Biography of William Johnstone

William Johnstone, who was one of nature’s noblemen and whose life in every respect measured up to the highest standards of human conduct and of service to his fellows, passed away on the 14th of July, 1915. His earthly record was of comparatively short duration, for he had only reached the fifty-sixth milestone on life’s journey. But he had accomplished much more than may be set down to the credit of the vast majority.

He had been one of the builders of Bartlesville through the establishment and successful management of various commercial and industrial interests and also by reason of his connection with the banking business. He had not only considered the material development of the community, but had cooperated in many of those plans and projects which looked to the social, political and moral advancement of the state. At the same time a genial manner, a kindly disposition and sterling worth of character won for him an enduring place in the affectionate regard of his fellowmen and his memory is yet cherished in the hearts of all who knew him. Mr. Johnstone was of Canadian birth. Montreal, in the province of Quebec, was his native city and his natal year was 1859.

His parents were Samuel and Maria (Higgins) Johnstone, the former a native of Dumfries, Scotland, while the latter was born in Montreal and was of Irish and English lineage, her father being a native of the Emerald isle, while her mother was born in England.

In the year 1866 Samuel Johnstone removed with his family to Glenwood, Pope county, Minnesota, where he established and conducted a general store, but the ill health of his wife caused him, on the advice of physicians, to bring his family to what was then the Indian Territory. They traveled southward by prairie schooner, making their way from Yankton, Dakota Territory, direct to Coodys Bluff in the old Cherokee Nation, where they arrived in 1876. For two years thereafter Mr. Johnstone devoted his attention to farming and stock raising. When his wife had regained her health he and his family returned north and became residents of Montana. There his remaining days were passed, his, death occurring in 1887. His widow spends a part of the time with her children in Bartlesville, while the summer months are passed in Montana.

William Johnstone was a lad of seven years when the family crossed the border from Canada into the United States and when his parents returned to the north he decided to remain in Indian Territory and become closely identified with the development and progress of this state.

His educational opportunities were limited, owing to the fact that his youth was spent on the Minnesota frontiers before the school system of that state was well developed. He learned many valuable lessons under his father’s training in the store and in the school of experience and throughout his life he possessed an observing eye and retentive memory, whereby his knowledge was continually broadened. He was a youth of seventeen when the family home was established at Coodys Bluff in 1876 and thus through almost four decades he remained a resident of Oklahoma.

He worked for four years in the store of Henry Armstrong at Coodys Bluff and it was while thus employed that he was married, on the 12th of January, 1882, to Miss Lillie Armstrong, a niece of his employer and a daughter of E. H. Armstrong, a member of the prominent Journeycake family of Indian Territory.

Subsequently Mr. Johnstone entered the employ of J. H. Bartles, being placed in charge of the latter’s store at the mouth of Bird creek and during the building of the Frisco Railroad he was connected with the commissary department of that line. In 1882, as Mr. Bartles’ representative, he established a general store and trading place near the Little Caney river and on the old Post road between Pawhuska and Coffeyville.

In 1884 he entered into partnership with George B. Keeler in the establishment of a general store on the west side of the Caney river, which was the first mercantile establishment in that section of-the present city of Bartlesville, their location. being at the north end of what is now Delaware avenue. These trading posts constituted the business life of Bartlesville for a number of years, or until the discovery of oil and gas which greatly promoted the growth and development of the city. The partnership with Mr. Keeler continued, until about 1896, when Mr. Johnstone sold. his interest in the store.

In the meantime they had also conducted a sawmill for the manufacture of walnut lumber, which they hauled to Chelsea, a distance of about thirty miles, and then shipped it by rail to St. Louis. The firm of Johnstone & Keeler also operated extensively in the cattle business and for a number of years after severing his connection with mercantile interests Mr. Johnstone gave his attention almost entirely to the cattle industry. About 1903, however, he withdrew from active connection with cattle raising and became interested in oil development, becoming one of the pioneers in the oil fields of this section of the state.

This venture brought him wealth and in his later years he was ranked with the most prosperous residents of Washington county. He never gave up altogether the cattle business and to the time of his death owned an excellent farm near Bartlesville on the Caney river, on which he had one of the finest herds of blooded cattle in Oklahoma.

His success was the outcome of close application and untiring efforts, combined with a ready recognition and utilization of opportunity. In connection with R. L. Beattie and others of Winfield, Kansas, he organized the Bartlesville National Bank, of which he remained president until May, 1908, when ill health forced him to resign.

He had also been associated with W. A. Letson and others in organizing the First National Bank at Dewey in 1906 and was president thereof until he sold his interest in the institution. In 1898 he was a partner of J. E. Campbell in founding the Bank of Nowata and remained president thereof until he sold his stock to Mr. Campbell. In this way he contributed much to the development of banking interests in northern Oklahoma.

In 1910 he built the splendid office building that now bears his name at the corner of Third and Johnstone avenue the latter thoroughfare having been named in his honor. Various other structures in the city stand as monuments to his business ability and progressive public spirit.

He was associated with George B. Keeler and J. H. Bartles in installing the first telephone line in northern Oklahoma, their plant furnishing connection from their stores with Caney, Kansas, twenty miles to the north. Bartlesville at that time had no railroads and no telegraphic communication with the outside world and the telephone line was a private plant primarily for the service of the Bartlesville merchants.

Mr. Johnstone also became one of the original stockholders in the Maire Hotel at Bartlesville, which project was promoted by a number of public-spirited men that the city might have a hostelry that would be most creditable and would constitute a drawing card for commercial travelers. A large part of the city of Bartlesville is located on land that was originally contained in the Johnstone allotment or farm, comprising three or four hundred acres. This land was secured by the government as a town site, but in the early days was used by Mr. Johnstone for farming purposes. He owned an attractive residence built in 1884 and he was the owner of an entire block of ground bound by Eighth and Ninth streets and by Delaware and Cherokee avenues.

It seems that in all that he undertook Mr. Johnstone prospered. His sound judgment enabled him to recognize the value and worth of every opportunity and he just as quickly recognized any element that would prove an obstacle to success. Difficulties in his path seemed to serve as an impetus for renewed effort on his part and he never stopped short of the successful accomplishment of his purpose, while the means which he pursued were at all times such as would bear the closest investigation and scrutiny.

At the time of his demise a writer in the Bartlesville Enterprise said concerning his business career: “Hard work soon started the young man on the road to success and his hustling, energetic disposition stamped him as a man who would do to the to.’ Warm-hearted, pleasant and always sociable, he drew men to him as a magnet and his range of friends was coextensive with his range of acquaintances. Nor did this quality leave him after he began to pile up the fortune in this world’s goods he was always the same kind, considerate, good-natured friend of humanity.”

In 1892 Mr. Johnstone lost his first wife. The three children of that marriage are: Rilla, the wife of H. W. Pemberton of Bartlesville; Nellie the wife of Howard D Cannon cashier o the First National Bank of Dewey; and Leo H., who was educated at the Culver Military Academy of Indiana, after which he became associated with his father in business.

Ten years after the death of his first wife Mr. Johnstone wedded Miss Stella Bixler, who was born in Illinois, and is a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Bixler of Bartlesville. She now spends her time near her farm in Ochelata. There was one child of that marriage, Virginia.

The family circle was broken by the hand of death when on the 14th of July, 1915, William Johnstone passed away, his death being the occasion of deep and widespread regret, for he had greatly endeared himself to the community in which he lived. No man was more active or more prominent in connection with educational progress in Bartlesville and from the organization of the school board of the city he served as president until 1908, when he resigned.

He had been an outstanding figure in the work of the Chamber of Commerce and at all times was a stanch supporter of Republican principles. He held membership in the Baptist church but there was nothing narrow in his views and he gave liberally to the support of all denominations. No good work done in the name of charity or religion sought his aid in vain. As a Republican he served as a member of the state central committee for a number of years and it was largely through his efforts that a federal court was established in Bartlesville during territorial days and this largely led to Bartlesville becoming the county seats of Washington County. He worked effectively and untiringly to promote statehood and spent a portion of two winters in Washington, laboring to secure the admission of Oklahoma into the Union.

In all of his public service he subjugated personal ambition to the public good and partisanship to the general welfare. He entertained and worked for the adoption of high ideals for his community and for the commonwealth and his labors were an effective force in bringing about beneficial results.

He was a Mason of high standing, having membership in the Knights Templar Commandery and in the Scottish Rite Consistory and he also crossed the sands of the desert with the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine. He belonged to the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks and to the Woodmen of the World and he was made an honorary member of the Grand Army of the Republic. One of his biographers said “Many men live most worthy and honorable lives, but with restricted influence; and only a limited circle mourn their passing. But the late William Johnstone was one whose life touched and influenced thousands of others. While all business was suspended, flags floated at half mast, there was a concourse of people not only from Bartlesville, but from all Washington County, and even from distant portions of the state and adjoining states, who gathered to pay honor to his memory at his funeral. “A fitting tribute to his memory appeared in one of the local papers, which said: “So closely was the life of this man woven into that of this state and especially of this community, that in the years to come his good deeds will be recalled, his ever readiness to respond to the needs of the country and his fellowmen will be called to mind and though dead he will still live in the memory of his fellowmen. Few of the ‘old settlers’ here are yet old men. Among the oldest residents few have reached the threescore and ten milestone along life’s highway. Although but little more than half a century old when the summons came, William Johnstone was a pioneer in Oklahoma a pioneer in all that term means. He came to Oklahoma while yet a young man, without riches, as riches are wont to be estimated, in dollars and cents, yet immensely wealthy in fact, wealthy in push, in honesty, in consideration of his fellows, in energy; rich in all that makes a man-for money does not make the man and at once he became a factor in building this great commonwealth. Few, indeed, were the unmoistened. eyelids among these `old settlers’ in Bartlesville this morning as men passed on the streets and in subdued tones said Bill Johnstone is dead; few, indeed, were the voices in which there was not a suspicion of that choking sensation, and men hurried away to hide the tears that would come. Certain it is that some men so live that the memory of them-their many good deeds, their exemplary lives, their splendid characteristics is so closely woven into the warp and woof of humanity that though their bodies lie in the bosom of mother earth, though the years come and go, the memory of the man remains green in the hearts of his fellowmen.”

In the present age when it seems that there is much of selfishness and greed in the world and when the public welfare is often sacrificed to individual advancement, it is refreshing to learn of the life record of such a man as William Johnstone. He held to high ideals, lived a most useful life and exemplified in his career the highest standards of a splendid citizenship. He was modest and unassuming in demeanor in his friendships and devoted to the welfare of his family.

A fitting. tribute to his memory are the words of Shakespeare

“His life was gentle and the elements So mixed in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world,`This was a man.'”



Benedict, John Downing. Muskogee and Northeastern Oklahoma: including the counties of Muskogee, McIntosh, Wagoner, Cherokee, Sequoyah, Adair, Delaware, Mayes, Rogers, Washington, Nowata, Craig, and Ottawa. Chicago: S.J. Clarke Pub. Co., 1922.

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