Mary Elizabeth (Campbell) Johnson

Mary Elizabeth (Campbell) Johnson [1] was the wife of Montford T. Johnson. She was a significant influence on her husband’s business dealings and the early growth of his business enterprise. She managed the original ranch, while he established new ventures which allowed their holdings to multiply quickly.

Mary Elizabeth Campbell meets Montford Johnson

Mary Elizabeth Campbell was the child of Sgt. Charles and Mary Campbell, who were stationed at Fort Arbuckle, Indian Territory. She met Adelaide Johnson, Montford Johnson’s older sister, at the fort while she was purchasing supplies. The Campbells were surprised that Adelaide Johnson, although Chickasaw, spoke English. Adelaide Johnson and Mary Elizabeth Campbell were about the same age. Mary Elizabeth Campbell asked Adelaide Johnson’s uncle, Capt. Townsend Hothliche, permission for Adelaide Johnson to visit in their home, and they became lifelong friends and companions [2, p. 19].

Later, Adelaide Johnson met Mary Elizabeth Campbell’s oldest brother Michael Campbell, and the two soon fell in love. They married in fall 1859. Adelaide (Johnson) Campbell moved to the fort where her husband lived, and they set up housekeeping.

Montford Johnson obtained the contract to carry the mail between Fort Arbuckle and Fort Washita, about 50 miles to the east-southeast. In 1860, Capt. Hothliche was robbed and killed. His home was given to Adelaide (Johnson) Campbell, and she and her husband moved there. Montford Johnson met Mary Elizabeth Campbell as he helped Adelaide move to the Hothliche place. Their meeting would begin a family story they could not have foresaw.

Mary Elizabeth Campbell marries Montford Johnson

Mary Elizabeth Campbell’s father, Sgt. Charles Campbell, did not like his daughter’s choice of companions, but when the Civil War began, Union troops were ordered to abandon Fort Arbuckle and go to Kansas. His wife Mary Campbell chose not to go and consented to their daughter’s marriage. Mary Campbell served as witness when they married in fall 1862 [2, p. 24].

Montford and Mary Elizabeth (Campbell) Johnson built a home near present-day Lone Grove, Oklahoma. They started their lives together with a two-room house and 15 cows. On Oct. 1, 1863, their first child, a son, Edward Bryant (E. B.) Campbell was born [2, p. 24].

When Michael Campbell drowned in 1864, Montford Johnson and Mary Elizabeth Johnson, the business head of the family, consolidated the Johnson-Campbell resources, buying Adelaide Johnson’s and Mary Campbell’s cattle and their brand. Adelaide Johnson and her family moved to the Montford Johnson ranch as well. Montford Johnson had managed to raise a large herd of hogs through the Civil War and traded them to friends for more cattle [2, p. 33].

Photo courtesy of the family of Montford Johnson

Mary Elizabeth Johnson Serves as Vital Partner in Business

Over the next several years, Mary Elizabeth Johnson managed the household and was a significant voice in her family’s business dealings. She was consulted on the agreement with local First American tribes that allowed ranch work to continue unhindered. At the establishment of each new ranch, she would maintain the original site while it was developed. In 1869, when the Johnson family moved from their Caddo Creek home to the Fort Arbuckle site, she rode sidesaddle on a horse and carried new baby Leford in her lap on a pillow [3].

Mary Elizabeth Johnson’s Sterling Reputation

Mary Elizabeth and Montfort had nine children. Although she was raised in military settings, she had the reputation of an adept, hard-working ranch woman and had a talent for business and saving money. She had freely adapted to the Chickasaw lifestyle and was a valuable member of the Johnson team. She was a strong believer in the Catholic faith and raised her children in the Catholic church. Montfort was not Catholic, but respected and supported Mary in her belief and helped her participate in the rare communal religious opportunities [2, pp. 149-152].

Mary Elizabeth Johnson’s Death

Mary Elizabeth Johnson was struck by ergotism , which quickly spread throughout her body and caused her death. She died Aug. 27, 1880. Her oldest child, E. B. Johnson, was 17 when she died, and her youngest, Fannie Johnson, was 3. Mary Elizabeth Johnson was buried on a knoll west of their Silver City house [2, p. 149].

[1] Mary Elizabeth Johnson is portrayed by Grace Montie in the Chickasaw Nation Productions film “Montford: The Chickasaw Rancher.” "The Chickasaw Rancher," Chickasaw Nation, Montford The Rancher, [Online]. Available: [Accessed 25 10 2021].

[2] N. R. Johnson, The Chickasaw Rancher, Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2001.

[3] C. N. Kingsley, "Johnson, Montford T," Oklahoma Historical Socierty, [Online]. Available: . [Accessed 1 9 2021].