Columbia, S. D., 3-7-14


The following letter and newspaper clipping will tell the story of the murder in 1879 near the big cottonwood tree on the creek in Okobojo township, of Joseph Johnson; also the capture and conviction of the Indian murderer. [This cottonwood tree ended up in the front yard of the Glessner homestead a few years later. SG]

Mr. Courtney:
Dear Sir:
I received your letter quite a while ago, but have been pretty busy so haven't answered it, but will try to now.

Joseph S. Johnson was my brother and had been working at Cheyenne River Agency eight miles up the river from Fort Sully on the west side of the river. He stayed all night with Jim Pearman at Fort Sully the night of the 14th of May, 1879 and on the morning of the 15th he started for the Jim River, all alone, horseback. He had written to my brother, Clarence and me, wanting one of us to come over and meet him at Fort Sully and come back with him. But we got a letter from my mother and sister that they were going to start from Mt. Vernon, Iowa, to get ready for them, so we thought we could not spare the time.

Mother and sister came, and I met them at Watertown on the 15th of May. I also got a letter from Joseph there at Watertown. We waited two weeks and not hearing from him, my brother, Clarence, and a man by the name of Blackwell went over. When they got within thirty miles of Sully they left the old government trail and took a short cut in to the fort, and the men here said that he had left on the 15th. It was dark when they got to the fort so in the morning they started back on the old trail, and after going about twenty-five miles, on Okobojo creek they found him in the water, covered with some brush, stripped of all his clothes, and with two fingers cut off to get the rings. Joseph had told Jim Pearman that he had a thousand dollars in money. Everything was gone and we never got any of it.

This Brave Bear, in the fall of '78 helped kill a family in Minnesota and was put in jail at Fort Totten, northeast of here. He and his partner broke out of jail and the other one got killed, but Brave Bear got away and came down here and was telling some Indians that were camped here about helping to kill that family. He went from here to Fort Thompson and from there to Spotted Tail agency, where he stayed all winter. He came back to Fort Thompson in the spring of '79 and was coming up the river with a man by the name of Agar, a Frenchman. They would keep back on the bluffs in the day time and come into camp at night. Agar said that Brave Bear had all the things when he came into camp on the night after killing Joe.

Brave Bear went with Sitting Bull, into Canada, and came in with Sitting Bull in the fall of '81 to Fort Yates. He was arrested at Bismarck and tried at Yankton and hanged in the fall of '82. If any or all of this is of any use to you, you are welcome to it.

Yours Truly, 

Nathan H. Johnson