The Life and Times of James F. Howard

Submitted by Paul Howard

This personal account of my great-grandfather is a result of my curiosity about my family history. Along the way, I also discovered some answers to questions about myself. Because in digging up the past, some of my present is made clearer. This story is a result of my quest to find out about my ancestors and in turn, myself. This is what I have discovered about my Howard roots.

James was born November 12, 1851, in Van Buren County, Tennessee. He was the fifth child of William P. Howard, born April 15, 1816, in White County, Tennessee, and Melinda (Haston) Howard, born December 26, 1815, in Van Buren County, Tennessee. James' siblings included Eliza Jane, Isaac M., Martha C., Joseph Haston, the family's twins, William Mortimore and Morgania, John V.B. Van Buren, and Thomas Fain Howard.

I theorize from my research that Isaac Howard, of Tennessee, is the father of William P. Howard. Melinda was the daughter of Joseph Haston and Sara (Crely), also from Tennessee.

William P. Howard was a Gunsmith and farmer according to early Tennessee records. Melinda, as with most women of this era, raised the children and took care of the household. William P. Howard passed away July 25, 1859, in Tennessee, according to an 1860 death schedule from the state of Tennessee, of the flux." This condition was either dysentery or a loss of blood through the intestine. William P. Howard's last resting place, is in Van Buren County, Tennessee.

After William's death, the family continued to live in Tennessee. James' oldest brother, Isaac M., is thought to have died during the Civil War while serving in the Confederacy. James and his siblings lived in the Van Buren, White County, Tennessee area until around 1870 or 71. Melinda Howard, with her family, then departed Tennessee, probably with the help of the Haston family, some of who left Tennessee about the same time and migrated to Yell County, Arkansas settling around Danville.

We can only speculate about the hardships of the pilgrimage, because no record of the journey exists. It must have been a great undertaking for Melinda, being a widow, to move her children and household to an unfamiliar land. James and his brothers probably herded what livestock the family had while Melinda drove the wagon loaded with all their worldly possessions, the smaller children riding with her. I can only guess that she thought there would be greater opportunity for her family in Arkansas, and perhaps, the promise of easily obtained land. Consequently, around 1870, Melinda and her family were on their way to Arkansas.

James and his family arrived in Yell County by 1873. I know this because that year, his oldest sister, Eliza Jane, would marry, and brother Joseph Haston Howard would also take a wife in Arkansas. (Joseph Haston would later become deputy, and then sheriff of Yell County in 1890.) James would marry Susan Driver (born 1855) from Madison County sometime before 1878. I do not know if James met Susan while he was working in Madison County. Maybe they met while on the way to his new home, in Yell County. No marriage records are available from Madison County because of a fire at the courthouse early this century. That part of James' and Susan's life is a mystery.

After James and Susan married, James filed a homestead on 80 acres, and purchased an additional 20 acres of land near Danville, in Yell County. On this farm in 1878, my grandfather, Joseph, their oldest child, was born. James' and Susan's other children were Manize, the only girl, Dalton, Miles and James Melvin, the youngest. James and Susan worked the land raising crops and livestock, and looking to the families needs. Things were good for James and his family, and according to my research, he made a good living for his brood. The young family of James Howard was probably typical of most families of this era, but tragedy was to strike the Howards and change their lives forever.

In December, 1889 the evening of Friday the 13th, James was killed and the following account is given in the Arkansas Gazette, December 15th, 1889.

Instantly Killed.
Dardanelle the scene of a Dreadful Homicide.

Special to The Arkansas Gazette.

Dardanelle ARK, Dec 14,__ Last night, about 12 o'clock, T.W. Robertson shot and killed James F. Howard.
The circumstances of the killing are about as follows: Howard was drunk and went to a house of ill-fame in the suburbs of town, and being refused admittance, tried to break into the house. One of the inmates went up town for an officer, and finding Night Watchman Robinson, got him to go to arrest Howard. It seems that Howard was so drunk he could not walk, and while being led by the officer, fell against the fence, when the officer fired, shooting him in the breast and killing him instantly. Robinson at once surrendered himself, and is now in jail.
Howard lived about ten miles south of Drdanelle, and has always been considered a good citizen, but is in the habit of getting drunk when he comes to town. He is a brother of Deputy Sheriff Joseph H. Howard. He left a wife and six children. Robinson claims that he acted in self-defense, so the public should not make up its mind as to the merits of the case until an investigation is had.

A man named Garrett Was later arrested as accessory to the homicide, by Howard's brother Deputy Sheriff Joseph Howard. According to the Gazette, December 19, 1889, it reads as follows.

There has been some little apprehension of mob violence by the friends of Howard, but no outward demonstration has been made in that direction. Deputy Sheriff Joe Howard, brother of the murdered man, yesterday swore out a warrant against one Garrett, as accessory, and he was committed to jail.

We know from court records from 1890 in Yell County, and the Arkansas Gazette of that year, that a T.H. Robertson was arrested for his murder. Robertson was indicted by a grand jury for the crime in Yell County. Court records from Wednesday, February 19th, 1890 show that witnesses for the state in the proceedings were: R. C. Harkness, J.C. Harkness, J.D. Hunt, James' brother Dock Howard, J.C. Hart, W.C. Hunt, J.S. Jackson, Forster Jackson, Virgil Smith, C.D. Horn and J.T. Hamlin. The witnesses for the defense were: James Tuege, G.C. Abbott, L.C. Hall, Roy Fethimgie, W.A. Garrett, J.E. Waker, Chase Flater. Robertson was later tried on a change of venue in Clarksville, Arkansas, after stating in court he could not receive a fair resolution of his case, because the mind-set in Yell County was against him. He was convicted in his trial for manslaughter and sentenced to two years in the State Penitentiary.

After his death, James' brothers, Joseph Haston and Thomas Fain Howard, were appointed by the court to oversee the estate and children. I do not know why Susan was not allowed to do this; possibly because, at this time, women did not have legal status with the court. From court records, we have a listing of all the land and belongings of James and Susan Howard, and in February 1890 their property and belongings were sold at public auction. James is buried on a hilltop with his Mother and other family members in Shepherd Cemetery, near where he had lived in Yell County. Susan Howard would remarry a Thomas Bowen in 1892, and have a child, a girl named Virty. Susan would live in Yell County until about 1900 then move to Le Flore County, Oklahoma. Eventually, all of the Howard children would find Themselves living in Le Flore County.

This excursion into my past has been a very fascinating and gratifying enterprise for me. It has answered questions about my family, and in addition, shown me a glimpse of my past heritage.

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Karen Groce /
Last updated 09 Apr 2010