A BIOGRAPHY OF “O. L. JOHNSON”
In about 1874, a fellow named Pleasant Wimberley bought old water driven grist mill at a place called Cude’s Mill in Hayes County, Texas. Wimberly rebuilt the mill that was located beside Cypress Creek and soon was operating a grist mill, flour mill, saw mill and shingle mill. In 1880 the place was renamed “Wimberly” following the location of a Post Office at that place.
The census for that year showed Pleasent Wimberly as the proprietor of the establishment and he had two employees. One was the son of Pleasant Wimberly and the other was O.L. Johnson, a Norwegian immigrant, who along with his wife, Alma Rebecca “Emmons”, were expecting their first child, Julia.
Alma was born in Lavaca County Texas. Her mother died when she was about two or three years old. Her father fought in the Civil War and served in the Confederate Calvary. Alma and her sisters lived with others who took them in after her mother died and her father went away to war. Alma lived with some well to do people at one time who taught her table manners and other things she never would have been exposed to had she not been “orphaned“. However, because of living on the frontier, Alma was able to attend school but very little. The home she lived in was beside a branch called Cypress Creek and there were stepping stones across the creek. Once during her teenage years, before she had ever met her future husband, Alma had a dream of being at the creek and wanting to go across to the other side. In her dream she looked over the stream and there stood a young man who helped her across the water. After crossing the stream she noticed that the young man was crippled in some way. At some later date, with this dream impressed in her mind, she was at the stream to cross over and looked to the other side and there stood a tall fine looking young man. He asked if he could help her across the water, which he did. Upon arriving at the other side she noticed that the fingers of one hand were missing. She remembered her dream and married she ended up marrying this handsome young man named “OL Johnson“. .
A further study of the census finds Alma’s sister and her husband, John R. Dobie, living nearby. Cypress Creek, where they all lived in 1880 and where OL first met Alma. The Blue Hole of Cypress Creek is now a well known tourist attraction and swimming hole. “The Blue Hole” is located along beautiful Cypress Creek, a tributary of the Guadalupe River about 15 miles from San Marcos.
Oliver Ludwick Olsen was born in Trondheim, Norway in 1853. This was near the western coast of Norway. In the summer of 1862, while just a young boy, he and his family sailed from Norway to Canada and eventually made their way to Chicago. OL was old enough to remember parts of the trip. He remembered his mother being afraid that he and the other children would fall overboard. His parents were “Coopers” by trade and they made wooden barrels. Shortly after arriving in Chicago, OL’s dad served in what OL later called “the war of rebellion”. His father became a naturalized citizen of the U. S .sometime before OL was 21 years old. It is somewhat ironic that OL’s dad fought for the North while the father of his wife, Alma, fought for the South.
The Olsen family was living in Chicago at the time of the “Great Chicago Fire” in October of 1871. The family wrapped their belongings in their bedding and carried them to a city park in order to avoid the fire. OL, was 18yrs old at the time. OL‘s Aunt Julia later recounted how the young children did not recognize the seriousness of the situation but just enjoyed their day at the park.
Probably while still in his teens, perhaps as a result of the fire, OL left Chicago. No one knows for sure what he did or what route he took before his arrival in Hays County, Texas. The railroad had just arrived there so he may have followed the expansion of the railroad industry to the west.
By May 8, 1879 when OL married Alma he was operating a grist mill at Wimberly. It was here that their daughters Julia and Lenora were born. A son, Gus, was also born here but died at an early age. Lenora later recalled seeing her parents standing in the back yard in each others arms and crying, presumably after learning of their child’s death. Sometime after Gus had died, another daughter named Leona was born in January 1887.
Lenora recounted in her senior years that “I do not remember of seeing the house I was born in, but it was a crude log house with chinking and mud between the logs. It was very rough country with patches for farming. The first place that I remember living was called the Chun Place. Pa [OL] had it rented and he farmed, though I do not remember ever seeing my father farming his land. This place was close to a road that wound through the timber, there being no sections. The trees seemed so enormous to me as I was just three years old when I discovered that I had memory. The house was a boxed house, one large room with a big fireplace in the north center. The west door opened onto a porch and on the south end of the porch a honeysuckle grew. For some reason, I do not know, we called it Pa’s Honeysuckle. The fragrance has stayed with me all through life. On the east was a narrow room for the kitchen with the wood cook stove, and a dining room with a long home made dining table, a kitchen safe and a few broken chairs consisted of the furniture.’
Lenora continues with her remembrances of the home where she was born. “As far as my childish mind can recollect, my mother always had a big rocking chair before the fireplace. There was one wooden bedstead with a high headboard that reached almost to the ceiling and one trundle bed that was pushed under the other bed in the daytime. My sister, Julia, just one year older than myself, and I occupied the trundle bed at night.”
She recalled that her father, OL, got what she called ‘the Western Fever” and wanted to go west. Lenora said that in about 1889 when Leona was 2 yrs old he loaded the family and their belongings in a covered wagon and headed out, not so much west, but north toward Canadian City in the Texas Panhandle.
Quite a few families started together. Some stopped and located on the way and some turned back. OL pulled on alone, encouraged by his wife who was a real pioneer woman. Lenora never recalled hearing her mother complain, at least not that she could remember. Lenora remembered how happy the children were when the family stopped for the night and all the young ones could get out of the covered wagon. The great cattle drives from south Texas had passed along this same trail. Lenora recounted how the kids would run to find mesquite beans for the horses and cow pies for the cooking fire. Lenora said she was so young she didn’t know what cow pies were. She thought they grew on the ground.
The Johnson family came to the south side of the Canadian River about 50 miles upstream from Canadian City, as it was known then. They camped there for about a week until OL found what he thought was “The Garden Spot of the West”. It was located right in the heart of cattle country, on the north side of the Canadian River near the historical site known as the Battle of Adobe Walls. The old Adobe Walls Battle Site is located about 15 miles NE of where Stinnett, Texas is now located. There are no houses near the old battle site, it is a lonely and desolate spot and it is now hard to imagine that there were ever any people living there or that a great and desperate battle between a group of buffalo hunters and a large band of plains Indians once took place there.
In 1874, just a little over a decade prior to the OL Johnson family settling there, a group of buffalo hunters had sought shelter there and repulsed an attack of a large band of Indians lead by the Comanche war chief Quanah Parker. At the close of the battle, two Indians rode to the top of a bluff about a mile away to have one last look at the camp before they moved on. On a fluke, one of the hunters, Billy Dixon fired at the Indians with his buffalo gun, knocking one of the Indian off his horse and killing him. Dixon, known to be a good marksman, later admitted that it was a “scratch” shot and he never took credit for his “long shot”. A few years later, Billy homesteaded there and operated a ranch-supply store that catered to the needs of the cowboys in the vicinity. He sold canned goods, tobacco, candy, boots and Stetson hats. He also maintained a Post Office in his store. Billy worked for the Turkey Track Ranch at one time, perhaps while operating the store.
When the Johnson’s arrived from south-central Texas, the country for miles around was controlled by the Turkey Track Ranch through some deeds and leases. The ranch managers actively discouraged and intimidated any new would be settlers. Soon after the Johnson’s moved to Adobe Walls, representatives of the Turkey Track Ranch dropped by for a visit! They made it known to the Johnson’s that settlers were not welcome there.
Undeterred, OL quickly constructed a dug-out for shelter for his young family. He got a job from Postmaster Billy Dixon to carry the mail to and from Canadian City, about 60 miles distance from Adobe Walls. He rode mostly on horseback but sometimes drove a buck-board and two horses. He had to cross the Canadian River at some point before reaching Canadian. The river was always dangerous to ford and especially so following a rain anywhere upstream. While OL was carrying the mail, Alma tended the farm and operated the store. They soon were able to construct a larger sod house, so the family would have more comfortable quarters. The family always had plenty to eat, especially beef, as there were always a few unbranded yearlings nearby that anyone could claim.
OL became acquainted with the cowboys from the Turkey Track and made friends with some of them. One day, a cowboy by the name of John Coffey came by and told OL that “the Turkey Track did not have all that country leased and that if he wanted to settle there he could file in their horse pasture and tell them to “git”. OL went to the County Court House and did just that. The land was located on a little creek, with the bluff where Billy Dixon shot the Indian serving as OL’s north boundary. After filing on this land, OL then went to the breaks of the canyon and cut big logs of cottonwood and hewed the sides flat and built a log house. Lenora recounted it was three rooms with a fireplace in two of the rooms, the other room being the kitchen with is own stove. It was in this house that son Richard Malcom Johnson was born about 3 yrs after they arrived.
In April 1892 , OL made the land run into the Cheyenne-Arapaho Indian lands and claimed 160 acres located on the Washita River, just East of where Strong City is now situated. Ted Kimzey now owns and lives on that quarter section. It was owned by Weldon and Nelda Davis before Ted. The same John Coffey who had informed OL of his right to homestead in Texas, was one on OL’s neighbors.
OL was an industrious man who was confident of his abilities to build and produce with his hands. We will assume that OL learned the mill trade while working in the mill at Wimberly. Undoubtedly OL learned from his father to work with his hands, even though it appears he was somewhat handicapped by missing fingers on one hand. In September of 1893, OL bid on and received a contract from the county government of Roger Mills County to build a jail house for the sum of $462. The structure, located on the SE corner of the Court House Square, was to be 23 feet long, 14 feet wide and 10 feet tall.
Even though OL lived and farmed at his home on the Washita, his business ventures took him to both Hammon and Elk City. The Cheyenne Sunbeam newspaper reported in 1895 that OL had a large number of logs stacked for his mill at Elk City. According to news articles in the Cheyenne Sunbeam, OL moved his grinding mill to Elk City in the spring of 1895 but returned it to Cheyenne in the fall of that year. It appears that he made the move back to the Washita in order to benefit the area farmers who were paying high prices for ground grain. The mill was operated first by a gas or naphtha engine and later by electricity when that became available.
The 1900 census reports that OL and Alma had seven children living at home out of 10 born. One of these, a son, Forest, died in 1896 and was buried in the Snakey Bend Cemetery SW of Strong City. One of the daughters, Julia, married Will Cherry at Cheyenne and another daughter, Leona, married George Kendall in Cheyenne. George was severely injured in 1914 in a farm accident when a boiler blew up. He died from the effects of too much chloroform while being treated for his injuries. Will Cherry supposedly became a U. S. Marshall at Texline, Texas and later died in a bunk house fire under suspicious circumstances. Yet another daughter, Lenora, married Richard Howerton, the son of a Roger Mills County Commissioner. One of OL and Alma’s children, “Lula Flora“, is said to have born in Granny Cox’s house near where Strong City stands today.
When OL made his application for final proof on his homestead in 1901, he stated that he first built a 16×12 dugout and at the date of application his farm improvements consisted of a log and lumber house, barn, sheds, outhouse, corrals, a well, cistern, orchard and fencing. He also stated that he had a gristmill at Hammon. In 1900, the Cheyenne newspaper stated that OL had a partnership in a cotton gin with I. C. Thurmond, W. P Cherry and A. C. French, also located at Hammon. Shell Caffee, E. E. Tracy, John Coffey and Oscar Thurmond were his witnesses on his final proof. He later bought the Tom Cherry place adjoining his Washita farm on the west.
According to an article discovered in an old issue of the Cheyenne newspaper, the home that OL and Alma established on the Washita was the scene of a country dance on at least one occasion and probably others as the Johnson’s were one of the bellwether families in the area.
By the time Oklahoma Statehood was approved in1907, OL and Alma had sold their place on the Washita and had moved to Elk City, where OL was involved in several business ventures. In 1903, OL built and owned the “Elk City Light and Power Company”, the first electric light company for Elk City. He soon built Elk City’s first cotton gin and in 1908 became co-owner with John Stahl of the “Elk City Packing House”, another first for Elk City. The packing house had an ice plant and cold storage facility connected with it.
After several years of operating business firms in Elk City, OL Johnson sold out and moved to New Mexico where he purchased the old “Dittimore Ranch” on the Corrumpa River near Seneca in Union County, New Mexico, where the Canadian River finds its head. After suffering financial setbacks in the ranching business, as did many others, he began a sawmill business near Jemez Springs in Sandoval County. In 1920 he had a contract sawing logs and providing railroad ties for the Cuba Extension Railroad. By this time his sons and daughters were married and had left home. OL drew on the local Indians for a source of labor. .
In January of 1920 their son, Richard, died from injuries he sustained in WW1 and was buried at Clayton N.M. His son Charles who married in 1920 died in Gallup NM in 1930 and was buried in Gallup. .
OL operated his saw mill business alone until he died of a heart attack at LaVentana NM in 1928. His wife, Alma, died in Albuquerque in 1930. They are both buried in the Clayton N. M. Cemetery beside their son Richard. Their headstone inscription appropriately bears the title “Pioneers”.
OL and Alma were true pioneers of Western Oklahoma. They suffered many heartaches and trials in establishing a home and wresting a living from the land. OL was a man who sought opportunity wherever he could find it, even though today he might be thought of as handicapped and be thought not capable of accomplishing as much as he did in his lifetime. His family was the sort that made Roger Mills County, the State of Oklahoma and America great.
Footnote:: Many thanks to OL Johnson‘s decendants – Lenora Johnson Wilson, William Kishbaugh , Bettie Drewry and others who are responsible for providing much of the information contained in this biography. Their assistance is greatly appreciated.
Oklahoma Timeline for O L Johnson
The head of Elk Creek and the area that was to become Elk City was first surveyed by the US Government in1874.
In about 1887 OL Johnson , his wife Alma and 3 small girls joined other settlers and traveled from Wimberley, Hays County, Texas north in a horse drawn wagon. Some of the settlers turned back, some dropped out along the way, but OL and his family continued on, finally settling near Adobe Walls Texas on the South side of Adobe Walls Mountain. .
Between 1887 and 1892 , OL carried the mail from Adobe Walls Texas to Canadian Texas for Billy Dixon who was the appointed postmaster at Adobe Walls.
In 1892 the unsettled Western portion of Oklahoma Territory was opened for settlement by white settlers. It was referred to as “the run” by local settlers.
On April 22, 1892 , OL Johnson claimed 160 acres of land along the Washita River, just East of what was to become Cheyenne Oklahoma.
In 1892 the settlement of Cheyenne was established in Roger Mills County.
In Sept. 1893 a contract was let for OL Johnson to build a cell house or jail building to be 23ft long , 14 ft wide and 10 ft high. It was located on the S/E corner of the courthouse square in Cheyenne at a cost of $462.00.
In 1894 the town of Hammon was established East of Cheyenne in Custer County.
In February 1895 OL Johnson moved his sawmill from Cheyenne to Elk Creek. The Cheyenne newspaper reported that he had a large supply of logs stacked on Elk Creek.
In 1895 the first settler built a dug-out on Elk Creek where Elk City was soon to be established.
On April 12, 1895 , the Cheyenne newspaper reported a daughter born to Mr. & Mrs. OL Johnson the previous day . The daughter was my mother Lulu Flora Johnson.
Aug 2, 1895 the Cheyenne newspaper reported that OL Johnson would be moving his mill back to Cheyenne to grind corn for his customers there.
Oct.11, 1895 the Cheyenne newspaper reported that OL Johnson’s saw and grist mill would soon be in operation in Cheyenne as a permanent enterprise.
On Dec 13, 1895 the Cheyenne newspaper announced that OL Johnson was ready to start grinding for the farmers and would keep a full stock of chopped corn and meal.
May 21, 1896 a son Forest Johnson was born to OL and Alma Johnson.
July 19, 1896 , Forest Johnson, son of OL and Alma Johnson died and was buried at Snakey Bend Cemetery..
On Sept 25, 1898 OL Johnson bought land from Thomas M. Cherry where strong City Oklahoma is now located.
On Dec 7, 1900 OL Johnson advertised in the Cheyenne Sunbeam newspaper that he was prepared to do your ginning, will buy or gin your cotton for you in Hammon, Oklahoma.
In 1901 and six years after OL Johnson had established his sawmill on Elk Creek, and the first settler had built a dugout there, the railroad arrived. It brought with it, many new settlers and Cheyenne soon lost it’s place as the largest settlement in the area.
On March 18, 1901 Elk City was surveyed and divided into blocks, streets etc.
In 1901 a telephone company was established in Elk City and served the surrounding area It soon served almost 50 homes and businesses.
On 28 Jan.1902 OL Johnson sold his properties near Cheyenne to I.M. Huffer for the sum of $2400.00
In 1902 Fleas , Diphtheria, Scarlet Fever and Small Pox spread among the residents of Elk City, most of whom lived in dug-outs and tents.
In 1903, OL Johnson established the first Electric light company in Elk City .
In 1908, OL Johnson established an ice plant and cold storage facility in Elk City.He also went into partnership with Mr. John Stahl and established a pork processing and packing plant in Elk City.
In 1911, OL Johnson sold his Elk City enterprises and bought the old Dettemore Ranch on the Currumpa Creek east of Des Moines, Union County, New Mexico. The Corrumpa Creek was at the head of the Canadian River which flowed eastward across the Texas Panhandle and into Oklahoma.
By 1920 OL Johnson had sold his ranch on the Corrumpa Creek and bought a sawmill which he operated in the mountains around Jemez Springs New Mexico, N/W of Bernalillo New Mexico.