vintage newspapers, it’s not hard to see how Texans early on helped to develop
the long-standing notion that people from the Lone Star State are folks with whom
it is best not to mess.
Take Volney Erskine Howard, newly elected to represent
his Texas district in the U.S. Congress. A lawyer and newspaperman originally
from Maine, Howard came to Texas from Mississippi
in 1844, settling in San Antonio. He practiced law there and after Texas
became the 28th state, he gained election to the Texas Legislature as a representative.
In 1849, Howard successfully ran for a seat in Congress. Some time that August,
he left Texas for Washington to be sworn in as a
freshman member of the House. Back then, the 1,600- mile trip from the Alamo City
to the District of Columbia meant a lot of time sitting in a stagecoach.
40-year-old Howard made it as far as Alabama before demonstrating that he was
as capable of upholding the rule of law on a physical level as he was at arguing
a point of order before the bar.
one newspaper later reported, the Congressman-elect was traveling with a judge
from New York, the French minister to Texas and his
secretary, and a man who happened to be a correspondent for the Boston Post. The
man driving their coach, the reporter wrote, was “one of those miserable drunken
Alabama stage drivers.”
reinsman was so intoxicated that he somehow overturned the coach. No one got hurt
– at least not in the accident.
“After righting the coach, and picking
up the broken fragments, Col. Howard pleasantly remarked to the driver, ‘This
is rather careless for the middle of the day, driver,’” the newspaperman wrote.
stageman apparently did not appreciate the constructive criticism offered by the
honorable gentleman from Texas.
is, is it?” the driver said, drawing “a large horse pistol” and sticking the barrel
against Howard’s chest. The driver seemed about to end Howard’s national political
career before it began when the Texas lawmaker “lit upon him.”
an awful blow as he dealt this driver I never did see!” the Massachusetts reporter
wrote. “He ‘rattled his bones over the stones’ right merrily, while the chap went
round like a top. Why he knocked out four of the fellow’s teeth and threw him
from one side of the road to the other.”
the fight was on and the handgun still up for grabs, the reporter’s survival instincts
told him to run, but his appreciation of the Texan’s manhandling of the stagecoach
driver got the best of him and he stayed for the full bout.
savage,” the journalist said of the driver’s pistol, “but the colonel soon took
it away…, tied [the driver’s] hands behind him, and took the reins himself.”
new Congressman from San Antonio
drove the stage to the nearest stage stop (the reporter called it a “change,”
as in where the teams got changed) and presented the restrained driver to the
agent in charge. The agent “took our names for the purpose of making an example
of this driver by prosecution, and very politely took us on himself some 30 miles,
when we gave him a good supper, and we left him to proceed to Montgomery.”
made it the rest of the way to Washington without incident and went on to represent
Bexar County in the 31st and 32nd Congress before former governor Peter Hansborough
Bell defeated him in his bid for a third term in 1853. With an appointment from
President Franklin Pierce as an attorney for the federal California Land Commission,
Howard soon left Texas for good.
served as the Golden State’s attorney general, eventually becoming a trial judge
and finally an appeals court judge. Late in life he got offered an appointment
to the U.S. Supreme Court but he declined a seat on the nation’s high court due
to his age. He died at 80 in Santa Monica in 1889 and is buried in Los Angeles.
Though he only spent eight years in Texas,
the former congressman must have left behind plenty of friends. When the legislature
created 54 new counties in West Texas in 1876, one of them was named in Howard’s
honor when it was finally organized in 1882.
(Author’s note: My thanks
to Austin researcher and friend Sloan
Rodgers, who ran across the story of Howard’s Alabama experience in the Sept.
29, 1849 edition of the Texas State Gazette and graciously shared it with me.)
© Mike Cox
- April 5 ,
| Texas Towns | Columns