Watts A. Johnson
Taken From The Biographical Record of Bureau, Marshall and Putnam Counties,
Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company 1896
Rising about the head of the mass are many men of sterling worth and value, who by sheet perseverance and pluck have conquered fortune, and by their unaided efforts have risen from the ranks of the commonplace to eminence and positions of respect and trust; but the brilliant qualities of mind and brain which mark the great lawyer are to a certain extent God-given. Nature richly endowed the subject of this sketch with these brilliant attributes, but sterling worth and honest manliness, and a strong, resolute character, are the qualities which have enabled him to put the talents with which nature, or providence, gifted him to the best possible use. He is a present the popular state's attorney of Bureau county.
A native of Indiana, Mr. Johnson was born at Hillsboro, Dearborn county, December 16, 1857, and is a son of James J. and Minerva (Young) Johnson, natives of New York and Pennsylvania, respectively. The mother, who was a devout and active member of the Baptist church, died in 1885, ant the age of fifty-three years, but the father is still living, a resident of Bureau County, and has reached the age of sixty-seven years. By occupation he is a farmer and has lead a very quiet, unobtrusive life. Like his wife, he has also been a lifelong consistent member of the Baptist church.
Our subject in the fourth in the order of birth in the family of thirteen children, the others being as follows: John C., a minister of the Baptist church, married Anna Coon, by whom he has a son, Cary. He died at the age of forty-one years, and his wife has also passes away; James H., a real estate dealer of Omaha, Nebraska, married Leanora Cook, who died, leaving two children, Cook and Lyman; William H., a farmer of Bureau county, married Mary Bowan, and has seven children - Harry, Frank, Clay, Gray, Calvin, Homer, and Minerva E.; Mary is the wife of John J. Mundy, of Orleans, Nebraska, and they have three children - Frank, Claude and Darline; Nora is the wife of Samuel S. Harris, of Bureau county, and they have two children - Watts and Bernadine; Maggie is a music teacher of Princeton; Florence died at the age of twenty-four years; Alice b., is the wife of Rev. Lomanza S. Walker, a Baptist minister of Belvidere, Illinois, and they have two children, Owen and Leona; Leonetta died at the gage of twenty years; Herbert H., is an agriculturist of Bureau county; Arstella and Minnie are still at home.
The education of Watts A. Johnson was well-acquired and obtained under many hardships, but with credit to himself. When but two years of age he was brought by his parents to Bureau county, locating upon a farm in Dover township, where he attended the common schools for a time, and for a year and a half entered in teaching in the Madison school of that township. Deciding to make the legal profession his life work; he began studying in the office of R. M. Skinner, after which he spent one year in the University of Chicago, and then entered the Union College of Law. During his three years' course there, he earned his way by carrying papers in the morning, and by lighting street lamps in the evening. On the completion of his course, he graduated with honors in the class of 1883.
Returning to Princeton, he at once began practice, which has now grown to flattering proportions, and he is numbered among the most prominent lawyers in this section of the state. In 1884 Mr. Johnson was elected city attorney of Princeton, which position he acceptably filled for two terms of two years each, and at both elections was the only one on the general "no license" ticket to be elected. In the fall of 1892 he was nominated as state's attorney for Bureau county, and was elected. So ably did he discharge the duties of the office, that in April, 1896 he was renominated by acclamation - the only instance of the kind in that county where the candidate for that office received a nomination in that way in a republican convention. This speaks well for an office well filled and a public service well rendered. His present term expires in November, 1896.
Mr. Johnson was the prosecuting attorney in the Spring Valley riot case in 1895, which was about the most important case ever tried in Bureau county; and the duties of his office at that time required more arduous service than any of his predecessors had been called upon to render. It was said that the verdict of the jury was certainly a very high compliment to him, both fro the careful and efficient manner in which the papers leading up to it were drawn, and also for the ability shown in presenting it to the court. Though Mr. Johnson did not enjoy sending so many men to the penitentiary, he certainly did his whole duty, and did it in a manner that won for him much admiration.
On the 2d of January, 1884, was celebrated the marriage of Mr. Johnson and Miss Jennie C. Buckingham, daughter of Almus and Zerlina Buckingham of De Kalb county, Illinois. They hold an enviable position in social circles and are members of the Baptist church, of Princeton. In politics our subject is an ardent republican, supporting McKinley, sound money and the platform adopted at the St. Louis convention. It is but just and merited praise to say that as a lawyer, Mr. Johnson ranks among the ablest in Bureau county, as a citizen in honorable, prompt and true to every engagement, and as a friend, a model worthy of all imitation.
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