Along with this reversal of fortune and the feeling that he’d been duped into the sale by those he had hoped would invest, Johnson’s life was soon marred by far greater tragedy when, within the span of a few short years, he lost his brother and his two young children.
In 1905, following the death of his second child, Johnson purchased a league (4,428 acres) north of Gordon, where he and his wife then moved and where he hoped to build a community large enough to rival Thurber, the company town built by his business nemesis, Robert Dickey Hunter.
Though his hope never materialized, Johnson remained both a successful businessman and rancher throughout the remainder of his life. He was the first importer of whitetail deer to the area, keeping the animals in a high-fenced game preserve. Ironically, today, the present owners of the ranch also manage a wild and exotic game preserve on the property; so at least a part of Johnson’s vision for the property lives on.
No visit to the Johnson League Ranch would be complete without first stopping by the Johnson League Mausoleum, the history of which speaks to both the love of parent for child and the heartbreak of loss. As previously mentioned, William and his wife, Anna, lost both of their children to disease prior to moving from their home in Strawn to Johnson’s League.
Unable to bury either of the children because of their grief, the parents chose instead to keep their only daughter and only son in an upstairs bedroom where Mrs. Johnson is reported to have lovingly changed their clothing daily. After moving to their new home on Johnson’s League, Johnson had a small wooden mausoleum constructed and attached to the new house. However, when Palo Pinto Creek overflowed its banks in 1908 the little mausoleum and its contents narrowly missed destruction when swept away by floodwaters. Only the action taken by quick-thinking ranch hands saved it. After its retrieval, the mausoleum was moved to the highest point on the ranch, Salt Point.
Preceded in death by her husband, when Anna Johnson died in 1922, she left specific instructions detailing the building of a stone mausoleum, which was to house the bodies of herself, her husband and their two children. She specified that once the bodies were placed inside, the building was to be forever sealed shut. Today it remains a silent reminder of a time gone by and the deep and lasting mark William Whipple Johnson and his wife made on this land.
As an interesting side note, the original wooden mausoleum, having been found and fully restored, can be seen on the tour.
See Tuesday’s Index for part 2.