My name is Thomas Howell, and I have a story to tell. I was born in 1783 in North Carolina. When I was fourteen, my family moved from that state to here in St. Charles County and I never left.
In 1806, I married Susannah Callaway, a granddaughter of Daniel Boone. We ended up with fourteen children, all of whom lived to maturity.
In 1808 I joined up with James Callaway to accompany General Clark up the Missouri River and help in the building of Fort Osage. He needed protection against the Indians, and I was happy to help provide it. I was a sergeant in the group of eighty dragoons. Later I served as the trumpeter in a company of rangers that Captain Callaway organized, again to provide protection against the Indians.
When I was still a young man, I acquired three Spanish land grants and claimed other land. Soon I owned several hundred acres between here and the Missouri River. Within ten years or so of the marriage, my wife and I built a brick and stone house which stood to the west over there, about a hundred yards from this spot. It was a fine house that stood for about a hundred and twenty-five years. The front parlor was a thing of beauty; it had a high, elaborate, hand-carved walnut mantel adorned with fluted columns. All the floors in the house were walnut and the woodwork was cherry.
It took a lot of money to build that house. Some of my money I made by operating a ferry that crossed the Missouri River to the end of the old Olive Street Road in St. Louis county. In 1826 I bought a parcel of land on the river and years later started the business. The road that led to the ferry landing had been an old Indian Trail, but in 1846 St. Charles County laid out an official road to the ferry. Even today you can still find it called the Howell Ferry Road on some maps. It ran right across Highway 94 at that parking lot and on down to the river. You can still walk down it today. I operated that ferry for abaout ten years; my son Larkin ran the business. I also made money distilling whiskey, up to 1400 gallons a year. A lot of my money I made by farming, and I could not have done as well as I did without my slaves. I always had slaves and plenty of them, at least compared to other folks from these parts. In fact, in the years before the War Between the States, only two men in the entire county owned more slaves that I did. Most of the time I had twenty-five or so. I was one of the area's leading secessionists during the war.
I was always pretty athletic, even in my later years. Before I was married, I was known as the best runner and jumper in the area. Once at a wedding, someone named Lewis challenged me to a jumping contest. I was there with my fiancee so I wasn't about to let her think I couldn't beat the man. Lo and behold, Lewis took off running and jumped over a table loaded with food! There was nothing for me to do but to take off after him. I did and cleared that table beyond the point where Lewis had landed! In 1850, when I was sixty-seven, a younger man named Francis Wyatt built a ferry boat for my business. I paid him in gold and then offered to run a footrace with him for that gold. Winner take all! He turned me down, because he knew he was no match for me, even at my advanced age. I was a good musician, too. Once I swam the Missouri River with my fiddle and my clothes on my head to play at a wedding in Bonhomme Bottom.
I suppose you could say the end of my life and the years that followed were not good ones for the Howell family. The outcome of what is now called the Civil War was that I lost all my slaves. Foolishly, I never made a will. After I died in 1869, two of my children sued the other surviving children, and it took five years to settle the estate. Susannah, my wife of sixty-three years, followed my in death on Christmas Day in 1876 and was buried next to me.
That beautiful house my wife and I built outlasted both of us by several decades. It stood until 1941 when the United States War Department bought all the land around here to make a munitions factory and tore the house down.