Transcribed by Pamela Wagler from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


The lives of some men contain a chapter of romance, or at least experiences a little out of the ordinary. Such is the case with Richard, or "Dick" Johnston, as he is generally called. He was born in Galva, Henry county, Ill., Oct. 25, 1864, and is a son of Zopher and Elizabeth (Janes) Johnston. His father died when he was only one year old, and at six years of age he was bound out to a man by the name of Edward Davis, of Galva, Ill., who promised to give the boy a good education, and to do well by him in other respects. Our subject never even saw the inside of a school till he was thirteen years old, and then was only able to attend the common schools of Galva, Henry county, two winter terms. This man Davis was a farmer, and kept Richard working early and late, much to his distaste. Just before entering his fourteenth year Richard made up his mind he could and would shift for himself; and so one day, without leave or license from Mr. Davis, he ran away from his adopted farm home, and the varied career that followed makes an interesting life record, reading like a novel. He imagined he had had enough of farming, and so he decided to learn the trade of a barber. This took him five long years, but gave him the reputation of a first-class barber.

Wishing to see something of the surrounding country he engaged with the Santa Fé Railroad, where he served as brakeman for one year on the Cottonwood Division, and for eighteen months following on the Ft. Worth Division, in Texas. Leaving the Santa Fé he ran as a brakeman on the L. & W. R. R. for about seven months, and nine months on the Ft. Scott & Gulf line. In 1885 he went out to Creston, Iowa, running on the West Iowa Division for two years and five months. The big strike of 1887 was causing much trouble, and during this time Mr. Johnston retired from the service; and going still farther west, he again took up his trade at Elm Creek, Nebr., where he remained for eleven months. He now concluded to try his fortune with the vast army of men flocking to Oklahoma City. His party, who went across the country in three wagons, was to look the new territory over, and if satisfactory to purchase homes. Mr. Johnston did not like the place well enough to settle permanently, but remained two years, maintaining himself at his trade. He then traveled east to Indian Territory, and was head barber in one of the leading shops at Lee High for three months, and filled the same position for seven months at Girard, in Crawford, Kans.

Desiring to come back to Iowa he accepted a position at Shenandoah for two years. He next spent four months at Gainesville, Ga., two years and eight months at Chicago, and four months in St. Louis, and made good use of his trade in each place. Securing a situation on the Wabash he pitched his tent in Mobile, Mo., which he called home for nine months. Desiring to be out of doors more he farmed for one year at Bedford, Iowa, but for the next three months was laid up with a severe case of rheumatism at Burlington Junction. He recuperated for a year at Shenandoah, after which he was employed at his trade in Red Oak, Iowa, for eighteen months, and for a number of months at Marysville, Weatherby, and Freeport, Mo. He then returned to the Hawkeye State in 1899 with a determination to put his roving to an end. Being now fully convinced that his mission in life was not to be either a tiller of the soil nor a railroad man, he at once secured pleasant rooms in West Burlington, where he established a business of his own, and where he virtually does the work of the town. While at Carney, Nebr., he had a little taste of war, as he joined the State militia as a substitute during the raid made by Sitting Bull on Pine Ridge Agency, Nebr. He took an active part in this noted battle with the redskins, being within a few feet of the great chief, Sitting Bull, when he was shot and killed. There were over six hundred squaws, Indians, and bucks killed at this battle, known as the battle of "Wounded Knee." Mr. Johnston was in the National Guards at Carney for several months. He also made three applications to enter the Spanish-American War, but being hard of hearing at that time he was rejected.

Oct. 28, 1892, he married Miss Alice A. Ellis, daughter of Captain James Ellis, of Civil War fame. She began teaching at the age of eighteen in Clarinda, Page county, Iowa, where she was assistant superintendent of the high school for four years. Mrs. Johnston died Sept. 22, 1894, in Oklahoma City, leaving one son, Walter E., eleven years old, who is with relatives in Cone, Iowa. Feb. 12, 1897, Mr. Johnston was married again, to Miss Oma Benton, daughter of Captain Frank and Anna (Wells) Benton. Mr. Benton was captain of the Ninth Cavalry and a nephew of ex-Senator Benton, of Missouri. He was killed in Custer's massacre. Our subject's wife is a second cousin of Colonel Fremont's wife. By this marriage two children were born: Walden, born May 6, 1898; and Neva, born June 11, 1901.

Mr. and Mrs. Johnston were brought up in the Methodist faith. He joined the Modern Woodmen in Nebraska. He has always voted the straight Republican ticket, and was appointed to fill the vacancy of constable when in Carney. He is a well-informed man, and what he has denied in school privileges he has made up in the broad field of experience. His travels have brought him in contact with all classes and conditions of men, which is an education of itself. He seems to have chosen well his vocation in life, as it is not every trade that will support one the year round, especially a man with such a roving disposition as Mr. Johnston has had. In all his many locations his ability was appreciated, and he made kind friends. He is a man who believes in and practices principles of honor and uprightness, and is well liked by his many friends and acquaintances.

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