Monday, November 3, 2008

The Man Behind The News In Amarillo -- A My Town Monday post

Gene Howe.

If you live in Amarillo you've heard that name. There is a school on the far southern side of town called Gene Howe. There is a city park over on the north side of town. And near the small Panhandle town of Canadian, Texas there is the Gene Howe Wildlife Management Area.

But who was Gene Howe? I never knew until I stumbled across the name while researching another My Town Monday post. Curiosity aroused, I did some digging.

Eugene "Gene" Howe was a journalist. He wrote a nationally recognized column called "The Tactless Texan." That was the first thing I learned and right away I wanted to know how a man known as tactless could be so well thought of that people would name things after him.

Gene Howe had ink in his blood. Born in Atchison, Kansas in 1886. He was the son of Ed Howe who founded the Atchison Globe so Gene grew up involved in the newspaper business. Howe quit school and worked for a variety of papers until taking control of his dad's paper in 1911.

In 1924 Gene Howe moved to Amarillo and formed the Amarillo Globe where he wrote a humorous down home daily column called "The Tactless Texas." He signed each piece, Old Tack.

The feature was a hit and people loved Old Tack through both his writings and his charitable work during the dust bowl.

Howe once angered his mother-in-law with one of his columns and to make amends he rallied to create a national mother-in-law day. His efforts culminated with a visit to Amarillo by Eleanor Roosevelt and a parade which featured what was then billed as the world's largest float which carried 650 mothers-in-law. Here is a postcard from that event.

In 1951 he started Amarillo first television station. He was also a sportsmen and conservationist which explains the wildlife area bearing his name. Gene Howe dies in 1952 and the newspaper here in Amarillo still has his motto inscribed over the entrance.

"A newspaper may be forgiven for lack of wisdom but never for lack of courage."

All of that made me want to read some of Howe's writings so I did more research and discovered he was often quoted by Time Magazine.

He called Lindbergh "swelled-headed . . . simple-minded . . . lucky" (TIME, June 11, 1928).

He said Mary Garden was "so old she actually tottered" (TIME, April 1, 1929).

He called Actor Edward Hugh Sothern "a pink-toed high-hatter" (TIME, March 17).

They referred to his as the Texas Panhandle's most influential man.
His admiration of the panhandle's residence seemed to be just as strong Howe once was quoted "Panhandle women have the world's prettiest legs, made strong and muscular by leaning against the fierce Panhandle winds. "

I never did have any luck finding an entire article penned by Howe but here is an interesting story I did uncover on Time's website. I'm lifting the text directly from their site and it was originally published August 18th, 1930.

... Fortnight ago influential Editor Howe received a visit from his fellow townsman A. D. Payne, lawyer. On June 27 a bomb concealed in Payne's automobile had blown Mrs. Payne to bits, critically injured their 9-year-old son. Payne and their two little daughters were not near. Said Lawyer Payne to Editor Howe:

"The officers are getting nowhere, and 1 ask you to investigate the case. I realize that 90% of the people of this community believe that I killed my wife for the heavy insurance she carried. This is the only motive that has been suggested as my life is clean. I have known and wanted but one woman, and my record is an open book."

Editor Howe leaped eagerly at the task, sent for his friend A. B. MacDonald, shrewd crime reporter for the Kansas City Star. Well-trained Reporter MacDonald promptly questioned Lawyer Payne about every woman he had known. Payne spoke freely, elaborately of a dozen or more, skipped lightly over the name of Mrs. Verona Thompson, his former private secretary, "so plain and ordinary no one would look at her." Catching the scent, Howe and MacDonald immediately sought Mrs. Thompson, found her to be an attractive widow, wrung from her an admission that Payne had promised to run off with her after doing away with his wife.

Last week Payne was taken to gaol at Stinnett, Tex., to save him from mob violence in Amarillo. There he confessed to the murder and to four previous attempts on his wife's life, asked a speedy execution.

So it seems there might be a little Perry Mason in Old Tack as well. Gene Howe was as a real person but from what I've learned he was as rich as any character a writer could ever create. no wonder they named things after him.


Cloudia W. Charters -- Waikiki, Hawaii
Mary Nix -- Olmsted Falls, Ohio
Debra -- Village of Peninsula, Ohio
Lyzzydee -- Welwyn Garden City, England
Jenny Jill -- Fort George, Canada
Barbara Martin -- Scarborough, Ontario, Canada
David Cranmer -- Cameroon, West Africa
Barrie Summy -- San Diego, California
Reb -- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Patti Abbott -- Detroit, Michigan
Clare2e -- Mamaroneck, New York
Lindy -- Manchester, England
Karen L Alaniz -- Bainbridge Island, Washington


Lana Gramlich said...

A wonderfully informative post. I'm going to have to do another MTM as soon as possible. I'm just smack dab in the middle of "peddle your art HARD" season right now.

Packsaddle said...

Very interesting.

I applied for a permit to hunt on the Gene Howe WMA a few years ago but didn't get drawn.

Thanks for sharing, Travis.

Vodka Mom said...

That was a fun, fun read!! Thank you so much!

There might be a little Perry Mason in YOU, my friend.


Linda McLaughlin said...

What an interesting man he was. Thanks for a fascinating post. I won't have another MTM post for a couple of weeks, but hope to get back on track later in the month.


Angie Ledbetter said...

Love this quote: "A newspaper may be forgiven for lack of wisdom but never for lack of courage."

Musta been one heck of a mad MIL he had!

PS...You must be way ahead of Louisiana with the time zone. It's still Sunday here! *grin*

debra said...

My post is up, Travis. I'll be back later to read :-)

Phats said...

That's pretty cool, I wish I had stuff named after me! The Phats Phield or something like that haha

spyscribbler said...

Geez. I just don't understand people at all. That's one I'll never understand, as common as it is. How do you kill your spouse?

debra said...

Great story, Travis. i really like the quote about newspapers. Methinks today's editors should pay attention to it.

David Cranmer said...

I love historical posts like this. Payne and the "so plain and ordinary no one would look at her" secretary was a great read. Every town has a little slice of Twin Peaks. Travis, I have a post from Mr. Boh going up in the morning. Also I contacted him and he's going to send that shirt size information.

lyzzydee said...

Hi Travis, Great Post, I love it when you find history to someone or something that you have never given too much thought to before!!!
My post is up, more of a history lesson this week though!!!

Jenny Jill said...

Love the quote, ""A newspaper may be forgiven for lack of wisdom but never for lack of courage."

That is how I feel about blogging, too! MTM is about Fort George! Nice place to visit...

Rick said...

What an absolutely compelling post on the man. Nice work, Travis. Hope to see many more such posts.

Barbara Martin said...

Interesting and informative post about a newspaper man. I like those kinds of articles.

My post is up, Travis.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nice investigative journalism. Howe would be proud. Mine goes up at 8 AM.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

wonderful post!


Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds like the kind of hard hitting person we need in today's news and reporting.

Josh said...

vert cool man, another great mTm

Barrie said...

That Gene Howe sounds like quite a guy!

My MTM post is schedule for midnight pacific time. It's a San Diego post. Thanks!

Reb said...

Sounds like one heck of a guy! Payne wasn't too bright though.

Mine is up.

Lindy said...

Fantastic post! Can I join your Mondayers?

Mary said...

Your posts always teach me a great deal about your town and its people. Thank you!

While reading this one I had to wonder what Mr. Howe would think of the Internet and the troubles newspapers across America are facing.

Clare2e said...

Love the Howe stories! What an original, which is my highest compliment. As a Twain fan, such a wry, likable rascal gets me.

Too clever for his own good, that rotten husband, so sure the newsies wouldn't ferret out his secret. And they did it the old-fashioned way: listening.

Our My Town Monday post isn't extensive, but it's a topical picture from the actual township where I live for once, Mamaroneck, NY.

Karen L. Alaniz said...

Your post inspires. I think we all have names in our town that are so common place that we don't even think about it anymore...especially if we've been there a long time. I'm going to have to look into a few of them.

I set my MTM today to post at 12:01 and still everyone beat me. Sheesh! I think I'll have to set it for your time. Oh well. Great post Travis!

writtenwyrdd said...

I'm still trying to puzzle out what a "pink-toed high hatter" means.

Miladysa said...

The saviour of mother-in-laws everywhere :D

Every one in the UK has heard of Amarillo - because of the song :D

SUV Mama said...

Totally awesome post!

Scott Lessard said...

Another really interesting MTM post...thanks, Travis.

Good luck on Friday. Let us know how you do and stay safe.


Jenny Jill said...

I am quite curious. There is a lot of buzz up here in Canada. It is most exciting as the US, with a population 10 times that of the Canada's 31 million people, has an influence on us.

But there is little information on everything you are voting for. I know that each state has a different timing for elections of governors, for example, but you also could be voting on referendum questions that are local issues. Am I correct?