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Robert Johnson
Born 1837


ROBERT JOHNSON, farmer, Rome Twp., Sec. 29; P.O. Mechanicsville; born in Delaware Co., Ohio, In 1837; came to Iowa in 1858; owns 167 acres; has made the improvements; has been School Director four years. In politics, Democrat; in religion, liberal. His wife, Mary A. Saum, was born in Indiana in 1839, and came to Iowa in 1840 with her father, and settled at Burlington; moved to Jones Co. in 1841; married in 1861 and have two children—Frank Ellsworth, born in Jones Co. March 30, 1862; Alma Olive, born August 25, 1864, in Jones Co.

Source: History of Jones County, Iowa, Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1879, page 648.

Expression of public confidence came to Robert Johnson in his election to the office of mayor of Anamosa in the spring of 1909. He is, moreover, well known as a real-estate dealer of the city and is now conducting a successful business in that line. He was born in Delaware county, Ohio, in 1837, his parents being Adam and Sarah (Hazelett) Johnson, both of whom were natives of Augusta county, Virginia. The family went to Ohio in 1833 and were pioneers of that state. Adam Johnson was very prominent in the community in which he lived, exerted considerable influence in shaping the political policy of the state and was an intimate friend of George H. Pendleton. In his family were eleven children: Evelyn, who is now the widow of James Riley and resides in Ohio; Jessie, who served as a soldier of the Civil war, being captain of the Fifty-first Illinois Regiment; Robert, who was the third in order of birth; Elizabeth May, the wife of Snell Brookings, a resident of Ohio; Amos, who married Harriett Elliott and served for three years in an Ohio regiment during the Civil war, after which he became an ordained minister of the Presbyterian church and died in Jefferson county, Iowa, in 1904; Thomas Jefferson, who served for four years as a defender of the Union cause and died in 1902, leaving a widow who bore the maiden name of Mary A. Seeman and now resides in Jefferson county, Iowa; Emerson, who wedded Cynthia Jones and makes his home in Huron, South Dakota; William, who wedded Nellie Elliott and resides in McCook county, South Dakota; Cordelia, the wife of Joe Wagner, a resident of Fort Scott, Kansas; Elmore, a resident of South Dakota; and one who died in infancy.
Robert Johnson was reared in his father's home, where lessons of industry and integrity were early impressed upon his mind. The full story of his career is another instance of the fact that "truth is stranger than fiction." In his early manhood he was a prosperous and substantial farmer, surrounded by a happy family, when through some strange irony of fate he was made the victim of a most malicious prosecution. To maintain his honor and integrity he was forced into a costly litigation, which was carried on through the courts for a period of many years. His entire fortune was required to meet the expenses of the law suit and the best years of his life were used in that way. He was, however, a hard fighter and through all the weary years in which the legal battle dragged on and amid all the losses and discouragement's he never wavered nor had a thought of giving up. In nearly every one of the many hard trials he won the decision of the jury, but afterward some judge would reverse the decision until finally the judgment was sustained. He has lived to see his name vindicated and honored, while his enemies who were active in the prosecution with the exception of one have long since gone the way of all the earth. The litigation in which he was involved is known throughout the Iowa courts as "The Jones County Calf Case." It is the most noted case of the character that has ever been tried in the state.
Mr. Johnson had become a resident of Iowa in 1857 and was recognized as a man of excellent character, living as a prosperous farmer about twelve miles south of Anamosa in Rome township.. His attention up to this time had been directed to the development and improvement of his farm and he was winning success in his undertakings, while his straightforward business methods at all times commended him to the confidence and regard of his fellowman. In 1874 a man named Potter, then of Greene county, Iowa, with whom Mr. Johnson had had an acquaintance from boyhood days, came to Jones county for the purpose of buying calves and stated also that he would continue his journey to the east for the same purpose. He asked Mr. Johnson while he was gone to pick up some cows for him and he would take them on his return. The next day Mr. Johnson, while in the store of Coppess & Der in Olin, inquired of the firm whether they knew of any cows for sale. A stranger in the store spoke up and said he had some for sale and that they were running on the commons near Sergeant Bluff. Mr. Johnson replied that he and his brother were on their way to Stanwood and if the man, who gave the name of Smith and said he was the son-in-law of Clem Lane with whom Mr. Johnson was acquainted, would go with them and point out the calves they would look at them. The three men started and when they reached the bluffs found three of the four calves which Smith said were his. Mr. Johnson bought the calves in his brother's presence, told Smith to leave them in the Len Heins pasture and come to his house for his money. Smith replied that he must have the money that afternoon as he had been sued, so Mr. Johnson gave him what money he had and borrowed the balance from his brother to make full payment. Smith took the calves to the Heins pasture and was seen on his way by several people.
Not long afterward Potter returned from the east with a drove of calves and secured of Mr. Johnson the four he had purchased of Smith and two or three others which he had bought of other parties. By this time John Forman, a neighbor of Mr. Johnson, lost four calves and after searching for them for some time learned that Potter had taken a lot of cattle west to Greene county. Forman went there and found his calves or, at least, claimed that he found them in Potter's herd. Potter said that he got them of Johnson or some other man whom he named. Potter and Forman then came to Jones county and Forman told Mr. Johnson that he had found his four calves in Potter's herd, while Potter claimed that he thought that he got those four calves of Mr. Johnson. The last named then told how he had purchased the calves and, having implicit confidence in both Potter and Forman, he had no doubt that he had handled the Forman calves and that they were the ones which he had bought of Smith. He told Mr. Forman that he would give him his note for the calves and that he would then have Smith arrested for stealing them. This was agreed to but before doing it Mr. Johnson insisted that Potter and Forman go with him to the store of Coppess & Derr and talk with Mr. Coppess, which they did. Mr. Coppess informed them that he was present when the man named Smith offered to sell the calves. Mr. Johnson gave his note for the calves and then got out a warrant for Smith's arrest and started to find him. In order to do this he went to Clem Lane, the supposed father-in-law of Smith, who said that he had no such son-in-law and that there was no man of the name living in the neighborhood. Mr. Johnson searched diligently for Smith but was never able to find him.
At that time there was an organization in the southern part of Jones county called the Iowa Branch of the Northern Missouri Anti-Horsethief Association. Members of this association heard of the transaction and evidently thought that Mr. Johnson should be prosecuted. Forman and Potter became members of the association and through their efforts, together with those of some other members, Mr. Johnson was indicted for the larceny of the Forman calves. He and his brother then went to Greene county and had Potter point out the four calves claimed by Forman. They proved to be high grade calves and one of them was nearly white. The calves that Johnson had bought of Smith were scrubs and of dark color. Mr. Johnson then for the first time discovered that he had not handled the Forman calves at all and began to think that Potter had stolen them and laid it to him. He then refused to pay the note that he had given for the calves and suit was brought before a justice. Mr. Johnson defended on the ground that there was no consideration; that is, that he had never handled the calves at all. But after long and expensive litigation he was beaten and had to pay the note on the ground that it was in the hands of an innocent purchaser. In the meantime excitement in his neighborhood was intense. Colonel Preston, then one of the leading lawyers of the state, filed a demurrer to the indictment. While this was pending Mr. Johnson was the recipient of anonymous threatening letters. His demurrer, however, was sustained. Another indictment was found. A change of venue was taken and a trial resulted in. the jury standing eleven for Mr. Johnson and one for the state. Another trial resulted in his acquittal.
Several years had passed. He had expended all that he possessed in defending himself. He then began the famous suit of Johnson versus Miller et al. The defendants were Forman, Potter, Miller and three or four other prominent farmers, whom he thought had been very active in his prosecution. The suit was for malicious prosecution and he asked for ten thousand dollars damages. After several changes of venue it came for trial and was tried twice at Vinton, resulting each time in a verdict for Mr. Johnson, but each time the judge refused the verdict. A trial was afterward held in Clinton, giving Mr. Johnson a verdict of seventy-five hundred dollars, but this the judge set aside. In Waterloo the case was tried four times, each time a verdict being returned for the plaintiff and the last trial in 1898 gave to Mr. Johnson the judgment with costs amounting to about six thousand dollars, which was finally paid. During the progress of this litigation the most prominent lawyers in the state were engaged by the respective parties at one trial or another. It lasted nearly a quarter of a century but in the end Mr. Johnson was vindicated, and he has lived not only to enjoy the respect and good will of his fellowman but to be honored by his fellow citizens to the highest office within their gift, having been elected mayor of Anamosa in 1909.
It was in July, 1861, that Mr. Johnson was united in marriage to Miss Mary A. Saune, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Saune, natives of Ohio. The parents went to Indiana in 1842 and a few years later to Jones county. Here the mother died in 1874, while the father, long surviving her, passed away in 1908. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Johnson have been born a son and a daughter, Frank and Alma. Mr. Johnson and his son are now engaged in the real-estate business and have secured a large clientage. They have handled many important realty transfers and are thoroughly conversant with property values and with the real estate that is on the market. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson hold membership in the Methodist Episcopal church. He was one of its founders and builders and is now serving as one of its stewards. His first presidential vote was cast for Abraham Lincoln and he now usually votes with the democracy, but does not consider himself bound by party ties. Notwithstanding the opposition which he met with he has held to the course which he has believed to be right and the hardships which he encountered served to prove to him the strength of some of the friendships which were his. He is now numbered among the most worthy, valued and respected citizens of Anamosa and as its chief executive officer is now giving to the city a public-spirited and beneficial administration.

Source: History of Jones County, Iowa, Past and Present, R. M. Corbitt, S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., Chicago, 1910, p. 46.

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