved part of a letter:
I had occasion to occasion to suspect someone else wrongly, as it turned out. Delhi fell off in her milk so, that I became convinced somebody was milking her on the sly, a custom far from uncommon in these part. So I set a trap with her as bait, and hid myself in the barn with a shotgun, where I lurked broodingly for some time. But no sinister figure, armed with a milk pail, come sneaking in, yet at the next milking time her output was still scanty. So I made an estimate of her pregnancy and discovered it was time for her to go dry naturally. I suppose I should have apologized to somebody for thinking him a milk-thief, but I didn't know who to apologize to, as my suspicions had been rather sweeping.—Robert E. Howard to E. Hoffmann Price, 15 Feb 1936 (CL3.423, IMH 286-287, WIW 165)

Price later repeated this anecdote in his own words, using it as further evidence for his report that his Texan friend reported “enemies,” real or imagined. (BOD 83, IMH 265, WIW 140) When exactly this incident occurred is unclear; cows provide milk for about 10 months after giving birth. If Delhi calved around April 1934, her milk would probably give out around December of the same same year. The Howards may have bred her again—Price’s story of his brief visit in c. Nov 1935 do not explicitly mention Delhi or her milk—but it seems unlike the Texas pulpster would mention Delhi in early 1936 unless she was still present.
However, early 1936 also occasioned a long visits to Marlin, San Angelo, and Carlsbad, Texas, where Robert E. Howard’s mother was taking medical treatment for weeks at a time.  (CL3.459, MF2.921) It may be they had difficulty looking after a cow when one or both of Robert E. Howard and Dr. Howard were away for such periods. In any event, shortly after they returned home in February, the Howards appear to have gotten goats:
We got goats and for weeks she lived mainly on their milk.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 13 May 1936 (CL3.459, MF2.952, cf. OWA 280)
Howard had to learn how to milk goats (CL3.461, MF2.953), but seems to have treated them not too different from cows. In a letter to Weird Tales composed around this time, he noted:
Enthusiasm impels me to pause from burning spines off cactus for my drouth-bedeviled goats long enough to give three slightly dust-choked cheers for the April cover illustration. (CL3.462)

This practice appears to be one that the Texas pulpster had referred to earlier:
A lady in Mission, near which Garner owns a good deal of land, told me last winter that many a time she’s seen him out in the pastures burning stickers off prickly pears for his cattle during drouths. A homely touch that I appreciate highly, because that’s all that kept the cattle in this section alive during the big drouth of ’17 and ’18.—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 13 Jul 1932 (CL2.375, MF1.317)

Eating cacti might have saved the goats, but not even goat milk could save Mrs. Howard. No record has yet come forward as to what happened to the Howard’s livestock after the death of Robert E. Howard and his mother in July 1936. It appears that after their deaths, Dr. Howard sold the cow to the father of one of his son’s friends, Lindsey Tyson:
This cow you spoke about, I believe was a resident of their place about 4 or 5 years before Bob's death, she was a Gurnsey Milchcow, I knew about her, as a matter of fact my father bought the cow from Dr. Howard, Bob had named the cow Delhi.—Lindsey Tyson to L. Sprague de Camp, 18 Feb 1977
Vinson was about seventy at the time, and his recollections slightly confused, but in this particular there is no reason to doubt his memory.
Little enough remains of Delhi, between Howard’s letter to Lovecraft and Price’s recollection. A crossbreed milch cow isn’t likely to be registered; how much Brahma cattle was in her background is hard to say, though the dun color of her coat and the distinctive hump that Price recalled suggest more than the “touch” that Robert E. Howard reported...yet she would live on in Price’s memory for a long time, “Delhi, the Brahma-Jersey cow” (WIW 222), as would Howard’s mother, so that decades later he would write:
Mrs. Howard always gracious, always had clabbered milk (in lieu of the leban which Syrians offered me)—E. Hoffmann Price to L. Sprague de Camp, 2 Sep 1979 (IMH 332)
Hester Jane Ervin Howard


BOD       Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear
CL        The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard
DS        Day of the Stranger
ES       Essential Solitude: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth
IMH     The Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
LFB      Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, &c.
MF      A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard
WIW   West Is West and Others

Other Works cited
Brown, W. Norman (1964). “The Sanctity of the Cow in Hinduism.” Retrieved from:

Parr, Virgil V. (1923). Brahman (Zebu) Cattle. Retrieved from:
United States Department of Agriculture (Mar 1932). The Agricultural Outlook for 1932. Retrieved from:

With thanks and appreciation for the help of Rusty Burke and Dave Goudsward.


doublenoughtspy said...

Fascinating reading, and wonderful detailed research!

It is such an interesting dichotomy to think of the blood and thunder of his writing and the tender care he had for the cows, goats, and cats.

Gary said...

I believe there was a letter to Manly Wade Wellman where REH complained about shoveling cow manure. He wrote, "Don't have a cow, Man."

David said...

Thanks for sharing this Post, Keep Updating such topics.