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Johnson, Jerry

This singular and eccentric individual came from the White Water country, with his father's family, in the winter of 1820-21.  They settled on a piece of land they afterwards bought adjoining the Donation, on the north side, opposite "Camp Morton," the present Fair Ground.

A neighbor of theirs, "Old Billy Reagin," had two beautiful daughters (his only children), Miss Rachel, the eldest, and Miss Dovey, the younger.  Young Jerry was not slow in discovering that "Miss Rachel was the purtiest critter his two eyes ever seed;" and, said Jerry, "I determined from the moment I first seed her, to have her, or die a-trying."

Jerry pressed his suit with all the ardor of his youthful passion, and soon won the heart and promise of the hand lf the beautiful Rachel.  There were other troubles to be surmounted of a more formidable nature -- the county was not yet organized, and no person authorized to issue the necessary legal document to make the contract between him and Rachel binding, and consummate his happiness for life.  The nearest point where the necessary license could be procured was Connersville, about sixty miles distant, and through an unbroken wilderness.  Another circumstance made Mr. Johnson's trouble still greater; it was in the spring time of year, and his father could not spare him a horse from the plow.  All these difficulties seemed to nerve rather than depress the spirits of Mr. Johnson.  He well knew the danger of delay in such affairs, and fearful if he should wait for a horse, some other swain might woo and win the heart of the fair Rachel, which he wished to claim as quick as possible for his own, with a determination worthy of the cause in which he was engaged, he at once set out to "do or die," and started on foot, and barefoot at that, to make the journey alone.  He accomplished his journey, and returned to find other difficulties, which if not so laborious, were equally disheartening, and calculated to make him believe that fate was against him.  There was no magistrate yet appointed for the county, nor was there a minister authorized to tie the legal knot, and make them Mr. and Mrs. Johnson; so poor Jerry had to wait six long weeks, principally in the month of April, for a preacher to come and make him the happiest man in the New Purchase, and Rachel, as she was (like the goose that hung high), "altogether lovely."  So ended the first courtship and wedding in or near Indianapolis.

There are many anecdotes of Mr. Johnson yet fresh in the minds of our old citizens.  He was an ardent Whig, and took great interest in the elections during the existence of that party.

The first returns of a Presidential election received in this place by telegraph was in the year 1848, when Generals Taylor and Cass were the candidates.  He remained in the telegraph office until a late hour of the night, to hear the dispatches read as they were severally received.  Addressing himself to the writer, "Wall, John, has old Jerry lived to see the day when a streak of lighning can be made run along a clothes line, jist like some 'tarnal wild varmint 'long a worm fence, and carry nuse from one eend of the yearth to the tother?  What would old Jim McCoy say if he wor here to see the nuse come in this way?  He'd say, ''twiant slow for ten stops boys; let's have something to drink.  Landis, bring us some peach and honey.  What's Russell, with his fiddle? and we'll have a reg'lar hoe down, so we will.'"

In the fall of 1847, there were several thousand persons assembled at the Madison depot to witness the arrival of the first locomotive and train of cars that ever came to Indianapolis.  Mr. Johnson was standing on a pile of lumber, elevated above the rest of the crowd.  As the locomotive hove in sight, he cried out, at the top of his voice, "Look out, boys; here she comes, h-ll on wheels."  As the train stopped, he approached the locomotive; said he, "Well, well, who ever seed such a tarnal critter?  It's wus nor anything I ever hearn on.  Good Lord, John, what's this world gwine to come to?"

Mr. Johnson died about the year 1852.  His wife survived him but a short time.  His only child, a son, has since died.  He was an upright, honest man, with many good traits of character.  Although a rough uncouth man in his manners, he possessed a kind and generous heart, ever ready to do a neighbor a kindness or favor.  His house was always open to the unfortunate or wayfaring stranger, without money and without price.  Such was Jerry  Johnson, a fair specimen of the hospitality, generosity and frankness that characterized the early inhabitants of Indianapolis, when out selfish nature and the love of power and placed had not assumed the entire control of our actions, and money was not the standard by which our characters were weighed.

There are many yet living, that will attest the correctness and truthfulness (if not the elegance) of this short sketch of an "old settler."

Nowland, John H. B., “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis, with Short Biographical Sketches of Its Early Citizens, and of a Few of the Prominent Business Men of the Present Day,” 1870, pp. 31-34