Wagons West

(This account of the life of Jim Johnson was copied from excerpts of speeches made by Jim and compiled by his son Lyle Johnson. In the interest of brevity and because of some repetition I have done some editing which I will try to indicate as (*). In this 21st century of high speed everything I hope you will find interest in "life in the slow lane".)

I was born on the first day of May, 1850 at Veile, Jyland, Denmark. On the first day of May, 1860, I started to work for a man named Wold and one dollar a month and one pound of wool every six months. In 1862 I worked for Nels Ebson six months for eight dollars, nothing on the side. In 1863 I started to work for my uncle Hans Paulson. I had no specified wages, I simply worked there and made my home there after I went to sea until March 1872. In 1868 I was drafted for the Navy and reported for duty on the first day of April 1869. During my service I was promoted to Captain of Battery no 2 and had charge of the sounding operations and of the guards of the lanterns and other lighting devices, and drew the same salary as an ordinary boatswain--the same as a sargeant. In the fall of 1869 I was present at the opening of the Suez Canal, in the Danish Cruiser named Jyland. At the declaration of war between Germany and France in 1870 we were at anchor outside of Liverpool, England and at once heaved anchor and made for home. I was transferred from Corventen Hielmdall to Monitor, and put in charge of the only cannon on board. I was discharged October 15 1870, at Copenhagen. Shortly after October 15, 1870 on returning to my uncle's I went into draining and irrigation, at which I worked until March 1872 when I started for America by way of Aarshus, Copenhagen, Hull and Liverpool.

In the spring of 1872 there was such a rush of emigrants that we were stopped at Copenhagen two weeks, and when crossing the North Sea everybody you might say took care of himslf excepting we had plenty to eat, but that was easy for three-fourths of the emigrants were sea sick and those that knew what was going on with the exception of a few never expected to reach England. But we got there alright and crossed from Hull to Liverpool in cars, and when we arrived there it was another two weeks wait. However the company had to take care of us and when we did ship it was on an old cattle tramp steamer. Every convenience was rough but there was the best of order on board. Our bunks were made of rough lumber but each had his place to sleep. After leaving Liverpool we anchored out of Queenstown, Ireland, and there we took on about three hundred more emigrants. They seemed to take charge of the forward deck, and ordered others to get off or stand aside. Some did not obey and a rough house started but the ringleaders of the Irish were immediately handcuffed and taken below and those that were left were told that unless they behaved they would all go below and stay there and that meant not only just then, but as long as they were on that vessel. Those that were put in irons were not seen on deck again across the Atlantic which took twelve days. We arrived at Castlegarden about April 25, 1872 and there each group had a space assigned to them: the Scandinavians, the Germans, and in fact they had a space for each country and plenty of room left. Within two days we were on an emigrant train bound for Chicago. That was the spring after the big fire in 1871. We stopped in Chicago a couple of days, and there we told that jobs were plentiful and better wages in Minneapolis, but when we arrived in Minneapolis we found this to be far from true.

(*Here a rather long account of working in the logging and lumber business in MN which I have omitted)

In 1878 I quit working for others and started farming. The first year was used to break up land, get logs for stable and granary and fencing for 160 acres. In the fall of 1878 I was out at the Big Bend of the Sheyenne River and helped J.L.Colton pick up for the winter, and on the morning I left I told Ida that I would be back for her in a year, and that would give her plenty of time to think it over. She replied, "I do not need any time, come back for me and I will be ready to go with you." On the 11th day of November 1879 I started for the Big Bend which they called Lisbon. We left Lisbon on the 26th of November and on Thanksgiving Day, November 27 1879 we were married at Fargo, Dakota Territory and on the following day started for our home east of Frazee City. We surely put in a busy winter hauling logs and fencing. When building the fence in the spring, we got along without any help. Ida held one end of the rail while I spiked the other to the post. We put in a big crop but as we were about to harvest a hailstorm destoryed most of it, but we went to work and Ida drove the harvester and I bound the grain, and while she got supper or any other meal I shocked up what we had cut. In 1879 I invested in a threshing machine together with two others and we did make a little money, but after paying for the machine there was very little left. We prepared for a big crop in 1881 and we got it. The prices were good so we paid up everything. It seemed as if everybody were looking for new locations that year. Others and myself made a trip into the Red River country. I made another trip into the Sisseton Reservation in the territory of Dakota but it did not suit. We had another good crop in 1882 and that fall we sold out the farm for mother's people wanted us to come to the territory of Dakota. We made an agreement that as soon as the spring opened up we were to make a trip to the Mouse River country, a tract of land or a valley 150 miles West of Devils Lake which was then the outpost of civilization in that direction and Bismarck was about the same distance. Very little was known about this country at that time. We traveled up the river from Villard. Villard was about six miles north of Wintering River where a stick was driven in the ground with a board upon which was written: "Villard Townsite". Passing up the river about 15 or 20 miles further we came to another place which was posted in the same manner: "Skriptown". Neither of those places were ever improved We passed on on up the river to the junction of the Mouse and Des Lacs Rivers, now known as Burlington.

One strange thing that happened on our way was when we crossed the Sheyenne River. That spring it covered more than one-fourth mile across. Thirtyfour teams were camped there when we drove up and we camped there one day and then crossed the river while the others were looking on. Of course we probably would not do that now, for if anything had happened to our wagon box we would have been planted there. Being young and having confidence in oneself one can do wonders with excersizing good judgement. Again at Wintering River the water was so clear that it looked an easy task to cross but before we got out the box was hanging on the head bolster, and I holding the lines with one hand and standing on the reach in water up to my waist, but we got across and stopping the team as we struck the bank we saved everything and after spreading out the stuff that got wet were ready to go the next morning. We had travelled only a few miles when we came to Yankee Robinson's cabin. He claimed to be one of the Hudson Bay pack men, and there was no use to get away from him so we again spread out our stuff and got hay for the team. So far we had kept on the upland. When we came to the bend where Velva now stands we entered the bottom and there was about six to eight inches of water all over. We continued up the river as I said before to the junction of the Mouse and Des Lacs Rivers where we experimented with coal and found that it kept fire overnight. Satisfying ourselves that we had struck the right spot, we left from where the Great Northern built that big bridge and struck out for Fort Stevenson. There was no trail but taking the direction from an old map we crossed in a day and a half and came right to the big bluff where the fort was located in the Missouri River valley. We applied for permission to camp and were told: "Camp anywhere except on the green"

(This trip was made by Jim, Mr Colton and a man named Rogers. Rogers decided to go back to NY and I believe he and Mr Colton left by stage for Bismarck and by train back East. Mr Colton then returned by train and boat with the women and other possessions and from Ft Stevenson by wagon to the Souris valley. Jim returns to the forks and begins building. The trail he describes for his return is later called the "Jim Johnson" trail in a book on the history of Garrison by a Dr Robinson).

The next morning our attorney left on the stage for Bismarck, and I picked up provisions: potatos, oats and a barrel of flour. It took all my skill as a navigator to keep the right direction. In the first place I got out of the valley about two miles from where we came down for we came down about one and a half miles West of Stevenson and I left where there was a coulee and there was where I got off my course. I could see or at least I thought I was too far West, and the fact was I could not see a single place I recognized. The following day about noon as I came to what was called Ross Lake I recognized the place and I came upon our track from the East. After travelling about two or three miles I came upon a great big rock, one of the landmarks I did remember and I placed a rock on top of it and stopped the team several times to put a couple of rocks upon the hills as guide posts if I were to come that way again. Two or three miles further at Stoney Lake I came upon the Buffalo trail. I had followed from the river out that far and I had no more trouble to keep the trail and the funny part of it was that we never found a better trail than the one I struck out coming back, and for years this became the main and only trail to Fort Stevenson. A year or two after that I made a trail to Coal Harbor by leaving the Stevenson trail about twenty miles out, then struck off in a South and Easterly direction. It was called the cut-off and joined the Bismarck road off Wolf Creek. The fact was that I was the first person that came back to the river the same place he went out.

The summer of 1883 was a busy season. Everything had to be done before winter set in. We were getting along fine, the stable was completed and the house was up minus door and windows which had been ordered from Bisharck to be shippped by boat to Fort Stevenson. We were hauling in supplies and lumber but they had not arrived. About Nov 1 Mr Spoklie and I made a trip to Fort Stevenson to clean up the lumber that was there and it so happened we got there the day that the soldiers left Stevenson on boat for Buford. I was very disappointed--my doors and windows were not on board. As this was one of the last boats and as the fort was now abandoned the boats would not stop there anymore. The following day we started for home very heavily loaded. When we had gone about fifteen to sixteen miles a party of about seventy-five Indians were coming over a raise headed right for us. This was what struck me: the fort had been abandoned and they might be up to mischief. Well when they came closer about half of them went for Spoklie's wagon and the other half for mine. They demanded food so I gave them some, and I saw one that wore the Indian police uniform. I told him to tell me what they were up to and he said someone had cut the fince and eighteen to twenty ponies had been taken out of the pasture and that was what they were looking for. In the meantime Spoklie was not faring so good. They took all his provisions and his pipe and tobacco but they took nothing from me except what I gave them, but let me say right here that I have seen more pleasant things than when I first saw those Indians coming down upon us. I learned afterwards that Indians on the Berthold reservation always were and had been friendly. As soon as I got back I started for Bismarck and when I got there it was found that the windows and doors had been billed to Fort Buford in lieu of Stevenson. Of course I got others and started for home. The weather was getting cold and it looked as if it would storm anytime, and if there ever was a tired team it was mine. I got home during the night and the following morning neither I nor the team paid any attention to Mother. She said the horses slept through when she was milking though one seemed to notice when she let the cows out, but never got up. Well when the doors and windows were in place we were ready for the winter. The placing of petition and so forth could all be done at any time. We took a few days off for hunting and trapping. Deer were pleantiful and there were mink, muskrat and a few otters along the river. The beaver wee pretty much trapped to finish the winter and spring before. Antelope were here by the hundreds.

(The following an incident when Jim was alone "squatting" on claims and starting to build, probably the barn first if I know farmers.

In the spring of 1883 a man settled at the Junction of the Mouse and Des Lacs rivers. He got quite a reputation and was known as "The man in the forks". He was looking after two or three claims for friends of course there was no secret about that. He told anyone who happened to come around that such a place was taken by such a person, so one day three men drove up to where he was working at the basement where he calculated to build a house. They inquired if he knew "The man in the forks" and he said he did . They told him they understood he was a tough character and they asked "the man in the forks" if he stole horses and he said "No but every horse thief that comes along stops here." They said that they had heard that and they went off to look for "the man in the forks". Of course they didn't find him and came back a little sore and asked if I was the man in the forks. I said yes and they asked how many claims do you hold? Here I pointed in the direction of a big stone that laid up pretty much to the top of the bluff and I asked him if he saw that stone. I said "You go up there and just as far as you can see it is mine." They asked how I was going to hold all that and I picked up my Winchester and patted it on the butt and told them that would hold them. Of course they left and spread the joyful news down the river.

(I have omitted the accounts of obtaining the Post Office and getting the Townships surveyed and also the later loss of the county seat to Minot. Again these accounts are in the Burlington Centennial book.)

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