Harold & Winona: A Romance for the Ages

A year ago, I wrote a post, accompanied by the photo on the left, about Harold Preece and Winona Morris Nation. The photo and most of the content of that post was supplied to me by a close friend of Winona’s named Linda Jones.

While we know what happened to Winona after her passing, a mystery remains as to what became of Harold. And what of Harold’s papers – where are they?

These and several other mysteries were solved when John Nation, the eldest son of Winona Morris Nation (who is mentioned the original post) recently contacted me. John graciously shared some information on their relationship, much of it is recounted in this post. After Harold and Winona passed on in the fall of 1992, it fell to John and a lady known as “Tall Susan” (also mentioned in my original post) to wrap up their affairs and box up their belongings for storage. But before we get to the end, let’s start at the beginning.

Winona met Harold in 1978. They were introduced by a mutual friend, Dr. Howard Gaddis who taught Humanities at Winona’s college. One day Winona was visiting Dr. Gaddis in his apartment and the phone rang. Gaddis answered and spoke a few moments then turned to Winona and said, “Winona, its Harold Preece. I’ve long wanted the two of you to speak to each other.” He handed Winona the phone and they spoke for 45 minutes and made arrangements to meet a few days later for coffee. That was the beginning of their 14 years together. Harold told John a number of times, “If someone had said to me that when I turned 70 a beautiful intelligent woman would be waiting for me I would have told them they were insane.”

John also recalls Harold reminiscing about his youthful friendship with Howard, saying it was one of the proudest things of his young life to have known and been close friends with Robert E. Howard.

Before meeting Winona, Harold was married twice. His first wife died early in their marriage. His second marriage to wife, Ceclia didn’t work out and Harold had some unflattering things to say about her. He had an estranged son by her whom he had no idea where he was. One wonders how much of Harold’s early writings may have vanished with a vituperative ex-wife.

John spent six weeks at Winona’s house after she passed on October 30, 1992, packing into huge boxes everything she had written, which over the years amounted to slightly over 1,650 poems. Some of these were published in The New York Times and The Atlantic Monthly, the two most prestigious markets for poets in the USA.

But there is another source of information concerning Harold Preece and his life, particularly his later years that might be revealing. Winona was an inveterate letter writer and wrote John every week. Nearly all of what she wrote in her final decade was about her life with Harold — their domestic weekly and daily routine. John kept many of these letters, probably forty or more which are in storage and might fill in a lot of gaps.

Among the letters are some from Harold that go into great detail about what he thought and believed. He had an imaginary alter ego named J. Bixby Bobcat, who lived out in Arizona at Bobcat Creek with his cousin Billy Dee Bobcat. They spent their time outwitting the Tacky Bear Sheriff in hilarious adventures.

Late in his life, Harold was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had to go to a nursing home, some friends probably including Winona cleaned out his small apartment. His four drawer metal filing cabinet was in one of her bedrooms when she died. When John finished with Winona’s papers, he went through Harold’s papers in his cabinet. There wasn’t much to be found. About six inches of bills filed from recent years and some recent correspondence – mostly from magazine editors. His submissions naturally fell off in the later years and of course he stopped writing completely with his illness. John found some issues of the western magazines with Harold’s articles written under various pen names – Tex Shannon was one name that he used. He also found a paperback copy of Harold’s The Dalton Gang, which he later read.

Harold’s papers and other materials John saved are still with Winona’s things in huge boxes stored in North Carolina with a family friend. Plus, a great deal of Winona’s original materials are in storage in the Archives Department at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma.

Harold always planned to write an autobiography, but as far as anyone knows, he never penned a page of it. He wanted to call it The Legend and the Latigo, a sweeping title to say the least. Of course, he was also supposed to write a biography of Howard — perhaps he did at least start it – if he did, what he wrote might be in those boxes in North Carolina.

What is in those boxes may not be anything of commercial value, which would have meant little to either of them. Harold and Winona were purists and were going to do what they felt was right to do and would take their lumps as they came.

Understanding that Harold, as John recounts it, is a spur off the main REH rail line, but still it is a spur that should be fully investigated and preserved. He believes that whatever is not currently known about Harold is in those dozen or so boxes. In John’s mind reside memories that are waiting to be discovered and explored.

It’s been 20 years now since they departed and John feels while the memories and documents still survive, he must save as much as possible of their works and their lives for posterity. He believes theirs’ were important lives, and future readers would be grateful for the efforts to preserve the memories of Harold and Winona.

John is currently living abroad, but will be back in the USA this fall or winter and arrangements are being made for a Howard scholar to meet him in North Carolina to go through Harold and Winona’s papers see if there is anything of interest to Howard fans. My guess is there is — perhaps even enough material for a book.

When Harold succumbed to Alzheimer’s on November 24, 1992, he was cremated and his ashes scattered on Winona’s grave in the spring of 1993. She is buried at the Hillcrest Cemetery, which is on a hill overlooking Comanche, Oklahoma. Her stone of polished black marble is easy to find if anyone should wish to visit. Plans are in the works to place a stone at the foot of her grave inscribed with the following, which is the perfect epitaph for their romance:

Harold Preece, Beloved of Winona Morris Nation