Images and notes from Lynne Kuderko
Elias Johnson – Long-time Hanna Resident
by Lynne Kuderko
by Lynne Kuderko
Elias Johnson was born May 16, 1877, in Virginia. He enlisted in the Spanish War and served as cook in Company E of the 10th US Infantry (colored).
According to an interview (Wyoming: The Feature and Discussion Magazine of the Equality State, Vol. 1, No. 4, June-July 1957, page 10), Eli came to Hanna in 1905, and worked in the UP mines until his retirement in 1949. He married Carrie L. Francis on June 18, 1906 (Carbon County Marriage Records).
Carrie died in 1942 and was buried in the Hanna Cemetery. Her tombstone provides these dates: 1884-1942. It is thought that she married in about 1901 and was widowed in the 1903 Hanna Mine Explosion.
Eli retired from the Hanna mines in 1949, lived alone after Carrie’s death, and spent his time traveling, “whenever the impulse strikes him, which is often” (Interview, 1957, referenced above). “Hanna has been home for me nearly as long as I can remember,” Eli said, “and it will always be home.”
Elias Johnson died in Cheyenne on May 1, 1971 at Cheyenne’s Memorial (County) Hospital and was buried in Bethel Cemetery, in the section designated for veterans. His obituary (Wyoming State Tribune, Cheyenne, May 3, 1971, p. 16) states he was born in Pocahontas, Virginia, and had moved from Hanna to Cheyenne eight years before his death, residing at 2011 Snyder Avenue with Eunice and Herman Bracket. He was a member of the AME Church, the United Mine Workers of America, Local No. 750, and served as a cook in the army at Macon and Augusta, Georgia, during the Spanish-American War.
Eunice Bracket provided the information for his obituary and for his death certificate, which reveals he died of pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema – in keeping with his years in the mine. The total cost of his burial was $673.18 – of which the US Treasury paid $505, and Eunice Bracket paid $168.18. The pallbearers are listed as Amos Turner, James Boatner, Nathaniel Tucker, Nathaniel Wilson, C. N. Edwards, and C. N. Suthers. The songs chosen for the service were “Last Mile of the Way” and “He’ll Understand, He’ll Say Well Done.”
The death certificate also reveals that Elias was the son of Ed and Lucy Johnson. In 1900, the Johnson family is found in Clear Fork, Tazewell County, Virginia, a town no longer found on the map. Edward Johnson, then 60, born May 1840, worked as an office janitor. Lucy Johnson, 58, born in March 1842, is the mother of 11 children, only 5 living. Elias, here 23, works as a coal miner, as does his brother, Matthew, born March 1883. A sister, Sarah J. Johnson, 20, was born July 1879, and is the mother of 1 child, none living. Boarding with the family are two men, coal miners, too.
The town of Pocahontas, where Elias was born, sits snug on the West Virginia border and became known as the location of the start of the region’s coal boom. It became a town in 1881, and by 1883 the Norfolk and Western Railway had made its way to the Pocahontas coal mines. Like Hanna, Pocahontas had a number of coal disasters, and on March 13, 1884, an explosion took the lives of 114 coal miners, who are buried in a mass grave in a cemetery created for that purpose (www.pocahontasva.org).
Elias, then about 6, had a way to go to learn his craft. But at the start of the Spanish-American War, he may have seen military service as a way out of the mines—at least the Virginia mines. (Lynne Kuderko, January 28, 2019)