Born: October 27, 1824
Died: April 13, 1896
History by Vivian Cram Knudsen*
William Derby Johnson, born October 27, 1824, in Pomphret,
, was the eighth son and the fourteenth child of Ezekial and Julia Hills Johnson. When ten years old, William accompanied his mother to Chautaugua County, New York , where on April 9, 1836, he was baptized by Samuel Bent into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Kirtland, Ohio
In about 1848, William met a little Quaker lass, with black hair and eyes, to whom he immediately lost his heart. Her name was Jane Cadwallader Brown, daughter of Abia and Abigail Cadwallader Brown. Her birth occurred June 5th, 1832 in Birmington,
. She and William were married November 9th, 1849, six months after her 17th birthday when William was 24. They remained sweethearts throughout their entire lives. Miami County, Ohio
In the spring of 1855, while flowers were perfuming the wildwoods, William decided to go into business for himself. He secured from the forests raw material from which he constructed a combination home and store. Then taking the $250.00 saved from wages earned in clerking in his brother, Joseph E.’s drugstore, he set out for
to purchase fancy notions, candy, etc. On his return, he began merchandising. Toward the close of the year, he moved to Winter Quarters, St. Louis Nebraska, where in the spring of 1856, he witnessed the first company of handcarts as they passed through on their endless trek to . Utah
In May of 1857, he located in
Florence, Nebraska, 12 miles from , where opportunities were better for his business venture, and where he acted as postmaster, school trustee and alderman. Two daughters were born to them while they lived in Council Bluffs , Julia Abbey and Esther Almira. Florence, Nebraska
In the spring of 1861, it was agreed that with his three wagons, six oxen and two horses, they would emigrate with a company then leaving for
. William’s nephew, Sixtus Johnson, son of Joel, was captain of the group and William’s widowed sister, Almera J. Smith Barton, and her three daughters, Della, Elvira, Julie, and Jane’s brother, Abia William Brown, accompanied them. En route, the two families experienced a terrifying experience, when in playing robbers with a supposedly empty gun, William’s son Elmer, shot Almera’s daughter, Della, in the back of the head. Although the child screamed loudly and blood flowed profusely, it was discovered to their relief the ball had lacked sufficient powder to do any real damage. Only the skin had been grazed. Utah
, William purchased a house and lot consisting of one and one-fourth acres from Elder Israel Ivins, on the location near the Union Pacific depot. Salt Lake City
The following year, 1862, he was called with others to retrace the long trail to the states in the Capt. Miller Company, to aid in bringing in more emigrant saints. Returning home he was met at
by his son, W.D. Jr., and his brother, George W., who were transporting a load of fruits and vegetables. In April, 1862, accompanied by his son W.D. Jr., he made a second trip to the states, this time in the John Murdock train. The trip was made in 52 days, one of the quickest times on record in an ox team train. They renewed acquaintances with friends in Fort Bridger Council Bluffs and Florence, and after an absence of four months, returned in September with the Capt. Alvirine Company to again take up life in . On October 16, 1863, Jane and William suffered their first severe loss when their little daughter, Mary succumbed to whooping cough. Utah
In the early spring of 1866, the Black Haws War became violent, and a call went out for more volunteer troops. William enlisted, but his son, W.D. Jr, 16, and large for his age, volunteered to go in his stead and after considerable persuasion, gained consent, leaving for Moroni, Sanpete County, Utah, June 5th, serving three months.
A mission was next required of William, the call coming at the October Conference of 1869.
William operated stores throughout the greater part of his life. He made trunks, household furniture and harnesses which he sold along with medicine and drugs, mostly manufactured by himself. Jewelry and bakery goods were also handled in the store, and a small dairy was run in conjunction with it, two of William and Jane’s daughters having the responsibility of milking and making the cheese. Pies and cakes came from Jane’s kitchen.
In the autumn of 1870, the Johnsons disposed of the
Salt Lake property and moved to Southern Utah as President Brigham Young had called them to settle in Hay Canyon east of . The name was changed to Johnson. Here they lived until they were called to help colonize Kanab, Utah , where William built a large home. His yards and surroundings were landscaped beautifully, as he was an ardent lover of beauty; a charming park, lush gardens, fish ponds and flowers of all kinds had a part in his yard. William was ever solicitous for Jane’s comfort and welfare, providing her with numerous conveniences. In Diaz, Chihuahua, Mexico , Native labor was employed and the work merely overseen. Rather than to distress his wife, William acceded to her wishes to refrain from polygamy. Mexico
Jane was fond of sewing and did exquisite needlework, especially in quilts. She was neat and took pride in her appearance, usually appearing gowned in becoming black taffeta with bonnet to match. William was a trifle stout and of medium height – a mild and fine looking man, and being naturally retiring, avoided the limelight as much as possible, as also did Jane. Speaking from the stand was not in their line, yet wherever they lived, they effected an influence for good. In giving and sharing, they played more than a full part.
On one occasion in William’s travels, loaded with merchandise, he met with a rather unusual experience. A pedestrian, somewhat under medium height, with black hair and beard, was given a ride and to William’s astonishment, seemed fully acquainted with his camping plans for the night, cautioning him against them, as the Indians would give trouble there that night. As the stranger alighted, William turned to inquire of him more specifically, but found he had literally disappeared. The warning was heeded, however, much to Williams’ advantage, for emigrants camping at that sot that night were massacred by the Indians.
William was ordained a High Priest in
, March 27, 1894, and on December 22, 1895, under the hands of Francis M. Lyman, was ordained a Patriarch of the Church. He and Jane were the parents of twelve children: William Derby, Jr., Elmer Wood, Jennie Ann, Julia Abby, Esther Almera, Mary Maria, Abia Ezekial, Bryon Elwood, Joseph Eills, Carlos Smith, Hannah Zelnora and Lodemia Viola. Three of their children: Nancy Maria, Carlos Smith and Lodemia Viola died in infancy. The remaining nine married and raised families. Diaz, Mexico
William Derby Johnson, Sr.’s death took place April 13, 1896 at 72 years of age at his home in Colonia Diaz. His wife, Jane, died 12 years later on January 19, 1908.
Vivian Cram Knudsen
*Source: From the typewritten family history documents of Fern Laws Palmer, great granddaughter of William
Johnson. Word document entered on computer 1-27-06 by Deniane Gutke Kartchner, 3rd great granddaughter of William Derby Johnson through Fern Laws. Derby