Volney Erskine Howard, lawyer, legal scholar, and legislator, was born in Maine on October 22, 1809. He attended Bloomfield Academy and Waterville College. In 1832 he moved to Brandon, Mississippi, where he studied law and was admitted to the bar. In 1836, as a member of the House of Representatives of the Mississippi legislature, he carried the state's electoral vote for Martin Van Buren to Washington, where he remained some weeks and married Catherine Elizabeth Gooch of Massachusetts. In 1837 he was appointed reporter for the Mississippi court of errors and appeals. For several years Howard was editor of the Mississippian, a Democratic paper published at Vicksburg. The Mississippian opposed the passage of a bill for the state to guarantee issues by the Union Bank of Vicksburg. Howard was severely criticized for his stand, and during the heated debates on the subject he fought duels with Sergeant S. Prentill, Alexander G. McNutt, governor of Mississippi, and Hiram G. Runnels, governor of Mississippi from 1833 to 1835 and president of the bank. In the duel with Runnels Howard was severely injured. In 1840, in conjunction with Anderson Hutchinson, Howard published A Digest of the Laws of Mississippi.He also published seven volumes of Mississippi Law Reports, 1834–1844 (1839–44).
In 1840 he was defeated for election to the House of the Twenty-seventh Congress. Shortly afterwards he moved to New Orleans, where he practiced law until December 1844, when he moved to San Antonio, Texas. He was a delegate to the Convention of 1845 and represented Bexar County in the House of the First Legislature. On February 27, 1846, Governor James Pinckney Henderson appointed Howard attorney general of Texas, but he declined the appointment. Howard was a representative from Texas in the House of the Thirty-first and Thirty-second congresses but was defeated for reelection in 1852 by Peter Hansborough Bell. President Franklin Pierce appointed Howard attorney to the Land Commission of California, but he resigned after a few months to practice law in San Francisco. After moving to Sacramento in 1858 and to Los Angeles in 1861, he served as district attorney from 1861 to 1870. He was elected judge of the superior court of Los Angeles in 1879 and was a delegate to the California constitutional convention in 1878–79. Because of his age he declined a nomination for judge of the United States Supreme Court. At the expiration of one term on the superior court he retired because of ill health. He died in Santa Monica on May 14, 1889, and was buried in Fort Hill Cemetery, Los Angeles. Howard County, Texas, established on August 21, 1876, was named in his honor.