The Long Road to Dark Valley — Part 1

A Question of Age

For Hester Jane Ervin, the road that led to Dark Valley (see Introduction to the series of articles here) began before her birth, in Hill County, TX, where her father, George W. Ervin, Robert E. Howard’s maternal grandfather, settled in 1866, at the end of the Secession War, leaving Tishomingo County, Mississippi, his home since 1839, 1841 or 1842, depending on the sources. The six feet one, gray-eyed “Colonel” Ervin (or Erwin) as he was nicknamed, had married Sarah Jane Martin (daughter of, probably, Thomas and Martha Esther [nee Mason] Martin [both abt. 1798, SC – after 1865, TX]).

Robert and Jane Ervin, G.W.’s parents, had sold their land in Tishomingo in 1851, eventually settling in Texas in 1859, which may explain G.W. Ervin’s decision to move to the Lone Star State.

Howard had a profound admiration for his grandfather’s exploits, a Confederate veteran (and, briefly, P.O.W., see photo on the left), a man who “rode for four years with Bedford Forrest,” “was accounted the strongest man in his regiment and one of the strongest men in Forrest’s command. He could cleave a man from shoulder to waist with a single stroke of his saber,” [he] “loaned money, dealt some in cattle; he bought a sheep ranch, but, in the midst of a cattle country, with hired men running it, it was not a success. He wandered over into western New Mexico and worked a silver mine not far from the Arizona line” where “old chief Geronimo once stole a bunch of [his] horses.” We have no reason to doubt any of these anecdotes, probably handed down the family (and perhaps exaggerated in the (re)telling(s),) with the exception of the New Mexico episode which smacks of the spurious and is quite likely an invention, given G.W. Ervin’s chronology (detailed in the next installment). But for a man as interested in genealogy as he was, Howard’s inability to present the correct chronology of his grandfather’s days in Texas with any accuracy is more than surprising. To Howard Phillips Lovecraft, he thus gave this highly melodramatic – and entirely imaginary – account of George W. Ervin’s departure from Dallas, in a ca. December 1930 letter:

Colonel Ervin once owned a great deal of property in what is now a very prosperous section of Dallas, and might have grown with the town, but for the whippoorwills. They almost drove him crazy with their incessant calling, and though he was a kindly man with beasts and birds, and killed men with less remorse than he killed animals, in a fit of passion one night, he shot three whippoorwills; it was flying in the face of tradition and he quickly regretted it, but the damage was done. According to legend, you know, human life must pay for the blood of a whippoorwill, and soon the Colonel’s family began to die, at the average of one a year, exactly as the old black people prophesied. He stuck it out five years and then, with five of his big family dead, he gave it up.

His account in the semi-genealogical essay “The Wandering Years” (1933) is much more down-to-earth, but here again, there are several errors and almost nothing is correct in terms of chronology:

In 1866 [G.W. Ervin] came to Hill County, Texas. […. ] He was a planter, not a cattle man. […] He prospered on his broad rich lands. Children were born to him and his wife. There, in 1876, just three years after the last Comanche raid in Central Texas, my mother, Hester Jane Ervin, was born. But my grandfather, though he prospered, was restless, like most men of his time. He sold some of his land, gave the rest to settlers to build a town upon it. And with his family he moved on. He halted at Fayetteville, Arkansas, in the late ’70s, and opened a store. […] Colonel Ervin throve in his merchant adventure, but he did not stay there long. 1880 saw him back in Texas, on a farm in Denton County, which lies just north of Ft. Worth, and south of Red River. Thence he moved to Dallas. A boom town was on in Texas; cities were growing. The Colonel went into the real estate business, and was successful. But the low Trinity River land were unhealthful, and in 1884, he moved again, this time southwestward to Lampasas, in the cattle country.

The chronology of G.W. Ervin’s life in Texas as recounted by Howard is such a hopeless jumble that one can’t even begin to see how he could be so wrong, the more so with his mother living under the same roof as he. Unless she was the reason for this hopeless jumble…