Saturday, May 21, 2016

Richard Z. Johnson: Developer, Legislator, and Territorial Attorney General [otd 05/21]

R. Z. Johnson. Illustrated History.
Richard Z. Johnson, who served in the Idaho Territorial Council and as Attorney General, was born May 21, 1837 in Akron, Ohio. Johnson had ancestors on both sides who fought in the American Revolution. The family had moved from Vermont to Akron three or four years before Richard was born.

He received a law degree from Yale in 1859, then practiced for five years in Minnesota. While there, he served two terms as City Attorney in Winona, about 25 miles northwest of LaCrosse.

Then, after a brief stay in Nevada, he moved to Owyhee County, Idaho. For several years there, he ran a Ruby City law office in partnership with one William H. Davenport. Ruby City, located less than a mile north of Silver City, was then the county seat. Johnson probably switched to Silver City when it became the county seat in January 1867. Within a few years, the partnership was dissolved and Johnson ran a solo practice.

He spent over a decade based in Silver City, but handled cases in Ada County as well as Owyhee. However, a financial crisis in 1875 crippled large-scale mining operations around Silver City. The growth of cattle raising in the region could not offset the decline in the mines.

Finally, in November 1878, Johnson purchased a home in Boise City and moved there permanently. In Boise, his “remarkable powers of concentration” and commanding intelligence earned him a part in most of the important litigation argued in that district. He was also renowned for his skills as an orator in pleading cases.

For a time, Johnson was a member of the Boise City Council and won election to the Territorial Council – equivalent to the state Senate – in 1880. Beginning in 1885, he served on the commission formed to revise and regularize the Territory’s legal code. Then, in 1887, he was selected for the first of two terms as the Attorney General.

Deeply interested in education, he promoted passage of a law creating an independent school district for Boise, and served fifteen years on the Board of Education. Johnson was also one of the first Regents of the University of Idaho and served for several years on its Board of Trustees. Upon his retirement from that position, the University awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

Aside from his extensive law practice and political activity, for awhile Johnson owned a horse ranch along the Payette River. However, he sold that off in early 1880. The Idaho Statesman observed (March 11, 1880) that Johnson had “too extensive a law practice to give his attention to raising horses.”
Johnson & Johnson law office. Illustrated History.

Johnson also invested in Boise real estate. That included construction of a large brick office building where he and his son practiced as the firm of Johnson & Johnson. Professionally, he served for a time as president of the Idaho State Bar Association. Up to the time of his passing, he owned the largest law library in the state.

Johnson retired from active practice in 1910 and moved to Germany. He died there in September 1913 and is buried in Lindau, where his wife was born.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Richard Z. Johnson: May 21 1837-September 10, 1913,” Reference Series No. 581, Idaho State Historical Society (1981).
“One of Idaho’s First Citizens Dies Abroad,” The Idaho Statesman (October 6, 1913).

1 comment:

  1. Love the information here on an important Boisean. My students at Boise High are working on a Boise 150 video project and we were wondering if we could have permission to use the above picture of the Johnson Law office, with credit of course. Please let me know. Thanks! Doug StanWiens, boisearchproject@gmail.com

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