Howard, Richard Austin (ca. 1824–1866)

By: Charles G. Downing and Roy L. Swift

Type: Biography

Published: November 1, 1995

Richard Austin Howard, surveyor and soldier, was born in Maine about 1824. He moved to Brandon, Mississippi, with some family members in 1832. He attended the United States Military Academy from 1840 to 1844 but was discharged on July 13, 1844, for a deficiency in science before his graduation. He then moved to Texas, worked as a surveyor, and volunteered during the Mexican War. He was mustered into the Federal service on June 6, 1846, and promoted to second lieutenant six weeks later, before his company was discharged on October 2. In 1847 Howard served as a scout and surveyor with John O. Meusebach in the latter's attempt to secure the Fisher-Miller Land Grant for German immigration. Early in that year Meusebach concluded a treaty with the Comanches at the old San Saba Presidio in which the Indians, in return for some $3,000 in presents, agreed to allow settlers and surveyors to enter their country. One of the surveyors to grasp this opportunity was Howard, who in 1847 surveyed the tract for the future Fort Mason. While in the Corpus Christi area Howard encountered a former West Point classmate, Lt. William H. C. Whiting. Having accompanied the Hays-Highsmith expedition the previous year, Howard was well qualified to serve as a scout for the Whiting and Smith Expedition, the 1849 survey of what would later be called the lower route from San Antonio to El Paso. Whiting had been ordered by Gen. William Jenkins Worth, then commander of the Eighth District, to find a route, as there was no road across Texas at that time. Howard and his assistant, José Policarpo Rodríguez, served as Whiting's guides, and shortly after the party's return to San Antonio they joined Col. Joseph E. Johnston's reconnaissance of West Texas in the summer and fall of 1849.

The 1850 Federal census found Howard living in a house in Bexar County with army officers William F. Smith and Francis Theodore Bryan. His real property was valued at $3,000. Howard's connections with the military continued. In 1850 he accompanied Capt. Henry Cheatham and Lieutenant Smith on a survey of the Colorado River. He also helped Lt. Col. William J. Hardee select the location for Fort Mason; it was later noted that Howard sold land on which the fort stood to James Longstreet. Along with Samuel A. Maverick, Howard also owned the sites of Fort Clark, Fort Chadbourne, and a large portion of the Alamo. Howard's real estate efforts included the upper Rio Grande, and he attempted to secure title to lands in what later became New Mexico. Howard's antebellum activities included surveying in Runnels, Mason, El Paso, La Salle, Culberson, and Worth counties. He also worked in District 1 of the Fisher-Miller Land Grant. Both Howard's Well and Howard Draw were probably named after him. In 1852 Howard was in partnership with with Onesimus Evans and Arthur Alexander Muncey in operating a general store in San Antonio. About that same time he married Mary M. Evans, his partner's daughter. His wife and her father died within a few days of each other in 1855, and Muncey dissolved the partnership. Howard married Amelia L. Zachary in New Orleans on February 14, 1857. The couple had three children. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War Howard served as state agent in the occupation of the Union camp at Green Lake. He served with Hamilton P. Bee in the early part of the struggle; his old friend Joseph E. Johnston recommended him as "the fittest Texan living for military service." Howard rose to the rank of major in the Confederate Army and was captured by Federal troops near the Red River in 1863. Again Johnston stressed Howard's value to Confederate authorities and demanded that he be exchanged. Having captured Texas documents which indicated Howard's importance, however, Union officials delayed the exchange until December of that year. He eventually joined Edmund Kirby Smith's Trans-Mississippi Department; in March 1865 Smith dispatched Howard to Richmond in a last effort to secure funds for the western war effort. Howard died of cholera at Beauregard Station, Louisiana, on December 4, 1866. He was buried in New Orleans.

W. R. Belcher, "Richard Austin Howard," in One League to Each Wind: Accounts of Early Surveying in Texas, ed. Sue Watkins (Austin: Texas Surveyors Association Historical Committee, 1964?). Philip St. George Cooke et al., Exploring Southwestern Trails, 1846–1854, ed. Ralph P. Bieber and Averam P. Bender (Glendale, California: Clark, 1938; rpt., Philadelphia: Porcupine, 1974). José Policarpo Rodriguez, "The Old Guide"-His Life in His Own Words (Nashville: Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1897?; rpt., San Antonio?, 1968).
  • Exploration
  • Explorers (American)

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Charles G. Downing and Roy L. Swift, “Howard, Richard Austin,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1995