Buena Vista County, IA
USGenWeb Project

Extracted from:  Wegerslev, C. H. and Thomas Walpole. 
 Past and Present of Buena Vista County, Iowa
Chicago:  S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1909, p. 420-22.

Transcribed by Paul Nagy

Biography of  John A. Johnson

What is so friendly as a nickname?  It is an indication of cordiality and good will on the part of those with whom the individual comes in contact, and that John A. Johnson is familiarly called "Gus" by the majority of those who know him, plainly proves his popularity and the warm esteem in which he is held in northwestern Iowa.  He is now living a retired life in Alta, but for many years was one of the prosperous farmers in Maple Valley township, where he and his brother-in-law, David Clarkson, owned seven hundred and twenty acres of land, which they broke, cultivated and improved, transforming the property into a very valuable farm.  They also engaged extensively in raising, feeding and fattening cattle and hogs for the market, being among the largest feeders as well as the most extensive landowners of Maple Valley township.  The importance of his business interests and the straightforward methods which Mr. Johnson always employed in his business career gained him recognition as one of the representative citizens of Buena Vista, county.


A native of Sweden, he was born January 18, 1842, and came to the new world with an uncle in 1856 when a lad of fourteen years.  Reaching the shores of the new world they made their way westward to Chicago, where the uncle left Mr. Johnson, and from that time forward he had to shift for himself.  He was a poor boy among strangers in a strange land, and with the language of the people was unfamiliar, but there had been impressed upon his mind the truth that industry and energy are valuable assets in every country and time, and he resolved that he would build his fortune upon these qualities.  He found work on a farm and after a short time spent in the fields secured employment in a factory at Carpentersville, Illinois, where he was employed as machinist for three or four years.  He had acquired a fair education in his own language and in Illinois also attended the common and higher schools, thus gaining a good knowledge of the English language, as well as the branches of learning in which he was instructed.  After leaving the factory he secured a position on a farm near Dundee, in Kane county, and was thus engaged when, in 1865, he responded to the country's call for aid and joined the One Hundred and Fifty-third Illinois Volunteer Infantry.  He went south, joined the Army of the Cumberland and served until after the close of the war, doing guard, scouting and patrol duty most of the time.  In the fall of 1865 he was honorably discharged at Springfield.  He later returned to Dundee and for a short time was again employed at farm labor, while subsequently he removed to McHenry county, Illinois, where he engaged in general merchandising for two years.  On the expiration of that period he sold out and learned the blacksmith's trade with his father-in-law, David Clarkson, and together they conducted a shop for a few years.  Mr. Johnson then went to Chicago, where he was employed at driving a milk wagon for two years.


The year 1874 witnessed his arrival in Buena Vista county in company with David Clarkson, who had previously visited this locality, and had purchased six hundred and forty acres of land—an entire section—in Maple Valley township.  Upon this place Mr. Clarkson and Mr. Johnson located and bent their entire attention to developing and improving the farm.  Their labors were soon manifest in the excellent results which attended their efforts, for the wild prairie was converted into rich fertile fields, from which they annually gathered abundant harvests.


In 1875 Mr. Johnson returned to Illinois and was there married on the 10th of March of that year to Miss Janette Clarkson, a native of Scotland, who was brought to the new world when a little maiden of three years, by her father, David Clarkson, Senior.  He was also born in the land of hills and heather and there married a Scotch lady, Miss Janette Crichton.  Following his marriage, Mr. Johnson returned with his bride to Iowa, settling upon the farm and devoting his attention to the raising of both grain and stock, residing upon the farm for nine years.  He then purchased a lot and erected a residence in Alta, where he has since made his home.  He has been identified with a number of business enterprises which have constituted features in the county's development and progress as well as a source of gratifying revenue to himself.  His wife is a member of the Alta Presbyterian church and he is a Master Mason, holding membership in the Alta lodge.  As a public-spirited citizen he is influential, his opinions carrying weight with his fellow townsmen, while his efforts in behalf of general improvement have greatly benefited the community at large.  Starting out for himself, at the age of fourteen years, entirely unknown and empty-handed, he has made a splendid record, achieving success that might well be envied by those who enter business life under much more fortunate circumstances, having the assistance of inheritance or influential friends.  He has depended entirely upon his own resources and as the architect of his fortune has builded [sic] wisely and well.