The Howards in Coke County

As usual, I used part of my holiday break to travel to Texas with my dad. And, while the primary focus of our research this time was not Robert E. Howard or his immediate family, we did find a Howard-related document in Coke County that everyone knew should exist, but no one, to the best of my knowledge, had actually ever seen. But before we get to that, let’s have some background.

The Howards did not spend much time in Coke County, and Robert Howard was just a toddler then, so biographers usually have little to say about the family’s stay there. Here’s de Camp in Dark Valley Destiny:

The Howards soon became disenchanted with the tent city of Seminole and its boom-or-bust atmosphere. In 1909, when the railroad failed, Dr. Howard took his family to Bronte, Texas. Bronte was one of the smallest towns that ever popped up along the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient Railroad, then being put into operation between Sweetwater and San Angelo. Bronte lies in a hilly area of Coke County, whence the plains roll down to Southwest Texas. In the Howards’ day, it was cattle and sheep country, although there were arable sections in the valley of the nearby Colorado River.

In 1909, when the Howards moved there, the population of the whole county numbered about six thousand souls. [. . .]

From there, we get a lot of de Camp’s “it must have been” and “perhaps” statements. He winds up his discussion of Coke County with this: “The Howards stayed in Bronte only a year; for on January 8, 1910, Dr. Howard presented his credentials at the county seat of Bexar County, giving his home address as Poteet, a few miles from the border.”

More recently, Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder has this to say:

The Doctor hung his shingle in Bronte, in Coke County, in 1909. Named after the author, Charlotte Bronte, Coke County also boasted a town called Tennyson, named after the English poet. The entire county was in the middle of a cotton boom at the time of the family’s arrival. The railroad tracks were laid in 1907, but the first train didn’t run until 1909. This too would be a short-lived stay.

After a brief discussion of the Howards’ visit to Crystal City, Finn is finished with Bronte: “The family was living in Atascosa County in early 1910.” And that’s about it in the standard biographies.

As we have seen, the order of events is correct, but the timeline is off a bit. And while Doc Howard’s newly-discovered Bexar County registration provides the date for his Coke County registration, errors are not unheard of, so it would be nice to verify the information with the actual registration document; plus, it’s always nice to have clean copies of things. So off to Coke County we went.

Before our visit to Robert Lee, the county seat of Coke, I’d only found two items that placed the Howards in Bronte. The first was a list of births attended by Doc Howard that someone had transcribed on a genealogy webpage; these births all occurred between January and August 1909. The second was a notice in the April 1909 edition of the Texas State Journal of Medicine. Its “County Societies” column indicates that Dr. I. M. Howard sent in his change of address from Seminole to Bronte between February 15 and March 18, 1909.

At the courthouse, we first inspected the land records—no Doctor Howard. The ladies in the office had never heard of a Physicians’ Registry or Medical Register, and they weren’t going to let me look at their Register of Births, either. When I explained that I was not at all interested in the person who had been born, but only the attending physician, they eased up a bit and scanned down the page in the Register of Births until they found a Dr. I. M. Howard. Now convinced that I was legitimate, they let me look at the far right column containing the information I was interested in. I found two new births that Doc Howard attended that were not on the list I already had, one of these was in May 1909, but the other was in December 1908. Seeing my excitement at the added information, the senior secretary said that we could go downstairs and look in the piles for a Medical Register.

I started looking on one shelf and my dad on another. It didn’t take long before Pop was shoving a book at me. The spine casing was long gone, but someone had written “Medical License No. 1” on the edge that remained. The book was open, and Pop was pointing to a folded-over sheet in the crumbling volume.  That sheet had Doc Howard’s signature on it. We took the book upstairs and revealed our find to the ladies.

The new document (click below) verifies that September 14, 1908, is the day that Doctor Howard registered in Coke County, but it also indicates that he hadn’t settled anywhere in the county just yet. His post office address is still listed as “Siminole,” which is of course Seminole, back in Gaines County. So, using the two new registration documents, we now know that Dr. Howard had arrived in Coke County by at least September 1908 and was gone before November 20, 1909, with the last official record of him being there an August 27, 1909 birth record.