Francis Johnson. What the Kansas pioneers went through in their efforts to establish homes and build up a commonwealth of material greatness and high ideals is a subject of knowledge known to Francis Johnson not from books or what other people have told him, but is part of his individual experience and recollection. He was one of the first settlers from Sweden who established homes in McPherson County in the years following the Civil war, and had always been one of the strong men of that community. His strength of body enabled him to conquer the forces of the wilderness and his strength of character and of heart had made him a source of great good and benefit in founding and upholding those institutions of which the people around Lindsborg take such justifiable pride. Mr. Johnson since retiring from active business affairs had lived in Lindsborg.
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He was born in Sweden December 27, 1841, an only son and child of Eric and Anna (Norquist) Johnson. He grew up in his native land, and while his education was not the equivalent of a college training he came to manhood strong and resourceful in both mind and body and well fitted for the career which awaited him in America.
He was twenty-eight years of age when in 1869 he came to this country and joined the early Swedish colonists in McPherson County, Kansas. He took up a homestead of Government land 2½ miles southwest of the present Town of Lindsborg. With him he had as a companion and sharer in the privations of this early home his young wife, whom he had married at the present site of Lindsborg in 1869, the same year he came to Kansas. Her maiden name was Carolina Magnuson. She was born in Sweden in 1836. She was a loyal wife and mother, helped him through the many weary days in which he earned his bread by the sweat of his brow, enjoyed his later prosperity and was with him constantly in church life and in the varied charitable causes which appealed to them both. Mrs. Johnson died November 14, 1903. After they came to Kansas seven children were born into their household, three of them dying in infancy. The four now living are Ida, Otilia, Carl and Hannah, most of whom are graduates of that splendid institution at Lindsborg, Bethany College.
The first four years in Kansas Mr. and Mrs. Johnson spent in a dugout home. They lived on the prairies, witnessed the prairie fires, and both buffalo and Indians were frequently in their vicinity. Mr. Johnson at one time killed a buffalo not far from his dugout home. For several years he and his neighbors lived in a very isolated community. The nearest railroad station was at Salina, twenty-four miles away. There were no improved highways, and the wagon roads were mere trails or traces leading in haphazard direction across the prairies. Mr. Johnson after he produced a crop would haul the surplus in wagons to the nearest railroad point. It would not be difficult to compile quite a book describing all the hardships and incidents of Mr. Johnson’s life on the Kansas prairies, but he fought a good fight, and soon found himself with a little more comfort, a little more prosperity, and a better and broader outlook with each succeeding year. For forty-four years he lived on the original homestead, whose boundaries in the meantime had been largely increased by subsequent purchases until the Johnson farm comprises 710 acres, some of the most valuable land in McPherson County.
Mr. Johnson had kept in mind constantly his parents back in Sweden, and in 1870, from his earnings, he sent them sufficient money to pay for their passage to America, and they lived with him the rest of their days. His father died in 1886 and his mother in 1889.
In 1914, forty-five years after he arrived in Kansas, Mr. Johnson retired from the farm, which is now operated by his son Carl.
It was not alone in the improvement and development of a tract of land in McPherson County which represented Mr. Johnson’s best labors and achievements. He was one of the organizers of the Swedish-American Insurance Company of Lindsborg, a mutual fire insurance company which had had a very remarkable record and now had $8,000,000 insurance in force. Mr. Johnson had served as its president for many years and its success is largely due to his capable direction. He was also one of the founders of the Smoky Valley water mill at Lindsborg and in other ways had been identified with the upbuilding of that town.
While his first consideration on coming to America was a home, almost his next was an opportunity for religious life, and in 1869 he became one of the organizers of the Swedish Lutheran Church at Lindsborg. He had served continuously as one of its deacons since 1873 and had been secretary of the board since 1883. He also helped to build Bethany College at Lindsborg, in which all his children were educated and for seven years he was a member of its board. In 1915 Mr. Johnson became the first subscriber, and thereby is entitled to the distinction as the founder, of the Old People’s Home of Lindsborg. He is now manager of this very excellent institution, which is maintained by the Kansas Conference of the Swedish Lutheran Church. While these are the chief institutions and causes which have benefited from Mr. Johnson’s liberality and enterprise, there have been many other minor causes and instances of charity that might be credited to his generous nature.