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Thomas B. Johnson

Thomas B. Johnson, one of the pioneers of Cass county, was born in Virginia, and when about six years old, his parents emigrated to Ohio, where they only remained a few years, when they settled in Indianapolis, Indiana, then a small village. There he lived until a year after his marriage, when he emigrated to Muscatine, then Bloomington, Iowa, in 1839. In 1840, he applied to Government for a contract for establishing the first mail line between Muscatine and Iowa City. In '41 he received the appointment of U. S. Marshal from General Harrison, an office he held till removed by President Tyler two years after. In 1848, he returned to Indiana to be with his parents who were then quite old, when he received the appointment of mail agent on the Ben Franklin between Cincinnati and Louisville, of which boat he was a part of the time Captain.

In January, 1854, he and two nephews, K. T. Murdock and Jeremiah Johnson came to Cass county and purchased all the land from a line to the prairie somewhere near the north edge of what is now called Sanborn's Grove and so far south as to include the Shuart farm and a part of the Morrow farm, K. T. Murdock taking the Shuart farm, Jerry Johnson taking the south part of the Grove and what was know for some years as the Keyes farm, and Captain Johnson owning rather more than the north half of the Grove and running as far east as Hickory Street, Atlantic. The grove was known for some years as "Johnson's Grove." He and Colonel Knepper brought the first Durham stock into the county in the summer of '54; they were brought from Indiana. The nearest neighbors at that time being Donors, Byrds, Gills and Joseph Eyerly.

He applied for license at Iowa City to practice law and passed examination before the bar of that place in 1854, and was also Notary Public. In the Fall of '55 he went back to Indiana and brought his family to Cass county. In the Spring of 1856 he sold forty acres from the north-east corner to William Fansler who immediately bult a log cabin upon it. The same spring, he sold the rest of his farm with the exception of 40 acres in the heart of the grove to John Keyes, Oliver Mills, and ---- Bartlet. He moved to the other side of the river where he owned a half section of prairie land which he commenced improving at once. He built a good frame house, the only one with the exception of Judge Lorah's, Mat Watson's, and Col. Knepper's, in this part of the county.

Although he had his field of fifty acres surrounded by a good fence he had no enclosure about his house or barn, and so it happened that on the second day of the great snow storm of the first and second days of December, 1856, he and the hired hand on returning to the house from the barn about four o'clock after feeding stock for the night could see nothing for the fury of the storm, for they were facing it, barely missed being lost by Captain Johnson striking his shoulder against the corner of the house, three inches more and he would have died in the storm.

In the winter of '58 the legislature appointed him Commissioner to select the swamp lands in Plymouth, Sioux, Woodbury, O'Brien and Ida counties. He employed William Waddell and K. W. Macomber to do the surveying and a Mr. Jenkins to do the cooking and make himself generally useful. It was a five months' job from the middle of May to the middle of October. In the winter of 1858 he concluded to rent his farm and move to Lewis for the purpose of giving his two children educational advantages, a good school being there in the Court House.

In the winter of 1860, he went to Des Moines to get his pay for his contract but the legislature refused to make the appropriation and after being thrown out three times it finally was allowed near the close of the session, but the anxiety and work was too much and he only lived a week afterward. He died of lung fever at the American House, in Des Moines, on the 2d day of April, his family only getting to see him the day before his death. He was buried on the 3d in the cemetery at Des Moines with the honors of Masonry. It was greatly due to his efforts that the Masonic Lodge was organized in Lewis at the time it was, and after organizing he presented them with a handsome Bible.

From "History of Cass County, Iowa Together With Brief Mention of Old Settlers," by Lafe Young, Atlantic, Iowa, Telegraph Steam Printing House, 1877, pg. 75-77.

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