Cross Plains author Robert E. Howard is most famous for creating the Conan character popularized in contemporary culture by a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it’s Howard’s poetry that made Barbara Barrett of Sacramento, Calif., a fan.
“I’ve been interested in Howard for about two years,” Barrett said Saturday morning during a stop at the graves of Howard and his parents at Greenleaf Cemetery in Brownwood. “But it’s his poetry that’s most impressed me. I was a caregiver for my mother, and so was Howard. I read his poetry, and I knew immediately that here was someone who understood. There’s a place of beauty in the heart of someone who wrote that.”
Barrett was among several hundred visitors to Cross Plains this weekend who attended the annual Robert E. Howard Days. Howard’s family lived in several Texas towns before they settled in Cross Plains when he was still a youth, and he lived his adult life there. While he is best known for his fantasy adventure writings, through which the Conan character came to life, Howard’s work branched into numerous other others before he took his own life in 1936. His suicide has been tied to the anguish he felt over the imminent death of his mother, along with problems he was having with his girlfriend and with the direction of his work.
Even so, Howard left a wealth of literature for future generations to examine, study and enjoy. That is the purpose of the weekend of meetings and programs in Cross Plains, timed each year on the weekend nearest the anniversary of his death on June 11, 1936.
“I became interested in Howard when I started reading paperback books with Conan on the cover,” Mike Pettit of Garland said. His interest in the man who created the character with the giant sword took into deeper study of Howard’s other works.
“It’s really very good literature,” Pettit said. “I saw the movie ‘The Whole Wide World’ and I was hooked. We’ve been to Cross Plains for several years now, and we learn more each time.”
Pettit was accompanied by his wife, Elaine, who said she became interested in Howard’s work through her husband.
“It’s just amazing to consider that he was able to become such an accomplished writer while living in such isolation,” Pettit said. “This was in the 1920s and 1930s, and he didn’t travel. It’s extraordinary. He’s a true Texas pioneer, but in writing.”
Also stopping by the sheltered reception area at the cemetery hosted by the Friends of Greenleaf on Saturday was Bob Dunn, also of Garland, but who had come to Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains independently of the Pettits. Dunn operates a Texana book library in Stephenville, and said no such collection is complete without Howard being represented.
“As a regional Texas writer, he’s the real deal,” Dunn said. He has been studying Howard’s writings for about three years after coming across the Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains “pretty much by accident,” he said.
“I’m not as fanatic about Howard as some of the others are, but in his works you hear the voice of a real Texan. I don’t think he’s appreciated so in Texas for what he did.”
Barrett quickly agreed with that assessment, saying that the cultural popularity of Howard’s fantasy fiction work has overshadowed his other literary efforts.
“That fantasy writing is less than 10 percent of what he did,” Barrett said.
Dunn’s bookstore is the Literary Lion on the Erath County courthouse square.
“I can’t say enough about Project Pride and what they’ve done to preserve the Howard house,” Dunn said. “So many communities would have let something like that crumble. It wouldn’t be an issue to them.”
The Howard home, which is now maintained as a museum by Project Pride of Cross, was open for tours during the event. The weekend was hosted by Project Pride and The Robert E. Howard Foundation, Arlene Stephenson, president of Project Pride, said.