Last year, Rusty Burke and I wrote a piece for The Dark Man entitled “Gloria.” The essay was a study of Echla Ovie Laxson, who was Clyde Smith’s girlfriend in the mid-1920s and, according to Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, was the first girl Robert E. Howard ever kissed. At the end of that essay, Burke wonders, “Whither Echla?” At the time of our writing, the 1940 Census had not been released, so we ended with what we knew from Post Oaks and the 1930 Census; a recent search has turned up lots of details, including the 1940 Census, a couple of marriage records, and several listings in city directories. There’s enough “new” information to warrant this addendum. To wit:
In Post Oaks and Sand Roughs, Howard wrote that, in the midst of a pregnancy scare, Tevis Clyde Smith and Echla Laxson—“Clive” and “Gloria” in the novel—had “married and left town the same day,” with “Gloria” reportedly going to Kansas City. In her introduction to Report on a Writing Man, Novalyne Price Ellis gives us the real location: not Kansas, but Oklahoma City. A bit later in the novel, Howard tells us that “Clive returned. He had been in New Mexico, where he had kept in hiding until he heard that his wife had sued for and had been granted a divorce on the plea of desertion.”
Thanks to Charlotte Laughlin’s research notes in the de Camp files at the Harry Ransom Center, I knew the date of the marriage and was able to obtain a copy of the marriage certificate (at left) from the Brown County courthouse; the divorce records were not so easy. I called several counties in Oklahoma and had them search for Echla, without success. Then I stumbled on a few genealogy websites and found the following:
I’m not sure why my call to OK County didn’t turn this up. Thank goodness for the internet!
The next Echla sighting is in the 1930 Census; she is living in Oklahoma as the wife of William T. Hay with son William T., Jr (2.5 years old). That’s where Rusty and I ended our article, but the release of the 1940 Census, as well as other documents, has finally rounded out the life of Howard’s first kiss.
I couldn’t find Echla Hay in 1940; I did find William T. living in New Mexico with one of his children from a previous marriage. He is listed as “widowed”; William Jr, is not listed with him. After poking around some more, I found one Echla O. Geist living in “Davis town,” Oklahoma, with husband Charles C. and son Wayne T., 12-years-old. Like Echla Laxson-Smith-Hay, this Echla was also born in Texas and was the correct age—her son, too, was the correct age. Must be our girl. Armed with the new name, I did another search and found the Geists in a 1935 Enid, OK city directory. “C. Clarence” is the proprietor of Geist Drug Store. The 1941 San Angelo, Texas, city directory has “Chas. C.” working at the City Drug Store; his wife, “Echla E.” is “div. head Sears Roebuck & Co.” The 1946 Springfield, Missouri city directory has Echla Geist working at JC Penny—no other Geists are listed. In fact, there is no mention of a son in any listing; indeed, following Wayne T’s 1940 Census appearance, I have been unable to find any other documents related to him.
I had some trouble finding more on Echla, too. In his article, “The Mysterious Isle” (The Dark Man, vol. 3, no. 1), Patrice Louinet says that Echla died in Texas in the 1950s, and there is a family tree posted at Ancestry.com that says just that; however, no source is given for the information: the only documents linked to the tree are the 1910 and 1920 Census forms. Curious, I searched the Social Security Death Index and turned up yet another Echla: Echla Jones.
Now, the Echla Laxson on the Ancesty.com family tree has a birth date of May 5, 1908, but the Echla Laxson who attended Daniel Baker College with Clyde Smith wrote November 7, 1908 on her college forms; Echla Jones has the same birth date and, moreover, her Social Security number was issued while she resided in Oklahoma. Sounds like our girl to me.
A search for “Echla Jones” returned an April 12, 1946 marriage license for “Echla E. Geist” and Oliver W. Jones in Springfield, Missouri, where Echla is listed by herself in the 1946 city directory. So, either Charles had died or the pair had split up, presumably. Following their wedding, the couple appears to have moved to Natchez, Mississippi, where there is a “Jones, Echla L. Mrs. – slswn Byrne’s” and “Jones, Oliver W.—slsmn Pure Oil” listed in the 1950 city directory. In 1959, Oliver was promoted to “prod eng Pure Oil” and they lived in Houston, Texas. Echla Jones died in June 1985 in Fairfax, Virginia.