Howe, Eugene Alexander (1886–1952)

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: Biography

Published: February 1, 1995

Updated: October 31, 2019

Eugene Alexander (Gene) Howe, journalist, the youngest of three surviving children of Edgar Watson and Clara (Frank) Howe, was born on March 22, 1886, in Atchison, Kansas. His father, the founder of the Atchison Globe, was a genius of varied moods, an avowed agnostic, and nationally famous as the "Sage of Potato Hill." When his parents separated, Gene, then in his early teens, remained with his father and often accompanied him on trips to Europe and the eastern United States. He quit high school after an argument with a teacher, enrolled in a business school, and went to work setting type in his father's printing shop. At the age of sixteen, he left home after a disagreement with his father and made his way to Emmett, Idaho, where his brother James ran a weekly paper. He went to Oregon in 1903 and eventually obtained a position as a reporter for the Portland Oregonian under editor Harvey Scott. Ed Howe summoned his son home in 1907 and set him up as a combination advertising salesman and reporter for the Atchison Globe. When the elder Howe decided to retire in 1911, he offered Gene half interest in the Globe if he could produce the money quickly. Within two days Gene had $25,000, and the deal was completed. He subsequently became the paper's managing editor. In 1911 he married Gale Donald of Atchison; they had one daughter.

In February 1924 Howe moved to Amarillo and established the Amarillo Globe as an evening paper. Eighteen months later he and his partner, Wilbur Clayton Hawk, bought out their morning competition, the Amarillo Daily News, from J. E. and J. Lindsay Nunn. They merged the papers in January 1926 as the Amarillo Globe-News (see AMARILLO NEWS AND GLOBE-TIMES). Howe and his associates began a daily column, "The Tactless Texan," written under the pseudonym of Kernal E. Rasmus (or Erasmus) Tack and signed "Old Tack," which became Howe's nickname. Carl Brown wrote the first of these columns, but Howe soon took over. He abhorred dullness, and his editorials were laced with humor, candidness, logic, and common sense. Charles A. Lindbergh and opera star Mary Garden were among the celebrities who received scathing rebukes from Old Tack, who caused national controversy in the press. Howe often declared that he would rather be a good reporter than a famous publisher. Through his columns he found homes for stray dogs, named children, and brought marriageable couples together. He often referred to the United States Weather Bureau as the "weather trust." Many of his early editorials and witticisms were compiled into a four-volume series entitled Them Texans, published between 1927 and 1930. During the lean years of the Dust Bowl Howe organized the Goodfellows and helped raise tons of food for the needy. One of his most famous promotional stunts was his proclamation of March 5 as National Mothers-in-Law Day in honor of his wife's mother, Mrs. Nellie Donald. He wanted to make amends for having ruffled her feelings in a 1934 column. For the occasion in 1938 Howe staged a parade that featured the "world's largest float," a block long and carrying 650 mothers-in-law. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was in Amarillo during a lecture tour, joined officials on the reviewing stand and was presented the "world's largest bouquet" of 4,000 roses, hoisted by a crane. Comedian Ben Turpin, whose crossed eyes inspired Old Tack's caricatured countenance, was also present for the festivities.

Howe retained ownership of the Atchison Globe, and over the years he and his associates expanded their enterprise over three states, adding the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Dalhart Texan, Memphis Democrat, Shamrock Texan, and other regional papers to the Globe-News Publishing Company. They also began the Plains Radio Broadcasting Company, through which they set up stations in Amarillo and Lubbock, and for a time held interests in other Southwestern stations. Lewis T. Nordyke, Olive King Dixon, Laura V. Hamner, John L. McCarty, Paul Allingham, Charles A. Guy, and Thomas "Turnstile" Thompson were among Howe's employees and associates at various times. In 1950 Howe became chairman of the board of the Globe-News firm. Some months later, S. B. Whittenburg and associates, who published the Amarillo Times, bought interest in the Globe-News, but though Times name was added to the afternoon paper's masthead, Howe retained his chairmanship. In 1951 he opened Amarillo's first television station.

From the time of his boyhood ventures on the Missouri River, Howe was a staunch sportsman and conservationist. He and outdoor sports writer Ray Holland lobbied, through Kansas congressman Dan Anthony, for the establishment of federal protection of game birds. In 1932 Howe purchased the 10,000-acre Big Bull Ranch in Hemphill County. There, in addition to raising high-grade Herefords, he developed a series of lakes and conducted experiments with fish. In 1941 he became a member of the Texas Game and Fish Commission and was an organizer of Ducks Unlimited, an international foundation. Howe's travels and hunting expeditions took him to wilderness areas throughout the United States and Canada. Many of his columns contained travelogues of his outdoor experiences. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Lake Marvin and Gene Howe Wildlife Management areas in Hemphill County east of Canadian. Howe's sporting life suddenly ended in the fall of 1951 after he accidentally shot and killed his favorite bird dog, Princess, during a quail hunt.

During his last years, Howe's eyesight began to fail, and he was stricken with a bladder ailment attributed to cancer. It was, perhaps, his fear of becoming an invalid in his old age that led him to commit suicide on June 25, 1952. His death stunned the city of Amarillo. Funeral services were held at his home prior to burial in the Llano Cemetery. Shelby M. Kritser, Howe's son-in-law and a grandson of R. B. (Ben) Masterson, became general manager of the Globe-News Publishing Company. Over the entrance of the Globe-News building is inscribed Howe's most famous slogan: "A newspaper may be forgiven for lack of wisdom but never for lack of courage." Gene Howe Elementary School in Amarillo was named in his honor.

Gene Howe, Them Texans (4 vols., Amarillo: Russell and Cockrell, 1927–30). Thomas Thompson, North of Palo Duro (Canyon, Texas: Staked Plains, 1984).

  • Journalism
  • Newspapers
  • Editors and Reporters

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Howe, Eugene Alexander,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 1, 1995
October 31, 2019