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Lewis Johnson circa 1795 - 1857

Lewis Johnson was born in the 1790s in Tennessee or North Carolina, to parents whose names are presently unknown. He likely came of age and married in north central Tennessee. His elder sister Margaret became the wife of Ennis Burris of Jackson County, Tennessee in about 1810. The records of Jackson County, Tennessee were destroyed in a courthouse fire, so additional information about Lewis' and Margaret's origin has been difficult to obtain.

In the years around 1820, a number of residents of Jackson and White counties in Tennessee relocated to the area known as "Little Dixie" in west central Missouri. Included were intermarried families bearing the Bounds, Burris, Cash, Cole, Cox, Johnson, and Linville surnames. Lewis Johnson and his young family were among these migrants. He settled first in Ray County Missouri, lived next in Lillard (now Lafayette) County, and is found in 1830 in neighboring Saline County. By 1832 Lewis had pre-empted land on the Osage River in Benton County, Missouri and was one of the earliest settlers in that locale.

Much evidence of Lewis Johnson's central Missouri residency can be found in the dockets of county courts in the region. He was often a party in legal matters, as a plaintiff, defendent or witness. The types of cases include trespass, and assault and battery, along with matters of debt. In the early 1840s, Lewis failed to repay mortgages on his Benton County property. By 1844 the last of the land passed to Moses Johnson of Lafayette County, who was likely Lewis' brother, and the Youngers of Clay County Missouri.

Lewis Johnson probably left Benton County in the middle 1840s following the loss of his farm. In 1850 he and wife, Margaret, and their younger children are found in Nodaway County, Missouri, neighbors to the family of his brother-in-law, Ennis Burris. At some time in the early 1850s, Lewis Johnson moved his family north to Mills County, Iowa and Cass County, Nebraska. His son-in-law, John Hudgens with wife Cinderella and family, and Lewis' older sons, John and Seth Johnson, also moved to the area. All are found in the earliest voter lists and censuses of Cass County, NE between 1854 and 1856.

One infamous night in March or April of 1857 Lewis Johnson and his son John, as well as two other residents of Cass County, were apparently killed and their bodies placed in the Missouri River never to be recovered. A number of descriptions of this incident can be found in Cass County histories and other published biographical reminiscences, mostly recorded decades later. The accounts vary widely (see links immediately below). Lewis and John Johnson were either feared outsiders suspected of claim jumping and worse, or were simply killed for their money by a mob of local residents.

  1. Club Law, Cass County Part I. In: History of the State of Nebraska. Published by the Western Historical Company, A. T. Andreas proprietor. (Chicago, 1882) Use your browser's 'Find' function to look for Lewis Johnson.
  2. FM Young reminiscence, "Plat Book of Cass County, Nebraska" compiled and published by The Brown-Scoville Publishing Co. (Des Moines; 1905).
  3. John Stull account (see fifth paragraph). Portrait and Biographical Album of Otoe and Cass Counties: continued Chapman Brothers; (Chicago: 1889). Selected biographies; pgs. 1125 - 1126
  4. Beginnings of Cass County; "Over the River" BY L.G. Todd." Plat Book of Cass County, Nebraska"compiled and published by The Brown-Scoville Publishing Co. (Des Moines; 1905).

Missouri and parts westward were tumultuous throughout the 19th century, settled by ambitious and often aggressive individualists. Lewis Johnson appears to have fit this mold; other evidence about his personality and nature has not survived to the present. Despite whatever circumstances may have shaped his character and life, he was clearly devoted to family. His demise is a sad reminder of the arbitrary cruelty and misfortune which were occasionally produced by the difficulties of frontier life.


Joe De Gisi
3rd great grandson
February 17, 2001

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Last Modified on:Sunday, 06-Dec-2015 09:58:45 MST