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Beautiful and treacherous, the Western plains of Indian Territory were home to one of the most colorful personalities of the 19th century—Chickasaw rancher Montford T. Johnson.  Orphaned at a young age, Johnson survived great hardships and tragedy to establish a vast ranching empire along the famous cattle highway of the American West, the Chisholm Trail. Inspired by a true story, this dramatic story tells of his time among settlers, cowboys, tribes, military and bandits. Armed with grit and determination, Montford had the courage that was needed to tame what seemed an infinite wilderness, while always maintaining respect for those who lived there.

Montford T. Johnson

Renowned Oklahoma cattleman Montford Thomas Johnson was born in November 1843 in Indian Territory near present-day Connerville, Oklahoma.

After the death of his mother, a Chickasaw, and the departure of his father, Montford grew up as an orphan. Montford became a capable farmer and worked with friends and family to build a successful cattle ranching business. He befriended the legendary trader and trailblazer Jesse Chisholm, who helped him make agreements with First American tribes on the Chickasaw Nation’s Western frontier to allow him to ranch the land without threat of attack.

Montford’s cattle ranch spanned a huge part of central Oklahoma, including modern-day Oklahoma City. Montford was widely known as an honest man who made business decisions that were beneficial to all involved. He was also known for his charitable actions. Montford regularly gave food to starving First Americans who had been neglected by the U.S. government. He also took in many orphaned children, giving them a loving home in which they could grow.

Montford worked to improve the lives of fellow First Americans who had been forced onto reservations by the U.S. government, making agreements that allowed them to take cattle from his herds whenever they needed food.

Montford died in Minco, Oklahoma, on February 17, 1896.

Mary Elizabeth Johnson

Montford Johnson’s first wife, Mary Elizabeth (Campbell) Johnson was the daughter of Sergeant Charles Campbell and his Irish wife, Mary. Mary Elizabeth met Montford while he was looking after the homestead of her older brother, Michael, who was married to Montford’s sister.

Montford and Mary Elizabeth quickly fell in love, and they married in the fall of 1862. Mary Elizabeth had nine children and was very adept at ranch life. She was adamant about saving money, with the intent of providing better opportunities for their children than she and Montford had. She was a devout Catholic, which Montford respected, and the children were raised in the Catholic faith. She also understood Montford’s peculiarities, giving her a great ability to give Montford advice and support.

Mary Elizabeth died from an infection on August 27, 1880, in Silver City, Oklahoma.

Edward Bryant Johnson

Edward Bryant “E.B.” Johnson was the first son of Montford and Mary Johnson. He was born on October 1, 1863, and grew up learning about the ranching life. As a child, E.B. was bright, quickly learning to read and write, though he was more interested in ranching.

Montford insisted that his children receive a proper education, and E.B. attended various schools during his youth. Shortly after his mother’s death, E.B. travelled to New York City to continue his education. During this time he was tutored in his grandfather’s liquor trade and grew to abhor spirits of all kinds.

E.B. returned from New York to attend Montford’s second wedding in 1883, and there he met his future wife, Mollie Graham, whom he married in 1887. After Montford’s death in 1896, E.B. became guardian to his half-brothers and sisters, who were still young children. E.B. was a successful businessman and maintained the family estate for many years. E.B. died on Christmas Day 1935.

Adelaide Johnson Campbell Bond

Adelaide Johnson Campbell Bond was the older sister of Montford Johnson. Adelaide was born on Christmas Day, 1841, in Indian Territory. When she was 17, during a trip to Fort Arbuckle, Adelaide met Michael Campbell, whom she would marry.

Adelaide and Michael had three children. During the Civil War, Michael became a major in the Chickasaw Battalion stationed at nearby Fort Arbuckle. Michael was killed trying to ford the Washita River in 1864.

Adelaide later married Jim Bond, a trader and stockman, who worked with Montford in the ranching business.

Adelaide was known for her hospitality—providing food for hungry cowboys driving herds near her home on the South Canadian River.

Michael Campbell

Michael Campbell was the first husband of Adelaide Johnson. He first met Adelaide while she was visiting the Campbell family at Fort Arbuckle in 1858. They were married in the fall of 1859 and lived together with Michael’s family at the fort. In 1860, they moved to their new home near the Washita River.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Michael joined the Chickasaw Battalion supporting the Confederate Army. He was a major, and spent much of his time on the march or at Fort Arbuckle, which was under Confederate control.

Michael often made the trip from the fort to spend the night at home. The trip included several crossings of the Washita River. One evening in the summer of 1864, he made the trip, but only his horse arrived home. He drowned in the river on the last crossing of his journey.

No known photograph of Michael Campbell exists.

Charles "Boggy" Johnson

Montford Johnson’s father, Charles (Boggy) Johnson was born in England in 1819 and traveled to America at the young age of 19. Trained as a Shakespearean actor, he joined a small theatre company that toured the south where he married a beautiful Chickasaw woman, Rebekah Courtney.

Boggy and Rebekah established their home amongst the Chickasaw and eventually had two children, Adelaide and Montford. In 1844 Rebekah passed away of pneumonia, leaving Boggy with two young children. After the loss of his wife, Boggy made arrangements to leave the Chickasaws and move his children back east. However, Rebekah’s family insisted the children stay with them. Boggy reluctantly left his children behind and traveled east alone. This would be the last contact Montford and Adelaide had with their father for more than thirty years.

Boggy was reunited with Montford and Adelaide in the summer of 1877.

Jack Brown

In 1868, Montford Johnson sought out Jack Brown to operate a newly built headquarters for his ranch on Walnut Creek. In exchange, Montford would give every fourth calf to Jack.

Jack was married to a woman named Eliza, who worked as a cook for the Campbell family. Montford’s sister had married into the Campbell family and Montford married Mary Elizabeth Campbell. Eliza later helped care for Montford and Mary Elizabeth’s son, Edward Bryant. Jack remained a friend and partner of Montford until his death in 1895 at the age of seventy. He was buried at Walnut Creek where his tombstone remains today.

No known photograph of Jack Brown exists.

Granny Vicey Harmon

Vicey “Granny” Harmon was a Chickasaw woman who became a close friend and business partner of the Johnson family. Granny Vicey was a friend of Jesse Chisholm as well, and had originally planned to run his trading post. After his death, those plans ended, but Granny Vicey insisted on running a store with Montford’s assistance. She joined Montford in the ranching business and took over the Council Grove Ranch near where Jesse Chisholm’s trading post had been, and the ranch became known as the first permanent settlement of what would become Oklahoma City.

Jesse Chisholm

Jesse Chisholm was a pioneer and tradesman in Indian Territory, most famously known for scouting the Chisholm Trail, which is named after him. Born around 1805, he was half-Cherokee. He grew up in Arkansas until he was approximately 20 years old, at which time he left home to search for gold.

After working to help the U.S. government establish ties with the Comanche and Wichita tribes, Chisholm became one of the best known guides in Indian Territory. He helped Sam Houston establish relations with the Comanche and constantly visited First American tribes in the American southwest.

Jesse was a friend of Montford Johnson and he helped reach agreements with the First Americans living on the Chickasaw Nation’s Western frontier. Without these agreements, Montford’s ranching venture would have been in constant jeopardy from tribes occupying the area. 

Jesse was a successful trader and operated a trading post in Indian Territory (near modern downtown Oklahoma City) until his death in 1868.