Sins of the Pioneers
Trade paperback, 234 p., $15.95
Since my father-in-law is in both the San Angelo Community Band and a member of the Twin Mountain Tonesmen, the local barbershop group, and since both were performing in the Community Christmas Tree lighting a few weeks ago, it was only natural that I and the Adventures Fantastic Support Staff (Spousal Unit and Offspring) would be in attendance. We arrived early in order to get seats at the front, and since the Cactus Bookshop was in the middle of the next block, I wandered down to kill some time and see what I could find.
The Cactus Bookshop specializes in Texas and western writing and carries just about everything ever written by Elmer Kelton. That's not too surprising since Kelton lives in San Angelo. It's well worth a visit if you happen to be in the area, even if the owner doesn't have any Robert E. Howard in stock. (I need to discuss that problem with him next time I'm in.)
What I found was Sins of the Pioneers, a history of crime and scandal in Stephenville, Texas. In addition to being home to one of the Texas A&M University System schools as well as science fiction writer Taylor Anderson, Stephenville seems to have been home to a number of murderers, thieves, scoundrels, grifters, bigamists, and at least one ghost. Not the sort of folks you would necessarily want to have over for dinner, but probably more interesting after-dinner-conversation companions than the ones who would probably be your dinner guests. I haven't had much time to do more than peruse the book, but since many of the events are short, it's great reading for those times when you only have a few minutes.
Over at the REH: Two Gun Raconteur site, Damon C. Sasser has been doing a series of posts about Robert E. Howard's Texas, in which he describes in some detail the events Howard was interested in or places that had an impact on Howard's life and work. They're great reading. While I don't want to try to duplicate that here, only one county, Eastland County, separates Cross Plains (in Callahan County) from Stephenville (in Erath County). I can't help but wonder if Howard was aware of some of the incidents in the book. Stephenville was, and is, one of the larger population centers in that part of the state. Given the interest he developed in the history of the area, I find it hard to believe he wasn't aware of at least some of the things in the book. I'm slowly working my way through Howard's collected correspondence, and if I come across anything in the correspondence relating to Sins of the Pioneers that Damon hasn't already written about, I'll let you know.