of his peacekeeping came shortly after he and his wife moved to
Johnson tried to make what amounted to a citizen’s arrest of a man
he believed to be a fugitive from the law.
“I chased him in my car until I couldn’t go any farther,” he recalled.
“He got off his horse and started running, and I let him go. He
went to the sheriff in Alpine
and said he wanted to file charges on me for shooting at him.”
The sheriff, a deputy and two Texas Rangers showed up at the trading
post the next day. Guided to the scene of the confrontation, the
lawmen couldn’t find any empty shell casings.
Johnson was not around at the time, but went to the sheriff’s office
as soon as he heard the lawmen had been looking into the incident.
As the trading post proprietor explained that he had only chased
the man, not shot at him three times as he had claimed, a Ranger
who knew him spoke up in his behalf.
“Elmo, I told ‘em it was a damn lie,” he said. “You wouldn’t have
shot but once, anyway.”
Nothing further came of the matter.
in Fannin County
in 1889, Johnson and his family moved to Dallas
when he was 14. After he got out of school, he worked for Dunn and
Bradstreet for a time before deciding in 1910 to settle on two sections
of family land in Sutton
In 1918 he got drafted,
but by the time he reported for processing in San
Antonio, the Armistice had been signed. Having sold his West
Texas land, he decided to stay in the Alamo City and go into
the house building business.
He built several blocks of homes, but didn’t think he was making
enough money and sold out. That’s when he and his wife, Ada, decided
to come to the Big
They bought a ranch and built their trading post on the Texas side
of the Rio Grande, 16 miles downstream from Castolon.
All went well for three years, but on April 11, 1929, 30 Mexican
bandits struck the ranch, driving off all of Johnson’s livestock.
The Army dispatched a troop of cavalry to guard the trading post
and patrol the river from there, but airplanes could travel a lot
faster than horses.
“I talked the Air Corps into putting in a landing strip at my ranch
near the trading post,” he said. “Back in those days there was no
night flying, and my place was a good location for a stop-over.”
The Army also put in a radio station at the ranch and Johnson became
an unpaid operative for Army intelligence, G-2. He used the radio,
which had one soldier assigned as its operator, to report suspicious
activity along his part of the river.
The air field was shut down in 1943, the National
Park opened a year later, and a year after that, the Johnson’s
said goodbye to the Big
Bend and moved to Sonora.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" March
12, 2009 column