Something in Seminole

I think I’ve said this before, but I always wonder how we know what we know about Robert E. Howard. This morning I was thinking about the Howards’ stay in Seminole, Texas, when Bob was two-years-old. How do we know they lived there? What documents can verify their stay? REH hints at Seminole a couple of times in his correspondence without actually naming the place. As far as I know, he only mentions the name in one piece of writing.

In “An Autobiography,” a school paper dated November 29, 1921, Howard says, “I found myself at Seminole, Texas, just forty miles this side of the New Mexico border. This was prairie country—extremely so. Water was scarce there; too scarce, so we moved to Bagwell, Texas.” We know the Howards didn’t move directly from Seminole to Bagwell, and given the brevity of this “autobiography” (it’s barely two paragraphs in length), it’s safe to say that Howard is trying to emphasize the extent of his travels in Texas—from the western border to the eastern. He uses this same technique years later when describing his family’s wandering to H. P. Lovecraft and Wilfred B. Talman, telling the latter:

I was born in the little ex-cowtown of Peaster, about 45 miles west of Fort Worth, in the winter of 1906, but spent my first summer in lonely Dark Valley among the sparsely settled Palo Pinto hills. From then until I was nearly nine years old I lived in various parts of the state — in a land-boom town on the Staked Plains, near the New Mexico line; in the Western Texas sheep country; in San Antonio; on a ranch in South Texas; in a cattle town on the Oklahoma line, near the old North Texas oil-fields; in the piney woods of East Texas; finally in what later became the Central West Texas Oil-belt.

And that’s about all Bob has to say about Seminole. And that’s about all most biographers have to say as well. There’s not much to work with, and Bob was just a child. Still, I like to have documentary evidence for things, so I went looking.

The image that heads this post is from volume 4 of the Texas State Journal of Medicine, May 1908, where we learn that Dr. I. M. Howard has moved from Graford, Texas, to Seminole and changed his address with the organization sometime between March and April of that year (thank you Google Books). Other Seminole-related internet searches came up empty, but I knew there was more out there.

When Jane Griffin was researching for Dark Valley Destiny, she learned from the Gaines County Clerk that Dr. I. M. Howard had started registering births in Seminole in February 1908 but didn’t register with the county until September 14, 1908. [UPDATE: According to a document unearthed in the Bexar County archives, this is the date that Dr. Howard registered in Bronte, Coke County.] There aren’t any official copies in her notes, so on our way home from Byers, my dad and I made a stop at Seminole. If the records were there for Griffin, hopefully they’d still be there for the Roehms.

As luck would have it, the courthouse was just finishing up its renovation; some things were a tad unorganized. We were able to check the property records with no problem—it appears that Isaac Howard didn’t buy or sell any land in Seminole—but when it came to a physicians registry, we had issues. No one remembered such a book existing, but if it did . . . So, we went from one office to another until someone suggested that the book might still be upstairs where lots of things had been moved during the renovation.

Up we went, to the holding area for prisoners awaiting trail, and there waited for a key to be procured. A few minutes later, a door was unlocked and we went up some more—to a dusty storage area in the attic (above). The room at the top of the stairs was full of boxes and shelves, all loaded with books. There were even piles of books on the floor, leaning against the walls. We rolled up our sleeves and started looking.

We never did find a physicians registry or a register of births, but in the Register of Deaths for Gaines County, Texas, we learned that Bailey Brooks Wright, aged 41 days, had died on July 1, 1908 of some kind of Asphyxia. The report was filed by “I. M. Howard, M. D.,” on July 24. Under “Name and Residence of Physician” is written “I. M. Howard / Seminole, Texas.” Good enough for me.

After taking pictures of the evidence, we went downtown and stopped at the local museum. No one there knew anything about the Howards, but there were some nice pictures of Seminole from the early 1900s. After taking pictures of these, we hit the road. Our stay in Seminole had been brief, but so had the Howards’: the April 1909 edition of the Texas State Journal of Medicine (below) records another movement of Dr. Howard’s that he’d sent in sometime between February 15 and March 18, 1909. After barely a year “on the New Mexico line,” the traveling Howards had moved to Bronte.