Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Thomas Berry Howard Tragedy

Thomas Berry Howard (1851-1885) was my great-grandfather – my mother’s mother’s father. He married Sarah Caroline Jenkins in 1871. They had five children, three sons and two daughters, my grandmother, Florence Alabama, being the youngest.
Thomas Berry Howard, 1851-1885

During the summer of 1885, a political race and election was under way in the district between one Andy Landman and Francis Powell. Powell’s brother-in-law, Bayless Howard (not sure if he was related) had assisted him in the campaign and “bad blood” in regard to political activities had developed between Bayless and Landman --  to the point that Landman had threated to kill Bayless.

On Aug. 6, 1885, there was a picnic at the Winford Goodman Spring (this location is less than ¼ mile from where I live today). Reportedly, Andy Landman had been heard to say he was going there to kill Bayless. At the picnic, a fight developed between George Landman, Andy’s brother, and my great-grandfather (the two were brother-in-laws, as George was married to Thomas’ sister). A crowd developed around the fight, and someone went for Andy and told him about it. He pushed through the crowd, pulled his gun and shot and killed Thomas B. Howard. He held the crowd off with his gun, got onto his horse and rode away.

A note of explanation at this point: Part of the above information, with the exception of the political race and the fight, was known by my mother and her two living sisters, when I came upon this information about 15 years ago. The one additional thing they knew was that Landman was reported to have said, “I’ve killed the best friend I ever had” before he rode away.

But I came upon a manuscript, written by Morris Howard (a distant relative; there are many, many Howards in this area) during the 1960s, on the Howard family of Lauderdale County, Ala., that expanded my knowledge on the subject. This, when I was conducting  genealogical research of my own. Within the document is the story stated above and which I will continue below.

Morris Howard records a conversation he had with my grandmother about the death of her father. It is brief:  “I talked about the incident, at length, with a daughter of Thomas B. Howard, Mrs. “Bama” Howell (no date indicated). She said she had just started to school and the Landman children were real nice to her.” (Is this all she told him? Is this all she knew of the incident?)

My mother said the tragic incident was never mentioned as she was growing up in the household that also included her grandmother, Caroline Howard, the widow of Thomas B. Howard. I find this to be extremely strange, don’t you? The only explanation I can think of is that, sometimes, people in olden days did not discuss incidents of the past that were painful to them. This was a family of storytellers, people who sat around in the evenings talking because there was not much else to do. I only wonder why it was never mentioned in any more details than the bare facts.

Be that as it may, the story, as recorded by Morris Howard, continues below:

After Andy Landman disappeared, he apparently went into hiding; a somewhat easy thing to do as most of the area at that time was wooded. A five-hundred-dollar reward was placed for his capture. A man in the community, reported to be the only person with enough “guts” to capture Landman, was Frank Walker. Morris Howard relates several stories associated with Walker, one of his going to Landman’s brother’s home and an altercation developing.  

Several days later, Walker was ambushed and shot in the forehead by a group of men as he was riding his horse into the village of Anderson. He survived after being rescued by a group of friends and taken to a nearby house to recuperate. Men on horseback were observed watching the house. It was speculated they were waiting for an opportunity to “finish off” Frank Walker because of his stated goal of finding Andy Landman. Frank Walker died in 1885 but no more information is provided in the manuscript on what caused his death, but he was only 26 years old at the time.

Morris Howard reports that the Landman family contended that Andy did not intend to shoot Thomas B. Howard; that his intended target was Bayless Howard.

So what became of Andy? He apparently was in hiding for a considerable length of time (some say for more than a year), during which time he was hunted to some extent.

Quoting from Morris Howard: “At a later date, unknown to us, Andy was slipped to the railroad and out of the state. James (Jim) Newton, born in 1875, told this writer that he saw the wagon pass that carried Andy to the railroad. He said that the wagon had a big box on it but he did not know at the time that Andy was in it.

“A.J. “Zander” Belue said that a man (whom he names) ran into Andy later in Texas. He said that they met face to face and both recognized the other, but neither said a word. They both just turned away and Andy was never seen again.

“At some later date, a strange man appeared at the Alabama home of Andy, stayed a few days, then left, carrying the wife and children of Andy with him. It was theorized that Andy sent the man for his family.”

Now here’s a final footnote to the story. About 14 years ago I telephoned Mr. Neil Sewell of Anderson, whose farm is purported to be the land George Landman owned in the 1880s, because I thought he might have some small morsel of information about the Landman family. Mr. Sewell asked me if I’d ever heard of the “Andy Patch.” Stating I had not, he related a story that was passed down in his family – that Andy Landman had hidden out on a portion of the land in a protected, low-lying area surrounded by trees, an area that wouldn't be seen unless someone knew it was there.

He invited me up to have a look and I took my mother along as well. He loaded us into his pick-up truck and off we went, bounding over fields where no roads existed. Finally, got out and walked a good distance because of fences. We stood there and a vast expanse of land – how many acres I know not – was visible. Mr. Sewell said Andy hid out in that low land for a year and even raised a cotton crop there! There was an old log cabin-like building and I stood for a long while gazing upon it, wondering if that was where the man who killed my great-grandfather had hidden out. I lamented the fact that my grandmother never knew her father, that my mother and her siblings never knew their grandfather.

Apparently, Landman's family did not join him in the “Andy Patch,” as suspicion likely would have been aroused if they, too, had disappeared from community life. Perhaps they visited him from time to time? All this is pure speculation on my part.
From left, Florence Alabama Howard, Sarah Caroline Howard, Lula Howard.
Back row, Felix, Will and John Howard.
Date of the picture is unknown, but probably before my grandmother, Florence, was married in 1900.

My great-grandmother Caroline Howard raised her five children on her own. At some later date, after her children were married, she was married to an elderly gentleman who died shortly afterward. She then came to live with my grandmother and her husband, who had married in 1900. She lived there during my mother’s entire growing-up years, alternating her time with visiting her other children for spans of several weeks. Grandma Caroline died in 1942, being past 90 years old.

Below are a couple of photographs of students at the now defunct Howard Elementary School, once located on County Road 76 in Lauderdale County. The school was demolished in the 1960s. I remember seeing the old white abandoned building from the bus window on my daily ride to school.

The Howard School was named after my grandmother's brother, Will Howard, an Anderson merchant, who donated the land. My mother and all her siblings attended grades 1-6 there. None of the students are identified in the pictures below. (Lesson here for us: ALWAYS record names on pictures!) We believe the pictures are from the 1920s or earlier.

I hope I have not bored you with this story and the legend surrounding the death of my great-grandfather. I find it fascinating to explore stories of the past, especially when they relate to one’s relatives.

I’d be interested in hearing stories about your ancestors. Please feel free to offer them in the comment section below.


  1. What a fascinating story Sanda, and you tell it very well. It is amazing how you have pieced it all together, in recent times. Not just your family but mine as well have kept very quiet about interesting events from the past. We are also doing our research and beginning to find out many interesting things. The old photos are wonderful, too. Thank you for telling us.

    1. Hello Patricia
      Why do you think that is that families don't want to speak of unpleasantness of the past? Pride? Pain? Keep us posted on how your research is progressing. It's fascinating to uncover things of the past you didn't previously know.

  2. I totally agree with Patricia. An amazing, exciting story! I can not share anything comparable.
    But there is one story, that lacks pieces connected to my late- MIL.
    What did she actually do during the years of war 1940-46? By 1940 she had finished her studies, did not participate ( as other women her age ) in any way in helping the army, only stayed home, and then suddenly moved across the country and got a secretary job in a company she stayed faithful to until she retired ( at a relatively young age ) and remarried.
    When we asked about those war years, she pressed her lips shut, and reluctantly muttered something like - I did nothing.. And we know, that during the war, everyone´s work was needed, on the home front as well.
    So, she was able to hold on to her secret to the end of her life. Kind of scary. Perhaps she told it to the priest, I really hope she did.

    1. Hello Mette
      I'm sure it was frustrating for your family trying to get your MIL to speak of those "lost" years. Perhaps it is as Ida mentions below. I have been told that persons doing extremely sensitive work must sign an agreement to NEVER speak of it. Still, what harm could it have done at this point? What would "they" have done to her?
      Some things of life just remain a mystery forever.

  3. I have read it 3 times I really enjoy your family tales,and this one is a real adventure with sad over tones.
    The 'Andy Patch' where you visited must have moved you deeply.

    Mette maybe your MIL worked for a secret department during WW2,just a thought. Ida

    1. Hello Ida
      Discovering this information was very exciting and gratifying for me. I believe it was actually more important to me than it was for my mother. It's almost like he was a person who never existed for that family. I have found it odd that in her family bible, where all births/deaths are recorded, there's no entry for him. The gravestone at the cemetery where he and my great-grandmother are buried is the only evidence he ever lived.

  4. I love reading family histories and yours is so interesting. You must have felt you were on quite an adventure when trying to piece it together. Enjoyed the words and pictures very much.


    1. Hello Darla
      Funny, when I was deeply involved in genealogical research, and learning things, I actually felt I was living those people's lives. I found my great-great-grandmother's grave and beside her were five, yes FIVE, infants. She died at a early age, although she did live on to birth five more children, my great-grandmother Caroline (mentioned above)being one of them. It's easy to become obsessed with the research, which is one reason I had to give it a rest. I'll continue it at some future time.

  5. Your grandmother looks so sweet in that picture with her family.

  6. Wonderful to read and hear the stories again. Hope at some time you will continue your research, all families need a "you" to keep them informed. Enjoyed reading and wanted to just keep reading!

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