My Forty Years Scribblin's
Historical Accounts
W.L. Johnson of Early Evaro

This piece was written in 1997 and published in the Fall 1997 issue of the Charity Peak Outlook. Mildred's grandfather came to Evaro in the late 1800s.


William Lawrence Johnson, always known as Lawrence, or W.L., came to Montana from Nova Scotia, a very young man. He first cut wood to fuel the Butte mines, then moved to the Hamilton-Grantsdale area of the Bitterroot valley. His next move took him to Ninemile for a short while, and finally he landed in Evaro. In 1894 he purchased a tract of land on what was then called Camas Prairie, later to become Evaro.

He was a "hostler" for the N.P. Railroad, moving the helper engines from a turn table situated directly across from the present town, to the N.P.'s water tank and coal dock near the Evaro depot. There they were refueled after their long climb up Evaro hill. Mrs. [Anna] Johnson boarded the railroad men who had to lay over, waiting for their next "runs." Lawrence developed his property raising cattle and hay, and later went into logging which kept him and his son, Oliver, occupied for many years. He owned a stationary baler and delivered his surplus hay to Missoula by four-horse team and wagon or sleigh.

A self sufficient operation, the Johnson ranch even possessed a blacksmith shop for the ranching and logging repair jobs. I, as a small girl, loved to pump the bellows and see the sparks fly. (That is, when I didn't get caught at it!)

The Johnson ranch was a stopping place where travelers could find a place to sleep and stable their horses, and since the family always kept milk cows, the black soldiers on bivouac from Fort Missoula were happy to buy buttermilk at Mrs. Johnson's door.

There were four Johnson children, the last one born at Evaro in 1900. I am told that the eldest, my mother, at ten years of age, hearing the baby's first cries, thought it was her cat under the kitchen floor and grabbed a hammer to begin tearing up the boards to rescue her pet! Mrs. Johnson died young and W.L. remarried.

He was a long-time school board member, and according to his daughter, Stella, the first school at Evaro was held in the Johnson living room.

Lawrence Johnson owned one of Evaro's first automobiles, a Model T Ford. He drove it over the barely passable roads of that time to the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair.

When too old to continue working the ranch, the Johnsons installed gas pumps and a small line of groceries. Late in life Lawrence developed diabetes and had to have one leg amputated. He passed away at the home of his daughter, Stella, at Evaro, after long years at the place in the world that meant most to him.