HENRY FISK JOHNSON is the oldest living settler of Shasta County. He arrived at the place where Vina is now located on the Sacramento River, September 24, 1849. Here and there scattered over California do we find the Forty-niners, but their ranks are becoming thinned. They are disappearing as priest and vaquero disappeared before them. A few more decades and these brave old pioneers – these prospectors, placer-miners and frontiersmen of the Pacific coast – will live only on the pages of history. To one interested in the early settlement and the wonderful achievements of this great State it is a pleasure to meet one of these Argonauts and listen to him recount his varied experiences in the mines, his encounter with Indians and the many privations which he endured.
Mr. Johnson was born in Woburn, on the Lowell road, ten miles from the city of Boston, Massachusetts, November 5, 1826. His grandfather, Charles Johnson, was a resident of Massachusetts during the Revolutionary war, and rendered his country good service as a soldier. He had a son Charles, born in that State in 1792. The Johnson family were worthy members of the Baptist Church and were industrious and well-to-do farmers. Charles Johnson, Jr., married Abigail R. Mead, also a native of Massachusetts. Her father, John Mead, was a soldier in the Revolutionary war and fought bravely for independence. To Charles and Abigail Johnson four children were born, three sons and a daughter. Henry F. Johnson was the youngest child and is the only survivor of the family. When he was thirteen years of age his father and family removed to Illinois and there settled on a farm. He attended school in winter and worked with his father on their farm in summer. Thus his life was spent for ten years. At that time news of the rich mines of gold in California reached the stout and brave young farmer’s ears, and he was among the first to bid adieu to home and friends and start out on the perilous journey for the far West.
Mr. Johnson arrived in Shasta County October 1, 1849. For three years he successfully mined in Shasta and Trinity counties. He then purchased a pack train and engaged in packing from Shasta to Trinity County. It was a profitable business and he followed it for seven years. Next, he engaged in teaming from Red Bluff to Weaverville, a distance of eighty miles. He ran three teams and the round trip required eight days. Each wagon held from four to five tons, and Mr. Johnson made on an average of $600 a trip. He subsequently turned his attention to the livery and fee business in Red Bluff, and continued it from 1863 till 1869. He then engaged in the forwarding business there until the fall of 1872. At that time the railroad was built at Redding and the town started. Mr. Johnson, perceiving its advantages, removed to this place. Judge Bush, Frank Miller and two or three others preceded him and commenced the town. Since then he has been engaged in the reshipping and forwarding business, reshipping goods all over the county. He has made numerous investments in city property and dwelling-houses. In the summer of 1880 he build his own commodious residence.
In 1867 Mr. Johnson was united in marriage with Miss Hannah C. Gordon, a native of Pennsylvania and of Scotch ancestry. Their union has been blessed with three children, a daughter and two sons, all born in Red Bluff, viz.: Anna Mead, Melvin Gordon and Frank Winn. The two sons are connected with their father in business, and are energetic and reliable young men.
Mr. Johnson is an Odd Fellow and a member of the Pioneer Society of California. His political views are those of a liberal Democrat.
In connection with his forwarding business, in 1865, Mr. Johnson took charge of a train of eighteen wagons to forward the machinery for a quartz mill across the mountains to Silver City, Idaho. They cut their own roads and twice struck the old road over which Mr. Johnson came into the country in 1849. On this expedition he was accompanied by twelve soldiers who acted as an escort to keep off the Indians. They, however, were not needed, as in one of the wagons was a steam boiler with many flues. They told the Indians that every one of them was loaded and had only to be turned to shoot. This piece of information was sufficient to keep the Indians away, for they were much afraid of the big gun. Mr. Johnson says that when he came to Shasta County, in 1849, Mr. A. Grotenfend came with him, and Dr. J. F. Winsel came soon after.
Source: Memorial & Biographical History of Northern
California, The Lewis Publishing Co., 1891
Transcribed by Kathy Sedler