Elmer Kelton’s Papers at the Southwest Collection

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The Southwest Collection is home to the papers of a number of prominent fiction and non-fiction writers, but few among them were as prolific as Western fiction writer Elmer Kelton. Born in 1926 in Horse Camp, Texas (a name that destined him to do something related to West Texas…), Kelton was raised on the McElroy Ranch near Crane, Texas, where his father worked for over thirty years. This experience among a host of others throughout his life shaped the ensuing five decades of non-stop composition.

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After a stint at the University of Texas at Austin from 1942 to 1944, then 1946 to 1948 (sandwiching two years of service in the army during World War 2), he acquired a journalism degree and returned to West Texas where he spent over a decade writing for local newspapers. Kelton’s work appeared primarily the San Angelo Standard-Times, but pieces appeared throughout the region, such the one above from the Big Spring Daily Herald.

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But it was the authorship of more than 30 novels that made his reputation. The resulting accolades are almost too many to list (but we’ll try). 3 Western Heritage Awards, given by the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center; 7 Spur Awards from the Western Writers of America; the Barbara McCombs/Lon Tinkle Award from the Institute of Texas Letters; a lifetime achievement award from the National Cowboy Symposium; and the first Lone Star award for lifetime Achievement from the Larry McMurtry Center for Arts and Humanities at Midwestern State University. Oh, and in April 1997 the Texas Legislature declared an Elmer Kelton Day.

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Novel-writing and award receptions had to be scheduled around his other career. Kelton spent five years as Sheep and Goat Raiser Magazine’s editor, twenty-two as associate editor of Livestock Weekly, and of course, the diligent newspaper work that he continued until the 1990s. The excerpt above is an excellent example both of his prose and the sense of humor that permeated it (as well as a host of entertaining ads for the upcoming local rodeo).

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As a longstanding member (over 40 years) of the Western Writers of America, Kelton often found himself collaborating with other writers. The letters below and above, dating from 1972, concern a project wherein several writers would compose a story by passing it from writer to writer, each of whom would add to it before giving it to the next. Although the outcome of this project wasn’t apparent from a brief search through the boxes of correspondence in his Papers, we suspect a dedicated researcher might find the answer someday.

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Elmer Kelton’s catalog continued to grow even after his passing in 2009, with Texas Standoff, a novel in his Texas Rangers series, appearing posthumously in 2010. But honestly, our 500 words of description are hardly able to do justice to the man’s colossal body of work. His novels are widely available in libraries (including ours) and you’d do well to pick one up and read it through. Or, if you’d like to research further into the nuts and bolts of a famed Western writer’s process, our helpful Reference staff would be happy to get Kelton’s papers into your hands.

 

Wonders from the World of the Astounding and Fantastical Dime Novels

air rocketThere was a time not so long ago when adjective-slathered tales of steam-fueled engineering and two-fisted, crack-shot cowboys filled the pages of cheaply printed dime novels. We love those stories, and today, for you, we have a whole passel of some of the finest covers of the dime novels from our modest collection of them.

Now, normally we would try to provide some context or commentary on them, but this week we feel that these really speak for themselves. So enjoy the B’hoys of Yale, Thomas Edison, Jr., and the incredible Steam Man, and if you want to read them through, stop on by and visit with our Reference Staff who will boldly venture to our stacks and plunder them for you!

boys of yaleWhat hard-knock lessons await these scrappy boys of Yale University?

calamity janeCrack shot and queen of Whoop-Up. A maiden with which men dare not trifle!

electric sea spiderTom Edison, Jr., famed inventor’s son and Wizard of the Submarine world. Journey with him into the dark depths that not even Jules Verne could imagine!

deadwood dickDeadwood Dick strode the pages of many a dime novel, and you’d be the most villainous of rogues not to follow him in his adventures.

electricsubmarineYou saw Thomas Edison, Jr., above, but his era was filled with nautical ingenuity and perilous adventure. Frank Reader, Jr., son of the inventor of the Amazing Steam Man (below) left the trackless expanses of his father’s prairies for another boundless world: the briny deep!

steam manBehold! The impossible made possible! Perpetual motion across the vast hinterlands of these United States.

unknown planetAnd lastly, two boys who would not be denied, who sought the final frontier, the dark void that lies between we denizens of Earth and the unimaginable Unknown Planet!

Buffalo Bill and the Saga of His Dime Novels

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The SWC has a lot of books. Some of them are rare, some not so rare, and some incredibly entertaining. And as you may know by now, we love to share the latter most of all. These dime novels about Buffalo Bill are a prime example. According to the preliminary pages of the books, “they depict actual adventures…interwoven with fiction; historically the books are correct.” Is that true? Well, head on over to browse amongst them in our digital collections and find out. You could start with Buffalo Bill’s Determination, above, which having been published in 1910 is one of the earliest ones we possess.

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The Buffalo Bill dime novels were written by Prentiss Ingraham, a Mississippi-born author who served in the Confederate Army in 1861 where he was wounded twice working for the Texas cavalry. By 1884 he had met Buffalo Bill Cody, worked for his Wild West Show, and penned over six hundred dime novels, many of which concerned his employer. He swore up and down that they were based on actual events. Perhaps the above tale of Buffalo Bill’s Bold Play, or Tiger of the Hills–the story of Juniper Joe’s carefully guarded mine and the tragedies that befell him, the nearby town, and those who sought his fortune–was the truth. Who’s to say?

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But let’s back this story up for a second. What is a dime novel? Glad you asked. Typically published as pamphlets of about 100 pages, dime novels often spun yarns of the Wild West and figures such as Buffalo Bill (of course,) Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp. These heroes were cool customers, quick-drawing cowboys who were always on the lookout for maidens needing rescue from outlaws and Indians. Prentiss’ stories were among some of the most popular, and of course they only cost a dime (or, on a lucky day, a nickel.) By the 1920s, most of these publications were replaced by pulp magazines and, a little later, western novels of the Louis L’Amour variety. But in their day, audiences couldn’t get enough of them.

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Curious to read more about Buffalo Bill’s exploits? Then head on over to our digital collection of Ingraham’s stories. And if you’re interested in other rare books or our many archival holdings, browse around that site and see what you find. Finally, and as always, if you need to see something live and in person, our ever-diligent Reference Staff will get on top of that for you.

Conan: The Exhibit!

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A few months ago we told the tale of the Robert E. Howard westerns that were published in his hometown newspaper, the Cross Plains Review. But to be honest, Howard wasn’t really famous for his westerns. The world knew him for his fast-paced tales of sword and sorcery, and among those one character stood above the rest: Conan the Cimmerian. The Southwest Collection has installed “Robert E. Howard: Creator of Conan the Barbarian,” an exhibit curated by our favorite cataloger and metadata librarian, Rob King. It describes the many materials the SWC holds related to the author and his world-famous barbarian, and will be on display through the first of the year.

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Who was Robert E. Howard? A writer, of course. An avid boxer. A West Texan, too. But one young woman, Novalyne Price Ellis, kept extensive diaries about her years with the author that she later used to write One Who Walked Alone (the cover of which can be seen above.) Her insights into the man are wroth a read. Price was a school teacher who moved to Cross Plains, Texas, in 1934. She wanted to become a writer, and became interested in Howard both as an author and some-time partner. In the words of her Howard biography, she and Robert enjoyed “a unique, if often tempestuous, relationship.” Still, in between her teaching, his writing and boxing, and their quarreling, they rode horses across the countryside while discussing politics, Texas history, and the difficulties of living in West Texas during the Great Depression. They remained very close until Howard’s suicide in 1936, when he was only 30 years old.

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Conan wasn’t the only character that Howard (seen here wearing a stylish hat) wrote to life. The young man spun yarns about Solomon Kane, a 16th century English adventurer; Bran Mak Morn, king of the Picts; and Kull of Atlantis, who we have some more to say about later. But really, Conan is what Howard’s legacy is all about, so here’s the short, short version of the barbarian’s story. Having traveled south from Cimmeria to seek his fortune in southern lands, Conan “trod the jeweled thrones of the earth under his sandaled feet” until he rose to become king of the ancient land of Aquilonia. There, as many know, he wore its crown upon his troubled brow. Our exhibit features compendiums of the Conan (and other Howard) stories, accounts of Howard’s life as both an author, amateur boxer, and lover of the American West, and analyses of the Conan phenomenon, such as…Conan the Phenomenon (the awesome cover of which can be seen at the beginning of this blog!)

Oh! Also, we have Conan comic books!

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Conan had many forerunners in Howard’s fiction. Take for example Hunwulf the wanderer and his adventures in the “Garden of Fear.” This tale’s narrator reveals that he has lived countless past lives. During one particularly Conan-esque lietime many millenia ago, he traveled as Hunwulf, a barbarous fellow who, as barbarians often do, became mired in high adventure. Assaulted by mammoths! Beset by a black-winged demon-man! Rescuing a damsel in distress! And what a lady she was: Gudrun. “Not for a millennium of millenniums have women like (her) walked the earth. Cleopatra…Helen of Troy, they were but pallid shadows of her beauty….” Yeah, Hunwulf had fallen pretty hard.

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Another Conan precursor can be seen posing, axe in hand, on this cover. Kull the Conqueror (aka Kull of Atlantis) only saw 3 short stories published in Howard’s lifetime, but another 9 were published posthumously. Other Kull adventures were also rewritten into Conan tales by Howard over the course of his career. There’s a lot we could say about Kull, but “By This Axe, I Rule,” the title of one of his short stories, pretty succinctly sums him up. Fun fact: Conan wasn’t the only of Howard’s creations to make it into the movies. Kull was the titular character of a film starring Kevin Sorbo in 1997. It might be wiser to stick with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian (1982) for a host of reasons, though, if you’re forced to choose between the two.

So come check out this new exhibit! Also, if you’re interested, read some of Howard’s stories in our digital copies of the Cross Plains Review. And for anything else Howard related at the Southwest Collection, our Reference Department would be happy to help you find it.

Conan the Barbarian! (And Robert E. Howard and The Cross Plains Review)

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This weekend, June 13th and 14th, Cross Plains, Texas is hosting its annual Robert E. Howard Days celebration. Who was Robert E. Howard? Why, the creator of Conan the Barbarian! In honor of the legendary adventurer and his author, this week we’re sharing excerpts of Howard’s writing from 1930s editions of the Cross Plains Review, the newspaper in which many of Howard’s stories first appeared. The SWC is fortunate to have an almost complete run of the Review, almost all of which is now available digitally.  Sadly, the Howard pieces we’re about to share do not concern Conan – but rest assured, they are still entertainment of the highest quality!

The story, Drums of the Sunset, begins poetically: “Now come all you punchers and listen to my tale/When I tell you of troubles on the Chisholm Trail!” And so begins the story of Steve Harmer (and, soon enough, a host of other characters.) We’ve truncated the text here to make it more readable, and also because there is a lot of it…and of course to inspire you to read the whole first installment.

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We’ve skipped part two and are sharing this excerpt from part 3. We hope that you’ll check out its predecessor so as to make sense of why Steve demands from Murken a new hat! Also, what mine is he talking about? And who is this woman he so gallantly offers to defend? Read on!

howard part 5Once again, we’ve left you guessing about part 4, a feeling no doubt shared by folks in 1928 who had missed the previous issue of the Review. That must have been particularly painful because our hero, Steve, had apparently just fought the Edwards! Who are they? Fortunately for you, we have the issue available online with all its many answers. (Note that we’re also not posting part 6, so to follow this tale of the old west you’ll need to follow along in our digitized issues!) In the meantime, this fifth installment contains Howard’s usual mix of action, gallantry, and the inevitable cliffhanger ending.

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Drums of Sunset was published in eight parts. This is the seventh. Steve and Hard Luck, his newfound companion (or is he? The curious should check those back issues linked above!), are hot on the trail of a host of criminals ranging from ‘Navajoes’ to a ring of counterfeiters. Pieces of the mystery that have plagued Steve for six installments are starting to come together. And oh, the CLIFFHANGER! Steve and Hard Luck are locked in mortal combat with a rowdy group of Native Americans. For the thrilling details of part 8 you’ll again have to visit our digital holdings…but we regret to say that we have dire news. The story was actually published in 9 parts, the final of which we haven’t found. Organizers of the Robert E. Howard Days have similarly come up short in their search. If you should find it, you have to let us know! We’re dying to read the end of Steve’s tale!

Speaking of our staff, at least one demands – nay, commands – that you attend Robert E. Howard Days. If you can stomach his disappointment, then at the very least read through the story we’ve been linking above. It is a good one, with a pace that will be familiar to any of Howard’s fans. And as always, for an in-person view of our newspapers or any of our other collections, you can always contact our ever-diligent Reference Staff who would be happy to arrange that.