John Howcutt – Silver, murder and a President


John Howcutt moved from Scotland to America in 1835 with his parents John and Margaret Howcutt. He had a well-documented and, in many ways, successful life at Buffalo and Colorado but it closed in unhappiness.


There is some doubt about when John was born, as the relevant records are inconsistent. [1] Nor is it always clear whether references to John Howcutt at Buffalo refer to the father or the son. Although John senior is recorded in Canada from 1842 onwards but continued to visit Buffalo, which was a major commercial centre. As a result, for instance, it is not certain which individual’s business was affected by the large fire that spread through timber yards on the Erie Canal at the foot of Hospital Street, Buffalo on the night of 1 July 1858. The lumber damaged on that occasion included $2,000 worth of uninsured stock at Howcutt & Stewart’s yard. [2]


On 1 December 1859, John Howcutt and Charles Pickering announced that the firm of Howcutt & Co. was that day dissolved by mutual consent and that Mr Howcutt would continue the business at the same place, 17 Commercial Wharf. [3] The 1860 edition of the Buffalo Directory recorded John Howcutt in the business of “storage and commission” at 15 Commercial Wharf, with his residence at Mansion. The following entry in that publication reads: “Howcutt A. Porter, tallyman, B & S L R R, home 263 N Div.” In September of that year, it was reported that the shipping and commission house of Howcutt & Co. had recently been established at the foot of Washington Street, the owners being John Howcutt and Alex. McCollom. [4]


As well as his business activities, John served in the United States Army. John Howcutt of Buffalo was a Brigade Quarter Master in the 31st Brigade, 8th Division. He was given the rank of captain on 20 June and commissioned on 2 July 1856. [5]


The 1860 census lists John Howcutt as a 31-year-old produce merchant residing at the Mansion House hotel, Buffalo. At that time, his real estate was worth $3,000 and his personal estate $1,000. The hotel had been opened in 1829 and was a landmark building that stood six stories high. [6]


First Unitarian Church, Buffalo

In 1861, John Howcutt was a pew-holder at the First Unitarian Church at Buffalo. [7] The church, which then occupied a plot at Franklin and Eagle Streets, had been established in 1833, one of its early members being Millard Fillmore (1800-1874), who served as 13th President of the United States from 1850-1853. The Howcutts were evidently well-acquainted with the Fillmore family, as when President Fillmore’s son, Millard Powers Fillmore, died in 1889 he left the sum of $2,500 along with any note or bond held against him to “John Howcutt of Denver”. [8]


John Howcutt was one of those who attended the inaugural meeting of the Buffalo Historical Society, which took place on 25 March 1862. Three days earlier, he had married Josephine, a daughter of the Hon. Hiram Barton and his wife Lucy Ann. [9] Hiram Barton (1810-1880) was a lawyer who served as Mayor of Buffalo in 1849-50 and 1852-53. He married Lucy Ann Clark in 1840, their two daughters being Josephine and Linda.


Hiram Barton

In June 1865, John and Josephine Howcutt were residing in the 1st District, 10th Ward in a frame house worth $5,000. He was described as aged 34, born in Scotland and working in “Produce & Commission”. He was a naturalised citizen of the United States. Josephine was aged 23, born in Erie county, and was an owner of land. [10]


The Howcutt family was presumably connected with premises called Howcutt Hall, which stood at the corner of Ohio and Mississippi Street and the venue for a large political rally organised by the Democrats of First Ward in September 1868. [11] 


The 1869 Buffalo City Directory includes John Howcutt as living at 207 9th Street. The same directory confirms that Howcutt & Janes were in business as forwarding and commission agents at 89, 93 & 95 Ohio. Two years later, the same Directory recorded “John Howcutt, produce, 209 Prospect Avenue; John Howcutt, bookkeeper, 207 Prospect Avenue”.


Buffalo in 1868

When the 1870 census was held, John and Josephine were living in 10th Ward of Buffalo with their children John (aged 3 years) and Maud (2 months). John’s occupation was abbreviated as “Grain Com. Mch.” Only Josephine was recorded as owning significant assets; her real estate being worth $4,000 and personal estate $700.


John had at least one attempt at a political career, as in 1872, he was nominated on the Liberal ticket as Alderman for the Tenth Ward. [12] It is not clear whether he was elected to the post.


A list in the 1 February 1875 issue of the Buffalo Courier and Republic of deaths during the previous twelve months includes that on 30 April 1874, of “John, son of John Howcutt, aged 7”.


The 1875 New York State census listed John, Josephine and Maud in the 4th election district, 10th Ward of Buffalo, as residents of a house with a value of $5,000. John was described as a produce and commission merchant and an owner of land. He was a naturalised American citizen and a landowner but no further details of his property appear in the census record.


It is feasible that the death of his son may have prompted John to seek fresh opportunities in a totally different environment. Whatever the reason, in 1876 he had moved some 1,500 miles and was boarding at 618 Champa, Denver, Colorado. [13]


John’s move to Colorado, at least initially, seems to have been successful, as on 9 March 1878, C D Custone of the Buffalo Express reported:

“Mr John Howcutt, of Buffalo has, I learn, recently located a promising mine down on Grape Creek, in Fremont County. Mr Howcutt, since his residence in Colorado, has mastered completely and thoroughly the science of reducing ores by the lixeviation, or leaching process, and by his straightforward business-like deportment won a host of reliable friends. At present he is with the miners’ assay office, residing with Mr Beaumont. Mr H F Biglow, of Erie County, NY, now on his way here for the purpose of erecting reduction works, will be a guest of Mr Howcutt, and learn much from him regarding processes.”


Not all of John’s acquaintances proved as reliable as Mr Custone reported. By May 1879, John had made his way to Silver Cliff, about 150 miles south of Denver, where he became involved in a notorious murder.


William H Connett of Newark NJ was persuaded by one Edward A Egglestone to invest his entire resources amounting to $1,000 in a banking venture that Egglestone said he planned to start in Colorado. Egglestone warned Connett against bringing any firearms with him, assuring him that he would find plenty of them in Colorado. On reaching Silver Cliff, Connett found that Egglestone had moved to Rosita, a little mining town about five miles away. Connett travelled to Rosita, and, being favourably impressed by Egglestone, placed all his money and valuables in the man’s possession. Several days later, an article in a Silver Cliff paper denounced Egglestone as an adventurer and a rascal. At this point, Connett realised that he had been duped and wrote to his wife but cautioned her to say nothing about the matter as “bowie knives and pistols were used very freely in the area and he wanted to get away with his life”. Before departing, Connett tried his hand at mining but finally advised his wife that he would have one final attempt to recover his money before returning home.


On 17 May, Connett found Egglestone in the cabin of John Howcutt, an assayer who lived in the roadway in the suburbs of Rosita. A few minutes afterwards two men heard pistol shots in the direction of Howcutt’s cabin. They then saw Connett run out of the cabin followed by Egglestone, who fired a shot at him. Connett fell on his face covered in blood, which flowed from a bullet wound in the chest. Egglestone locked himself in the cabin but was eventually arrested and confined in irons. The inquest returned a verdict against both Egglestone and Howcutt. However, although John Howcutt was arrested for a short time, it was soon recognised that Egglestone was to blame; as the Coroner of Rosita remarked, Egglestone was “the greatest scoundrel unhung in the country”. [14] On 29 May, the “Colorado Chieftain” reported that a preliminary examination of John Howcutt and Edward Egglestone took place on the 26th and 27th  and that they were committed without bail to await the grand jury of the district court, which was due to convene on 2 June. No later record of the case has been found but it is evident from later references to him as a free man that John Howcutt was not convicted of responsibility for the murder.


The 1880 Buffalo Directory includes Mrs John Howcutt at 195 Franklin. “Mrs John Howcut” is also recorded in the census of that year living at the same address with her widowed mother, Mrs Hyrum Barton and her 10-year-old daughter Maud, as well as a servant. The Barton house has been described as follows:

"one of the best types left of the early substantial residences reared in Buffalo by its ambitious early settlers. Granite steps, hand-carved pilasters, and wrought iron railings encompassed the outside, while hard carved woodwork and mahogany doors decorated the inside. Many cultured men and women...visited the Barton home and read books from its library, the shelves of which were lined with books of the masters of literature." [15]


The death of Mrs Barton at her home in Franklin Street on 10 June 1881 was the subject of a report printed in “Buffalo Commercial Advertiser” on the following day, which included some details of her life and mentioned that her son-in-law John Howcutt was then residing at Silver Cliff, Colorado.


Silver Cliff in 1882

Silver Cliff had been established in 1878 to house miners at the local silver mines. By 1880 its population exceeded 5,000, making it the third largest city in Colorado. The residents and visitors were served by 25 saloons, 20 grocery stores, 2 banks and 10 hotels.


John’s time in Colorado was marked by at least one civil dispute that found its way to the courts. The outcome of the case referred to as Haverly Invincible Mining Co. v. Howcutt, 6 Colo. 574 (1883) established that in the state of Colorado there was no authority from either the constitution or statute for litigants to choose who should sit as the judge for their legal dispute. [16]


Josephine evidently owned property in Custer county, as “Mrs J Howcutt” appears in relation to a proposed sale of property there to pay for delinquent taxes there for the year 1883. [17]


At the time of the 1885 state census of Colorado, John, Josephine and Maud were living at 388 South 15th Street, Denver. John was recorded as a metallurgist who had been employed for 2 months during the previous year. An apparent error in the return was that the birthplace of John’s father was stated as Scotland, which does not accord with the father’s own report in the 1861 and 1871 censuses of Canada that he had been born in England.


In 1889 John spent some time in Utah. On 20 November 1889 “The Ogden Standard” reported that a telegram for J Howcutt remained undelivered at the Western Union telegraph office. [18] In 1939, an edition of its successor, “The Ogden Standard Examiner” recalled that 50 years previously “Professor John Howcutt, a noted metallurgist of Denver was in the city yesterday. He will remain here for a few days and then go east”. [19]


The 1890 edition of the Colorado City Directory described John Howcutt as a metallurgist living at 963 South 15th Street, Denver.


Josephine B Howcutt was 54 years old when she died at her home at 67 Robie Street, Buffalo at 8.30 pm on 12 October 1895. Her obituary stated that she was the last surviving daughter of Hiram Barton and that she was survived by her husband and one daughter. The account also reported that about 12 years before her death, Josephine had gone to Denver with her husband, but found that her health was seriously affected by the altitude of Denver, and in 1890 returned to Buffalo where she resided for the rest of her life. Nearly a year before her death, Josephine had a stroke of paralysis from which she never fully recovered and suffered a further stroke four days before she expired. [20] Her will, which left $10,000 worth of property to her daughter Maud, was proved in July 1896. [21] The relevant probate papers can be consulted online. [22]


The population of Silver Cliff fell rapidly from 1882 onwards, standing at 546 in the 1890 census and 576 ten years later. Among its remaining inhabitants in 1900 was John Howcutt, who owned his house without a mortgage. He was described as a widower born in Scotland in 1835, his father’s birthplace being recorded as England and his mother’s as Scotland. His occupation was stated as “mining ores”, with a note that he had not been employed for nine months of the previous year.


John’s daughter Maud was still single in 1900. She was living at 150 Carolina Street, Buffalo as one of the residents in a boarding house run by Elizabeth Wagner. No occupation was recorded for Maud.


A late-July 1904 issue of the Custer county newspaper called “Wet Mountain Tribune” recorded that John Howcutt and Chas. Houck had departed by train for Oregon “to try their fortunes in that state”.


John Howcutt died on 5 January 1906 and was buried in Lot 85 Block I at West Custer County Cemetery, Silver Cliff. [23] On the day after John died, Wet Mountain Tribune printed this obituary:

“John Howcutt, one of the early comers to this camp, having witnessed the first boom of Rosita back in the 70's, after a brief illness, died at his home in Silver Cliff, at 5:30 Friday morning. Deceased was nearing time's 70 mile post and lived alone. He was a man of education and wide scope of information, and had held many responsible positions ere coming to the West. His has been a checkered life, and the coming of the Reaper, to him, we who knew him well, are satisfied was welcome. A married daughter residing in the East, survives him.”


The obituary was inaccurate in at least one respect, as John’s daughter was still called Maud Howcutt when she arrived at London from New York on board the Minnehaha on 12 November 1907. [24] She married Henry C Christie at Manhattan, New York on 10 December 1908. As Maud’s brother John had died when a child, her marriage was the final event involving the name of the only family that migrated to North America and consistently spelled their surname as “Howcutt”.




[1]      Evidence of John’s year of birth:



Implied birth year


1840 US census



Not found

1850 US census



Not found

1860 US census




1865 NY census




1870 US census




1875 NY census




1880 US census



Not found

1885 Colorado census




1900 US census


1835 (stated)


[2]      New York Evening Express, 30 June 1858, page 6.

[3]      Buffalo Courier, 5 December 1859.

[4]      Buffalo Daily Courier, 5 September 1860.

[5]      “The Annual Report of the Adjutant General State of New York for 1860”.

[6]      An account of the history of The Mansion House with a picture apparently taken shortly before its demolition in 1932 can be seen on The Buffalo News website: (accessed 19 August 2016).

[7]      “First Unitarian Church of Buffalo: its history and progress” by George Washington Hosmer et al.

[8]      New York Times, 19 November 1889; Buffalo Express, 19 November 1889, page 5.

[9]      “Early Settlers of New York State: Their Ancestors and Descendants” by Janet Wethy Foley.

[10]    New York state census as at 1 June 1865.

[11]    Buffalo Evening Courier & Republic, 21 September 1868, page 1.

[12]    Buffalo Courier & Republic, 31 October 1872.

[13]    Denver City Directory, 1876.

[14]    New York Herald, 31 May 1879, page 3.    

[15]    “Through the Mayors’ Eyes: Buffalo, New York 1832-2005” by Michael F Rizzo.

[16]    LexisNexis - Colorado Constitution. (accessed 19 August 2016).

[17]    The Sierra Journal, 31 July 1884.

[18]    The Standard (Ogden), 19 November 1889, page 4.

[19]    The Ogden Standard Examiner, 14 December 1939, page 11, column 1.

[20]    The Buffalo Courier, 13 October 1895.

[21]    Buffalo Evening News, 23 July 1896.

[22]    Erie county probate case number 10779. "New York Probate Records, 1629-1971," images, FamilySearch ( : 28 May 2014), Erie > Estate papers 1800-1929 case 10752-10779 > image 900 of 964; county courthouses, New York. [Images 900-956].

[23]    Record #139204138 on (accessed 19 August 2016).

[24]    The National Archives: BT26/301/158.