|Birth: ||Jun. 4, 1885|
|Death: ||Nov. 20, 1983|
Jessie was born the tenth and youngest child of Lawson and Martha Elizabeth Hunt Howard. His twin sister was Etta Myrtle.
He attended Hazeldale and Pugh schools in Callaway. As a young man, he worked on railroads and on farms out west. He was a transient worker in North Dakota, California and Montana before returning to Missouri. In 1916, he married Maude Susie Linton [see her memorial] at the Linton home south of Calwood. They moved to a 20 acre farm on the Old Jefferson City Road, which he named "Sorehead Hill." Retiring in 1953, he took to reading the Bible and making signs.
Not only was Jesse a sign painter, he was a junk collector, self-proclaimed resident philosopher, and a man who MADE A CAREER OF MOUTHING OFF. After carefully considering most of what he said, it seems to me he was a faithful prophet speaking truths. If Jesse had lived in our time of internet availability, imagine what he would have said about the current escalation of corruption!!
Much later in life, he gained national and international notoriety and many of his signs were bought by the Kansas City Art Institute who gave him an exhibition of them, which exhibition Jesse attended. But to many people in Fulton, Jesse was just a crazy old man with junk in his yard.
Jesse's painted signs were placed around his farm for passersby to read. They told the story of a man who was old, often alone, and willing again and again to confront the realities of his life and of life in general:
"I im what I im. I have worked hard, I have made my living in the way that GOD intended me to do. That is, by the sweat of my face...I do not fear what man shall do unto me..."
Howard was widely unappreciated by the townsfolk and by those who even sought to have him committed -- so his sense of being a community outcast had a very real basis. Incidents of destruction of his property escalated from stealing signs to burning them.
"Yes Sir. Some thief or thieves stole the Ten Commandments right off this fence. I wonder who would stoop so low as to pull a stunt like that? A sheriff or his dupe would not be guilty. A police copper would not either. The lawyer. I never even heard of a lawyer using the Ten Commandments to argue his case. The judge. I never have heard of a judge yet to lecture his people on the diverse laws found in the 22 Chapter of Exodus. I heard a man say that a certain judge was possessed of 102 devils and they are multiplying every day."
Howard only made more signs which kept the thieves coming. To get redress, Howard went to Washington, DC to visit his Congressman. His Congressman not only threw him out, but caused authorities to try to have him committed.
Two of his scripted, fragmented signs read:
"I HAVE BEEN: ...bawled out, bawled up, held up, held down, hung up, bulldozed, blackjacked, walked on, cheated, squeezed and mooched. Stuck for war tax, excess profit tax, state, dog, and syntax, liberty bonds, baby bonds, and the bonds of matrimony, red cross, green cross and Double cross..."
"Outlaw Jesse Howard, the most hated man in the world without cause. Produce your cause."
Jesse mostly dressed in faded denim overalls, a blue shirt, bleached white denim cap, work boots, with a crumpled bandanna drooping from a back pocket and his shirtsleeves held up by rubber bands. He carried a cane which was a handle of a shovel. His face was weathered and spotted with age marks. A light gray stubble covered his chin and his mouth was mostly toothless.
"I am a Bible student," Howard would tell you right off. "I know the Bible from A to Z. You know, a man come by here the other day from the oldest city in the world - Jerusalem. Everybody's heard of old man Howard..."
Folks from all over stop by to be preached at by Jesse. And to gawk at him. And all this just because of his signs proclaiming his opinions on everything from admonishing politicians, lawyers, the state department, and judges, to free speech, police, Hitler, Fulton, politics, and the state of the world.
Most of his signs quoted Biblical passages and about people who are faithful:
"[Adlai] Stevenson recommends faith as a substitute for fear."
Signage space was not spared. Letters are pressed together, words sometimes are tight and become one runaway word, and painted black pointing fingers direct a readers eye to a certain word or passage of words.
Howard's anger was rarely without humor. On a local level, two signs read:
"Sheriff W.A. Bill Dawson, how did you get those holes wore in the knees of your pants? Bill: O, I did that praying. And those wore in the seat of your pants? Bill: I did that backsliding."
"Fulton, MO. March 26, 1973. I went to the county assessors office...Mr. [Stanley] Creed said, "What can I do for you?" I handed him the tax forms that he sent me to fill out. I said, "Mr. Creed, I have a question...How many pencils have you worn out raising my taxes after the past 28 years? Stanly said, " I don't know Jesse, but quite a few."
The cumulative effect of Jesse's signs has that strange sort of beauty that comes from naked force visually expressed. Several of his vehicle-like constructions include a plow, old corn planters, tricycles, an airplane weather vane, a windmill, and a closet on wheels. He used materials on hand -- colored glass, marbles, metal, window shades, plastic buckets, and wood. The aforementioned closet was made of different wood strips with each strip designated by its wood type, as well as the book, chapter and verse of the Biblical reference of each type. The Bible tells a lot about trees.
He was stumped when asked why he painted signs. But only momentarily.
"I can't speak what I want to sometimes." So he speaks signs.
He thinks things are a hell of a mess. Why?
"Because of PEOPLE! You know, when God made man and woman, he regretted it. You know why? Because man turned around and was so ornery. Things have gotten rotten. All these killings and stealings. It's foretold in the Bible what will happen. You know that nuke plant? Where do you think they got the permit to build that harmful thing? It come through those crooked courts."
"A man stopped and was reading my signs. I asked him in and to sign my registry book, which he did, and make some remark about my work, which he did. He said, "keep on giving them hell -- they have it coming.""
Jesse and Maude had five children. Leo Thomas Howard died in 1964. Those surviving include Carl Howard, Mrs. Jewell Crump, Mrs. Pearl Horton and Mrs. Ruby Honer. Others are 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his twin, Etta Myrtle, and nine brothers.
Just like many children who don't see the historically long vision of parental importance, and who can't wait to make some money, after his father's death, son Carl had Jesse's workshops bulldozed for the sale of his fathers' Sorehead Hill.
References for this memorial: callaway.county.missouri.org/Howard
also "The Inland Ground" and exhibition catalogue: "Naives and Visionaries" by Richard Rhodes.
Maude Susie Linton Howard (1896 - 1994)*
Callaway Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum
Created by: msb
Record added: May 23, 2010
Find A Grave Memorial# 52749874