Will the real J. E. Basham please stand up

There’s not a lot of talk about Robert E. Howard’s time in the classrooms at Howard Payne in his letters or semi-autobiographical novel, Post Oaks and Sand Roughs. About all we get in the latter is this:

Steve took up a bookkeeping course under the same old man who had sought to teach him shorthand. He started in hard and conscientiously and later slumped and lost interest. He studied bookkeeping in the morning and was supposed to practice on the typewriter in the afternoon, but this he often neglected to do.

Very similar statements are made in Howard Biographies Blood and Thunder, by Mark Finn, and Dark Valley Destiny, by L. Sprague de Camp. De Camp adds a name for the “old man”: James Edward Basham. This appears to be an error.

The first Basham I’ve found is from the 1916 Howard Payne yearbook, The Lasso. On its page for the “Business Department” (pictured above) is listed one “Lizzie Basham.” Lizzie was a student, and I haven’t found a connection between her and J. E. other than their association with the business school at Howard Payne.

The next Basham is on the Faculty page of the 1918 Howard Payne yearbook, The Hooverlasso. “Ed. R. Basham” is listed for the “Business Dept.” There is no accompanying photo, but a note in a 1924 HP catalogue suggests that this might be a typo (see below).

We get a hint of Basham’s personality in the 1919 yearbook, again The Lasso, under the heading “Just Imagine.” There is no photo, but following “Just Imagine” is this: “Mr. Basham leading a pep-meeting.” I’d say Mr. Basham was pretty low-key.

The 1920 Lasso finally has a picture of Basham, listed under “Commercial Department.” The catalogue issued in June 1920, under the “Academy” heading has “J. E. Basham, B. Accts., Bookkeeping.” This could very well be de Camp’s “James Edward,” but let’s keep looking. A very similar note appears in all the catalogues from this date until 1928, none providing names instead of initials. The June 1924 catalogue does provide a little extra information: “J. E. Basham, Bookkeeping and Commercial Subjects in Howard Payne College since 1918.” If that is the case, is this Basham the same Basham listed as “Ed. R. Basham” in the 1918 yearbook? One would think that “Ed. R.” started work in 1917 since he is mentioned in the 1918 yearbook; yearbooks typically cover the school year, in this case 1917-18, but it seems odd that the Business Department would be run by two different gentleman with such similar names.

Anyway, we know that “J. E. Basham” was running the Commercial/Business Department of the Howard Payne Academy when Robert E. Howard showed up in the fall of 1924. Lindsey Tyson described Basham as “a kindly old man,” and said that he “operated the business part of the college.” Howard didn’t stay long during his first enrollment, probably only from September 1924 to just after Christmas or the New Year. He would not return until the fall of 1926.

In the Yellow Jacket for November 3, 1926, under the headline “FIRST MEETING OF HOWARD PAYNE FACULTY CLUB,” we get another glimpse of Basham’s personality, but still no name:

Dr. and Mrs. Godbold invited the Faculty Club to meet at their home for the first meeting, Tuesday evening, October 26th. The first part of this meeting was spent in a serious intellectual program, while the remainder of the evening was given over to real fun.
[. . .]
The other discussion of the evening was in the form of a very carefully constructed paper, written and read by Mr. Basham, the head of the commercial department. This paper dealt with the value of commercial training, under the general heads of the utilitarian and cultural values to be derived from such a course of study. Many interesting examples of prominent business men who had started with a humble position were cited by Mr. Basham. Also the great opportunities for growth and mental development and character building, afforded by the commercial course, were pointed out. In fact, Mr. Amis’s and Mr. Basham’s [missing word?] were so forceful that the faculty was almost ready to turn the attention of the entire school to athletics and business training.
[. . .]

In February or March of 1927, Howard has the measles and leaves school. He finishes up his courses in the summer and graduates. Less than a year later, his instructor is dead:

J. E. BASHAM DIED TUES. MORNING

The students of Howard Payne College and the people of Brownwood were grieved to learn of the death of Mr. J. E. Basham on Tuesday, May 8, 5 A.M., who until a few months ago served as Head of the Commercial Department in Howard Payne College.
     Mr. Basham had been in ill health for several years, but his condition did not become critical until last December, when he was forced to forfeit his position as a teacher here.
     Joseph Edward Basham was born December 1, 1860 at Kingston, Arkansas. He was married in 1881 to Jean Sanders.
     He had been a citizen of Texas for 39 years, twenty of which were spent in Brownwood and 12 as a teacher in Howard Payne. At the age of 18 Mr. Basham became a teacher in Arkansas University. After several years of service there he accepted a position with the Metropolitan Business College at Dallas. Later he [missing word] Trinity University at Waxahachie and Farmers Commercial College at Brownwood.
     Mr. Basham was for many years a faithful member of the Baptist Church. During his life in Brownwood he was [. . .]ed with [. . .] First Baptist Church of this [. . .]
     Besides the [. . .] friends who morn his death are his wife, Mrs. Jean Basham, his daughters, Mrs. G. C. Harper and Miss Winnie Basham, his son Mr. Ed Basham, and several grandchildren all of Brownwood.
     The funeral services are to be held at Howard Payne Chapel, Thursday May 10, 3 P. M. The active pallbearers have been chosen from the Howard Payne Faculty and his former students. They are: Dean Thomas H. Taylor, Messrs. G. A. Brooks, I. A. Hicks, Ralph Fisher, Cecil Brown and Winfred Edgar. The honorary pall bearers are to be the other members of the student body and faculty of Howard Payne.

Yellow Jacket, May 10, 1928

And we finally get a name: Joseph Edward Basham. However, given the frequency of errors in student publications, we’ll need to check that. Using the information above, I used a free preview at Ancestry.com to see what they had. They have no records for a James Edward Basham born in Arkansas in 1860; they do, however, have a Joseph Edward Basham, married to Jennie (which is how her name is listed at Greenleaf Cemetery, where husband and wife are burried). And that’s all the free preview would disclose. Good enough for me.

(By the way, Basham’s daughter Winnie graduated from Howard Payne in 1922. Born on September 11, 1900, she died a few months shy of her 44th birthday. She too is burried at Greenleaf.)

UPDATE: Thanks to Rusty Burke and his subscription to Ancestry.com, here are a few details from the census records:

Joseph E. Basham was born in Kings River, Madison County, Arkansas, probably on December 1, 1859—not 1860 as reported above, since the 1860 census, enumerated in August of that year, has a six-month-old “Jasper E” in the Basham household. Ten years later, the name is recorded correctly as “Joseph E” along with his four siblings and mother, Elizabeth, and father, John, both of Tennessee.

The 1900 census has Joseph and wife, Jennie, living in Justice Precinct 7, Collin County, Texas, with their children: Eddy (born April 1882), Lizzie (born Feb. 1894), and Winnie (born March 1900).

The whole family is recorded in Brownwood for the 1910 enumeration. They lived at 1210 Austin Ave. “Joe” is listed as “Teacher, public school.”

1920 has the family reduced by one, with Lizzie (mentioned at the top of this post) gone from the house and probably married. The home is now located at 504 W Anderson St. “Eddie,” now 36-years-old, is still living at home and works as a “gas fitter.”

In 1930, after the death of Joseph, the family has moved again, this time to 1217 Ave A. With Joseph gone, “Edward” is the man of the house and works as a “street foreman.” Sister Winnie has followed in her father’s footsteps and is listed as “Teacher, public school.”