Knox Johnson: March 26—May 1,2020

By: Bill Whaley
4 May, 2020

Knox Johnson, born and reared on Mottsville Lane at the J Lazy J Ranch on the west side, traveled round the world and spent much time at the family’s Lake Tahoe property but always said, “There’s no place like Carson Valley.” He liked to stop on Kingsbury Grade and view the Valley, especially during water season to keep an eye on his neighbors. The Nevada rancher, born March 26, 1925, died on May 1, 2020. He was 95, and one of the last members of D.C.H.S. class of 1943, which met monthly for more than 20 years. His classmates were sure to mention his generosity and charm, saying he was known for “picking up the tab.”

Knox’s grandfather Chris Johnson, settled in the Valley as part of the Mormon contingent in the 1870s. He is preceded in death by his father, Knox William Johnson ((1878-1931), and his mother, Stella Van Dyke Johnson (1893-1957), sister Marjorie Johnson Springmeyer (1922-2016), brother William Van Dyke Johnson (1931-2016), and predeceased by wife Elizabeth Elliott Gordon Johnson (1925-2000).

At age six when his father passed away, the preternatural ranching scion began sharing duties with his mother, Stella, who became the “Cowman” of the Ranch. At 12 Knox took charge of the hay crew on the ranch while his mother tended the cows at Lake Tahoe. A notice in the Record Courier announced that in his senior year, “Knox resumes his studies at D.C.H.S. He was forced to remain on the farm because of the labor shortage. Knox with his everlasting-happy-go-lucky disposition and ear-to-ear smile is welcomed back by everyone.”

Earlier, with life-long friend Frederick Dressler, Knox attended San Rafael Military School in 1938. The two young ranchers became the first pedestrians to cross the newly opened Golden Gate Bridge. In high school he was active in the FFA and served as treasurer for the statewide organization.

He met Elizabeth Elliott Gordon in high school, saying, “She sat next to the pencil sharpener. I spent a lot of time there.” Liz graduated a year ahead of Knox and moved to San Francisco but “I couldn’t fall in love with anyone else, so I waited for her.” He married Liz on March 26, 1951 at the J Lazy J.

Knox is survived by daughters Mary Anne McCall, Helen Johnson, stepson William Edward Whaley, grandsons Drew (Sara) and Elliott Kolbe (Laura), Justin Kolbe (predeceased), Fitz Whaley, John Tate McCall, David Johnson, eight great grandchildren, and numerous Johnson and Springmeyer nephews and nieces.

An active community member, Knox participated in the Carson Valley Soil Conservation Service, spent years as a member of the Lion’s Club, and was instrumental in the restoration of the Genoa Courthouse. Gardnerville residents might remember the yearly pumpkin patch he raised for Halloween, where El Dorado Savings is today. As a voluntary board member of the original Minden Gardnerville Sanitation District, he and his colleagues brought the new facility in under budget and on time.

Knox and his friend August Kettenburg hunted deer on the west side or ducks at the Lower Place on Mottsville Lane. They hung the ducks on the clothesline. Since he knew the animals and their ways, he could leave the house at 8 am and return by 10:30 or so with his limit.

With arms and wrists the size of saplings, Knox was famous for doing three-men’s work with or without the help of a small boy and a horse. He orchestrated cattle, horses, and cowhands by whispering or yelling, depending on the varmint’s psychology. He always said, “You’ve got to know what the cow is doing before she does it.”

While known for being a prankster, painting his hair or traffic stripes green on St. Patrick’s Day, or teasing Jean Lekumberry about the price of a Picon, he also had a temper according to his neighbors when it came to water. He had no trouble calling up Governor Paul Laxalt to give him “what for” about the West Fork water master.

From summer haying with model-T powered buckrakes and horse-powered derricks for haystacks to winter mornings with horse drawn hay wagons for feeding the cows, Knox passed on to the era of the John Deere tractor and the change from four cattle drives a year with his trusty Washoe Indian hands over Kingsbury Grade to and from South Lake Tahoe to hauling the Herefords, eight or ten at a time, in his trusty International truck.

He worked long hours and slept good at night. He always said the difference between a rancher and a farmer was: “A farmer got up before six o’clock in the morning and a rancher got up after six.” His kids will tell you he was a helluva good breakfast cook.