Brian Leno was the first ever Guest Blogger on this site courtesy his Jack the Ripper expertise, and he’s back today talking about another of his interests, the Texas writer Robert E. Howard. You’ll find some of Brian’s excellent litcrit on REH in his eBook Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation — a must-read for any fan of the creator of Conan.
Currently Brian is poking along on his long-planned book on the boxing world of REH, diving ever deeper into the fight scene in the four-cornered rings and the ice houses of Howard’s day, when pugilists such as Kid Dula were smacking gloves.
His research in the forgotten newspapers of yesteryear led Brian to a nice little discovery about REH, and — reminded by the Independence celebrations a couple of days ago — he popped the dope toward the Mean Streets.
Take it away, Brian:
It wouldn’t engage a flight of fancy to say that Robert E. Howard was known to have exaggerated a bit in his correspondence. Whether he thought he needed to impress his friends by inventing — or improving upon — fights or marathon drinking binges he had either participated in or had been a witness to is something that most likely will never be completely uncovered by any Howard scholar.
But I’ve got one for you.
A 4th of July letter to future Arkham House co-founder, and Howard’s fellow contributor to Weird Tales, August Derleth has always attracted my attention.
Written on the holiday in 1935, Howard relates stories of many friends who had died violently. There are quite a few of them. For the particulars of how most of these pals moved into the next world, turn to the third volume of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard and browse the annotations after each death event.
Not the ending for Clyde Keith, though. The footnote reads: “No information has been located on this individual or incident”.
Here’s how Howard describes the murder of this acquaintance to Derleth:
And there was Clyde Keith, another schoolmate. It was a fight on a lonely road, and he had his man down, feeling for his eyes. “A fight is a fight,” said the other, “but I’ll not go through life with my eyes out; let go, or I’ll do you a mortal hurt.” But the liquor was on Clyde, and he said: “I’ll gouge the eyeballs out of you like rotten grapes.” So the man below him reached up with his knife and ripped the life out of him at one slash.
For verification that this battle really happened I am happy to report that we can turn to The Breckenridge American, Wednesday, January 16th, 1929. Under the heading “Knife Wounds Fatal” it reads:
Clyde Keith, 21, died in a hospital today of knife wounds received Saturday night. Robert L. Parker, 21, who had been at liberty under $1000 bond was rearrested and charged with murder, and his examining trial was set for Saturday.
While the Texas pulp writer may have indulged in a little hyperbole it’s clear that, a scant 34 years after John Wesley Hardin was shot in the back by John Selman in El Paso, the Lone Star State could still be a dangerous place.