For many years actively connected with the development and progress of different sections of this state, Mr. Johnson is now the proprietor of the Overland Hotel, in Boise, and is regarded as one of the most popular and best known citizens of Idaho. A native of Ottumwa, Iowa, he was born March 17, 1857, a son of William W. and Eliza A. (Myers) Johnson. His father, a native of Indiana, born in 1829, died in Ottumwa, Iowa, in 1867, and his wife, who was born in Botetourt County, Virginia, also departed this life in Iowa. By profession Mr. Johnson was a portrait-painter and sketch artist. In 1852 he went to California, but after two years returned to Iowa and was for some time engaged in the hotel and mercantile business in Salem, that state. In 1858 he joined a company bound for Pike’s Peak, but later again returned to Iowa, and at the outbreak of the civil war he enlisted in the Seventh Iowa Infantry, as a private. In the first engagement in which he took part, the battle of Belmont, he was seriously wounded, the injury resulting in his death a few years afterward. Having been wounded, he was taken to Camp Butler, Illinois, and it was there, after his partial recovery, that he painted the first panorama of the war. He thus delineated many of the noted engagements of the Rebellion, including the naval battle between the Monitor and the Merrimac. These pictures were done in oil and were eight by twelve feet in dimensions. He also painted the portrait of Richard Yates, the war governor of Illinois, and portraits of other notable personages.
Ervin W. Johnson began his education in the public schools and later entered Whittier College, at Salem, Iowa, where he pursued his studies for two years. He entered upon his business career as an apprentice, serving a five-years term at the jeweler’s trade, after which, in 1877, he went to East Bend, Kansas, where he embarked in the jewelry business on his own account. He successfully conducted his store at that point until 1880, when he removed to Chicago, and later went to St. Louis, Missouri, where he remained until 1882, when, having learned of the mining excitement in the Wood river country in Idaho, he came to this state and for some time engaged in prospecting and ranching.
In 1883 Mr. Johnson was appointed by President Arthur to the position of postmaster of Bellevue, Idaho, acceptably serving until 1885, when he engaged in mining in what is now known as the Hailey gold belt. About this time, however, a lucrative position was offered him at Leadville, Colorado, which he accepted and filled until the autumn of 1886, when he returned to Idaho. The same fall he was nominated for the office of assessor of Alturas County. He was a very prominent factor in political interests there, exerting a marked influence in public affairs. While chairman of the Alturas county Republican central committee he was instrumental in forming a fusion between the Democrats and Republicans, and thereby caused the defeat of the Populist ticket, which two years before had gained an overwhelming majority. Having been unanimously chosen as the nominee of the fusion forces for a position in the state legislature, he was elected, and in the session of 1894-5 represented Alturas County in the law-making assembly of Idaho. As a member of that body he introduced a bill for the creation of Blaine County, which is now one of the legal subdivisions of the state. He was one of the earnest supporters of George L. Shoup in his candidacy for the United States senate.
When Mr. Johnson failed of election to the office of assessor, he turned his attention to the hotel business, becoming proprietor of the Alturas Hotel at Hailey, which he successfully conducted until 1889, when he became the manager of the Hailey electric-light works. He was also made the manager of the Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Company, and with those enterprises he was associated until 1894. In 1895 he, was appointed chief state land-inspector and selector of state lands, in which capacity he continued until the change in the state administration, in 1897, when he returned to the hotel business, as proprietor of the famous Overland Hotel, in Boise. He is conducting one of the best hostelries in the northwest, and his earnest desire to please his patrons, and the excellent entertainment furnished, have made him very popular with the traveling public.
Mr. Johnson was one of the originators of the Idaho Inter-mountain Fair, of which he was the director-general for the year 1897-8. Through the instrumentality of that organization the interests of the state have been largely promoted and her resources advertised. Mr. Johnson has also done much to secure and advance the development of the mineral resources of the common-wealth, and, in fact, at all times gives a hearty support to every measure intended for the public good. In politics he continued an uncompromising Republican until 1896, since which time he has been a firm believer in and supporter of the silver theory as advocated by William Jennings Bryan.
In 1888, in Hailey, Idaho, Mr. Johnson was united in marriage to Miss Louise Crane, and they have three daughters: Laura, Helen and Miriam. Socially Mr. Johnson is connected with the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks, the Knights of Pythias and the Modern Woodmen of the World. He is a gentleman of distinct personality, of genial manner and courteous deportment and has made many friends throughout the state.