Prior to Robert E. Howard owning an automobile it was his custom when no ride was available, and he wanted to go somewhere, to simply start walking down the road until he could hitch a ride with a willing passerby. This practice is confirmed by his father, Dr. I.M. Howard, in a June 21, 1944 letter to E. Hoffman Price. Dr. Howard told Price, “[I] have known him to start hitchhiking to Ft. Worth or Brownwood to see a fight before he owned a car of his own. And when he was just [a] slender youth.” Going to fights was not the only reason Robert would take off down the road attempting to hitch a ride to his destination. He also hitched when he wanted to go see friends, movies, and on occasions when he just wanted to explore.
|East Pecan Street |
Coleman, Texas; circa late 1920s
While at this bootleg joint, Howard ran into an old-timer, who was around 80 years old, whom Howard had known for some time. Howard bought the old-timer a beer and listened to his stories while everyone else did their own thing. The place was probably hopping with a few locals who knew the joint existed. When I initially read Howard’s account it struck me as odd. First, in Central and West Texas in the middle of Prohibition, bootlegging operations were simple and small, located in areas in the sticks away from any town and difficult to reach. Second, these operations typically contained only a small distillery run by one or two people. And they were intentionally located in hard to reach places to keep others away, such as a small hole in the sides of hills, or the walls of creek and/or river beds. This was also to keep the outfit hidden from the Texas Rangers who were busy shutting these small operations down. Moreover, the alcohol that was made at these small operations were bottled on site and distributed away from the operation itself. So, for Howard and his friends to be at a bootleg joint that was large enough to serve people on site was extremely rare. It also probably meant the local police were aware of the place and were paid in cash and alcohol to look the other way. I found this interesting enough to include it in a research road trip I was doing in and around Coleman, Texas. What I managed to dig up is, to say the least, quite intriguing.