Me Too in 1888

The recent Me Too movement highlights women’s stories of abuse and assault. But these stories have a history older than recent social media. Today, I bring you the story of a woman named Eva Howe.

Eva’s Story

Eva’s story begins in Fort Collins, Colorado in the 1880’s. Fort Collins was a sleepy, conservative, agricultural town. Nevertheless, it had 13 saloons which generated problems with alcohol and spousal abuse.

In 1880, Eva Howe (née Schuyler) and her husband James moved to Fort Collins from New York. They built their home on Walnut Street, in what is now Old Town, Fort Collins. By 1888, James, Eva, and their daughter Gertrude were all living in the house.

James and Eva Howe’s house circa 1892.

James worked as a millwright (someone who builds mills) and the town held the couple in high regard. Eva Howe “was highly esteemed by all who knew her.” She had dark hair and eyes and was of a “sweet…and forgiving nature…was a loving and devoted wife and mother.”

The Fort Collins community also held James Howe in high esteem. They noted that he was “very much attached to his wife and daughter and both he and his wife moved in the best social circles.” This once respectable man, however, lost his way due to liquor. His attachment to his daughter and wife diminished when he was drinking.

On April 3rd, 1888 James beat Eva, unfortunately a common occurrence when he was drunk. Eva went to the police. Seeing that she was badly beaten, the officers offered to take James into custody. Eva denied this request, a mistake that would prove fatal.

“She Cried Murder”

Later that night, Eva begged James not to go drinking, but he ignored her. Deciding that she was done with his abuse, Eva began packing to leave.

In the early hours of April 4th, James returned home drunk, found Eva ready to leave, and turned violent. The couple struggled, ending up on the front lawn outside their home, where James first cut Eva’s face with a pocketknife and then slit her throat.

Gravestone for Eva Howe in Grandview Cemetery, Larimer County, Fort Collins CO. Photograph by Judson Rhoads.

An eyewitness reported that Eva “was on her hands and knees on the ground… Mrs. Howe struggled to her feet bleeding profusely and cried ‘murder’.”

Trying to escape, Eva staggered toward the gate at the end of their yard and passed out on the sidewalk headed to nearby Linden Street.

Witnesses to the murder went to Mrs. Howe’s aid, but it was too late. James had cut her jugular vein and she bled out in front of their house. Eva Howe left the world on April 4, 1888, when she was just over thirty years old.

“Dang me, dang me. They oughta take a rope and hang me”

Lyrics by Roger Miller

The angry bystanders went looking for James. Finding him back inside the house laying on the bed, they held him until police arrived and took him to jail.

As he was taken away, Howe claimed that he was only protecting himself and that “she has cut her own throat and tried to cut mine.”

Newspaper Clip from the Fort Collins Courier April 5, 1888 detailing that James Howe claimed his wife cut her own throat.

The story of Eva’s murder quickly spread through town. An angry mob formed and went to the jail. They cut the electric light wires and forced their way into Howe’s cell.

The men took Mr. Howe from his cell and distributed justice themselves by lynching him. James pleaded for mercy and begged the mob not to hang him, according to some accounts.

Just like Eva’s, James Howe’s pleas were ignored. The mob hanged James from a derrick outside the courthouse on West Oak Street on the night of April 4th.

A photograph of the courthouse where James Howe was lynched under construction circa 1886–1887

Part of the rope that was used in the lynching as well as the knife that was possibly used to cut the rope still exist and are at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery.

This is the only recorded lynching to occur in Fort Collins.

The rope used in the Howe lynching and possibly the knife used to cut the rope

The Daughter Left Behind

James and Eva’s daughter, Gertrude was left parentless after the events of April 4th. Fortunately, she was at a neighbors’ house during the murder and did not witness the atrocity. The five-year-old was taken in by her grandparents (Eva’s mother and step-father) and moved to Canada.

The Howe House Today

The Howe House in 2018. Photograph by: Anne Gebo

The house, originally located on Walnut Street, has been moved twice. In 1910 it was moved to the intersection of Walnut and Chestnut. In the 1950’s it was moved to 1314 West Myrtle Street, to what was then considered the edge of town. The privately-owned house remains at this spot today.

Eva Howe, a Martyr

Eva Howe became a martyr for the temperance movement. Her story of being murdered despite being a devoted wife exemplified the horrors and evil of alcohol. Eva Howe’s story lives on and will be added to the millions of other voices that call out for justice. She may already be a martyr for temperance, but she will have a chance to become one again, and this time for a cause that will not be silenced. #MeToo