SURNAMES: GUTIERREZ, HINMAN, WHEELER,
Among those who
figured in Gilroy when it was a mere hamlet, is to be found the gentleman whose
name heads this sketch. He is, however, a native of Sonora, Mexico, having been
born at Oposura, in that State, May 6, 1838. His father, John Johnson, was a
native of Kentucky, and came of one of the best-known families of that State.
The Indian race never presented a firmer or stronger front in opposition to the
encroachments of civilization than in the pioneer days of Kentucky, and there the name of Johnson occupied a place as conspicuous and
honorable as that of Boone.
Col. Richard M. Johnson, Vice-President of the United States, 1837-41, to whom history has accorded the fame of being the slayer of Tecumseh, was a member of the family. Coming of such stock, John Johnson could not be otherwise than the man of iron nerve and will his subsequent career proved him to be. When he was young his parents removed to Missouri, and there he lived until 1835, in which year he went to Mexico, though then hardly past the age of boyhood. Finally, locating at Oposura, the ancient capital of the Opota Indians, he met and married a Spanish lady, Delfina Gutierrez, who was born in San Miguel, and educated at Oposura. He at once became a leader in the community, and his business as a trader grew to large proportions. The ravages of the Apache Indians, ever an important element in restraining the progress of that portion of Mexico, were then at their worst, and they were not only a constant source of menace to the trading trains of Mr. Johnson, on their way to and from the States, but were also the cause of great dread and consternation among the people during his absence. He decided to strike a blow at the Apaches which should be an effectual check on their operations in that vicinity, and for this purpose set about forming an expedition against them, with seventeen American trappers and hunters in his employ as a nucleus.
Starting out with this object in view, it became evident that his force would not be augmented, as all regarded the expedition as foolhardy in the extreme. Their progress was telegraphed from band to band of the Indians by means of signal fires on the hills, and on the afternoon of the third day out they were surrounded at the foot of the Sierra by a large party of warriors, under the leadership of the celebrated Juan Jose, who demanded the reason of their presence there. Mr. Johnson gave the plausible excuse that his party were on their way to the States, on account of the impending trouble between Texas and Mexico. He also asked for guides, promising at a given point to present the Indians with a part of the pack, consisting of trinkets, etc., on the next day. Before separating temporarily from the Indians, Johnson noticed a Mexican girl among them, and learning that she was a captive he purchased her release. She soon repaid the favor by informing her deliverers that the Indians had a plan to massacre the entire party. The distribution of presents was to be allowed to take place on the following morning, and the guide then furnished was to lead the Americans into an ambush. Swift runners had been sent out to gather a force of Indians for this purpose. On learning of this, Johnson determined to meet cunning with cunning. He selected for the transfer of the presents a little valley, with an opening surrounded by a grove of oak timber and clusters of underbrush. Some large flat stones formed natural tables on which the trinkets were artfully displayed by the hunters. A howitzer, which had been packed on the back of a mule, was loaded with double charges of grape and canister, and carefully concealed in a clump of underbrush close at hand. Carefully covered by the pack-saddles, blankets, etc., the artilleryman in charge had carefully trained it upon the narrow place where the Indians must assemble to receive the presents. The little band of Americans were to be apparently carelessly distributed about the ground, but in reality each was to have his Kentucky rifle, carefully loaded, within reach, and every detail in readiness for a sudden fight.
Juan Jose was promptly on hand with a large band, and some of his most renowned subalterns. The artilleryman partially uncovered his howitzer, and when the Indians became huddled together, he fired his piece. Almost simultaneously sixteen Kentucky rifles cracked, and a large proportion of the Indian band was almost in a twinkling literally mowed away. Each rifleman had selected for his victim a chief or noted warrior, and after the first volley no one was left to lead the bewildered red men remaining, who immediately took to their heels, followed by volleys from the riflemen, who had so outwitted a party superior to them in number many times to one! This remarkable victory, with all its attendant circumstances, made such an impression on the Apaches that their outrages in Johnson's region were thereafter effectually checked.
John Johnson was an educated man, and by profession a physician. He practiced for some time after going to Mexico. In 1849 he came to Gilroy with his son Richard, and in the following year his son Julian, whose name commences this article, and who was at that time a lad of but ten years, came to Gilroy also, with an uncle. He worked first as a farm boy, but at the age of fourteen he entered the store of Mr. Everett as a clerk, and while there studied at nights, thus obtaining his education. He followed the fortunes of this store long after the original proprietor had left it, and while there he filled the position of expressman, telegraph operator, and Postmaster. In the spring of 1863 he went to Mexico to engage in mining, but in January, 1864, he returned to Gilroy, and re-entered the store of Wagenheim, Loupe, Levy & Co. With them he remained until September, 1865, when he returned to Mexico, and his interests there have so grown that they require his presence most of the time. In one ranch he has 100,000 acres. He has, however, chosen Gilroy as a home for his family, and here, in 1874, he purchased a handsome residence property, which is kept up with a high regard for care and taste.
His wife, to
whom he was married September 24, 1862, was formerly Miss Mary H. Hinman, a
native of Mannsville, Jefferson County, New York, and daughter of Joel and
Eunice (Wheeler) Hinman. Her father died in 1849, but her mother, who survives,
a lady of culture and refinement, is sprightly and active, and has her home with
Mrs. Johnson. She has a number of times made the trip from New York to the
Pacific, and return, and thoroughly enjoyed it. She is of an old New York
family. Her uncle, David Wheeler, by whom she was raised after her father's
death, was a soldier in the War of the Revolution. Her grandfather also served
in the patriotic army. Mr. and Mrs. Julian Johnson are the parents of five
children, namely: Charles Hinman, William Hinman, Julian Manuel, Frances Eunice,
and John Everett.
Pen Pictures From The Garden of the World or Santa Clara County, California, Illustrated. - Edited by H. S. Foote.- Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1888.
SANTA CLARA COUNTY BIOGRAPHY PROJECT