Howard’s Peaks Essay
Not too many miles from the Howard House in Cross Plains, jutting up from the rolling Texas plains, are two peaks – Caddo Peaks - Howard’s Peaks Essay introduction. These peaks were named for the Caddo Indians who lived in the piney woods of East Texas. Various Caddo tribes also resided in Arkansas and Louisiana.
Since they were so close to his home, Howard visited them often, though he only mentions them once in his correspondence; that was in a letter to August W. Derleth dated December 29, 1932:
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Looking south and west from the town there is only flat country to be seen. North east some four or five miles there rises a low chain of hills known as the Baker Mountains, while to the northwest are a pair of peaks some ten miles apart known collectively as the Caddo Peaks and individually as East Peak and West Peak.
Here is some information on the peaks from Texas Online, along with links from Mountainzone.com:
EAST CADDO PEAK. East Caddo Peak is four miles northwest of Cross Plains and two miles east of West Caddo Peak in southeastern Callahan County (at 32°10′ N, 99°14′ W). Its peak, with an elevation of 2,029 feet above sea level, rises 230 feet above State Highway 36 to the immediate south.
WEST CADDO PEAK. West Caddo Peak, seven miles northwest of Cross Plains in southeast Callahan County (at 32°10′ N, 99°17′ W), has an elevation of 2,090 feet. It was named for the Caddo Indians. The surrounding terrain is flat to rolling and surfaced with deep, sandy loams that support brush and grasses.
Howard writes of the peaks in “Spanish Gold on Devil Horse,” thinly disguising them as “Cadoak Peaks.” The story is set in and around “Lost Plains,” which is a fictionalized version of Cross Plains that Howard also used in his fictionalized autobiography, Post Oaks & Sand Roughs. Similarly, he used “Lost Knob” in two regional horror stories, “Old Garfield’s Heart” and “’For the Love of Barbara Allen,’” and also in his contemporary western, “Wild Water.” Here is an excerpt from “Spanish Gold on Devil Horse” that describes the east peak:
“Stop on East Peak, then, and take a squint at the two geologists workin’ there.”
“Geologists? On East Peak?”
“That’s what they say they are. But what oil chasers would be doin’ there is more’n I can see. The Gulf people drilled all around there and didn’t get enough oil to run the engine. These fellows don’t look like regular surveyors either, somehow. Maybe they were sent up by some South American company. I don’t know. They look like Spaniards–dark fellows with black mustaches–don’t have much to say. They come here in an airplane, I hear. They say it’s in that field north of the peak. The one that ain’t bein’ cultivated this year.”
“Not many people live around the peak,” said Mike. “No one within a couple of miles. They could camp there and do about as they pleased without interruption. I wonder where and how they get their provisions, do you know?”
“You can search me.”
The peak in discussion loomed just beyond them, about ten miles from the town of Lost Plains, to the northwest. It was really a lone hill of considerable dimensions, rising abruptly from the level of the surrounding country and appearing to be of great height, though this appearance was mainly an illusion createdby the flatness of the surrounding country. A few miles further to the northwest rose its twin. These peaks were known collectively as the Cadoak Peaks and were differentiated by the terms East Peak and West Peak. They represented a formation common to Central West Texas.
These hills, like most others of the type, had been formed ages ago by erosion. Thousands of years of rain and hard weather had washed away the loose, soft loam, reducing the level of the country sometimes as much as several hundred feet. These hills had remained untouched by reason of a heavy layer of “caprock” which extended clear across the top of them, and was of such thickness as to be impervious to erosion.
East Peak, like all its kind, was rather steep, rising as it did abruptly from the surrounding mesquite flats and was extremely rocky, its sides lined with large uneven boulders which had become, from time to time, dislodged from the caprock. Here and there cliffs of some twenty feet in height showed the effect of weathering and the live oaks and pin oaks grew in thick clumps to its summit.
Here is a bit about the story from Mark Finn’s “Robert E. Howard, Lone Star Fantasist:”
The story is a contemporary western involving mustachioed bandits, an upstanding young man, buried Spanish gold, and a beautiful woman in trouble. The use of six shooters may seem anachronistic in a story with boarding houses and pick-up trucks, but it is an accurate representation of life in West Texas towns, minus perhaps some of the melodrama. “Spanish Gold” was also unpublished at the time of Howard’s death.
While the action in “Spanish Horse” takes place on the east peak, Howard fans are more familiar with the west peak, which is the location of the annual barbeque hosted by the owners of Caddo Peak Ranch. Every Howard Days a hearty Texas meal is graciously provided free of charge to the Howard Days attendees, courtesy of Middelton Family, owners of the ranch.
Before the barbeque is served, the ranch hands haul pick-up trucks full of Howard Heads partway up the peak where they continue the pilgrimage to the top of the peak on foot. While on the peak’s summit, occasionally a visitor will dig up an Indian arrowhead, a reminder of the days when the Red Man roamed the countryside surrounding the town of Cross Plains.
As you stand there, it is easy to imagine Howard standing next to you looking out across the plains and seeing cowboys, Indians, Conquistadors, bandits and perhaps a certain Cimmerian named Conan riding off into the sunset.