By CLARENCE B. DOUGLAS
William Benjamin Johnson, son of Thomas Benjamin Johnson and Sarah Jane Slater (Johnson), was born near Big Bone Springs, Boone County, Kentucky, on November 18, 1860. In his youth, his parents moved to Covington, Kentucky, where his father was engaged in farming and flatboating tobacco and other supplies to New Orleans by way of the Mississippi River. He received his B. A. degree from Ghent College, Chentae, Kentucky, in 1879, and his LL. B. degree from the University of Michigan, at Ann Arbor, in 1882. Johnson came to Gainesville Texas, in 1882, where he entered the law office of Davis & Garnett, although not as a member. He married Annie Conlee of Gainesville, Texas, on January 26, 1886.
In 1890, Johnson was appointed United States Commissioner at Ardmore, Indian Territory, and moved to Ardmore, where he resided until his death April 22, 1939. He resigned his position as U. S. Commissioner and formed a partnership with A. C. Cruce under the firm name of Johnson & Cruce. Later Lee Cruce, the second Governor of Oklahoma, joined the partnership and the firm name was changed to Johnson, Cruce, & Cruce.
On January 14, 1898, he was appointed by President William McKinley as Attorney for the United States Courts for the Southern District of Indian Territory, succeeding his former partner, A. C. Cruce. On December 17, 1901, he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, to succeed himself for another four years from January 14, 1902, which position he continued to hold until 1906. On December 18, 1905, President Roosevelt, through the Attorney General ordered his removel from office and the same day the President canceled the former order of removal, both telegrams being received December 18, 1905.
On April 11, 1911, Johnson was appointed Lieutenant Colonel on the staff of Governor Lee Cruce, his former law partner and on November 25, 1912, was appointed delegate to the American Mining Congress at Spokane, Washington, by Governor Cruce. He was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States on April 18, 1927. With the breaking up of the tribal relations of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians in 1906, Johnson was appointed by the government of the Chickasaws to represent that nation in all matters of citizenship and allotment of lands; he served in this capacity until practically all legal matters had been concluded.
On April 22, 1889, when "Old Oklahoma" was opened, he was a passenger on the first train north, into Oklahoma. He described that momentous event as follows:
On April 22, 1889, the forbidden territory of Oklahoma was opened for settlement. I was a passenger on the first train on the Santa Fe that went north. There were many from Gainesville, Texas, many of whom I have forgotten but I do remember Pat Ware, W. A. Ledbetter, John Lewis, Moran Scott, Charley Gilpin and D. B. McCall. Scott was a small man and McCall a large one and very portly. These two made themselves the entertainers of the crowd. When the train reached Ardmore, then a small hamlet, they got out on the platform and said they would give a bear dance. Scott had a small string around McCall's neck and led him out and caused him to dance around and with him, to the amusement of all. At Pauls Valley, this was repeated.
No one was to enter the Territory until noon, so the train remained at Purcell until the time arrived to go in. John Lewis, while at Purcell, went to each place and purchased all the pint tin cups they had and when he returned with the cups on a twine, the bunch was so large he could not enter the train. He was not to be headed off, so he went to the rear, got up on the platform and let the cups hang out. No one could find out what he wanted with them. After we reached Oklahoma City, he sold them for 25 cents each, making a handsome profit, for no one, it seems, had made any arrangements like that, and the only drinking place was a well near the depot. During the next day, a man took charge of the well and sold one all he could drink for a nickle. The soldiers discovered him there and made him skip out.
There were many amusing incidents on that crowded trip. Every available space was occupied, and the train, after it left Purcell, travelled only about five miles an hour, so that those who wished to do so could drop off, which many did, to secure a homestead. The first night no one could find a place to sleep, so several of us slept on the ground under an elm tree east of the City, and it was not so warm or pleasant.
To his marriage with Annie Conlee, four children were born, three of whom survive him, Doran Garnett Johnson, Grace Johnson Ward, and Thomas Green Johnson. The fourth child, William Dougherty Johnson, died in infancy.
Near the close of a busy life he was made a member of the "Oklahoma Hall of Fame," November 16, 1938. At the time of his death he was the senior member of the law firm of Johnson, McGill & Johnson in Ardmore.
The firm of Johnson, Cruce and Cruce wrote its name large on the legal and political history of Indian Territory and the State of Oklahoma. Johnson, a Republican, was appointed by Presidents McKinley and Roosevelt, United States Attorney for the Indian Territory and President Grover Cleveland appointed A. C. Cruce to the same position soon after his inauguration. Lee Cruce, the Junior member of the firm, was elected Governor of Oklahoma succeeding C. N. Haskell, the first Governor of the State. Lee Cruce married a woman of Indian descent and was for years the trusted adviser of the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians. A. C. Cruce late in life was the law partner of Judge C. B. Stuart and was considered one of the ablest attorneys in Oklahoma at the time of his death. On the seventy-fifth birthday of Johnson, business
was practically supended in Ardmore, his home for almost fifty years and the day was officially designated as Johnson day, a tribute to him.
W. B. Johnson was a strange combination politically—a Kentucky born and Texas reared Republican. In Gainesville, Texas, he was President of the Harrison and Morton Republican Club and soon after reaching his majority his name was presented to a Texas State Republican Convention for the office of Attorney General of Texas. Soon after his arrival in Ardmore he with four others, Stephen A. Douglas, C. M. Campbell, John S. Hammer and Judge John Hinkle organized the first Republican club in Indian Territory. The party gave him its highest honor, the nomination for United States Senator in later years and he served also as a Presidential Elector for Oklahoma Republicans.