“We Are All Descended From Grandfathers!”

PrintPrintEmailEmail

Shortly after this sobering experience the little family, doubtless under wifely pressure, moved eastward again to the more settled life of Caldwell County and later Hays County, where eight more children were bom. They returned to “the hill country,” as the Johnson City area is known, about 1889. Exact facts about Sam Johnson’s later years are a little hard to come by, although it is clear that the 50,000 acres lie and his family once owned had dwindled to very little. His descendants still relish one event in his political career, however. Running for the legislature again on the Populist ticket, he was opposed by a conservative young “independent” named Clarence Martin. Martin procured a double buggy, and in the companionable fashion of Texas in those days the rival candidates travelled the hustings together, taking turns speaking. As it turned out, Sam lost by a small margin, but his good humor was never shaken, especially since his successful rival was also his son-in law.

Let us end this account of Grandfather Johnson in the kindly, pious, and American Gothic tones of a local biographer, writing a good many years ago: “Although he had a high temper, he was seldom seen in anger and never in his life used an oath. He had a very deep and abiding [religious] faith … and, when dying, fully conscious, spoke to his loved ones, assuring them of his complete readiness to meet his Maker and of his sustaining hope of eternal life. His death, as his life, was an inspiration to those who knew him.”

THE FRONTIER TRADER

Goldwater was a well-known name in Arizona long before Senator Harry Goldwater became a national figure; it is, of course, a Jewish name even though the Senator’s mother, the former Josephine Williams, brought her children up as Episcopalians. Not a few Jews, most of them of German origin, ventured out to the Southwest in the hardy frontier days a century ago. Some of them came to be traders and bankers as they had been in the Old World, but there were others who made their way down the Santa Fe Trail to work in the mines, to run freight, and at least one to ride for the Pony Express. One of the most successful of these pioneers was Michael Goldwater, a tall, burly man known as “Big Mike.”

Big Mike and his short, rotund brother, Joseph, were born in Konin, in Russian Poland, in the 1820’s. The family, originally called Goldwasser, emigrated first to Germany and then to England, when Mike was twenty-seven. After a few years as capmakers in London, the two young men and Mike’s young wife shipped steerage to New York in 1852, and made their way, seeking gold like everyone else, to California. For a while they sold hardware and whiskey among the miners, then drifted down to Los Angeles, where they turn up in the records as the proprietors of a kind of pool hall, bar, and Yankee notions store.

About 1860, when there was a gold strike along the Colorado River, Mike travelled by mule team to trade with miners and Indians in what is now Arizona. He set up shop in the little town of La Paz, bringing in his goods by flat boat, but the river had an annoying habit of changing its bed, so that La Paz eventually expired and Goldwater moved six miles downstream to a better location, founding a town he named Ehrenberg after a partner who was murdered, probably by Indians. By now his brother Joseph had joined him in Arizona, although Mike’s wife would not be stirred from the more civilized life of California.

In these two little settlements and finally in Phoenix, where the brothers opened a big store in 1872, there was plenty of adventure and excitement. Joe Goldwater was perhaps the more colorful. A weather-beaten character who is supposed to have lost one eye in a brawl, he sent off by mail for a glass replacement, onlv to receive one that was blue instead of the desired brown. He wore it anyway. “Variety,” he said, “is the spice of life.” One day while he was operating a branch of the far-flung Goldwater operation in Tombstone, some badmen entered and demanded that the “one-eyed s.o.b.” open the sale for them. Joe gladly obliged, since the money the men wanted—the payroll of the Copper Queen mine—was hidden elsewhere in some sacks of barley. Before the disgruntled robbers left, they shot up the town, a jollification which cost three lives. (The offenders were later captured and hanged.)

On another occasion the Goldwater brothers, trotting along with a Dr. W. W. Jones, were attacked on the road between Prescott and Ehrenberg by a band of some thirty Apache Indians. The three men made a run for it, and after a four-mile chase were lucky enough to meet another, larger party of white men. Before turning off, however, the Indians managed to hit Joe in the shoulder, ventilate Dr. Jones’ shirt, and put two holes through Big Mike’s hat brim. Frontier trading and merchandising was no life for nervous ribbon clerks. Nor was bill collecting always easy. Once, for example, the company operating a gold mine tastefully entitled the Vulture found itself unable to pay the Goldwaters some $90,000 it owed them. Somehow the owners simply couldn’t make the works profitable. They sold out, decamped, and left the brothers holding an empty bag. To get back this large sum, Big Mike and Joe decided to work the mine for themselves until the new owners arrived, and by very hard labor were soon clearing $3,000 a day. Even after the new owners came, the brothers managed to hold them off until in thirty days they had recovered their $90,000.