Yellow Jacket

In The Last Celt, under “Authorship Uncertain,” Glenn Lord lists four stories: “For the Honor of the School,” “Rivals,” “His War Medals,” and “From Tea to Tee.” All of these stories are from Howard Payne’s student newspaper, The Yellow Jacket, and the reason Lord suggests them is, as he says, “Howard was the short story writer” for the paper during that period. Of the four, Mr. Lord suggests that the first “could be by Howard”; the rest, well. . .  Ever since coming across that list, back in the ’80s, I’ve wanted to have a look at those stories. There are also a few references to the Yellow Jacket in Howard’s correspondence that I’ve wanted to investigate. Recently, I had my chance.

Before there was The Yellow Jacket, there was The Prism. From the fall of 1915 to the spring of 1923, The Prism was responsible for bringing the students at Howard Payne College news from the school, the community, and the world. Early in the 1923-24 school year, a couple of recent graduates from Brownwood High were elected editor-in-chief and associate editor of the Howard Payne paper. Fresh from their stint on The Tattler, where they held those same positions, Claude C. Curtis and C. S. Boyles, Jr., took over the student paper at HP, changing its name to The Yellow Jacket. [Note: Boyles later wrote fiction as Will C. Brown.]

Boyles had graduated from Cross Plains High School in May 1922, but, as most of you know, the Cross Plains school only went to the 10th grade and, to be eligible for college, another year of schooling was necessary. Boyles went to Brownwood High to get that extra year. He landed a job there on the school paper and, starting in December of 1922, he and Editor Curtis published a stream of fiction by another of their classmates from Cross Plains, Robert E. Howard.

Curtis and Boyles knew a good thing when they had it. Shortly after starting work on the paper at Howard Payne, Boyles asked Howard to continue his submissions. In his September 9, 1923 letter to Tevis Clyde Smith, then a junior at Brownwood High, Howard says, “C.S. Boyles is going to Howard Payne and is associate editor of the Howard Payne paper. He asked me to write for it.” But a month later, October 5, 1923, Howard tells Smith “I haven’t sent anything to the Yellow Jacket yet.” That wouldn’t be true for very long.

As reported in The Progress, the student paper of Cross Plains High School, both Curtis and Boyles visited Cross Plains late in January of 1924. Shortly after that visit, March 7, 1924, “Letter of a Chinese Student” appeared in the HP paper. Another “Letter” appeared early that May.

Members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation who receive the Newsletter are even now reading these two “new” items from The Yellow Jacket archives, both entitled “Letter of a Chinese Student,” and both apparently “lost” until now. I imagine these yarns escaped the notice of Howard scholars for a couple of reasons: first, they were published during the 1923-24 school year, the year before Howard enrolled in HP’s commercial school for the first time; and, second, both are unsigned. The only reason they were identified as Howard’s is a short notice appearing at the end of the second “Letter”:

The author, Robert Howard, is a 1923 graduate of Brownwood High School who lives in Cross Plains. This, and a similar letter previously printed, were contributed on account of the personal friendship toward certain members on the staff.

Those “certain members” were no doubt Curtis and Boyles.

As the 1923-24 school year ended, big changes were in store for the Yellow Jacket. C. S. Boyles moved away to Sweetwater, Texas, and was married before the next summer appeared. Curtis, however, was reelected to the top spot on the paper and was happy to continue publishing Robert E. Howard’s work, made that much easier due to Howard’s enrollment in Howard Payne’s commercial school. Early in the new year, September 24, 1924, “Halt! Who Goes There?” appeared. This, however, is the only story to appear during the 1924-25 school year. The October 23, 1924 issue carried the news that “Editor Curtis Resigns From Yellow Jacket.” What effect this might have had on Howard’s submissions is unknown, but Howard himself “resigned” from the commercial school some time in the winter of 1924-25; he was probably thinking that he didn’t need to continue as Weird Tales had just purchased “Spear Fang” – his writing career had begun.

Of course, after a year and a half of very sluggish sales, Howard was back at the commercial school for the 1926-27 school year. “After the Game” and “Sleeping Beauty” appear in the October 27, 1926 issue; both tales appear to have been inspired by the “special train” to Waco that Howard had ridden to watch a football game. “Weekly Short Story” appears in the next issue, November 3, 1926; there is no short story in the November 10 edition.

The November 17, 1926 issue contains “For the Honor of the School” and, as mentioned above, Glenn Lord thinks this “could be” one of Howard’s. After reading the story, I’m convinced that it is. And there’s more: while preparing Sentiment: An Olio of Rarer Works for the REH Foundation Press, the untitled fragment that begins “the honor of Beffum” was discovered in Glenn Lord’s papers. This transcription was published in a Newsletter and included in Sentiment. Turns out, it’s a small part of “For the Honor of the School.” No wonder all we have is Glenn’s transcription and not a Howard typescript, Glenn must have typed it up from a copy of the Yellow Jacket.

Despite there being no short stories in the December 8th and 16th issues, “Bob Howard, Short Stories” appears at the end of an expanded Staff Box under “Feature Writers.” This adds to the argument that “For the Honor of the School” is, in fact, a Howard yarn. Besides the content and style of the yarn being very similar to other of Howard’s stories from the Yellow Jacket, the notice in the Staff Box seems to make up for the story having no byline when published in the paper.

And there’s still more. The January 6, 1927 issue has Howard’s name in the Staff Box – “Bob Howard, Short Stories” – and this time there are two stories: “His War Medals” and “The Rivals” (Note: it is not “Rivals” as listed in The Last Celt). Both of the stories are presented without a byline, but then so is most of the other material in the paper; who did what is explained in the Staff Box. “The Rivals” is the same as the Glenn Lord transcription that appeared in a Foundation Newsletter and, later, in Sentiment; Glenn probably typed up all of these stories at some point. I have no trouble believing “The Rivals” was written by Howard. And, after reading “His War Medals,” which appears to be missing a line or two at the end, I don’t think it “sounds” particularly like REH; however, since Howard is credited in the Staff Box, I think it should be added to the list of his works as well.

From the January 13, 1927 issue, which contains “The Thessalians” and “Private Magrath of the A.E.F,” to the issue for March 10, Howard’s name appears in the Staff Box. Only the January 20 (“Ye College Days”) and February 10 (“Cupid Vs. Pollux”) issues actually have a story. By March 17, his name is gone from the list. Howard is probably gone, too—home with the measles, if Post Oaks and Sand Roughs can be trusted. He doesn’t return to the Yellow Jacket until the April 21, 1927 issue which contains “The Reformation: A Dream.”  Of all the stories from the Yellow Jacket, this is the one I’m curious about. It has no byline, and Howard’s name is not mentioned in the Staff Box: Why has it been included in all the bibliographic listings when the other stories mentioned above have not? At any rate, this was Howard’s last submission. He graduated August 3, 1927 and returned to Cross Plains.