A Death in the Family

When researching Robert E. Howard and those around him, every once in a while you run into conflicting “facts,” like the different birth dates for Howard himself. This past January, my dad and I were in Texas looking for Howard’s uncle on his mom’s side, William Vinson Ervin, and ran into one of those discrepancies.

At some point I’ll put all the information I’ve got regarding W. V. Ervin into an article or blog post, but for today, all that one needs to know is that W. V. appears to have been a fairly big shot in the city of Big Spring, where he started a newspaper, The Enterprise, and lived with his family beginning in late 1898. As we have seen, the Howards visited the Ervins in Big Spring at least once.

Anyway, the November 11, 1927 edition of the Big Spring Herald ran the following:

DEATH CLAIMS W. V. ERVIN

William Vinson Ervin, Sr., aged sixty-seven years, one of our long time residents and highly esteemed citizens was claimed by death at the family home south of Big Spring at four o’clock Monday afternoon, Nov. 7. Mr. Ervin had been ill for a number of years and had traveled over a great portion of the state the past four years in the hope of regaining his health. He had been seriously ill for months past at his home here.

Mr. Ervin is one of the best newspaper men in Texas. He was former owner and editor of the Big Spring Enterprise and played a big part in the task of converting West Texas from a cowman’s paradise to an agricultural section. When he conducted a newspaper in Big Spring away back in the 1900s, it was not popular to boost the agricultural possibilities of this section but he stuck to his prediction that Howard County was destined to become the farmer’s paradise. He was for better churches and schools and never lost an opportunity to aid these great moral and educational forces.

He was a most worthy citizen from every standpoint: big hearted, kindly, and ever ready to aid the needy. He was a faithful husband, a fond and indulgent father and loyal and true to his friends and many hearts are saddened by his death.

Funeral services were conducted at the First Christian Church, of which he was a staunch and faithful member, by the pastor, Claude Wingo, at five o’clock Tuesday evening and the remains were laid to rest in Mt. Olive cemetery.

He is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, W. V. Ervin of this city, J. R. Ervin of Dalhart, Misses Lesta and Maxine Ervin of Dallas. Two brothers, C. E. Ervin of Shawnee, Okla., Wynton Ervin of Oklahoma City; two sisters, Mrs. M. A. Mitchell of Gainsville, Texas, and Mrs. I. M. Howard of Cross Plains, Texas, and three half-sisters, Mrs. W. P. Searcy of Exeter, Mo., Mrs. S. H. Doyel, Exeter, Mo., and Mrs. Grover Baker of Roger, Ark., also survive.

To the relatives who mourn for their loved one is extended the heartfelt sympathy of the many friends in this community.

I had visited Mt. Olive Cemetery before and found W. V.’s sister, Alice Comer, but couldn’t locate W.V.’s grave at that time. So this January, dad and I stopped in at the cemetery’s office and they explained why I hadn’t found the burial site: W. V.’s grave has no headstone. I found this strange, mostly because Ervin was a big name in the city, at least I thought he was. They gave us the location of his grave and off we went. In the photo that heads this post there is a light gray headstone on the left (one of W. V.’s sons, Frank Wynton Ervin, who only lived two years) and a dark gray headstone on the right. Cemetery records say that W. V. Ervin occupies the empty space between those two stones.

After leaving the grave yard, we hit the county courthouse. There, I grabbed a copy of W. V.’s death certificate. If anyone can decipher the cause of death, I’d sure like to know what it says.

Before W. V.’s death, and certainly after it, the remaining family sort of scattered, and by the time of the 1930 U.S. Census, some of them had landed in Jefferson County, on the Gulf Coast, and others in Harrison County, east of Dallas. It is there that we find the fact that does not fit.

On the 1930 Census form for the town of Marshall, we find W. V.’s son, William V. Ervin, Junior, working as a clerk at a railway office. He is listed as the son of the head of household: William V. Ervin, Senior, a man who supposedly had died two years before. True, there are problems with the listing, both of their ages are wrong, for example, but not too wrong, and as Hester Howard’s example shows, one didn’t have to be truthful on the Census. This, and the lack of a headstone, could it be?

I know, I know, I’ve probably watched too many episodes of CSI, and these two Ervins are not related to the ones I was looking for. But wouldn’t it be cool if Robert E. Howard’s uncle faked his own death for some mysterious reason?

Happy Friday.