Milford W. Howard was born in Floyd County, Ga., where his father had a small farm. When Howard was five, the family moved to Arkansas. Although Howard had only a few months of formal education, he read everything that came his way. Howard’s family returned to Georgia in 1876, where he read law. Howard moved to Fort Payne, Ala., in 1880, where he passed the bar and set up a legal practice. In 1887, Howard lost most of his money speculating in real estate but continued his legal practice. In 1893, he began supplementing his income by giving lectures. A lecture in Washington, D.C., inspired him to write If Christ Came to Congress, an exposé of corruption. In 1894, Howard ran for Congress as a Populist, winning in a violent race where threats were made against his family. Two years later, he suffered a nervous breakdown but successfully ran for re-election, moving his family to Cullman, Ala., for their safety. In 1898, he decided not to run again and moved his family back to Fort Payne, buying a farm nearby. Howard began writing short stories and went on another lecture tour. He filed for bankruptcy in 1901 and returned to practicing law. In 1910, Howard ran unsuccessfully for Congress, lost more money speculating, and moved to Birmingham, Ala., to practice law there. After another nervous breakdown in 1916, he gave up his law practice and moved back to his Fort Payne farm, where he took correspondence courses in short story writing and photoplay writing. In 1919, Howard and his wife moved to California where he hoped to become a script writer. They sold the farm the following year, and his wife began investing in real estate. In California, Howard published two novels, Peggy Ware and The Bishop of the Ozarks. The latter was made into a silent movie, with Howard playing the lead role.
In 1923, Howard decided to return to Alabama and establish a school for mountain children. He bought land on Lookout Mountain, near Mentone, and neighbors provided volunteer labor to clear land and erect buildings. Despite donations, there was not enough money to cover the school’s bills and the amount owed on the land. Howard was forced to sell off some property, and he began planning a development. His wife sent him money periodically, but, instead of paying off the land notes, he put it into the school and the development. After Howard’s wife died in 1925, there was no money left. Howard was forced to close the school, and he had another nervous breakdown. In 1926, Howard married the woman who had helped him start the school. To make his land more salable, he started a campaign to build a scenic highway in the area. The highway was built, but it was not completed until the 1930s. In 1927, Howard sold some of his land and took his wife on a six-month trip to Europe, writing a series of articles about their trip for The Birmingham News. In Italy, Howard was impressed by Fascism and interviewed Benito Mussolini. Back in the United States, Howard put together a book extolling Fascism and went on a lecture tour, but book sales barely covered expenses. In the 1930s, Howard had no income, and the Great Depression made it difficult for him to sell land. His wife refused to stay on Lookout Mountain, and Howard divorced her in 1936. Friends loaned him money to return to California, but he used it instead to build a chapel as a memorial to his first wife. He was finally persuaded to go to California, where he died of bronchial pneumonia in December of 1937. The following year, his ex-wife brought his ashes back to Lookout Mountain, and they were interred in the chapel.
Milford W. Howard wrote three nonfiction books on political subjects. His two novels have mountain settings, with Peggy Ware taking place in Buck’s Pocket.
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Last updated on May 30, 2008.