Neil Howie 1866 (ref: 942-901)
Photograph courtesy of Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives
Neil Howie, Second U.S. Marshal of Montana Territory
Neil Howie was born at Ayrshire, Scotland in 1837 and immigrated to the United States during his boyhood. Settling in Wisconsin, then moving to Colorado; Howie migrated to Southwest Montana in 1863. Howie prospected for gold and worked as a freighter between Salt Lake and the Beaverhead‑Madison country. During a return freight trip from Salt Lake in January of 1864, Howie single‑handedly captured the road agent "Dutch John" Wagner, thus begining a career in the enforcement of justice as a Montana Vigilante.
In April of 1864, Robert C. Knox, Sheriff of Madison County, appointed Howie a Deputy Sheriff. Later that summer Howie became the first popularly elected Sheriff of the county. Even though Howie was now offically "The Law", he still meted out a swifter form of justice with the boys of the committee. In his March 24, 1865 diary entry, Howie writes:
"According to programme last night, a party of us went up a mile & a half to give a man by the name of Tweed 50 lashes ... he shed some tears while receiving his sentence ... The boys gave him 10 days to leave; the time was up last night, if he don't leave in 5 days ... he is to get 100, then if he don't leave, to be hung."
Howie was appointed as one of the first Deputy U.S. Marshals of Montana Territory in July 1865 by then U.S. Marshal, George M. Pinney. He turned over the Sheriff's Office that September to Andy Snyder, and made his way to Helena in company of John X. Beidler and John Featherstun to enforce the federal law in the newly created territory.
After a year and a half on the job, Howie secured the appointment as Marshal, suceeding Pinney, who resigned due to the low salary of the position. Finding himself in the hub of territorial politics of 1867, Howie obtained a commission as Brig. General in Command of the Montana Militia for Edgerton, Jefferson, Deer Lodge and Meagher counties by Acting Govenor Thomas F. Meagher. After Meagher's untimely drowing while boarding a steamboat at Fort Benton that July; the new Govenor, Green Clay Smith, reappointed Howie as Colonel in Command of the 1st Regiment of the Montana Volunteers. That summer he led 300 men to an area near Martinsdale to prevent an indian uprising which never materialized in that locale. For his efforts, Howie was paid "Horses appraised at eighty dollars" by the territory.
Howie completed his his term as Marshal and was succeeded in office by William F. Wheeler in the Spring of 1869, he continued on as a deputy until that winter. In 1870, Howie left Montana for Wyoming to assist his brother, Andrew, who was on trial in Cheyenne for murder. After Andrew Howie's conviction by the first jury in the United States upon which women sat; Neil Howie worked for his brother's release. After two years, Andrew was paroled from the Detroit Prison and disappeared.
Neil Howie remained in the Wyoming/Colorado vicinity until 1872, then relocated to Utah. In 1874 the lure of gold beckoned him to South America. This proved to be Howie's final migration, as he contracted malaria and died in the Spring near French Guiana.
1. Neil Howie Papers, Montana State Historical Society Archives, Small Collection 302.
2. Neil Howie Letter to U.S. Attorney General, National Archives, Attorney General Papers, RG 60.
3. Helena Weekly Herald, Jan 16, 1868 p.7; Jun 18, 1874 p.2.
4. Territorial Politics and Government in Montana 1864 - 1869, Clark C. Spence.
5. Undated listing of Sheriffs of Madison County, Montana, Madison County Clerk and Recorder, Virginia City, Montana.
6. Frontier Spirit: The Story of Wyoming, Wyoming State Historical Society and Deputy George Stumpf, U.S. Marshal's Office, Cheyenne, Wyo.
7. The Vigilantes of Montana or Popular Justice in the Rocky Mountains, Prof. Thomas J. Dimsdale
Additional information: The Neil Howie historical diaries.
The Neil Howie Dairies are a
part of the Montana Historical Society Archives, Helena, Montana, Small
Collection 302. There are five small diaries/ daybooks that cover the years
1864, 1865, 1866, 1867 and 1869, meticulously handwritten by Howie. The
collection was found in Helena and presented to the Montana Historical Society
Librarian Wheeler F. Wheeler, who had succeeded Howie in office as U.S. Marshal
There is no diary for the year 1868 and the link is a collection of newspaper items that refer to Marshal Howie, his deputies, and crime related accounts of the year. It took two years to transcribe the diaries into typed form, the daily entries are that of Howie and no effort was made to alter or correct the writings. Any additional items are presented in bold italics.
1864 1865 1866 1867 1868 1869