CAPTAIN AMOS A HOWELL
Captain Howell is one of the oldest and best known of the early residents of Atchison and may be said to have taken an active part in the opening up and development of this section of the west, as for many years he was engaged in piloting the long trains of wagons which, before railroads were built, were the only means of conveying the necessaries of life across the plains. As a "freighter" Captain Howell has seen many exciting as well as amusing incidents, and the account of his experiences in this capacity, as given in an issue of the Atchison Globe and which is appended to this sketch, will prove interesting to our readers.
Captain Howell was born in Uniontown, Fayette county, Pennsylvania, December 26, 1824. His father, Seth Howell, a native of Trenton, New Jersey, was a bricklayer by trade, but for many years kept a hotel at Uniontown. He was of Welsh descent. His wife, whose maiden name was Ehiza Turnpaugh, was born near Baltimore, Maryland, and was a member of a well known German family. Both parents died in Uniontown.
Amos A. Howell was educated in the common schools and at Madison College at Uniontown, and on leaving school became his father's assistant in the hotel business, being also employed three years in carrying the mails between Uniontown and Clarksburg, Virginia. In 1844 he was married to Miss Esther A. McBurney, of East Liberty, Fayette county, Pennsylvania, daughter of one of the leading merchants of that county.
In 1856 Captain Howell came to Atchison, bringing his family all the long distance from Pennsylvania in wagons. He spent the following winter in the town, and the ensuing spring pre-empted one hundred and sixty acres in what is now Grasshopper township, Atchison county, and settled upon it. From time to time he has added to this property until now his farm comprises four hundred and eighty acres of choice, well improved land, upon which are a good dwelling house, two excellent barns and other outbuildings. He saw many hardships and privations in the early days, but being energetic, persevering and hopeful, all obstacles were finally conquered. To-day he is enjoying the results of years of hard work. He raises fine cattle and horses and also some hogs, and has been very successful in all his business enterprises.
Captain Howell moved from his farm into the city in 1892 and engaged in the ice business, in which he is employed at this writing. He leases a part of his farm, retaining the management of the remainder. Mrs. Howell died on the farmstead in 1888, leaving four children, -- two sons and two daughters. Of these Nathan C. is a farmer in Grasshopper township, Atchison county; Mary H. married Franklin Lewis and resides in southern Kansas; Charles A. is a farmer in the above named township; Sabina married Joshua Page and is deceased.
Politically Captain Howell has always voted with the Democratic party. For some time he was a member of the school board and trustee of the township. Socially he is a member of the Knights of Pythias. He is highly esteemed by all who know him and is a most interesting conversationalist, his reminiscences of the early times being a source of great pleasure to those who are fortunate enough to obtain opportunity to hear them related. He can also tell stories of long ago in the eastern states and of his grandfather, Philip Howell, who was among the first to run a ferry across the Delaware river at Trenton, New Jersey, which became a famous crossing for travelers on their way to Philadelphia.
The Atchison Globe's account of the early experiences of Captain Howell, already referred to, is here appended:
"Amos A. Howell, who is now in the ice business in Atchison, was one of the plains freighters who distinguished Atchison in the early days. He ran twenty-seven wagons, with six yoke of oxen to each wagon. An extra herd of oxen was taken along, known as a 'cavvy,' to 'spell' the others and take the places of those that gave out. Altogether he owned four hundred head of work oxen. The oxen were expected to pick up their living on the way, but when mules were used in winter it was necessary to carry grain for them. Thirty men were necessary in a train of twenty-seven wagons pulled by oxen. Mr. Howell was his own wagon boss, assisted by his son, Nat.
"In those days there was a government regulation that all trains should be held at Fort Kearney until a hundred armed men had collected. Then a captain was elected, who was commissioned by the government and had absolute charge of the train while it was passing through the Indian country. Mr. Howell frequently occupied the position of captain, being well known on the plains.
"On one occasion, while he was captain, he halted at Cottonwood, on the Platte, as the Indians were very bad and soldiers were expected to go through with the train. But none came, and finally Mr. Howell unloaded five wagons, filled them with armed men and started out. Almost in sight of Cottonwood a gang of gaily painted Indians attacked the train, supposing it was a little outfit; but when the Indians came within range the 'Whisky Bills' and 'Poker Petes' in the covered wagons began droppmg the Indians off their ponies and there was a very pretty fight, in which the Indians were bady worsted.
"Mr. Howell says the Indians never attacked wagon trains except very early in the morning or late in the evening. The favorite sport of the Indians, however, was to run off the stock after the train had gone into camp at night, and they always had one way of doing it, which Mr. Howell finally learned. The Indians are no wiser than white men, for they say that white men always fail in business the same way and act the same way when they have a fire. An Indian would ride up on a high point and hook around a while. This would always be in the evening, when the train was near a camping place. Then the Indian would disappear and come back presently with another Indian wrapped in his blanket and riding the same pony. One Indian then would drop off into the grass and the rider would go back after another one; the Indians were collecting an ambush, thinking the freighters would never think of it.
"Mr. Howell had in his employ as driver an Atchison man named 'Whisky Bill,' who was particularly clever at hating Indians, and whenever an ambush was preparing 'Whisky Bill' would select four or five other men equally clever and go after the Indians. He often killed and scalped as many as four in one ambush and sold the scalps in Denver to the Jews for a suit of clothes each. The Jews bought them as relics and disposed of them in the east. The killing of Indians in this manner was according to government orders and strictly legitimate. Another driver in Howell's train was an Atchison man named Rube Dugan. He was a great roper and used to take a horse when in sight of a buffalo herd and go out after calves, which made tender meat. Riding into the herd he would lasso a calf, fasten the rope to the ground with a stake and then go on after another one before the herd got away. He caught several calves in this way for Ben Holladay, who took them east. Mr. Howell remembers once that this side of Fort Kearney it was necessary to stop the train to let a herd of buffalo pass. The men always had fresh buffalo meat in addition to their bacon, beans, dried apples, rice and fried bread.
"There was a cook with the train who drove the mess wagon, but he did not do any other work. Every driver had to take his turn getting wood and water for the cook and in herding the cattle at noon, but the night herder did nothing else and slept in the mess wagon during the day. Occasionally he would waken about noon and hunt along the road. The cattle fed at night until ten or eleven o'clock, when they would he down until two in the morning. The night herder would he down by the side of a reliable old ox and sleep, too, being awakened when the ox got up to feed. The oxen were driven into the wagon corral about daylight and yoked. Every wagon had its specified place in the train and kept it during an entire trip. The wagons were always left in a circle at night, forming a corral. Into this corral the cattle were driven while being yoked. In case of an attack the cattle were inside the corral and the men fought under the wagons. The teams started at daylight and stopped at ten or eleven o'clock until after two or three, then they would start out and travel until dark. Mr. Howell always rested on Sunday, making an average of a hundred miles a week with his ox teams. When the train started out each man was given ten pounds of sugar, which was to last him to Denver. On the first Sunday the men would make lemonade of sugar and vinegar and do without sugar the rest of the trip.
"Mr. Howell saw the attack on George W. Howe's train on the Little Blue, when George Constable, the wagon boss, was killed, and the entire train burned. Constable was an Atchison man. Howell's train was corraled and he could not go to Howe's assistance.
"Mr. Howell came to Atchison county in 1856, by wagon, from Fayette county, Pennsylvania, where he was born December 26, 1824. Although seventy years old, he is stout and vigorous, getting up every morning at four o'clock to go to work. His plains experience did him good. He still owns the claim he took up in Grasshopper township and has since acquired three other quarter-sections beside it."