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The Life of John W. Johnson
Chapter 10
Meeting The Johnson Family - 1855

Transcribed - June 1998 - by Ne-Do-Ba

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Whilst here "Big Frank," that I have before referred to, came along giving exhibitions with a traveling company. One evening they gave an entertainment, and they usually reserved the front seats for ladies, but on that evening two drunken fellows had seated themselves there, and were laughing, swearing, and stamping their feet, making considerable noise and confusion. "Big Frank" was somewhat excited at their behavior, and told them that they might go and get their money and leave, or sit still. They paid no attention to him, but continued as noisy as ever, when "Big Frank" sprang, and seizing one in each hand, dragged them to the top of the stairs, and threw them both down, and then returned and continued the performance.

The company when they left took some of our party with them, but finding that their agent had cheated them, they would not let him get into the cars, but made him stop behind, and they went off. This agent that they left behind wanted to get up a show in the place, and he spoke to me. I had some money, and with it I purchased some dresses for myself and wife, and the agent advertised that besides the Indians he had engaged the services of Prof. Mooney, a celebrated sleight-of-hand performer.

The evening came, and they had in front of the building a splendid flag, and upon it, "Prof. Mooney and the Indians will perform tonight." I understood before the time came, that the Prof. would not be there, yet I endeavored in all ways that I could to get up a good show. We had quite a large audience, but when they found out that Prof. Mooney would not be there, they raised a "breeze" quickly and rushing towards the stage, they demanded their money. I and My wife started for the door, walking upon the seats, and after getting out of the building, we made our way with all possible dispatch to the camp. The agent and another white man who was instrumental with him in getting up the entertainment, got a number of rowdies to protect them as they went to the tavern where they stopped, otherwise they would have been mobbed.

The audience being determined to make as much out of it as they could, stripped the large flag to pieces, and thus ended the great "Mooney and Indian exhibition." I lent the agent eight dollars to commence, which I lost, to say nothing about what I spent for dresses and other things. By this operation I got into debt somewhat, and had to pawn some of my things to pay my bills, and leaving Great Falls with my wife and two Indians, we took the cars for Kennebunk, Me., and from the depot we walked down to the village, and tried to get a place to camp out, but were not successful. We therefore kept on to Kennebunkport, but not getting a place there we walked back to the village, where we pawned some of our things, and procured something to eat, and then went back to the depot. We sent our things by the cars, and walked ourselves to Saco, where we slept in the depot.

The next morning being rainy we did not have agreeable weather to look us out a place to camp, and not finding any place to suit us in Saco, we camped in the wood opposite the Biddeford depot. We obtained permission and pitched our tent, working until late in the evening to get comfortable quarters to sleep in, but then they were far from comfortable, as there was ice underneath the hemlock boughs upon which we slept, and our condition was not a very pleasant one. We were rather scant for fuel while here, but the depot master kindly gave us permission to pick up wood around the depot, and one of my cousins, Daniel Johnson (although I did not know it at the time), who was at work upon a bridge near by, gave us permission to pick up chips, and by their kindness we got along very comfortably.

While I was here I had some circulars printed for my wife and thrown around the village, and she commenced to practice medicine, and with this and selling baskets we did very well. We had to go about a mile for our ash toward Kennebunk, which we had permission to get by cutting up the tops for the owners. The butts of these ash trees we carried to our camp upon our shoulders, but after being here a short time the depot master gave us permission to take a small car up to the place, where we loaded it up, and as it was down grade back we took home quite a load. We had this car also to get our firewood, and we felt extremely grateful to the master for his kindness. We took quite a sum of money, my wife having as much practice as she wished to attend to.

One morning when my grocery man came to bring us some things, I was somewhat surprised by his saying that my father was coming up to see me.

One day my wife was in the grocery store where we traded, and while there, I passed along upon the street, and looked in at the door, and seeing my wife, I passed on. Mr. Simeon Goodwin, who was in the store, remarked to Daniel Johnson, my cousin, who was also there, that I looked just like the Johnsons, and that he had no doubt but that I was Mr. Johnson's lost son. This interested somewhat my cousin, and he took the first opportunity to see my brother Samuel and inform him of the circumstance.

There was another incident that attracted some interest; it was the remark of a little boy who lived in Saco, near Mr. Bowdoin's, a man that married my sister. He had been up to our camp, and when he went home, he told his mother that there was an Indian over to the Biddeford depot, that looked just like Mrs. Bowdoin. The mother told the child not to repeat it, for if Mrs. Bowdoin should hear what he had said, they would be put out. My brother Samuel, after hearing what Goodwin said, came up to our camp, and began to talk about medicine with me. I noticed that he scrutinized me somewhat closely, which I thought was very impertinent. After looking at me for some time, he asked me how I came by that scar on my forehead; I told him that a horse had kicked me. This was what the Indians had told me years before, and I always supposed that it was true. He then asked as to take off my cap, which I did, asking him rather bluntly, if there was anything more that he wished. After talking with me some time longer, he went away, feeling petty confident that I was his brother, to the telegraph office in Saco, and sent a dispatch to my father who was then living in Lewiston, Me. He wished to keep the whole affair secret, but there was another person in the telegraph office at the time, besides the operator, who, hearing the news, went out and told it to another, and in this way it spread through the two places, and by night it was pretty well circulated. The next morning a crowd began to collect at the depot, which provoked us exceedingly, and they could not have been more interested in seeing me, had I been a grizzly bear. They also talked very extravagantly what they would do if they were in my father's place; one would hang up every red-skin in the State of Maine, another would shoot every one of the number at the depot there, whilst a third would tar and feather the company that I was with, and ride them on a rail. In this manner they railed at us all day, telling us what they would do, which made us extremely angry, and also lowered the whites much in our estimation. The morning of the day my father came, my brother George whom I had not known, came up to the depot. Two young men were standing upon the platform, and as he came up, one of them spoke to me, and said, "Here's a brother of yours, John." "Well," I said, "I look as well as he does, I guess."

"Of course you look as well as I do," my brother replied. After looking at me a short time, and conversing some, my brother went away. My father did not arrive until afternoon, and when he came, there had quite a number of Indians joined our company, and when he arrived I was in a tent with Dr. Newell. He entered the tent with two of my brothers, and one of my sisters, and this was the first time my father had seen me for twenty-two years. You cannot well imagine his feelings! In imagination his mind went back over my past life -- the day that I was lost -- the little accident by which I received a scar upon my forehead -- all these rushed through his mind, but subduing as much as possible his feelings, he addressed Dr. Newell, whilst I sat upon the ground upon one side of the tent. My father told the doctor that he wished to speak with me, and that if I was his son, I had been gone some twenty-two years. "He can't be your son," said Dr. Newell. "The expression of the face -- the features -- the color of his hair and eyes, and his size certainly give us every reason to believe that he is my son," and thus my father spoke. My father then asked how old I was, saying that if I was his child, I ought to be about twenty-five. I looked somewhat young for my age, and the doctor replied that I certainly could not be his son, as I was only eighteen years old. I went out then, and left the doctor and my father talking together; outside the crowd had increased, and I heard imprecations from every quarter hurled against the Indians, which made us feel somewhat cross and ugly, and going into the tent again, I told my father that there were not enough whites in the two places to take me away from the Indians. My father replied that he did not wish to take me away, but that if I was his son, I was of age, and my own master, and that all he wished to do, was to satisfy himself whether I was his child or not. My father then asked me if I would take off my hat, which I did, and he examined the scar upon my forehead, and asked me how I came by it. I made him the same answer that I did my brother Samuel. My father had quite a conversation with me, asking me various questions, and just before they left, my sister took out a miniature of another sister of mine, and asked me if I did not look like it. Feeling rather cross, I told her that the miniature looked no more like me than a jews-harp did like a gridiron.

I told them that I did not think they had done right in making such an excitement, and getting so many people up to our camp, and that if they wished to see me, they might have asked me to their house. I asked them if their carpets were too good for me to walk on, or their houses too good for me to go in, and I told them that they had spoiled our business, for we had not sold any baskets, and could not get a chance to make any; neither to cook or to eat, for there was a crowd around us all the time. My brother Samuel said that he was willing to pay us for all the damage that he had done, but I would not take anything, feeling too proud to accept money for no benefit given for it. My father then left, and asked me to come and see him at his son's house in the village. I felt angry, and told him that his invitation came too late. My father said that if I would not come and see him, that he would come and see me, and then they left the camp.

The mood in which my father left me was no pleasant one, surrounded as I had been throughout the day by a crowd of people, who were foolish enough to boast what they would do, if circumstances were thus, and so I thought that myself and the rest of the company had been insulted by the whites.

But after all I had different feelings towards my father; he had not assumed that bravado spirit, had not threatened us with punishment, nor hurled imprecations upon our heads, but in a somewhat different manner had expressed his views and opinions in a calm, although in a feeling manner, and I felt somehow or other, kindlier feelings towards him than any person I had before met with.

But I had not much opinion of the whites, I had always been taught not to trust them, and having lived with the Indians until I had formed their habits and customs, and their dispositions, and living with them.

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