Biography of Johnson S. Williams

Johnson S. Williams is the pioneer of the pioneers. When he arrived he made settlement in what is now Riley County. Besides reclaiming a portion of the land from the wilderness he did other effective work in making Kansas a free state, and afterwards fought for the perpetuation of the Union in the Civil war. Some years ago he retired from active responsibilities, and now resides in comfort at his home at 1203 Colorado Street in Manhattan.

He was born in Henry County, Kentucky, October 25, 1834, and is now at his eighty-third birthday. His parents were Hanson N. and Ann L. (Bell) Williams, both natives of Henry County, Kentucky. The Williams family is of Welsh origin, and first settled in Virginia, though what part of the state they occupied is not now ascertainable. John Williams, the grandfather, came across the mountains into Kentucky accompanied by his brother Hanson. They were pioneers of the Blue Grass State, John locating in Henry County and his brother at Lexington.

When Johnson S. Williams was still a boy his parents removed to the neighborhood of Covington, Kentucky, where his father engaged in raising truck and small fruits for the Cincinnati market, across the Ohio River. His father was very successful in that line of business, though he rented land instead of owing it. At one time he kept from forty to fifty men employed on his truck garden and in his fruit orchard. It was on that farm that Johnson S. Williams spent his early years. He attended the public schools in the winters, but the rest of the year was spent helping his father and for several years before reaching his majority he was his father’s overseer.

It was his early ambition to acquire land for himself and make a home in the West. Led by that desire he came west to Kansas about the time great numbers of people from states both north and south were directing their course into this section of the West for the purpose of solving the problem whether Kansas should be a free or slave state. It was in the second wek of March, 1855, that Mr. Williams and others landed in what is now Ashland Township of Riley County. There he drove stakes to a quarter section of land, but subsequently relinquished his right to a land company which proposed to lay out and develop the Townsite of Ashland. When this company failed the land passed to individual ownership, and subsequently Mr. Williams acquired it by purchase. Thus his homestead has considerable historic interest in that section of Riley County. Mr. Williams lived on his farm of 200 acres many years, still owns it, and it represents a large share of his Kansas experience.

In October, 1907, at the age of seventy-five Mr. Williams retired from active farming, and since then has had his home in the City of Manhattan. After getting established in Kansas he wrote a glowing letter of description to his father, and the latter was induced to come also to the new country and arrived with his family in November, 1855. The parents located in Ashland Township, and spent the rest of their days there, being laid to rest in the Ashland cemetery. They were the parents of the following children: Elizabeth, now deceased; Johnson S.; William H.; John W.; Philip M. and Thomas E. All these children were born in Kentucky and four of the sons offered themselves as soldiers in the war for the preservation of the Union.

In 1862 Johnson S. Williams enlisted in Company A of the Ninth Kansas Cavalry, and with that gallant organization he served thirty-five months. The record of his brothers as soldiers is as follows: William H. was in Company G of the Eighth Illinois Infantry; John W. was in Company L of the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry; and Philip M. in Company D of the Third Colorado Cavalry.

For fifty-six years Mr. and Mrs. Johnson S. Williams have traveled life’s highway together. They were married on December 9, 1869. Mrs. Williams, whose maiden name was Ruth J. White, was born in McKean County, Pennsylvania, November 29, 1840, a daughter of Dyer and Cynthia M. (Hoag) White. The parents, natives of New York State, arrived in Kansas in 1860, first settling in Miami County and afterwards moving to Riley County where they died. To the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Williams were born six children: Ernest D., now a successful physician in Kansas City, Kansas; Edith M., deceased; Emmett A., a farmer of Riley County; Walter F., a ranchman of Colorado; Charles C., a twin brother of Walter, also a Riley County farmer; and Catherine L., the wife of John Graham, a farmer in Riley County.

The patriotism which made Mr. Williams a good soldier in the trying days of the ’60s has characterized his entire life in the community of Riley County. He is an active member of the Riley County Historical Society, is a republican, having adopted those principles about the time the party was organized, but has frequently cast his independent vote according to the dictates of his judgment. While he is a member of the Christian Church Mrs. Williams belong to the Baptist denomination.


Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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