August 3, 1999
A phone call the other day from a gentleman in South Carolina was seeking information about one of Perry's early day citizens, the attorney Henry A. Johnson. The caller is one of the late Mr. Johnson's relatives and he is working on a family genealogy project. Perhaps only a handful of folks in this community remember Mr. Johnson, but he was an interesting part of the founding of Perry.
Henry A. Johnson has often been confused with Henry S. Johnston and they shared the same profession, but as you see, their last names are not the same. Henry S. Johnston also came here around the time of the Cherokee Outlet land run in 1893 and he became a prominent figure in the Oklahoma Democratic party. He was elected governor of the state in 1926, while Henry A. Johnson was content to keep a low profile and confined his practice primarily to Noble county.
Although the caller did not know this at the time, I have a vivid personal recollection of both men. Governor Johnston was a never-ending source of information for me as a young reporter on this newspaper's editorial staff and his link with the history of this state was profound. I appreciated his friendship, which lasted until his death in 1965. But this column is about Henry A. Johnson. The principal reason I knew him was the fact that he and our family had apartments across the hall from each other on the second floor of the building that housed the City Drug Store on the north side of the square. Mr. Johnson also had his law office there. We were neighbors.
Henry A. Johnson was average in height, perhaps 5'10", and he had the expanded girth of post-middle age. His hair was nearly white but as I recall, he was clean-shaven. He invariably wore a white shirt, necktie, dark jacket and trousers, all topped by a straw hat or felt fedora (depending on the season) which he courteously tipped to ladies and gentlemen of his acquaintance as they passed on the street. He was not loquacious in casual conversation but he was willing to listen to anyone when he was not preoccupied with some legal matter.
Throughout the later years of his life, Mr. Johnson himself was the defendant in a protracted lawsuit which, I believe, he ultimately lost, but that is of no importance here. He served as attorney for many others, including indigents, in this community and he won his share of the battles. His office was characteristically cluttered with papers spilling from file folders. I don't know who served as his office secretary, but it must have been difficult to keep the place in order. That is part of my memory of H.A. Johnson. Now I have some additional information from the gentleman in South Carolina to help draw a better picture of the one-time frontier lawyer.
The rest of this story will follow in the next Northwest Corner.