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History of Johnson

The Johnson Family: The Johnson Mill A Tradition

In 1956, I married into the Johnson famiiy of 'Johnson- Switch.'

Having been reared in a history loving family, the pure raw courage of the Johnson ancestors to put up stakes in Tennessee and make new lives for themselves in Arkansas fascinated me.

Spending every family gathering listening to Frank and Dayne talk about the family and occasionally hearing their cousins enter into the 'telling' was a delight.

In 1991, as the INN AT THE MILL was being built, I felt now was the time to write the story and see it in print.

I hope you will enjoy reading about the Johnsons and if you would like more information about the family, please write to: MEJ, 4912 Trout Farm Springdale, AR 7Z762.

The story of the Johnson family as written (December, 1991 By Mary Ellen Johnson, wife of Marion Leroy Johnson, son of Dayne and Mamie (Wilson) Johnson.

Sparks of anger and frustration flew from Frank Johnson's eyes as the deputy sheriff questioned him the day a thief stole the bell from over the front gate to the Johnson House.

"Can you identify the person who took your bell, Mr. Johnson?" Asked the young man.

"Mister, If I had seen him you wouldn't have to ask, he would be laying out here, shot." For years Frank would talk about that day with strong feelings. The family really believed he just might have done it had he seen the bell being taken.

Frank and Edith Johnson were proud of the cast iron dinner bell hanging over the front gate of the two-story brick house J. Q. Johnson built shortly after the Civil War. The bell was in excellent working condition and Frank kept it painted aluminum color so it would shine.

One day at noon, while Edith and Frank sat in the kitchen of the Johnson House eating lunch, a thief robbed them of this family treasure.

Frank missed it immediately as he went through the gate returning to work at the mill across the road from the house.

This incident is typical of the strong nature of the Johnson men, self-made men of character and stamina when faced with adversity.

A proud, loyal family man, Frank kept family stories and traditions alive for the younger generations of Johnson's. Much of what the family knows of their heritage has come from Frank's telling and scraps of information he collected over the years.

In 1889, Goodspeed's Publishing House, Chicago, Illinois, sent circuit riders through northwest Arkansas(and many other places) collecting biographies and histories for books they printed. Called "Goodspeed's these books are often a familys only source documenting ancestors. The Johnson family was one family biography found in Goodspeed's.

Our story begins with Frank Johnson's paternal great-grandparents, James and Mary Queener Johnson. James and Mary (Queener) Johnson came from Campbell County, Tennessee, in the early 1850s to southern Missouri and shortly there after to northwest Arkansas.

James was born in 1799 either in North Carolina or Virginia. The family has not verified his place of birth at this time. He fought in the Black Hawk War in 1832 and Goodspeed's reported that he fought with "great credit to his country."Mary Queener was born September 29, 1803 in Campbell County, Tennessee. It was in this county James met Mary and later they were married here. James served as a Justice of the Peace for several terms and as Sheriff for one term.

James, 55 and Mary, 51 had became parents of ten children, all of whom were about grown when the family pulled up stakes and headed west.Two of the boys, Jacob Queener (J. Q.) and Benjamin Franklin (B.F.) came on to Arkansas with the family but some of the older adult married children stayed in Missouri.

Our story centers around the two brothers, J. Q. who was 22 years old and B. F. who was 16 in 1854 when the family arrived in Washington County, Arkansas.

One can only imagine the fun and excitement these two young men had on the trail. Traveling by teams of oxen pulling wagons, crossing the Mississippi on barges, swimming the teams across smaller rivers and creeks,and seeing new country every day as the family forged westward.

The Butterfield Overland Stage connected Fayetteville,Arkansas, commercially with the rest of the world in the early1850s. It was just a few years prior to the Civil War(began in 1861) so talk of secession, discussions of states rights to choose how they would deal with the slavery issue,and political standpoints of the time must have on their minds and tongues. The Johnson family has always been interested in politics. Much later in his life, B. F. went to Little Rock(the state capitol) with a railroad lobbying group

Two sisters from Madison County, Rietta and Nancy Boatright caught the eyes of the Johnson brothers and soon they were married, J. Q. married Rietta and B. F. married Nancy.

Goodspeed's reported the families as living under the "paternal" roof, so we assume that the boys stayed on to help their father with the family farm.

Nancy gave birth to four children before she died in 1863 but only two lived, J. O. (Oliver) and Mary L. The Civil War was raging when Nancy died.

J. Q. and B. F. had chosen the side of the Federal Army, joined Company B, First Regiment, Arkansas Calvary under Col. Harrison.

B. F. was shot in the left arm during a skirmish at White Oak. J. Q. was more fortunate and came home totally uninjured.

In 1864, Lydia Lewis, daughter of wealthy Middle Forkmill owner George Lewis, became B. F.'s new bride and took over the care and raising of B. F. and Nancy's two surviving children.

Frank McConnell wrote about the wedding supper, "Mr. Johnson was still in the military service when he married his second wife July 24, 1864. She was Lydia Lewis, daughter of George W. and Lettie Mills Lewis. An elaborate wedding supper was prepared at the home of George W. Lewis. The Confederates heard about this and went to the home of Mr. Lewis thinking they might capture Ben Johnson. News of their coming had already reached the Lewis home and Johnson, without the supper, made his escape as the women folks hurriedly hid the supper in the 'loft' as the second story was called in those days.

The Confederate force, under the command of Captain Tuck Smith arrived as expected and proceeded to eat what they thought was the wedding supper. Captain Smith went out of his way to thank Mrs. Lewis, Mrs. B. F. Ramey, and the bride for the 'goodsupper' they had prepared, only to be told that the real supper had been hidden from them.

The war ended and once again the Johnson family turned their attention to rearing children and making a living. Lydia and B. F. had 13 children which they raised on a 1,000 acre farm in the Middle Fork valley southeast of Fayetteville. Here they built a brick home which at that time was frequently called a 'mansion.'

The acquiring of the land and building of the house took several years and the story has been told down through the years that B. F. refused to wear any under garments as long as he was in debt. Perhaps being uncomfortable reminded him of the indebtedness.

J. Q. and Rietta turned their attentions towards a small community laying between Fayetteville and Springdale(formerly Shiloh) where a mill site remained after the Confederate forces burned the original mill. The community was later named Johnson.

Bobbie Byars Lynch, a noted area historian, wrote an article titled, "Early Mills of Washington County" where she talked about the origins of what later became the Johnson Mill.

Lynch noted some 1834 surveyor's field notes gave the name, Truesdale Mill to the location which in 1860 was known as Button's Mill.

Button's Mill, which belonged to Seneca Button's widow, Isabella Button, was listed in the Arkansas Products of Industry Census for 1860 as being valued at $10,000 and processed $40,000 worth of grain per year.

[A note of interest, Isabella Button was the first appointed post mistress in the area of what is known today as the town of Johnson.]

In November, 1865, a deed was filed transferring the mill property, with 'improvements and appurtenances' to William, Samuel and Lucinda Mayes and Jacob Q. and Rhetta J. Johnson. [Ed. note: the spelling of Rietta's names changes several times on various documents.]

Two years later, 1867, J. Q. Johnson registered as the miller of 'Spring Mill.' It is believed reconstructing the present mill took about two years.

In 1880, J. Q. and Rietta, bought the Mayes family's share in the mill and it became known as the 'Johnson Mill', a name it carried for the next 111 years.

J. Q. was 61 years old and B. F. was 54 when their biographies were published in Goodspeed's.

 

- See attached PDF for Goodspeed's Bio -

 

Burtis Benjamin (B. B.) Johnson was the youngest son of B. F. and Lydia. B. B. had been born in the barn while the Johnson house in the Middle Fork valley was being built.

B. B. met and married Arminta Josephine Lichlyter of Johnson. The young couple lived on the farm in the Middle Fork Valley until a startling development occured, changing the route the family would take the rest of their lives.

This is the way B. F.'s side of the family heard the story.

J. Q. and Rietta were very much in awe of the handsome house B. F. and Lydia were building in the Middle Fork valley and wanted one similiar to it built near the mill. J. Q. borrowed money from B. F. for the construction and proceeded to build a much fancier showplace than B. F. and Lydia had chosen to build.

While J. Q. and Rietta's house was under construction an accident occured touching off angry words forever breaking the bonds of brotherhood between J. Q. and B. F.

James, the boys father was by this time a widower and lived with B. F. and Lydia.  A member of the family became ill who lived a long distance away, B. F. and Lydia felt a need to go to her bedside. James could not stay alone as she had become very feeble so they took him to J. Q. and Rietta's house to be cared for in their absence.

B. F. warned J. Q. to not put 'Papa' in an upstairs room as the stair railings were not in place and the elderly man could fall and hurt himself.

However, not heeding the warning, James was put to bed upstairs and in the night he fell, suffering injuries which he died from a few days later.

B. F. and Lydia were sent a wire to return home immediately which they did.

When James died, B. F. and J. Q. got into a heated argument blaming their father's death on each other. The rage and fury was so strong that at the first opportunity,B. F. repossessed the Mill and Johnson House from his brother and gave the entire property to his own son, B. B. Johnson.

But these things take time. Actually repossession did not take place until 1898; by this time B. B. and 'Josie' had three children, Frank, Dayne and Ruby.

In 1906 photographs were taken at the Johnson House near the Johnson Mill of the family. B. F. and Lydia occupied the house at that time along with B. B., Josie and the three little ones.

B. F. and J. Q.'s sister, Lucinda Hope tried to reconcile the brothers by inviting their wives to a meal at her home as Lucinda lay on her death bed.

From notes found in Frank Johnson's papers in 1982:

"On Wednesday, the 16th day of January, at 6:00 a.m., 1889, Mrs. Lucinda, wife of R.T. Hope, near the town of West Fork, departed this life. Mrs.Hope had been seriously ill for several weeks, and expressed an earnest desire to have a longer lease on life, that she might be permitted to enjoy the society of her relatives and friends here. She said had it been God's will she would like to have lived twenty years longer, but that she was not afraid to die. She further stated that she had toiled hard all her life and had just got out of debt and in circumstances that she could have enjoyed life more pleasantly. At noon on the 15th, the day before her death,she rallied and rested somewhat easier for a time, and during this interval she requested that Mrs. Calvin Stockburger, Mrs. J. Q. Johnson and Mrs. B. F. Johnson would take dinner with her for the last time in this life and agreeable to her request the nartips being present the dinner was prepared and spread before them. The victim of death then taking charge in person herself, passing the various refreshments, serving with her own hands each one of those, her most trusted and warmest friends in this world of trouble and affliction saying, 'I want you to eat with me for the last time' and remarked that she would never live to see another day, and finished her remarks by urgently requesting them all to meet her in heaven, and true to her prophecy, at 6:00 a.m. the following morning she passed away."

By bringing together the wives of her two feuding brothers, Lucinda had hoped to somehow bring about a reconciliation. Her efforts failed.

 

 Marion Frank, Burtis Dayne, and Ruby enjoyed living at the Johnson House. Many stories are told of social events hosted by the family and of the wonderful holiday gatherings.

 Ruby married but did not have any children.

 Frank married Edith Hinshaw, they had no children, either.

 Dayne married Mamie Wilson of Baldwin community, they had seven children, so Josie and B. B. fell into grandparenthood with zest and zeal.

 B. B. was a short fellow, about 5' 3" and weighed no more than 130 Ibs. if that much. He was blessed with a clever mind and enjoyed building houses and other things. Creative genius was not in his best interests. Once he constructed a photo-graphic lab for developing pictures and blew the lab up with himself inside. Pictures of a blackened 'little Grandpa' still are found in family albums. He also blackened garments hanging on the back porch which can be seen behind him.

B. B. smoked a pipe outside the house. He never smoked inside. Passing the house even on a day when snow as on the ground, he could be seen sitting or standing on the front porch, pipe in hand.

Another family tale of little Grandpa was that he frowned upon the idea of indoor sanitary plumbing. It is unnatural for man to answer the call of nature anywhere other than outdoors." He susposedly said. His sentiments were so strong that later in life when his health failed him and Frank was concerned for him to use the outhouse, Frank had to tear the outhouse down in an effort to stop B. B. from going outside on cold winter days.

The family suspected later that B. B. found a clump of brush behind the smokehouse when nature called but he was never caught.

Edith and Frank made a very good team working together, in marriage, business and church. For a number of years, Frank was the Treasurer of the Johnson Baptist Church and Edith was the Secretary. The Johnson family helped charter the Johnson Baptist Church.

Dayne's children grew up in the Johnson House and Mill. Edith delighted in making shirts for the boys and dressess for the girls.

A bowl of mint candies sat on the buffet at the Johnson House and the children knew it was there, tempting them after a meal. One of the boys, Marion Leroy, pulled out the drawers one by one to climb up and get a mint. A crash brought Edith and Frank running when the buffet turned over on a very astonished little boy. He wasn't hurt, so they gave him a mint and told him next time to just ask.

B. B. passed the Johnson Mill on to Frank who operated it until 1978 when a broken hip forced him to retire.

Stringent government rules about the grinding of feeds were about to force costly adjustments to be made at the Mill, so Frank chose to close it rather than to comply with the new regulations.

Edith passed away and Frank remarried hoping to fill the empty void in his life. But less than two years later, Frank died also.

For the first time since 1865, the Johnson Mill was out of the Johnson family. An era had passed with only memories and "what if's" remaining.

The smell of cornmeal along with the sound of Uncle Frank shaking down a sack of meal before tying a string around the top was gone. His last grinding had been of worm feed for earthworm growers in the area. Hand grinding the special feed was time consuming but Frank enjoyed the novelty of it and gladly showed the process to any and all who were interested.

Today a very comfortable, INN AT THE MILL, is open for business where once a mill ran, preserving the structure in some ways while keeping the past alive for visitors.

Walnut beams set in place in 1865 still stand, open for viewing and touching. A reminder of another time when milling was a much needed profession and a millwright was a man to be admired.

Another time a new beginning.

 

References:

Madison County Record, Sesquicentennial Edition 1838-1986"Boatright Family In Madison County"

Flashback, November, 1980; "The Benjamin F. Johnson Residence, Middle Fork Valley" by C. Allen Brown

Flashback, February & May 1975 "Early Mills of Washington County" by Bobbie Byars Lynch

Northwest Arkansas Times. January 20,1986, story of Johnson Mill

Goodspeed's History of Northwest Arkansas, 1889

 

Chronology:

1799....James Johnson born January 4th

1803....Mary Queener born September 29th

1828....J. Q. Johnson born in Campbell Co., TN

1835....B. F. Johnson born in Campbell Co., TN

1839....Nancy Kiesta Boatright born Feb. 27th

1850....James, Mary and children moved to Arkansas

1852....J. Q. & Rietta Johnson were married

1863....Nancy Kiesta Boatright Johnson died

1864....B. F. Johnson married Lydia Lewis

1865....Deed on file; Truesdale-Sutton Mill purchased by J. Q. Johnson and the Mayes family

1876....Mary Queener Johnson died

1880....Mayes family sold their interest in the Mill to the Johnson's

1884....James Johnson died following an accident

1889....Lucinda Johnson Hope died

1901....Marion Frank Johnson was born

1903....Burtos (Burtice) Dayne Johnson was born

1949....the Johnson Mill was given to Marion Frank Johnson

1978....the Johnson Mill ceased operating as a feed mill