“Old Garfield’s Heart” was first published in Weird Tales in December of 1933 and is generally labeled as a “Horror Story”. It takes place shortly after the end of the Wild West, but it falls squarely into the “Weird Western” genre. The story is about a frontiersman, Old Garfield, who has lived as long as anyone can remember. The story is told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator who believes the tales told by Old Garfield are nothing more than whims of fancy or tall tales.

An earlier draft with only minor differences from the published text exists. Howard sold the story for $35.

From the letters

Howard mentions the story in a letter (#258) to August Derleth, on September 4, 1933.

My latest sale to Weird Tales was “Old Garfield’s Heart”, a short story laid in the post oak country of Central West Texas; whatever merit it may possess lies in its realistic background rather than in the weird development or the plot.

After the story was published he asked August Derleth (letter #275), ca. late December 1933 on what he thought:

How did you like “Old Garfield’s Heart” in the latest Weird Tales? There wasn’t much to the plot, but the background and environment were realistically drawn. I guess I ought to sit down and write a lot of yarns laid in this country, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to sell them.

He also mentioned the story to Carl Jacobi, circa summer 1934 (letter #297):

You ask me why I do not use Texas settings more in my stories. I really should, since Texas is the only region I know by first hand experience. Three of my yarns in Weird Tales have been laid in Texas: “The Horror From the Mound”, “The Man on the Ground” and “Old Garfield’s Heart”. Sometimes too thorough a knowledge of a subject is a handicap (not that I claim to be an authority on the Southwest, or anything like that; but I was born here and have lived here all my life.) for fiction writing.

The story - spoiler alert

The narrative begins with the protagonist sitting on the porch with his grandfather, who reminisces about Old Jim Garfield, a man who has seemingly defied the aging process and has been a part of the community for an unnaturally long time. Garfield, known for his tall tales, is critically injured in an accident, and the protagonist, along with Doc Blaine, visits him.

During their visit, Garfield reveals an astonishing secret about his heart. Years ago, he was mortally wounded in a fight with Comanches, but was saved by an old Indian friend, Ghost Man, a Lipan witch-doctor. Ghost Man replaced Garfield’s damaged heart with a powerful, godly heart, granting him extraordinary vitality and near-immortality. Garfield insists that upon his death, his extraordinary heart must be returned to Ghost Man.

The story takes a dark turn when Jack Kirby, a local bully seeking revenge against the protagonist, attempts to shoot him but accidentally kills Garfield instead. In an eerie, macabre scene, Doc Blaine fulfills Garfield’s wish by removing the still-beating heart from his body. The heart, unlike any human organ, thumps like a cosmic dynamo. The mysterious return of Ghost Man to claim the heart brings the story to a haunting conclusion.

The characters

  • The Protagonist: The narrator of the story, who is involved in the events surrounding Old Jim Garfield’s life and death.
  • The Protagonist’s Grandfather: An old man who shares the history of Old Jim Garfield with his grandson.
  • Old Jim Garfield: The central figure of the story, a man with a mystical heart that grants him extended life and vitality.
  • Doc Blaine: The local doctor who treats Old Jim Garfield and later fulfills his wish to remove his heart.
  • Joe Braxton: The man hired by Doc Blaine to care for Old Jim Garfield.
  • Jack Kirby: A local bully whose actions inadvertently lead to Garfield’s death.
  • Ghost Man: A Lipan witch-doctor and old friend of Garfield, who gave him the mystical heart and returns to claim it after Garfield’s death.

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Listen to the story


  • Teaser art by Jim and Ruth Keegan.

Season 11, Episode 4: Old Garfield’s Heart, with Rusty Burke! Introduction by Bill Cavalier