Buena Vista County, IA
USGenWeb Project

Extracted from:  Wegerslev, C. H. and Thomas Walpole. 
 Past and Present of Buena Vista County, Iowa
Chicago:  S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1909, p. 372-76.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy

Biography of  John Russell Howe

John Russell Howe is numbered among the prominent pioneer farmers of Buena Vista county, owning a large amount of land here and making his home on a valuable tract in Poland township.  He was born in Lorain county, Ohio, August 20, 1847, a .son of William and Elizabeth (Russell) Howe, natives of England.  They were married in the old country and there remained until three children were added to the household.  In 1836 the father emigrated with his family to America and for one year engaged in farming in New Jersey.  He then made his way to Lorain county, Ohio, where he made his home until his removal to Fayette county, Iowa, in 1855.  Later he came to Buena Vista county and spent his last days with our subject, his death occurring in 1897, when he had reached an advanced age.  The mother of our subject preceded him to the home beyond, her death occurring in 1878.  Their family numbered ten children, as follows:  Susan, who became the wife of Thomas Tomlinson, and died in 1878; William, who wedded Mary O. Gifford but is now deceased; James, who served in the Civil war and died in 1862; John R., of this review; Charles, who departed this life about 1878; Anna, who died in 1861; Betsey, who became the wife of Charles Barnes and died in 1875; George who was married and departed this life in 1907; Mary, who died in infancy; and Jane, who died in 1875.


John Russell Howe, the fourth in order of birth in the father's family and the only member of the family now living, remained under the parental roof until he had attained his majority.  He was a little lad of eight years when he accompanied his parents on their removal from the Buckeye state to Fayette county, Iowa.  At the age of twenty-one years he became apprenticed to a Mr. Brainard to learn the blacksmith's trade and remained with him for about a year and a half.  He then came to Buena Vista county, where he worked on a farm for Mr. Brainard during the summer of 1869, and the following winter was employed in a blacksmith shop at Sioux City for a time.  Later he went to Nebraska, where he cut cord wood for steamboats, and next secured employment in a hotel as chore boy.


The second year after his arrival in Buena Vista county, Mr. Howe worked as a farm hand at Peterson and then located on a quarter section of land which he had entered as a homestead.  In order to improve the property he purchased a team of oxen for one hundred and fifty dollars, paying sixty dollars down and giving his note for the remainder.  In the fall, after his crops were harvested, he tried to sell the oxen in order to pay the ninety dollar note but failed.  He feels deeply indebted to Stephen Olney, Sr., now the oldest man in the county, being ninety years of age, who kindly extended the note for him, allowing Mr. Howe to pay the same by chopping wood, hauling hay and in many other ways.  He went to Sioux City to assist a man in proving up his claim and on his return to Sioux Rapids demanded his pay for this service but received nothing.  He then tried to purchase fifty pounds of flour on credit but was refused.  He next resorted to the expedient of carrying his friend Brainard's grist home from the mill with the motive of borrowing some flour.  The next day he took a yearling steer to Sioux Rapids and by selling this was able to purchase his winter's .supplies.  These incidents show the hardships many were forced to endure in making homes in a new settlement.  In those early days Mr. Howe used hay for fuel, cutting the tall slough grass, which he twisted into bundles and corded up as we do fire wood.  At that time his nearest postoffice [sic] was twenty-five miles away.  He continued to operate his homestead until 1888, when he removed to another tract and there remained until 1894, when he returned to his original farm in Poland township.  He has here one hundred and seventy-five acres of land on section 22 and in addition owns much other valuable property, his possessions including about two thousand acres.  His success is well merited for it has come to him only through the most persistent and determined effort.  When coming here in pioneer times he had to endure many hardships and privations but as the years passed and the country became more thickly settled, the land became more valuable and Mr. Howe is now in possession of a handsome competency, derived from his landed holdings consisting of two thousand acres.  He is still actively engaged in general farming and is numbered among the substantial and honored citizens of this section of Iowa.


Mr. Howe was married in 1875, the lady of his choice being Miss Mary Elizabeth Shutt, a daughter of John and Ruth A. (Carroll) Shutt, who were natives of Pennsylvania and came to Iowa in the fall of 1868, their home being established in Payette county, where Mr. Shutt passed away at the comparatively early age of forty-five years.  The mother, however, still survives and makes her home in Marathon.  Unto Mr. and Mrs. Howe have been born seven children:  Minnie, the wife of Enoch Ericson, who resides near Marathon; Charles R., who wedded Miss Emma Anderson and lives in Spencer, Iowa; William M., who wedded Pearl Bettsworth and lives in Terril, Iowa; Susie, the wife of Dr. E. A. Russ, of Webb, Iowa; Rush, who died April 7, 1905, at the age of sixteen years; Pearl, at home; and Cassius, also under the parental roof.


Mr. Howe gives stalwart support to the republican party and in religious faith is a Methodist, his daily actions being in harmony with his professions.  He is well known as a pioneer of the county and as most industrious and useful man, whose probity is an unquestioned element in his career.  His energy is often at the service of his community and he has the love and respect of all among whom he lives.  In daily life he is genial and affable.  In the highest and best sense of the term he is ever and essentially a gentleman, of which fact his friends bear witness.