Escal F. Duke

JOHNSON, JOHN WILLIS (1857–1923). J. Willis Johnson, lawman, rancher, and banker, the son of John William Johnson, was born in Henry County, Tennessee, on February 16, 1857. At the age of sixteen he decided to go west and "grow up with the country." He went first to Brownwood, where he joined a party of buffalo hunters. Arriving in San Angelo around 1874, he continued for a time hunting buffalo, but shortly began a series of jobs at local stores. He also helped with the construction of Fort Concho. With his savings he bought a small herd of sheep, and in 1881 he began working as a cowboy. With profits from his sheep he went into the cattle business. In 1882 he was elected as a hide and animal inspector; the same year he was also elected sheriff of Tom Green County, a job which he held until 1892. He became widely known as one of the few sheriffs in the state who did not carry a gun. In 1887 he married Lou Elizabeth Holmsley of Comanche. They were the parents of one son and two daughters. During the four successive terms Johnson served as sheriff and tax collector, he also acquired considerable land and cattle. His land acquisitions include two of the county's historic ranches: the Crow's Nest Ranch and the Door Key Ranch. With the purchase of the latter in 1909, he became the largest landowner in Tom Green County with over 90,000 acres in Tom Green and nearby counties. In 1911 Governor Oscar B. Colquitt appointed Johnson to the Livestock Sanitary Commission (now the Texas Animal Health Commission), and four years later Governor James E. Ferguson reappointed him. While serving on the commission, Johnson helped secure the passage of the tick and scab law by paying attorneys to help draft the bill and lobby for it. Johnson considered his efforts in getting this law passed one of his most important public services. Johnson was one of the founders of the San Angelo National Bank, organized in 1884, and he was elected to its first board of directors. This bank later became the Texas Commerce Bank. Johnson helped organize the Western National Bank and in 1907 was elected its president, a position he held until the bank's 1919 merger with the Central National Bank. Johnson served as chairman of the board and first vice president of Central National until his death. In addition to his ranching and banking enterprises, he also loaned money privately; San Angelo's newspaper, the Standard, was founded on money borrowed from Johnson. J. Willis Johnson died in San Angelo on November 14, 1923. In 1927 Mrs. Johnson established the J. Willis Johnson Foundation in memory of her husband. The $100,000 fund financed a dam in downtown San Angelo, an iron lung, and decorative fountains at Shannon West Texas Memorial Hospital. Since then thousands of dollars from the foundation have been contributed annually to numerous worthy projects in San Angelo.


Julia Grace Bitner, The History of Tom Green County, Texas (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1931). Ellis A. Davis and Edwin H. Grobe, comps., The New Encyclopedia of Texas (4 vols., 1929?). Joe A. Gibson, Old Angelo (San Angelo: Educator, 1971). San Angelo Standard Times, November 22, 1970. Sheep and Goat Raisers' Magazine, December 1923. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Escal F. Duke, "JOHNSON, JOHN WILLIS," accessed August 25, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on May 3, 2019. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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