Aaron Johnson Jr. 1850

Biography of Aaron Johnson Jr. (Pioneer)

Written by Mrs. Claudia J. Whitney, (daughter) of

Mapleton of Daughters of Utah Pioneers on Utah County, Mapleton, Utah.

Aaron Johnson JrAaron Johnson Jr. was born 22 May 1850, Council Bluffs, Iowa, second child of Aaron Johnson Sr. and Jane Scott.  His brothers and sisters names were Don C., Sophia, Stephen D., Mose and Heber C.

When Aaron was three weeks old, his father was chosen as captain of one hundred and thirty-five wagons to cross the plains to Salt Lake City.  Rather a rugged trip for a little bub to take, but he was blessed with perfect health all the way.  After their long and tedious journey with hardships and trials, which all the pioneers experienced while crossing the plans, they arrived at Salt Lake City on the first day of September 1850.  After resting a few days, Brigham Young selected Captain Johnson and William Miller, to travel on horseback, about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, and choose a suitable place to make a settlement.  When they arrived at Hobble Creek, they decided that was the right place.  After their return to Salt Lake City, Brigham Young told Captain Johnson to choose eight wagons, with their families to go there and locate a town.  Captain Johnson named the town, Springville.  When these tired families on the east and south of the valley and the beautiful Utah Lake shining in the western distance.  They must have been greatly inspired with all.  After getting settled, Captain Johnson was chosen as the first bishop of Springville, which position he held for seventeen years.  He built a large fine home on the corner of second north and east on Main Street, Springville and this is where Aaron Johnson Jr. spent his early days.  There was not much chance of getting an education as the children who were too little to help their parents went to school, while the older children had to work on the farms, and with the housework.

This little account of an experience is written in his own words:  “In the spring of 1866, when I was not quite sixteen years old, I volunteered to cross the plains of Captain Abram Scotts wagon train, and act as one of the four night guards, whose duty it was to guard the oxen at night.  There were seventy five wagons and three hundred and eighty oxen, and about eighty five men who acted as teamsters and mountaineers, it would make quite a long book.  The day we left dear old Springville, Bishop Johnson said: “Boys, while you are away, obey your captain, do your duty always and you will return to Springville unharmed.’  During our long and romantic journey of one thousand miles and back, I never forgot that promise, and I do not think that any of the boys forgot it for we all returned safely feeling that the Lord had watched over us.  Two hundred miles east from Salt Lake City we saw the two famous scouts and trappers – Kit Carson and Jim Bridger.  Jim Bridger said to me, ‘Hello my boy’, as he and Kit Carson passed on down the trail and disappeared among the pines and quaking aspens.  I felt almost equal with George Washington, because I had been noticed by this great explorer and mountaineer.  A distance of four hundred miles the long train traveled down steep rough canyons over divides through deep gorges, and out on the plains extending 600 miles to the Missouri River.  On the plains we met friendly Indians who visited our camp to trade us, but to trade for flour, but to stampede our oxen and horses.  Many times these red men prowled around at night shooting arrows and firing rifles, but never succeeded in getting any of us or driving away our oxen or horses.  We traveled many days on the plains.  No mountains in sight.  How we all yearned to see the dear old mountains of Utah.  The slow moving Platt River fringed with cottonwood green trees, a few covered wagons on their way to Oregon, made us feel that we were not alone.  When we reached the Missouri river, we saw the steamboats passing by on the muddy stream, which was almost one mile wide and eighty feet deep at this place.  The passengers waved to us, as they passed up and down the river, singing and laughing.  In a few days our immigrants began to arrive from Europe and a little later about thee hundred of them – Men, women and children were loaded on our wagons and brought to Utah.”

After a few years, Aaron Jr. was chosen as President of the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association at Springville, also an Elder and Sunday School teacher in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He married Louisa Melitiah Whiting in the old Endowment House, Salt Lake City, Utah on 8 October 1871.  They were parents of ten children as follows:

CHILDREN

BIRTHDATE

BIRTHPLACE

Aaron Wayne

July 14, 1872

Springville, Utah

Winnifred

November 17, 1874

Springville, Utah

Claudia

June 12, 1877

Springville, Utah

Willis Kelsy

September 16, 1879

Springville, Utah

Frank Milton

October 25, 1881

Springville, Utah

Elmer

November 14, 1884

Springville, Utah

Hugh Dougal

July 27, 1887

Mapleton, Utah

Louis A.

December 8, 1889

Mapleton, Utah

Leland

August 15, 1893

Mapleton, Utah

Bryan

June 20, 1897

Mapleton, Utah

Early in February 1876, Aaron Johnson Jr. and his wife and two children, Wayne and Winnifred, along with Albert Whiting wife and children, Sylvester Perry and Wife, Charles Whiting and wife and children, also Mose Johnson, left Springville to colonies on the Little Colorado River in Arizona.  These Springville people were in Captain Jessie Ballengers Company.  They suffered many hardships on the long journey of five hundred miles.  Most of the distance a vast unsettled land, the road a mere trail.  At Panguitch, the last town of a dozen log houses, hay was selling for thirty dollars per ton, and very scarce at that.  From there to Sevier Ridge, there was no habitation, with all crossing the Sevier River difficult and dangerous, with icy banks and deep water.  Wood along the route, pine and cedar were abundant.  Each night all would gather around a large campfire where song, stories and music were enjoyed until bedtime.  In a severe blizzard we began the long accent over the divide between Sevier and Long Valley where the snow was five feet deep.  Only through the Long Valley boys were stationed on top with hay for the tired, hungry horses of each company, and with all those good boys meeting the mat the top of the steep mountain and doubling with their strong fresh teams, did they gain the summit, which was covered for many miles with tall pines, one hundred feet high.  The following day they descended down, down a steep grade, though Long Valley to Orderville.  They were all invited to supper with the people of the town, seated at long tables, where the group enjoyed the best of bread, baked in an oven, plenty of mealy potatoes and gravy.  The people of Orderville lived as one family in the United Order.  After a two-day visit at this hospitable oasis in the desert, with no snow covering the ground, they continued on past Mt. Carmel, and over another Cedar covered Ridge to the head waters of the Sevier River.  Then on to Kanab, the last small town on the route.  After passing Navajo wells, they ascended the rocky steep Buckskin Mountains ten miles across over a flat and rolling top with a narrow road out through the pines and cedars.  The deep snow was fast melting in the April sun, making travel almost impossible.  Teams stalled in the mud and on the icy roads, with men lifting on wheels, and with doubled teams struggling along.  It required six days to cover nine miles, which is an excellent road in the summer time.  Another days travel and they were at House Rock Springs, where a few years later May Whiting died, and who lied in a lone grave among the Cedars.  On the smooth perpendicular red sandstone, where a small cold stream flows from the rocks, thousands of tourists have carved their names. Along this route, deep sand and rocky gullies made progress slow.  All walked, the women carrying their babies and the little ones trudging along by their Mother’s sides.  They were now on the Painted Desert where the scenery was wild and gay with the many colored rocks and red mountains, which is like passing a long line of castles.  At Badger Creek they went horse back to Marble Canyon of the Big Colorado River, where they could look down the steep side nearly a mile to the turbid red river.  A wonderful sight!  Then a long descent of thirty miles past Soap Creek to Lee’s Ferry, where they were ferried across the deep river three hundred yards.  Crossed Lee’s backbone over the south side of the Painted Desert to Willow Springs.  Then three days farther to the Little Colorado River, which was a raging flood from the melting snow.  When the flood had subsided three days later, they crossed with much difficulty and proceeded to Sunset crossing one hundred mile away.  This was the place designated for their future home.  Three months later, finding conditions impossible for living there with the land full of alkali, no permanent water in the river, most of the colonists returned to their former homes in Utah.  At Lee’s Ferry they left their two-year-old baby girl, Winnifred, a most beautiful golden haired child, who died of Spinal Meningitis at Willow Springs across the Colorado River from the ferry.  At one time there was but on grave there, that on a man who was frozen to death crossing the Buckskin Mountain.  The little band of colonists arrived in Springville early in September 1876.

In the year 1915, my father and mother returned to place a marble headstone on her grave.  In 1923, on learning that the valley where the lay was to be converted into a large reservoir of the Colorado River which passed near her grave, my father and his sons, Frank and Leland, went down by automobile and brought her remains to Springville, where they reburied her in the Mapleton Evergreen Cemetery.

In the year 1882, Don C. Johnson and his brother Aaron, Stephen, Mose and James E. Hall, built a theater at Springville.  The best at that time, outside of Salt Lake City.  This theater stood about where the Springville library now stands.  It cost then thousand dollars, and would seat five hundred people.  The stage was large enough to put on any kind of play, and was the scene of many performances by first class companies.  the scenery cost one thousand dollars, which was painted by Henry C. Tryan on Chicago.  A local troupe members of S., S. Hamil’s Elocution class, became almost as good as professionals being great favorites at home, and through the southern parts of the states.  The more noted of the Home Dramatic Company were J. K. Westwood, Aaron and Mose Johnson, C. W. Houtz, Mrs. Lydia M. Johnson, Luella Matson and Eliza Johnson.  Later Lula and Lily Boyer were added.  In 1890 the beautiful opera house was burned to the ground, much to the sorrow of the general public.

After completing the course in elocution, which was taught by Mr. Hamil, my father began his career as elocutionist and actor.  He worked at this profession over a period of forty years, and taught classes in the different towns in Utah.  He would teach a class and then select some who were efficient to take part in a play, and then the play was presented to the public.  The people liked this kind of entertainment and most of the townspeople would attend, which was made profitable for the time spent to accomplish and it was great pleasure for him also, because he loved the work.  His brother Mose helped him some with the elocution classes and plays.  They were both excellent at this kind of work.  About 1890 he organized a company which was known throughout Utah as The Johnson Brothers Dramatic Company and for several years he would select a small company or troupe from local talent in Springville or Mapleton and travel as far south as Monroe, Sevier County.  During this he would choose plays such as “Enoch Arden”, “Two Orphans”, “Out of the Sphere”, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, “East Lynn”, and “Above the Clouds”.

In the early part of November 1891, I had the pleasure of going on one of these tours through southern Utah, having a small part in a play, “Out of this Sphere”.  My brothers, Wayne and Willis had parts.  Our way of traveling was a three spring wagon without a cover, and drawn by two white horses.  There were six of us in the group – my father, Alfause Ester, Doris Curtiss, Wayne, Willis and myself.  This wagon contained our trunks and other equipment for our journey.  We had plenty of blankets etc. to use when the days were extra cold.  My father was advance agent and he would leave the hotel three hours ahead of us with a one horse buggy arriving at the next town where he would put up a poster and distribute bills and programs at the stores and other shops so the play would be well advertised.  The people liked these play and the opera houses along the way were always filled to capacity.  We stopped at hotels in the different towns, where the people treated us with delicious meals also good comfortable rooms and beds.  At the larger towns, Mount Pleasant, Manti and Richfield the play was repeated the second evening to crowded houses.  On our return trip, we went up through Soline Canyon to Castle Valley, and Huntington and played at the towns of Ferron, Orangeville, Castle Dale and Price.  We returned home in early December, well pleased with our experiences.

During the years 1884 to 1888, the Johnson brothers worked each summer making ties for the Denver and Rio Grand Railroad.  About the3 first of May, after the high waters were over, so the Spanish Fork River and Diamond Creek could be crossed, they would take their families and travel through Spanish Fork Canyon to Soldier Summit.  Then on farther about three or four miles to Pretty Hollow, off the road a little way, where there was a spring of water with grass and willows along the stream, and it was here they made the camp for the summer.  Each family put up one or two tents, built bunks to sleep on.  The little cousins spent part of their time making mud pies and playing they were cooking for a hotel.  Then there was a riding pony for the boys.  We all enjoyed it very much.  My brother, Wayne was sixteen years old the last summer we were there, and he was a great help to his father.  They went to nearly every mountain and canyon to select the timber best suited for their work.  They would leave each morning with horses and wagons and drive as far as they could to the grove of pine trees, leave the wagons there and take the hoses up the steep mountain.  Two kinds of saws were used for the work. The double blade served to chop the tree down, trim off the leaves and cut the tree in suitable lengths.  The broad ax, which was shaped like a hatchet, and many times as large, was used to cut off the rounded part of the tree, and then chop the ties to the proper size and measurements.  After this was accomplished, they would hook the ties to the horses and they would pull them down the path or drag road, as they called it, to the wagons below, there they were placed on the wagons.  Chains were used to bind the load of ties together and then they were taken down to the railroad crossing, which was near the camp.  One of the officials of the railroad company would come a week or two later to inspect them.  There were very few culls among them, because the brothers knew how to select them.  As there were no wild game laws at this time, they could go hunting and fishing whenever they pleased, when fresh meat and fish were needed, they would go to the streams and mountains and bring in a supply of venison and fish.  This last summer we were there my father, Aaron, was the victim of a serious accident, which happened while he and his brothers were coming down with their loaded wagons.  His wagon was the first on coming down the road.  He and Wayne started down a steep hill when the wagon tipped.  Wayne jumped from the load and was unhurt while Father was pinned under the load.  It was necessary to cut the chain with their axes in order to release the ties.  He was taken down to camp.  One of the men went with team and wagon to Colton, three or four miles for a Doctor.  He came and attended him.  He was in bed about two weeks.  With their faith and prayers, he recovered.

In 1886, he moved his family from Springville to Mapleton, where he had built a three-room brick house on the place where Mary Halverson now lives.  About seven years later, he bought a small piece of land across the street north of the Mormon Church.  Beautiful trees and shrubs and flowers are planted around the new frame house he built.  After living in this comfortable home for about six years, the family with the exception of the three older ones, who were married, moved to Canada about 1900, and they located at Raymond, Alberta, where they went to settle among the prairies from Utah, on the fertile flower covered prairie land in that district.  After three year sat Raymond, they moved again to Taber, thirty-five miles northeast where they homesteaded some land.  While at Taber he served as Postmaster for four years, delegate to Legislature in Calgary. He purchased a homestead, a section of land, and one mile west of Taber.  It was know and the Johnson Addition, and still goes by that name.  In 1908, they returned to Mapleton where a pretty house was built surrounded by fruit trees and beautiful flowers.  He homesteaded on Billy Mountain for several years, was in the Bishopric, served as President of the YMMIA.  T hey had a beautiful and comfortable home in Mapleton.  After a few years, they went to Uinta Basin, buying a farm in Altonah, while there, Aaron held the position of Justice of the Peace, the editor of the Intermountain News.  After six years there, they returned to Mapleton.  During all these years moving from place to place and living at Mapleton, he arranged a great number of programs and plays with the local talent, which would be presented to the public, and the proceeds would be donated to the church and ward.  He died May 4, 1927 after a lingering illness leakage of the heart, and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery, Mapleton, Utah.

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