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Johnny Johnson

Herd boy at Plum Creek.

He had a round red face, and round blue eyes, and pale, whitey-yellow hair. He grinned, and did not say anything. He couldn’t. He didn’t know any words that Laura and Mary knew. – On the Banks of Plum Creek, Chapter 6, “Wreath of Roses”

John Halvorson Johnson was born in January 4, 1861 in Bergen, Norway, the eldest son of Halvor and Christiana Johnson. He had two sisters, Oleanna and Christine. In 1874, the Johnsons came to America, settling first near Tracy (Lyon County) Minnesota. They lived in Redwood Falls before settling on a farm in Johnsonville Township in Redwood County, about six miles north of Charles Ingalls’ preemption claim, the homesite mentioned in On the Banks of Plum Creek.

Oleanna Johnson married John Tweet in 1874 in New Ulm, Minnesota. Christine married Patrick Mitchell of Worcester, Massachusetts; Mitchell had been in the 17th Infantry at Fort Abercrombie, on the Red River in Dakota Territory. In November 1881, John Johnson married Petra Halverson; she was born in Jevnaker, Norway, in May 1858. After their marriage, Petra and John Johnson moved to a farm near Webster (Day County) Dakota Territory. The couple had seven children: Cora (1883), Hilda (1885), Henry (1887), Fred (1890), Edward (1892), Charles (1894), and Emma (1898). John Johnson died in March 1930. Petra Johnson died in November 1937.

In her Pioneer Girl manuscript, Laura Ingalls Wilder mentions a “herd boy” only once, and she does not give his name. In the manuscript for On the Banks of Plum Creek, she uses both Johnnie and Johnny Johnson as his name, writing – as in the published version – that he was only recently from Norway and could not communicate with Laura and Mary because they did not speak the same language. Descendents of this John Johnson donated photographs and items belonging to their ancestor; they are on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota. It is not known for sure if he is indeed the historical counterpart to Wilder’s “Johnny Johnson.”


Johnny Johnson (BPC 6-7, 10, 33)
     herd boy (PG)