“Old Cripple Johnson”

Oysterville Fun c. 1900

Yesterday as I watched Nyel stumping along with his cane, I had a momentary flashback to a discussion by my mother and her brothers.  It must have been sixty or more years ago – one of those long summer evenings, as I recall – and we were gathered in the library reminiscing.  Well, they were reminiscing; I was listening.

The subject had turned to some of ‘the characters of Oysterville’ who they remembered from childhood.  “Old Cripple Johnson” was one.  He must have been about their grandfather R.H. Espy’s age because they spoke of them in the same breath.  His given name was George and he was the eldest son of Captain James Johnson and his Lower Chinook Indian wife, Comtia Koholwish (called Jane.)

H.A.Espy Children on Danny, 1924

According to the “North Oregon” 1850 census (taken by U.S. marshal Joseph L. Meek, the famous Mountain Man) George was then six years old – which actually made him some twenty years youngerr than Grandpa Espy, but when you’re a kid the difference between seventy and ninety is probably minimal.  In any case, George grew up on Baker Bay in the vicinity of what would later become Ilwaco.  It was during his childhood that he sustained the injury that would make him memorable to the folks of Oysterville several generations hence.

Young George and his brother and the neighbor kids used to amuse themselves by riding empty whisky barrels down the steep slope near their home in the area now referred to as ‘Yellow Bluff.”  On one of his trips downhill, a stave broke through, pinning his leg inside.  The broken bones were never properly set, and the leg was afterwards shorter.  Hence his nickname, “Cripple Johnson.”

Dorothy Trondsen (Williams) c. 1930

Years later, George operated a boat-building shop in Oysterville.  He and his wife lived on the second floor and his bad leg was again broken when he fell from the high porch to the beach below.  Young Tommy Stratton was chosen to ride to Ilwaco for Dr. George W. Easterbrook who came and skillfully set the leg, also fashioning a stirrup-type crutch that enabled Johnson to walk without limping.  However, the sobriquet “Old Cripple” continued to be attached to his name, perhaps to distinguish him from several other George Johnsons who lived in the area.

I remember thinking during that long-ago discussion of the characters of Oysterville if, in our turn, my friends and I would be talking about our elders in the same vein someday.  Little could I have imagined, way back then, that my own husband and I might also, one day, fall into the ‘character’ category!

One Response to ““Old Cripple Johnson””

  1. Bruce jones says:

    This is kind of like the lady in “Accidental Tourist” who protested: “Quaint? We’re not quaint, we’re the most normal people I know.”

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