Ottie Gill and The Bard

Readers of The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard, Vol. 1, might recognize Ottie Gill’s name from a couple of letters to Clyde Smith written in 1926 [Gill is seen above from the late ’30s]. But I’ll refresh your memory, just in case. The first mention is from Howard’s January 14, 1926 letter:

I wrote a poem for Ottie’s magazine. Shame to discontinue The Bard. I don’t know whether it will suit him or not. The meter is jerky and uneven among many other things, but I simply can’t chain myself with form. To hell with meter when I want to say something.

A footnote explains that “Ottie Gill was a member of Howard’s Brownwood circle of literary friends.” The second letter doesn’t say much, either. It’s from the May 7, 1926 letter to Smith, and all it says is “How are Truett and Ottie?” Not much to go on, but that first mention got me thinking. I’d never seen a Bard, and didn’t remember anyone else having mentioned it. Maybe there was an unknown Howard poem out there. I needed more information.

Luckily, last year I scored a stash of letters written to Smith by a couple of other Howard correspondents, Herbert Klatt and Harold Preece, and they had a bit more to say about Mr. Gill. Of course, if my memory was as good as it used to be, I’d have remembered the following passage from one of Preece’s letters that appeared in The Howard Collector:

Ottie Gill, of the Brownwood group, was somebody whom I’d first met in McKinney [. . .] Ottie should also be asked by Glenn to write about Bob. He, I, Truett and Clyde were at the home of the Gills, several times.

But I had to stumble on that again a while later. The first batch of letters I read were Herbert Klatt’s. In his November 26, 1925 letter, he talks to Smith about a possible face-to-face meeting:

I don’t know how I would fit in. However if you must be disillusioned, the sooner the better, so why not run down here next Sunday with Truett, Gill, any or all of the bunch. If you do not have anything special on program for next Sunday. You can come down here better than I can come to Brownwood just now.

Klatt ends up going to Brownwood after Christmas that year, as recounted in Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. A couple of weeks later, January 19, 1926, Klatt writes to Smith: “I have just written a jumbled script to Moody O. Wallis, Shamrock, Texas (mentioned at Gill’s that night) in thanks et cetera” for an award Klatt had received. Since Klatt didn’t travel to Brownwood often, it seems that he must have visited Gill sometime during his Christmas visit, though Howard doesn’t mention it in Post Oaks; it might have been the evening after the one described in his novel.

Klatt’s letter of March 7, 1927, mentions Gill’s poetry:

I still think “Memphis” [included in So Far the Poet] the best of what I have seen of your poetry. It is something like Sandburg’s “Chicago”—only it is personal. Something like that unexplainable poem of Gill’s, not easily understood unless you know the circumstances and the author.

A bit later in the same letter, Klatt asks “By the way, is Gill still living in B-wood?” And that’s it for Gill in the Klatt letters.

Harold Preece started writing to Smith in July of 1928. He first mentions Gill in a September 15, 1928 letter: “I am enclosing a poem written by Ottie Gill, which somehow expresses my mood. I met Ottie about three years ago, in McKinney, but have never corresponded with him.” This is followed by a September 30 mention:

Ottie has a lot of sense, but he is immensely egotistical and pedantic. I don’t get the drift of his poetry at all times; the words are not difficult, but the way they are put together doesn’t mean anything. Perhaps, though, I am mentally deficient.

On February 23, 1929, Preece asks, “Have you seen Ottie’s son and heir?” And that’s it for Gill in the Preece papers, except for the piece from The Howard Collector, which I stumbled on after reading the above. So, no new information on The Bard. Time for some Internet Archeology.

Through various means I found a collection of The Bard at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Before arriving at Howard Days, I made a looong detour and had a look. While I was there, I also looked at their microfilm collection of The Campus newspaper. Everyone remembers Howard saying he sent the editor there a poem, right? Anyway, I looked at The Bard first, all edited (and some with contributions) by Ottie Gill.

Starting with volume 1, number 1, for January 1922, the college had a complete run, all bound in a nice little hardcover, through volume 3, number 1, dated February 1924. Gill explained the purpose of his publication in the first issue’s Foreword:

What? Why? How? The Bard. Because there are people whose life is not complete without the cultural influence and the everlasting beauty of the poet’s art; because the ambition rises in our youthful souls to say in terms both beautiful and meaningful things that will bring a message to a hearer; because of the necessity for a channel of expression, we have navigated The Bard out into the dark waters of Amateur Experiment. How? With the support of all the friends of verse. We intend to give space only to verse which strikes us as having the qualities that constitute excellence. The Bard will be published monthly, and the size of it will depend upon material and the amount of financial backing received.

I asked if the Library had more issues, and was informed that there weren’t any: the collection contained all that had been published. Howard’s 1926 letter was in my mind as I nodded. An amateur affair, similar in appearance to Smith’s All-Around Magazine, I figured that the library just didn’t have any of the issues that were published after Gill left the Dallas area. Or maybe he stopped publishing for a while and picked it up again at a later date. This seems most likely to me.

Anyway, after copying some of the pages with Gill’s poetry, I went over to the other library and had a look at The Campus. Complete details here.

Back home, I got on ancestry.com and newspaperarchive.com and got a little background information on Ottie. To wit: Christophen Octavius Gill, born 12 Feb 1904 in Texas; died 4 Mar 1984 in Dallas. The son of a carpenter, Gill had two younger sisters. The family is all together in Dallas for the 1910 and 1920 enumerations. Christopher O. Gill and wife Mary are living in Brownwood in 1928, according to that town’s 1928 directory. Ottie is listed as “adv mgr Brownwood Semi-Weekly Press.” The 1930 Census has Ottie in Paris, Texas, with his wife and 15-month-old son. Based on Preece’s 1929 letter, it appears that the Gills probably left Brownwood shortly after their son was born, which no doubt ended whatever relationship Gill had with Robert E. Howard.