|Texas Tech University's Southwest|
Collections/Special Collections Library
No Howard scholar need be lectured on the wealth of Texan perspective found in the letters of Robert E. Howard to H.P. Lovecraft as collected in A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. One could hardly thumb through thirty pages without landing on a reference. Widely exaggerated and held in a reverence all his own, Howard’s history of Texas requires each reader to approach it with a zeal and skepticism alike. If there is a goal to this brief article, it is to begin to focus on a portion however brief—a portion of his letters and a portion of Texas. The author of this article is a librarian at Texas Tech University’s Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library who has attended three of Cross Plains’ Robert E. Howard Days over the past four years and was responsible for digitalization and metadata for the majority of the Cross Plains Review. It is with that background that interest in Howard’s letter from October 1930 began. The letter runs fifteen pages long, barring reference notes. In that packed page count, the topics vary from appreciation of publications to genealogy to the Llano Estacado, etcetera. In the letter, Howard claims to have “but recently returned” from the Llano Estacado landscape. For the purposes of this study, the focus will be on the month of October of 1930 to give context to Howard’s communicated experiences traveling on the Llano Estacado and then look at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections as uniquely positioned to study the author and his assertions.
At the time of this letter’s composition, one immediately learns that H.P. Lovecraft’s novella “The Whisper in the Darkness” has just been accepted for publication. For comparison, it is noted by letter’s end that Howard has also just sold Weird Tales his short story “The Children of the Night,” wherein he has firmly embraced his Bran-cult along with all of Lovecraft’s Elder Gods and Necronomicon. The attention needed here, though, looks to the last paragraph appearing on page ninety of A Means to Freedom. It allows for examination of Howard’s statements on Texas as he states “And it must indeed be said, that though most native Texans are of Southern blood, there is a great difference between them and natives of the Old South. I notice it every time I go to Lousiana [sic] or Arkansaw. [sic] We think of ourselves, and really are, not Southerners nor Westerners, but Southwesterners. Our accent is more like the South than the North or the Middle West, but it differs greatly from the true Southern accent.” This is largely true and speaks somewhat to the idea of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library’s scope and purpose. As Howard speaks to this distinction, the question almost always becomes “where does West Texas begin?” Many would say it begins west of I-20, near Fort Worth—this is Howard’s position—while those born further into the region might claim it begins west of Abilene up into the Panhandle. For context against this particular letter, I’ll look at digitized newspapers for Lubbock and Slaton to get a clearer picture of the environment Howard would have been referencing for Lovecraft in the following passages.
I have but recently returned from a trip to the great northwest plain which, beginning about the 33rd parallel run on up into Oklahoma and Kansas. Texas is really, especially in the western part, a series of plateaus, like a flight of steps, sloping from 4000 feet in the Panhandle to sea-level. You travel for a hundred or so miles across level plains, then come to a very broken belt of hills and canyons, then passing through them you come on to another wide strip of level country at a lower or higher elevation according to the direction in which you are travelling-and so on, clear to the Gulf. I was on the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, so called from the fact that Spanish priests, crossing the plains long ago, marked the way with buffalo skulls stuck on stakes. Twenty years ago most of that country was cattle-range; now the great majority is in cultivation. The Llano Estacado is the last stand for the big-scale Texas farmer. Farms of a thousands [sic] acres, every inch under cultivation are not uncommon. A farm of that size requires a tractor and a veritable herd of work horses to cultivate it properly. During busy seasons the work goes on day and night; they work by shifts and labor from sunrise to sunrise. The average elevation is better than 3000 feet and the country is perfectly flat. You can see for miles in every direction; there are no trees except such as have been planted. Its a great, raw, open new country with mighty possibilities,
but I'd go dippy living there. I was born and mainly raised in the Central Texas hill country and I have to have hills and trees!
The Llano Estacado is largely in the hands of native Texans of old American stock. You see, its really a pioneer country. The European scum sticks to the lowlands and the Gulf coast, waiting for the Old Americans to open the country up and get it going-and paying. THEN they'll swarm in and take it over.