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JOHNSON, MONTFORD T. (1843-1896)

A cattle rancher and entrepreneur, Montford T. Johnson was born in November 1843 along the Blue River north of Tishomingo in present Johnston County, Oklahoma, the former Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory. He was the son of Charles B. Johnson, an Englishman, and Rebekah Courtney, a Chickasaw. Raised by his maternal grandmother's family after his mother's death and his father's desertion, Johnson suffered from chronic illness throughout much of his life. Nevertheless, he built a ranching empire in present central Oklahoma and played a positive role in the growth of the Chickasaw Nation.

Johnson was a contemporary and a friend of Jesse Chisholm, the legendary scout and trader, who convinced him to establish cattle ranches on the unruly western edge of the Chickasaw Nation. In 1868 Johnson established his first ranch, located about two miles northeast of present Washington in McClain County, and hired a Chickasaw freedman, Jack Brown, to run and share in the operation. This was the first of many business ventures manned by nonwhites that flourished under Johnson's leadership.

Over the next twenty-five years Johnson expanded upon his operations, enlisting the support of the Campbell and Bond families, who were related through marriage. Those ranches ranged from Johnsonville, north of present Byars, Oklahoma, west to present Newcastle, and continuing west and north to present Chickasha and Tuttle. Silver City, where Johnson ran a trading store, was north of Tuttle and had the Chisholm Trail as its main street. For a number of years Johnson also maintained a ranch outside of the Chickasaw Nation at Council Grove, in present western Oklahoma City. Johnson was running cattle as far west as present Hydro, Oklahoma, in the late 1880s.

As Johnson's children came of age, in particular his oldest son, Edward Bryant "E. B.," they played active roles in the family enterprises. E. B., who was college educated, and a partner, Joe Lindsay, bought out Montford Johnson's interest in the Silver City store in the early 1880s. E. B. later took over all of the family business operations.

After Johnson's first wife, Mary Elizabeth Campbell, died in 1880, he married Addie Campbell and moved northeast of present Minco, Oklahoma, where he lived until his death on February 17, 1896. He left twelve children from the two marriages. E. B. Johnson consolidated their property into three ranches after the Dawes Commission allotments. He also expanded the family's cattle operations into the Texas Panhandle. The Johnson businesses continued to thrive until the 1980s when they were dissolved into individual holdings.

SEE ALSO: BARBED WIRE, CATTLE INDUSTRY, CHICKASAW, RANCHING–AMERICAN INDIAN.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ray Asplin, "A History of Council Grove in Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 45 (Winter 1967 68). Neil R. Johnson, The Chickasaw Rancher, ed. C. Neil Kingsley (Rev. ed.; Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2001). Minco (Indian Territory) Minstrel, 21 February 1896.

C. Neil Kingsley

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