The Johnstons


Within seven years after the signing of the Constitution, Joseph Johnston was born in New Jersey, and his future wife Mary Martin (Markin?) was born in Vermont. Joseph probably met Mary (commonly known as Polly) in New York State. They settled and had a family in the Dryden area, where they lived for 25 years or more. They had eight children, at least seven of whom accompanied them to Houston, Minnesota, where Joseph and Polly finally settled and later passed away.

The Johnstons moved to Beaver Dam, Dodge County, Wisconsin Territory in 1846. They lived in the Beaver Dam area for about eight years. This is where the four oldest children (and perhaps more) were married.


Christy Cameron

Duncan Cameron was born in Scotland. He married twice. His first married Sarah McDonnell of Glengarry before immigrating to Canada.


His second wife was Isabella Chisholm, who was born in Salt Springs, near Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Her parents were John Chisholm, born in Urquhart, Scotland, and Mary Livingstone, born in Montreal, Quebec. Her family moved to the village of Glengarry in Pictou County, which may have been where Duncan and Isabella met, especially considering that this was his second marriage. Glengarry was eventually renamed "Glengarry Station", but that was after our Camerons and Chisholms left Nova Scotia.

Christy and her older brother John were both born and raised in Glengarry. It is also likely that their brother Hugh was also born in Glengarry. It has been passed down that Christy only spoke Gaelic until she left Nova Scotia, but this is unlikely considering that English was commonly spoken in the Glengarry area, and also considering that her maternal grandmother was born in Montreal.

In 1847, much of Christy's immediate family, aunts, uncles, and cousins moved to Beaver Dam in the Wisconsin Territory.


William and Christy

William and Christy married in Beaver Dam on 15 February, 1848. They had their first child, Sarah, in 1848 or 1849, but it is likely Sarah died quite young, as no family records make any mention of her.

While they lived in Beaver Dam, William and Christy had three more children: Harvey Henry, Melinda "Birdie", and Ellen.


The Minnesota Territory

In May 1854, the Johnstons and Christy's parents moved to the Minnesota Territory. The Johnstons settled in Houston, and Christy's parents continued up river to Rushford.

William and Christy had two more children in Houston - Mary and Douglas, and probably another that didn't survive childhood.

William's brother David did not live past age 32. He drowned in the Root River (at Houston) in 1859.

On August 18 1862, 52 settlers were massacred by Sioux warriors near New Ulm, Minnesota, and panic spread throughout the region. We have no knowledge of how this impacted the Johnstons, Camerons,and Chisholms.


The Move North

William, Christy, and all of their children except daughter Birdie Todd, moved to Ottertail County, Minnesota in 1870. We don't know whether they all moved at once, but we know that William and Christy moved in 1870. Harvey Henry appears to have left a bit earlier (before the 1870 census).


Harvey Henry Johnston

Eleanor Quenette

Harvey is thought to have moved to Douglas County in 1869, at an age of about 18. It was here, in January 1871, that he married the 18 year-old widow Eleanor (Quenette) Barrett. They had both been raised in Houston, Minnesota, so they must have known each other in childhood. Eleanor had married her first husband, Urwin Barrett, at age 15 in Saint Paul, moved with him to Douglas County, and lost him to consumption just after she turned 18. She had a 1 year-old son, named Charles Frances Barrett, when she married Harvey. Their first child William was born that September.

Though Eleanor married young, her sister Maria Isabelle married even younger. They married on the same day in Ramsey County, two years after their father had died while serving in the Civil War. Eleanor was 15, but her sister was only 13. Isabelle also moved to Leaf Valley, Douglas County with her husband Samuel Blodgett.


Ottertail County

At some time after their marriage, Harvey and Eleanor moved to Ottertail County. Perhaps Harvey was already living there, as were his parents. It was there, in Parker's Prarie and Wrightstown, that they lived and raised their children until about 1885 - a total of about 14 years.


"Chris Kapphahn of Leaf Valley was over on Monday.  He is buying up a lot of cattle and getting ready to go to Kansas, where Mr. Blodgett, one of his neighbors is, who writes that he likes the country very much."

- a Fergus Falls Daily newspaper, April 10, 1886


Southwest Kansas was booming in the early 1880s. It appears that Harvey Henry, Eleanor, their children moved to Garden City, Kansas with the Blodgetts (the family of Eleanor's sister) in 1885. It is most likely they moved in 1885 because the Blodgetts were already there in April 1886. The winter before had been very harsh, though the Blodgetts, and perhaps the Johnstons, had weathered it well. They were Minnesotans, after all. At least the Blodgetts had no complaints.


The extremes of Kansas weather created many hardships for the pioneers. The winter of 1885 and 1886 was particularly severe. A series of cold spells and heavy snowfalls culminated in the first week of January, when a huge snowstorm accompanied by high winds hit the central plains. Drifts of six feet or more were common and the temperature dropped to 30 degrees below zero in some places. Many prairie homes had been quickly and cheaply built, leaving settlers ill prepared to protect themselves from such cold. The snow and wind were so fierce that people became lost a few yards from their homes.

It has been estimated that nearly 100 Kansans froze to death during the storm. Neither were the settlers prepared to protect their livestock. Cattle turned their tails to the wind and "drifted" for miles across the open range until they dropped from hunger or exhaustion. Losses were high, up to 75 percent in some areas, and consequently some large western Kansas cattle companies were bankrupted. ...

Kansas State Historical Society

The Johnstons returned to Minnesota in 1886. As difficult as the winter in Kansas must have been for the Johnstons, the return voyage from Kansas to Minnesota was worse. Disease struck the party en route, and killed Eleanor and perhaps someone from her family (the Quenettes); possibly her sister Isabelle. This is thought to have happened along a trail in Kansas in July 1886. It was at about this time that Charles Frances Barrett, Eleanor's 17 year old son from her first marriage, left the family. It is thought that he stopped in Doon, Iowa along the way, instead of continuing with his stepfather to Minnesota.


After Eleanor: 1886 to 1904

Harvey Henry returned to Wrightstown, Minnesota with his five remaining children. It is said that the four youngest, ages 2 to 10-11, were placed in the care of Harvey's parents, though Harvey settled close by, so they certainly continued to see their father. Only William, age 14-15, stayed with Harvey (assumed because he wasn't with Calista). Harvey remained unmarried for another nine years. He married Ivy Osborn in 1885 or 1886, at which time his youngest child Robert would have been 11 or 12 years old. Delace, the next youngest, would have been about 16. We know very little about Delace's life during these years. We only know that he moved in with his grandparents in Wrightstown at age 6 or 7, then appeared in Luverne, Minnesota at age 24. He may have followed his half-brother Charles Barrett to the Luverne area. Delace appears to have been a railroad worker at the time.



Delace Johnston and Elva Sweet

Delace married Elva Sweet in August 1904 in Luverne, Minnesota. Their first child Cora Idella was born the following March.

South Dakota: ca. 1906 to ca. 1914

The Johnstons moved to Hughes County, South Dakota sometime before Myrtle was born (December 1906). Once in South Dakota, Cora recalled that they moved around a lot, but she only remembered one place name: Blunt (in Hughes County). Delace may have gone to Blunt for railroad work, as railroad construction was in progress near Blunt at the time. It was, in fact, that railroad work that led to the decline of Blunt soon thereafter. By 1909, Delace had acquired land across the Missouri River, near Hayes in Stanley County. We do not know whether he and his family ever resided on the land. We do know that by June 1911 they were back on the East side of the Missouri, in Sully County. By April 1913 they were in the State Capital Pierre. Within two more years, the Johnstons had returned to Minnesota.

Kittson County: ca. 1914 to ca. 1925