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In the letter to H.P. Lovecraft dated December 5, 1935, Howard gives his friend the rundown on the last leg of The Panhandle Trip and provides some background on one of the many places he lived before the family settled in Cross Plains:
Next morning we turned south, a hundred or so miles to San Angelo, traversing a rugged and rather barren country I hadn’t visited since we lived in that region, more than twenty years ago. We passed through Bronte, where we were living when the Orient railroad came through there, and which I, at least, hadn’t seen since we moved away. It was named for the noted author, when founded by a colony of English, in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but they starved out or were absorbed by the hard-bitten native settlers, who shortened the pronunciation to one syllable. We ate breakfast in San Angelo, which is about 105 miles from Cross Plains, and reached home shortly after noon, having driven nearly 1000 miles in about three days.
The Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway was completed through the area in 1907, though reportedly the first train did not run until 1909. I.M. Howard’s listing in the 1909 American Medical Directory gives his residence as Bronte. TGR blogger Rob Roehm and his dad are always on the hunt for bread-crumb trails left by the Howards as they moved around Texas during their “wandering years” while Howard was still a small boy. A visit by Rob and his dad to the Coke County Courthouse is recorded here.
Located in east central Coke County, Bronte was founded in the late 1880s and as Howard notes above, the town was named for the English novelist Charlotte Bronte. It all began when Cattle baron J.B. McCutchen drove a herd of cattle into the area from Santa Anna in 1889. Soon other hardy settlers followed, including Dr. W. F. Key, who actually founded the town. The town’s first buildings were built with lumber which was brought in on wagons from Ballinger. Early on the town had two names before Bronte was selected — Oso and Bronco. However, the the post office nixed Bronco to avoid confusion with another town. By 1890 Bronte had a post office, two churches and a school. Its population was 213 in 1900. In conjunction with the completion of the railroad tracks in 1907, Bronte was moved a mile to be near the track so it could become a shipping point on the railroad line. It would be two more years before the first train came through. In September 1908 Howard was only two years when Doc Howard hung out his shingle in the town. They were only in Bronte for a little over a year before moving on again. By 1910 the town had grown to a population of 635, with a number of businesses, including two cotton gins, a bank, and a newspaper (the Enterprise, established in 1906). Today Bronte is a thriving little town — the size of Cross Plains — with a population of just under 1,000.
This family trip was a throwback of sorts to the “wandering years.” By all accounts, it was a pleasant diversion for the Howards and a brief respite from their day to day lives and worries. Little did they know time was running out for the family and that fateful day of June 11, 1936 was eleven months down the road.
Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four