Willapa Harbor Pilot, May 1, 1908

Nov 14, 2021 | 0 comments

J.C. Johnson (1839-1908) – Willapa Harbor Pilot photo

There’s nothing that slows me down more in my sorting and organizing of those boxes of  “stuff” in the back forty than running across an old newspaper.  If it’s a local paper such as the South Bend Willapa Harbor Pilot, I might as well pack it in for the rest of the day.  I feel compelled to read it, front to back, and am invariably rewarded with information about something or someone I’m “acquainted” with. Often, too, I find yet another answer to a question that has been niggling at me for a while.

Yesterday, right on the front page, was not only his obituary, but a picture of J.C. Johnson of Oysterville under the headline Pioneer Dies in Portland.  Mr. Johnson was the adopted father of George C. Johnson, a contemporary of my grandfather’s and a well-known citizen of this area.  It was just last summer that Charlotte Killien, owner of the George Johnson House Bed and Breakfast in Ocean Park, asked me if I knew anything about George’s family.  Some distant family members were coming to the area and they were looking for information.

And here it was!  Or at least some of it! As I read the lengthy article — it was a full column on the front page and another almost entire column on the back — I made a mental note to make a copy for Charlotte, but was almost immediately immersed in a part of the report that concerned J.C. Johnson’s boats.  Yes!  Not HIS heritage, but the provenance of his boats!  It has long fascinated me that boat owners often know the history of their boats including who the various owners have been, who built them, and, sometimes where the building materials came from. More than once I’ve been impressed that a boat owner knows more about his boat’s heritage than about his own.

The Julia when the Wiegardts owned her – Photo Courtesy of Dobby Wiegardt

This is what the WHP article had to say about Mr. J.C. Johnson’s boats: Mr. Johnson began in the oyster business [in 1870 – SS] by purchasing an oyster sailing bateau, named Sixty Six, from L.H. Rhoades,  He afterward sold her and bought the sloop Julia from John Crellin.  After selling the Julia to Harry Wiegardt, who now owns it, he bought the War Eagle from Amos Smith of North river.  During the fourteen years he owned the War Eagle he made trips up and down the river and bay, buying hides and pelts.  In all his business transactions he never had a lawsuit nor was sued for debt.

I was also amused by that last sentence — not something we would necessarily comment on in an obituary these days.  In his extensive research for his books about movers and shakers of this area during the nineteenth century, historian Michael Lemeshko has remarked to me numerous times about how litigious those pioneers were.  “Everyone seemed to be suing everybody about everything,” Michael has told me more than once.  So, I guess Johnson’s “clean slate” (lawsuit-wise) was, indeed, something of note for the WHP to remark upon!

There is probably fodder for many blogs to come in this old newspaper.  At the very least it seems to be a treasure-trove of information about the issues of the day — Saloons or No Saloons — and the activities of residents throughout the county — (Ilwaco) Mayor Dan Markham lost a valuable cow last week…  Reading its closely printed eight pages is a wonderful way to travel back in time on a rainy Sunday.  Or, actually, on any day at all.



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