The Departure of Mrs. How (1873)

By David Schleper

David Lennox HowDavid Lennox How was born August 23, 1835 at Elbridge, New York. He attended the Monroe Collegiate Institute, and then moved with his family to Syracuse, New York, where he clerked in a grocery store and attended evening school. He worked in a drugstore at Dunkirk, New York from 1850 to 1855, and then moved to Adrian, Michigan, where he worked for N. Bidwell and Company, druggists.

Mr. How came to Shakopee, Minnesota in May 1857, where he opened a drugstore with D.W.C. Wisner. Wisner retired from the firm in 1858 and Mr. How operated the business in partnership with Dr. J. S. Weiser until 1861. He later operated the business with his brother as a partnership that apparently continued until 1870. The business advertised itself as “Wholesale & Retail Dealer in Drugs, Medicines, Chemicals, Turpentine, White Lead, Oils, Varnishes, Lamps, Plastering Hair, Kerosene, Oil, Patent Medicines, [and] Fancy Goods.”

How recorded diverse information in his diary, including a prescription for liquid hair dye:

  • Twelve and one half cents worth Nit. Silver
  • 25 cents worth Aqua Amonia
  • Dissolve in one gill of rain water
  • Then bottle and shake before using.
  • When dissolved the dye can be removed from the skin by lemon juice.

(Just in case someone needs this information!)

Mr. How was involved in several projects, including the Jordan flouring mill, a mill in Chaska and, after selling these, he purchased a large mill in Shakopee. The mill burned in 1875 and was rebuilt the same year.

Here is a scrip of D. L. How in 1862. It could have been issued under the auspices of merchant or banker. Since the sole note known is signed by someone other than Mr. How’s immediate associates, it may be presumed that the notes were checks to be drawn against an account of deposit, and therefore fits the issuer-type of banker. How opened the Farmers Bank of Shakopee in 1864, which was converted into the First National Bank the following year.

D. L. How Scrip

At age 27, How married 18-year-old Mary Sherrard in 1862. The couple had one child named Jennie. Mary Sherrard How was pretty, talented, and entertaining. David was always the center of social activities with grace, magnetism, and ready wit. Popular parties and dances almost always included David and Mary.

In 1872, a fire broke out at the machine shops of the railroad. The shop’s master mechanic, J.G. Butterfield, who was very popular with Shakopee’s society, lost his drafting set in the fire. In one hour, $350 was raised to buy him a new set of drafting instruments. The money was given to Butterfield, after a nice speech from D. L. How.

And that is where the excitement begins…

Shakopee’s community prospered over the next 1 ½ years. The tranquility of the autumn day was shattered by rumors that were brought forth in the Scott County Argus in 1873:

“Mysterious Disappearance
Two Well Known Citizens of Shakopee Missing
Suspicion That All Is Not Right.”

On the morning of September 21, 1873, Mrs. How went to visit a friend of hers in Stillwater, planning to be absent for two weeks. When Mr. How telephoned to find out if Mrs. How was going to be back by Sunday he was told that she was not there.

Since Mrs. How didn’t arrive, Mr. How went to St. Paul, and asked friends, but he learned that Mrs. How was not in Stillwater, and was not in St. Paul. Mr. How went back home to Shakopee, and ascertained the fact that her departure was a calm, cool, premeditated act.

Meanwhile, Mr. J.G. Butterfield told his friends in Shakopee that he was going to Vermont to bring him home his wife, who was in Vermont since September 1, visiting relatives. People in Shakopee believed this is what happened, until Mrs. How mysteriously disappeared.

Mr. Butterfield did not go to Vermont. In fact, according to the Argus, he wrote a letter to his wife, telling her she should never see him again.

Mrs. How left her husband as well as her 8 ½ year old daughter, Jennie. Mr. Butterfield left his wife and five children.

The next issue of the Argus added some more information. According to the newspaper, Mr. Butterfield and Mrs. How left the state separately, but met in Chicago.

As a result of these tragic events in two local families, sympathy, embarrassment, and indignation were in close company with the small community. The Hows and the Butterfields belonged to the same church, and frequented the same social functions, belonged to the same fraternal organization.

So that would be enough. But…there is more!

In December 1873, Mrs. How returned. Alone. She reached Shakopee on the morning train and proceeded without ceremony to her home which she had deserted three months before.

According to the Argus, “Why she returned is as unknown as why she left at all. She departed from the state alone, and so she has returned alone…It is reported that she says that she joined Butterfield at Chicago, proceeded with him to New York, thence to Havana by way of St. Thomas, thence to Panama and down the Pacific Ocean to Peru; thence back to Panama, and thence up the Pacific coast to California and then via the Central Pacific Railroad to Chicago,–a distance of ten thousand miles by rail and ocean steamer,–all in the company of Butterfield.”

And then, a few days later, who turned up? J.G. Butterfield. According to the St. Paul Globe, he arrived in St. Paul on Friday, and Shakopee on Saturday. He refused to give any particulars of his absence. According to the newspaper, this experience will be wiped out only by a lifetime of sorrow and penance for their public shame. “The moral is plain enough: It is easier to do right than to remedy the wrong once done.”

Butterfield and his family (I guess she took him back!) left Shakopee a short time later. Mrs. How and her husband didn’t offer any further information or explanation, but courageously took up their lives.

Twenty years later, on December 21, 1893, Mr. How was cheerful as usual and after breakfast bade his son-in-law goodbye and hurried upstairs to his room. Moments later a shot was heard. The alarmed family rushed upstairs. There they found Mr. How, dead. He was sitting in a chair still grasping a peal handled revolver in one hand and a small hand mirror in the other. The discharge from the .38 caliber weapon entered the right temple and passed out of the left crashing into the wall of the room.

Mary moved to Minneapolis and married Alonzo Phillips in 1899. She died in the 1920s. Mr. Phillips died in the 1930s and is buried in Lakewood Cemetery.

And that is the sad story of Mr. and Mrs. How.

(Some information from The Shakopee Story by Julius Coller, II, 1960.)

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