California Genealogy and History Archives
Failing health was the direct cause of bringing Mr. Johnson to California, and it is a matter of no speculation to say that in finally taking up his residence here his life was prolonged many years. Not only was his life extended, but his health was so completely restored that he was enabled to take his place in the activities of life alongside of those of the most robust and sturdy constitutions. His death at Pleasant Hill, Sonoma county, November 12, 1909, was the cause of general mourning throughout the community where for over a quarter of a century he had lived and labored, endearing himself to all by his generous and wholesome traits of character.
William Johnson was born in Sweden in 1842, and at the age of twelve years came to the United States with an uncle, who settled on a farm in Illinois, and for whom William worked until he was sixteen years of age. Subsequently he engaged in railroading and other work until he was twenty-four years old, an experience which proved to him the advisability of returning to farming as the most independent and satisfactory life. With the idea that a better chance for carrying out his agricultural plans was possible in Nebraska, he located there in 1866, then a wild and unsettled country, inhabited solely by Indians who gained sustenance by hunting buffalo and plundering and pillaging upon such white settlers as ventured on their territory. This condition of affairs made it necessary to build a fort at Grand Island, to which the settlers fled for safety whenever a raid was threatened by the redskins. Mr. Johnson helped to build the fort, and also hauled the logs for the erection of the first home built on the present site of Grand Island. While in Nebraska he was also employed by the Union Pacific Railroad Company in the construction of its road through that state, and after its completion he took up farming near Wood River on government land. The original purchase consisted of one hundred and sixty acres, which he increased by purchase until he laid claim to four hundred acres of fine land, his farm easily taking rank with the best in that locality.
Long years of unremitting labor under the difficult of pioneer conditions finally made inroads upon Mr. Johnnsonís health, and in 1875 he came to California, in the hope that a period spent in the health-giving sunshine which Nature here dispenses with such lavish hand would restore his old-time strength and vigor. As he had anticipated, the change proved beneficial, and he returned to Nebraska and resumed his duties on the farm with a new interest. He continued on the farm near Wood River for three years thereafter, when his health again failing, he sold his farm and took up his residence in town, where he engaged in buying and selling produce, stock and grain, which he shipped to Chicago markets, building up a large business. Although the duties imposed by this latter business were less onerous than farming, the long, cold winters in Nebraska prevented any marked betterment in his physical condition, and for this reason he again tried a change of climate, going this time to Manitou, Colo., and also to Colorado Springs, but after a short stay in that state he came to California and from that time until his death this was his home. With his family he arrived in Sonoma county May 28, 183, and on June 6 of the same year he bought the ranch at Pleasant Hill where his earth life came to a close November 12, 1909, and where his widow still makes her home. In 1902 Mr. Johnson had retired from active business, at the same time placing the management of the ranch in the hands of his son-in-law, Ernest Sharp, who has continued its management ever since. Seventy-three acres are comprised in this ranch, the greater part of which is in apples, all the best varieties being grown, and some of the trees although fifty years old are still in bearing. In addition to the home ranch there are twenty-six acres of hay land owned by the family, besides a fine ranch nearby in vineyard and apples. For the season of 1909 the vineyard produced forty tons of grapes, and the orchard about sixty tons of dried apples. In addition to the property enumerated Mrs. Johnson owns eighty-two acres of timber land in Green Valley.
Mr. Johnsonís marriage was celebrated in Nebraska, September 29, 1870, and united him with Miss Melinda Hohman. Three children were born of this marriage: Mary Elizabeth, the wife of Robert Ritchie, of Santa Rosa; David Edward, also of Santa Rosa; and Alice Melinda, the wife of Ernest Sharp, of Pleasant Hill. None of Sonoma countyís residents took a more active part in her upbuilding than did Mr. Johnson, and his death was the cause of deep regret on the part of those who had been associated with him.
Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011