On Saturday, a small but enthusiastic group of fans gathered in Cross Plains to commemorate what would have been the 102nd birthday of Robert E. Howard. (The actual anniversary of Howard’s birth is Tuesday, January 22.) In addition to several members of Project Pride, the local civic organization that has done so much to keep Howard’s memory alive, in attendance were: Russell Andrew, Barbara Barrett, Jack and Barbara Baum, Rusty Burke, Bill “Indy” Cavalier, Dave Hardy, Dennis McHaney, James Reasoner, Rob Roehm, Gary Romeo, and Todd Woods. If I’ve forgotten anyone, I certainly apologize.
I drove down to Cross Plains during the morning, arriving a little before eleven o’clock to find everyone scattered through the various rooms of the Howard House, enjoying animated conversations. Although the day was clear and pretty, it was a little too chilly to gather outside in the back yard pavilion, where most of the activities during the annual Howard Days gathering in June take place. I said hello to everyone, admired the birthday cake sitting on a table in the kitchen, and began circulating, trying to catch up with everyone since I missed last year’s Howard Days and hadn’t seen any of them since the World Fantasy Convention in Austin more than a year ago.
After a while, several of us adjourned to the nearby Subway for lunch, where the conversation continued, of course. Then it was back to the Howard House, where we cut the birthday cake and enjoyed it. Later in the afternoon most of the group caravaned down to Brownwood, where we visited Howard’s grave in Greenleaf Cemetery. This was the first time I’d been to the gravesite since the late Eighties, when Bill Crider (who lived in Brownwood at the time) took me to see it. While we were there yesterday, we also visited the grave of Tevis Clyde Smith, who was probably Howard’s best friend, and walked around the cemetery looking at some of the other old graves, including that of Noah T. Byers, an early Texas pioneer who served as the armorer to Sam Houston’s army during the Texas Revolution in 1836. The Texas Declaration of Independence was written in Byers’ blacksmith shop in Washington-on-the-Brazos. It certainly made for an interesting afternoon for a Texas history buff like me.
Everyone else headed back to Cross Plains for supper after that, but I left from Brownwood and came on home. My route took me through Dublin and Stephenville, where numerous UFOs were spotted last week, but I didn’t see a thing out of the ordinary. One of the businesses in Dublin had a portable sign out front, though, that read “Aliens Welcome”.
The gathering also served as a launch party of sorts for Dennis McHaney’s new book RETURN TO BEAR CREEK, as he hand-delivered copies to several of us there who had pre-ordered it. Published in a limited edition of 50 copies, it’s a very nice volume devoted to Breckinridge Elkins, the larger-than-life hero of many humorous Western stories by Howard. RETURN TO BEAR CREEK contains an introduction by Dennis, articles by Rob Roehm and Mark Finn, and facsimile reprints of six Elkins yarns from the pulp ACTION STORIES, along with reproductions of the covers of those issues. I don’t know if any of the copies of this book are going to be available to the general public, but it’s certainly worth having if you’re a Howard fan.
All in all, I had an excellent time. The small, informal nature of the gathering reminded me a great deal of the first few Howard Days I attended, which are some of my favorites. I’m glad the event has grown and attracted as many attention and as many attendees as it has, but a more low-key get-together like this is great fun, too. The weather in January is always iffy, of course, but I hope we’re able to have some more of these birthday parties in the future.