This is another of Howard’s weird westerns, and although published a year and a half before “Old Garfield’s Heart” (May 1932 vs. December 1933), it’s a more mature tale. This one concerns a former cowboy, now farmer, named Steve Brill who notices that an old Mexican laborer named Juan Lopez avoids a mound on Brill’s property. Lopez cuts across a corner of Brill’s pasture when going between his work and his shack.
Brill detains Lopez one evening and inquires as to the reason for this behavior. Brill thinks it’s because Lopez is superstitious and the mound is an old Indian burial mound. Lopez assures him there’s more to the situation than that, but that he isn’t free to tell. The story has been passed down in his family from one of his ancestors who came through with the conquistadors. Lopez has taken a sacred oath not to tell anyone but his first born son. Since he has no children, the secret of the mound will die with him.
Brill convinces Lopez to write out what the secret is since his oath only prohibits him from telling the secret. Lopez agrees and hurries off to his shack before the sun sets. Brill decides not to wait but to excavate the mound by lantern. He suspects there’s a hidden cache of gold in the mound, and he wants to get his hands on it.
Brill finds evidence of the mound being an Indian burial mound, but there it appears to have been disturbed at some point in the past. He unearths a stone lid over a burial chamber. Hearing rustling and fearing a den of rattle snakes, he heads off to his cabin to get a lantern. (He’s been working by moonlight, too impatient before now to get his lantern.)
He comes back and discovers the lid is now in the burial chamber. A figure is visible going over the hill to Lopez’s shack. Naturally Brill suspects Lopez has beat him to the gold. He heads towards Lopez’s shack to get what he views as his property when he hears a ghastly scream. He finds Lopez dead, papers scattered around him. The final sheet Lopez was working on is still clutched in his hand. The only sign on Lopez’s body are puncture marks on his neck.
Brill returns to his cabin to find his horses have been scattered. Wanting to avenge Lopez but not wishing to tangle with one or more killers in the dark, he barricades himself in his cabin and reads what Lopez wrote.
During the days of the conquistadors, a small expedition rescued a lone survivor from a ship. The survivor claimed the crew and the rest of the passengers died of plague. He accompanies the expedition to what would become Texas. Then the men start dying, bodies left by the side of the trail drained of blood. Eventually, they find the vampire sleeping in the brush. He’s the survivor. Afraid of waking the creature, they bury it in an old Indian burial mound. Lopez was a descendant of one of the survivors of the expedition.
Brill finishes reading to discover the vampire watching him from the window. The creature breaks down the door. While Brill fights for his life, the lantern falls from the table and shatters. Brill manages to impale the vampire on a broken table leg and flees the burning cabin, letting the fire finish killing the creature.
“The Horror From the Mound” was criticized when it appeared in Weird Tales because it contained “no less than four flagrant breaches of accepted vampire tradition”. It was the first of the regional horror stories Howard would write, and it’s one of the best, even if it didn’t respect “vampire tradition”. Howard blazed his own trail even there. Howard adds a level of verisimilitude by mention historical figures such as Coronado and real locations such as Palo Pinto, which is both a town near Howard’s birthplace as well as the county in which he was born.
One thing I do want to point out, and that’s Howard’s use of race. Howard is often considered a racist in some circles because he doesn’t hold 21st Century views. But consider how Lopez is portrayed. While Brill does express some racist sentiments, especially when he thinks Lopez has robbed him of a treasure, his attitude towards the Mexican is largely one of respect for the man, if not for some of his beliefs. He certainly intends on avenging the man when he discovers Lopez’s body. These were not typical white attitudes towards Hispanics in the time and place Howard was writing nor were they typical attitudes for the setting of the story. The respect and desire to avenge don’t fit easily into the racist label that’s often applied to the author.
“The Horror From the Mound” is one of Robert E. Howard’s best regional horror tales. It’s easy to see why.