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 Texas : Features : People

BARBARIANS AT THE CITY LIMITS
Arnold is from Austria -
Conan is from Cross Plains, Texas

by Brewster Hudspeth

Robert the Reclusive

Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian moved to Cross Plains in 1919. It was while in Cross Plains he started writing for pulp magazines for a penny a word. His first story was sold when he was 18 and he died only 12 years later at the age of 30.

Robert was cursed with an easily forgettable name. Even if he had been named something exotic, say "Conan" for example - it wouldn't have helped him make friends since his strange behavior prevented that. His neighbors never quite knew what to make of a handsome young man who sometimes wore Mexican sombreros on his way to the store. This just wasn't done in Cross Plains.
Robert E. Howard as young man
Robert E Howard
His father was a doctor and his mother was devoted to her only child. Robert had the build and look of a fighter but the melancholy loneliness of a poet. No one knows how this tiny town so far from exotic places (unless you count Abilene) inspired young Robert to write such vivid fantasy. It's possible that Cross Plains didn't inspire him at all - that his drive came from the fact that other boys his age were picking cotton.

After reading everything in the town's small library, Robert (allegedly) entered the libraries of neighboring towns and took books without a valid library card. This was done without regard to hours of operation and was frowned upon by law enforcement; but since the books were always returned, no one pressed charges. (Librarians in the old days used to like to hush things up).

The pennies he earned for his words added up to a respectable income - when you consider how hard times were. He made $2,000 in 1936 alone, which allowed him to pay cash for his car - the nicest in town. The millions made on his characters were made by people who never knew him. They were not even family members, but people who had simply inherited the material.

After reaching adulthood, he had a romantic interest in a former teacher. It was a mutual attraction, but Robert's mother stood in the way - sometimes literally - by sending the woman away when she called. Mrs. Howard discouraged any contact, although she was very supportive of Robert's work.

The woman, Novalyne Price Ellis moved to Louisiana where she taught school for many years. She wrote about Howard in her 1986 book He Who Walks Alone. The book was made into the 1996 movie The Whole Wide World.
Order from Amazon.com
BOOK
The Weird Works Of Robert E. Howard ...
DVD
The Whole Wide World
DVD
Conan - The Complete Quest
Death at 30

For all the killing and mayhem in his pulp adventures, Robert was extremely sensitive. When his beloved dog was dying, Robert left town - returning only after the animal had died. This inability to accept death contributed to his suicide. After learning his mother had slipped into a coma, he went to his car, got his gun from the glove compartment and shot himself in the head.

His mother died the following day and both were buried in nearby Brownwood.

The name Conan (after becoming an international household word) has returned home to Cross Plains. After many years, the old Howard home was bought, painted, furnished with period furniture and put on display as the home of Conan's creator in 1991 - the same year the Howard Festival was started.

Cross Plains has also instituted a Barbarian Festival held in Treadaway Park each Labor Day weekend. 2001 will be their third.


John Troesser
August 2001
Our thanks to Bobbye Hinkle of the Cross Plains Library for generously sharing her knowledge of Cross Plains and details of Robert Howard's life

Books by Robert E. Howard - Order from Amazon.com

The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian
Kull
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane

More on Conan's Father,
Gunsmoke's Sam the Bartender,
and life in Cross Cut and Cross Plains, Texas

Letter from Norris Chambers, former citizen of Cross Cut, Texas. Norris knew Robert Howard and typed many of the Conan stories. He also wrote a few of his own. We were fortunate to have Mr. Chambers write us.

The following is Mr. Chamber's second letter:


"... I have had interviews from several writers in the past few years. It is amazing how the interest in Robert's stories continues. A writer from Paris, France came last week. Dr. Howard, Robert's father, was a regular visitor at our house. Robert came with him occasionally. My father was a doctor in the late 1800's and early 1900's and was a friend of Dr. Howard. My father had a drug store in Cross Cut and lived next door to Dr. Howard in that town. Later Dr. Howard moved to Cross Plains and my dad started farming. (After his drug store burned). This was before my time - I was born in 1917.

We visited the Howards in Cross Plains many times during the late 20's and early 30's. I stayed with Dr. Howard for two weeks and helped him get Robert's things in order and write Robert's friends and associates about the tragedy. My brother and sister, who were much older than I, knew Robert as a boy. Robert was about ten years older than I. My mother and Mrs. Howard were good friends.

John Limmer wrote a history of Cross Cut and he quotes Louise Newton, wife of Ross Newton, saying this about Robert: "Ross played with Robert Howard, Conan author. He told her Robert was weird even then and he was a little afraid of him as he was making up queer stories - way back then. Dr. Howard, Robert's father, wasn't happy about the stories his son wrote. Dr. Howard delivered most of the babies in town." Ross Newton was the youngest son of pioneer Jim Newton.

You have a very interesting site.... I happened across it when looking for articles on Cross Cut. Found some pretty interesting things about the old town. Its closest call to fame, other than Robert, was Glen Strange and Curtis McPeters, who left Cross Cut in the late twenties and worked in the movies. They came back in about 1928 and did a program at the school. They had a band in Arizona and later got in the movies. Glen was Sam the bartender in Gunsmoke in later years. He also did a Frankenstein. McPeters was Cactus Mack and did 167 bit parts in old westerns. They were cousins and were part of the Byrd family.

When Lake Brownwood was built and it closed the road to Brownwood, a new road was built farther west. It was not paved until after the war. The road by-passed Cross Cut and left it further isolated. The main road originally was the main street of the little town. ..... - Norris Chambers

More on Robert E. Howard >

Related Topics:
Texas | People | Texas Towns | TE Online Magazine

Robert E. Howard Related Places & Stories:

  • Conan in Texas -The Robert E. Howard Story by C.F. Eckhardt
  • Peaster, Texas - Robert E. Howard was born in Peaster before moving to his longtime home of Cross Plains.
  • Cross Plains, Texas
  • Robert E. Howard Museum, Robert E. Howard's former home

    The Howard Home in Cross Plains - now the Robert E. Howard Museum


     
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