Biography of James Johnson

JAMES JOHNSON. – James Johnson, a pioneer of 1844, son of James Johnson of Berkshire county, Massachusetts, was born on his father’s farm in 1814, and as a child moved with his parents to a new home in Onondaga county, New York, living there until he attained his manhood. In 1836 he gave rein to the desire for change and adventure and freedom, which ultimately made of him one of the early pioneers of Oregon, going in that year with his brother Daniel to Tippecanoe county, Indiana, and engaging in work as carpenter near Lafayette. In the winters, when there was little building on hand, he gave attention to pork-packing, becoming an expert and commanding a good salary. In 1839 he began a substantial domestic life, marrying Miss Juliet, daughter of Eli Perkins of Tippecanoe county.

During these and the following years, however, he was hearing much about the great new West, the land of Oregon; and his natural craving to form and enjoy a career unhampered by the restrictions of life in the older communities made him anxious to come to the Pacific coast. In 1844 he was able to accomplish his purpose. In April, in company with his brother Daniel, and with John and Eli Perkins and Ruel Olds, he procured his outfit and proceeded to the rendezvous near Independence. There they found a considerable company assembled, among whom may be named Joseph Smith, Barton Lee, Colonel Ford, Captain Levi Scott, Captain Bennett and Captain Hedges. In all there were one hundred wagons; and Ford was chosen captain.

It was late in May before the caravan moved. Owing to prodigious and continuous rains, and the consequent softness of the ground and fullness of the streams, their early progress was very slow; indeed, they had only reached the Big Blue by the Fourth of July. As they moved on, the company fell considerably to pieces, as was usual, for the better accommodation of stock. Mr. Johnson traveled in a detachment of nineteen wagons. Progress during the later stage of the journey was quite satisfactory; yet on the Snake river provisions were nearly exhausted; and horsemen were sent ahead to procure supplies at Whitman’s. They performed their errand, and, on returning, met the train on Burnt river with a quantity of fresh cornmeal and peas. With their abundance of milk, the wayfarers managed to live thenceforth very comfortably on mush.

Mr. Johnson left his team for the winter at The Dalles, and reaching Oregon City was employed by Doctor McLoughlin and others in work at his trade until November of the following year, when, after much examination for a location, he selected his Donation claim in Yamhill county, Oregon, near Lafayette, and made that his home until his comparatively recent removal to the town. In 1849 he made the trip to the California gold mines, but on account of sickness soon returned. In 1851 he examined the mines of Southern Oregon, but found that there was more money in working his farm and in contracting and building at Lafayette.

In all his plans and labors Mrs. Johnson has been his faithful and sagacious coadjutor, making ends meet on the farm, furnishing motive and encouragement for his energy and industry, and also rearing to his name a family of eleven children, one of whom died in youth. They are as follows: Burr, Esquire (died at the age of twenty-seven), Julia A., Watterman, Wright, Viola E. and Iola E. (twins), James K., Gus E., Ellen and Clara. All are married and live in Oregon. Mr. Johnson and wife have twenty-four grandchildren. All but one are living.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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