October 13, 1998
Recognition is coming, albeit posthumously, to Perry attorney Henry S. Johnston, thanks to an Oklahoma Centennial Celebration project under way in the State Senate. An oil painting of Mr. Johnston will be hung in the public area of the Senate at the capitol as a tribute to him as the first president pro tempore of the Senate. He will be one of several historic figures honored by the upper house of the Legislature in time for the Centennial of statehood in 2007. Contributions to help pay for the painting, which has a price tag of $5,500, may be made payable to the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund. Take them to Charles Hall at Exchange Bank & Trust Co.
Most of us are familiar with Mr. Johnston's aborted term as governor of Oklahoma in 1927-29, but we tend to overlook his contributions to the earlier development of the state. He arrived in Perry by rail a few days after the great land run of September 16, 1893, and began a law practice that continued almost to the day of his death in January 1965, when he was ninety-seven years old.
In 1897, Mr. Johnston was chosen to serve in the upper house of the territorial council, now called the State Senate. Legislators then received $4 per day while in session and $4 per mile travel pay to reach the capitol. In 1906 he was elected a delegate to the Oklahoma constitutional convention as a representative of district 17, composed of Noble and Pawnee counties.
The convention met November 20, 1906, in the territorial capitol of Guthrie, with 90 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent comprising the body. Mr. Johnston was elected chairman of the Democratic caucus and called the session to order. "I uttered the first sentence in organizing this state," Mr. Johnston said proudly years later. He was elected to the first State Senate in 1907, again representing the district composed of Noble and Pawnee counties. That body elected him its first president, and that is the position for which he is being honored now. Mr. Johnston believed that his work in organizing the Senate led to his election as governor nearly 20 years later.
Following his removal from office, Mr. Johnston was elected to the State Senate from Noble and Pawnee counties in 1932. He won by a comfortable margin and enjoyed serving side by side with many of the lawmakers who had voted three years earlier to oust him from the governors post.
Through most of his public life, Mr. Johnston relied heavily on the support of his wife, the former Ethel L. Littleton. She was a bright-eyed, 20year-old court reporter working for the State Senate when they were married in Guthrie in 1909. Mrs. Johnston had a distinguished career of her own, including tenure as grand secretary of the Oklahoma Order of the Eastern Star.
More on the Johnston era in Oklahoma when we meet here again. Meantime, check the Perry Carnegie Library for additional information on Mr. Johnston.