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E.W. Howe, Kansas map, Atchison
Ed W. Howe, the Sage of Potato Hill, Atchison, KS

Edger W. Howe

Ed Howe's signature


The Story of a Country Town

Plain People, by E.W. Howe

Country Town Sayings, by E.W. Howe

A Trip Around the World, v. 1 and 2, by E.W. Howe

The Anthology of Another Town, by E.W. Howe

When a Woman Enjoyes Herself and Other Tales of a Small Town, by E.W. Howe, Little Blue Book Number 194, Haldeman-Julius Publications, Girard, Kansas

Dying Like a Gentleman and Other Stories, Little Blue Book Number 1083, Haldeman-Julius Company, ‏Girard, Kansas

Works about E.W. Howe:

Ed Howe: Country Town Philosopher, by Calder M. Pickett, University Press of Kansas, 1968

Reviewer's Library, Famous and Interesting Guests of a Kansas Farm, by Marcet Haldeman-Julius

Western Writers Series, E.W. Howe, Number 26, by Martin Bucco, Boise State University, 1977

 

Biography  
          

Ed Howe - Wabash County author
from Newsletter of the North Manchester, Indiana, Historical Society, Inc.
Volume XXII, Number 3, August 2005 —

At the May meeting of the N Manchester Historical Society we heard the story of a writer born in Wabash County who became well-known in his time, but is largely unknown today. This story was told by Edward K Jones, Jr. , Wabash County and local historian, who writes a column for the Wabash Plain Dealer and is known as Pete Jones.

Ed Howe was born in 1853 or 1854 in Wabash County and moved with his family to Missouri when he was three. His father was an itinerant Methodist preacher who also farmed. Ed did not get along with his father and left home when he was 15. He became a tramp printer, traveling much of the West as he moved from job to job. By age 20 he bought a newspaper in a Colorado town but it was so unsuccessful that when two of his children died of diphtheria, the competing newspaper owner paid for their burial. Ed Howe moved to Atchison, Kansas, and bought another newspaper—The Atchison Globe. This time he learned the business, became part of the community and made a success of the newspaper—despite his cantankerous personality. At his death, Howe's son described him as the unhappiest man alive.

Pete Jones became interested in Ed Howe upon reading a Saturday Review of Literature article which mentioned three Wabash County people in a single column -- Lloyd Douglas, Gene Stratton Porter, and Ed Howe. At the time, Howe was an excellent reporter who worked the street, which competing newspaper reporters frequently did at the time. Howe's Atchison Globe circulated in all the states in the Union and in thirty other countries.

Howe wanted to write a novel, but still didn't have much money. So after work each day, he went home and wrote at his kitchen table in pencil on a yellow tablet (possibly a Golden Rule tablet made in Marion, Indiana) until late in the evening. He wrote The Story of a Country Town about his unhappy experiences in a small Missouri town. Pete Jones does not recommend that the members read the book, although it was critically acclaimed as being early naturalistic and realistic writing in American Literature. It is a sad story similar to Sinclair Lewis' Main Street, which it pre-dates by 37 years.

Howe tried having the book published, but half a dozen publishers declined to print it. This prompted Howe to print it himself, regardless of the tedious hand-set type process. He had 1500 copies bound in Kansas City, gave several copies to friends, and placed some in bookstores. He sent copies to Mark Twain and to William Dean Howells, well-known critic of the day. Both Twain and Howells liked the book and this caused Howe to extend distribution of the book. The Story of a Country Town remained in print until just a few years ago. A historical reproduction of a pre-1923 edition was published in 2009.

Howe enjoyed running the newspaper, and soon became financially solvent. However, his personal life was less successful. His wife divorced him in 1901 and he was periodically estranged from his children.

He started a monthly magazine which enjoyed large circulation, and initiated a "Don't Worry Club." He traveled and freelanced, writing about his experiences. He became a well-known humorist and frequently had by-lines in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1910s and 20s. He bought a house outside of Atchison, named it Potato Hill, and soon became known as the Sage of Potato Hill.

At the 50th anniversary of the Globe in 1927, a Testimonial Dinner was held for Ed Howe, including many famous guests of that time period such as Bernard Baruch, Irvin S. Cobb, Roy Howard, Ring Lardner, Grantland Rice, and Gene Fowler. Rube Goldberg, Walter Winchell, John T. McCutcheon, Fritz Chrysler, Will Hayes and John Philip Sousa also attended.

Pete Jones read a few of Ed Howe's humorist sayings. He also shared a couple of sayings indicating that Howe wasn't always right in his instincts -- such as his opinion that Marconi's invention of the wireless would never become helpful; he also predicted failure for the Wright brothers.

Also in 1927, Howe was awarded an honorary degree, D. Litt., from Washburn University.

As Howe neared retirement, his townspeople honored him. He stated that the decent way to die was to come home after a hard day at work, go to sleep and never wake up. This basically describes the death of Ed Howe. He went home after work one day in 1937, and died in his sleep. His last book was not quite finished at the time. The newspaper, managed by his son, praised his journalistic talents, saying that Howe had the ability to be precise with brevity.

Friends honor Howe on his 80th birthday, 1933

above: Atchison Daily Globe founder Ed Howe celebrates his 80th birthday with Atchison friends in his Potato Hill home in 1933. The party was a surprise for the retired newspaperman. —from Atchison at 150: A Look Back, 1854-2004, a publication of the Atchison Daily Globe.

Howe's home on 3rd Street, Atchison, KS
above: Howe's home on 3rd St., Atchison, KS. He lived and worked here both before and after living south of town at Potato Hill. Photo by Carol Yoho.

Potato Hill Farm, just south of Atchison
above: Howe's home at Potato Hill.


Personal Chronology:
1853
 Edgar Watson Howe born (May 3) in Wabash County, Indiana.
1856  Family moved to Harrison County, Missouri; father farmed and preached.
1863  Family moved to Bethany, Missouri, where father published a weekly newspaper.
1865  Father deserted family.
1866  Howe became tramp printer.
1868  Mother died.
1873  Howe became editor of Golden (Colorado) Globe; married Clara Frank of Falls City, Nebraska.
1875  Golden Globe failed. Howe moved to Falls City; started the Falls City Globe.
1877  Founded his third Globe in Atchison, Kansas.
1879  Birth of a son, James P. Howe.
1882  Wrote The Story of a Country Town.
1883  Unable to find a publisher for his novel, Howe printed it in the Globe office. Birth of a daughter, Mateel Howe.
1885   Trip to London.
1886  Birth of another son, Eugene A. Howe.
1893  Brief, unsuccessful attempt at metropolitan journalism with Kansas City Mail. Death of his father. "Globe Sights" column begun in Atchison Globe.
1894  Organized first Atchison Corn Carnival.
1899  Organized the Don't Worry Club.
1900  Wrote a series of "Lay Sermons" for the Topeka State Journal. Trip to Paris.
1901  Wife divorced him on grounds of desertion.
1905  Bought Potato Hill farm. Trip around the world (1905-06).
1910   Mateel married Dwight T. Farnham. Howe retired from newspaper work; sold the Globe to his son Eugene.
1911  Moved to Potato Hill; founded E. W. Howe's Monthly
1913  Trip around the world.
1927 Mateel published her first novel, Rebellion. Howe sold Potato Hill; moved back to town. Guest of honor at testimonial dinner at Hotel Biltmore. Awarded honorary doctorate by Rollins College and Washburn University.
1933  Stopped publication of his Monthly.
1934  Guest of honor at testimonial dinner in Topeka.
1935   Operated on for cataract at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore.
1936  Suffered a stroke.
1937  Suffered a second stroke in July. Died in Atchison, October 3, of "partial paralysis and infirmities"

E.W. Howe by S.J. Sackett © 1972, Twayne Publishers, Inc.:New York, avail on the Ft. Hays State College web site.


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Published Work  
 

The Story of a Country Town (1883)
The Mystery of the Locks (1885)
A Man Story (1889)
An Ante-Mortem Statement (1891)
The Confession John Whitlock (1891)
The Moonlight Boy (1900)
Daily Notes of a Trip around the World (1907)
The Trip to the West Indies (1910)
Country Town Sayings, complied from Globe files (1911)
The Story of a Country Town, dramatic version (1911)
Travel Letters from New Zealand, Australia, and Africa (1913)
 Success Easier than Failure (1917)
The Blessing of Business (1918)
Ventures in Common Sense, compiled by H. L. Mencken (1919)
The Anthology of Another Town (1920)
Notes for My Biographer (1926)
Preaching from the Audience (1926)
Sinner Sermons (1926)
Dying like a Gentleman (1926)
Success Easier than Failure (1927)
The Story of a Country Town, revised edition (1927)
The Covered Wagon and the West (1928)
Her Fifth Marriage (1928)
When a Woman Enjoys Herself (1928)
Plain People (1929)
The Indignations of E. W. Howe (1933)
Final Conclusions, his last work, remained unfinished
E.W. Howe's Monthly
, founded in 1911, ran until 1933


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Writing Samples  
 

from The Story of a Country Town:

   He remained still and motionless, as before, though I could hear his tears falling in little splashes on the floor.
   Falling on her knees before him, and holding her hands out to him imploringly, she repeated the request, but he did not move or speak, and after waiting a moment, Mateel rose to her feet in a dazed sort of way, and staggering toward the door, went out into the hall and down the steps, without once looking back. When he heard the door close upon her, Jo ran to the window, and as he looked out his breathing was short and quick. Standing beside him, I saw that a snowstorm was commencing, and that the day was far advanced. Bragg helped Mateel into the buggy with an insolent sort of politeness, and seating himself beside her, drove away.
   After they had passed down the hill which led to the ford, Jo sprang nimbly up to the sill of the window, and eagerly watched them. As soon as they passed out of sight from that position, he jumped down, and ran up the stairs, and when I followed, I found him standing in the window in Mateel's room, peering after his rapidly departing wife. As they drove out of the ford, and into the edge of the woods, they were for a moment in full view, but turning directly away, were soon lost in the gathering twilight. Hoping that a turn in the road, or an opening in the timber, would reveal them again, he remained watching for several minutes, jumping down and running hurriedly from window to window. When he was at last certain that they had finally gone, he got down slowly from his perch, and throwing himself on the bed, wept and sobbed aloud.


     Had Mateel opened the right door to his heart, she would have found such a wealth of love and consideration there that she would have never ceased trying to reclaim it, for his love for her was so great that he could not have resisted the smallest effort. I do not remember that I thought this until I went to his house a half year after the separation, but I firmly believed it then, and I believe it yet.


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Author Quotes

 
 

A character in Howe's first novel observes, “A man with a brain large enough to understand mankind, is always wretched, and ashamed of himself.” This shrewd and disillusioned comment was typical of Howe, who was known as “The Sage of Potato Hill.” He won fame as a common sense coiner of curdled aphorisms.

E. W. Howe's Monthly, which he edited between 1911 and 1937, contained many of his bitter observations. Books in which these were collected include Country Town Sayings (1911), The Blessings of Business (1918), Ventures in Common Sense (1919), and The Anthology of Another Town (1920).

Below are several quotes from Howe's work:

  • “It is hard to convince a high-school student that he will encounter a lot of problems more difficult than those of algebra and geometry.”

  • “If there were no schools to take the children away from home part of the time, the insane asylums would be filled with mothers.”

  • “Instead of loving your enemies, treat your friends a little better.”

  • “When you are in trouble, people who call to sympathize are really only looking for more details.”

  • “I try to have no plans the failure of which would greatly annoy me. Half the unhappiness in the world is due to the failure of plans which were never reasonable, and often impossible.”

  • “A good scare is worth more to a man than advice.”

  • “I have long been disposed to judge men by their average. If it is reasonably high, I am charitable with faults that look pretty black.”

  • “When a friend is in trouble, don't annoy him by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it. ”

  • “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”

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Quotes from others about Howe  
 

Many magazines, in publishing Howe’s writing, labeled him the best country-town newspaper reporter in America. He “had the ability to seek the points overlooked by the majority and work them into paragraphs having an irresistible combination of sarcasm and good humor.”


Calder Pickett, professor emeritus in journalism, Kansas University—
“He was a boomer in the days of The Story of a Country Town. He may have been part of a literary movement, but he was never aware of being part of it. His point in Country Town was that man is a mess and the human race is a mess and both blunder and foul up things no matter where they—even, or maybe especially, in the cities.”


More Pickett: The Story of a Country Town is credited as “the first strong note of that long and bitter revolt from the American village, wholly stripped of its pseudo-pastoral and sentimental trimmings...”


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