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Jennie Johnson Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Jennie Johnson

Widow of Clark A. Johnson, deputy sheriff and bailiff of the Jackson County Court 1929-1965; special deputy of the sheriff; Democratic Committeewoman of 15th Ward, Kansas City, 1930s; committeewoman of Sni-A-Bar township, 1930s to 1970s; acquaintance of the Harry S. Truman family.

Blue Springs, Missouri
July 25, 1989
Niel M. Johnson

[|Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcrip | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview..

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened November, 1991
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page |Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcrip | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Jennie Johnson

Blue Springs, Missouri
July 25, 1989
Niel M. Johnson


JOHNSON: Mrs. Johnson, will you tell us when and where you were born?

J. JOHNSON: I was born in Odessa, Missouri in 1908; February 20th.

JOHNSON: And what were your parents' names?

J. JOHNSON: Hugh and Etta Scott.

JOHNSON: Where did you grow up then?

J. JOHNSON: On a farm in Bates City, Missouri.

JOHNSON: So, you grew up on a farm. How about your schooling?

J. JOHNSON: I went to country school.


JOHNSON: Went through country school.

J. JOHNSON: And I went to the college at Warrensburg and took my eighth grade, because I was the only girl going to country school, and my teacher thought that I should take that eighth grade down there. So I took it in ten weeks.

JOHNSON: Was it a summer school?

J. JOHNSON: Summer time. We didn't have school buses, so my mother rented a house in Oak Grove, and we lived there for two years. We had three sets of children that came in and stayed with us to go to school, because of the school buses.

JOHNSON: Oak Grove, the high school.

J. JOHNSON: High school. Then I went to Odessa and lived with my grandparents to finish the last two years, and I graduated in 1926 from Odessa.

JOHNSON: From Odessa High School.

J. JOHNSON: Right. And it was the biggest class they had ever had; it was 60 kids.

Then I got a scholarship to go to Synodical College at Fulton and to be a librarian.

JOHNSON: At Fulton--Westminster?

J. JOHNSON: No, it's Synodical; it was a Presbyterian


school. It's closed now. I got a $50 scholarship. That was a lot of money in those days. My folks were out of money, so I entered nurses training at St. Luke's and I was there two years; then I got married.

JOHNSON: What was the year of your marriage?

J. JOHNSON: 1929.

JOHNSON: And you married whom?

J. JOHNSON: "Tiny" Clark Johnson.

JOHNSON: How big was he when you married him?

J. JOHNSON: Oh, he weighed 425 pounds, and I weighed 119.

That was the first year that the Rabbits had control of the sheriff's office for a long, long, time.

JOHNSON: 1929?

J. JOHNSON: 1929.

JOHNSON: Now to go back with Tiny. Do you know when and where he was born?

J. JOHNSON: Yes, he was born in Odessa in 1898. He was an orphan; his grandparents raised him, and his grandfather was a state representative, Colonel Christie. They had money, so they put him through school and also put his brother through school.


JOHNSON: So, he had one brother.

J. JOHNSON: One brother.

JOHNSON: That's the "Doc" Johnson we read about once in a while in the records?

J. JOHNSON: Yes. He was nine years older.

JOHNSON: His real name was Lee Johnson. Do you have any brothers or sisters?

J. JOHNSON: I have one brother, but he's not living here now.

JOHNSON: How did you meet Clark?

J. JOHNSON: My mother dressed chickens and sold them to him, when he had a restaurant at Lake Odessa. Then I came home on vacation from nurses training; he was at a picnic for the Johnson family, and he asked me for a date. That was in August, and we were married the next February.

JOHNSON: I see. So you were married in 1929. He had a high school education; Clark did?

J. JOHNSON: Yes, he had high school and college. He went to college in Tyler, Texas. I've forgot the name of that.


JOHNSON: How many years did he finish down there?

J. JOHNSON: I think two years. Then he became a CPA and he worked for the packing houses. He never stayed put anywhere.

JOHNSON: So he was in accounting; he was an accounting major then.

J. JOHNSON: Yes. He had been married before, you see, before I married him. And his wife worked for Doc in the fire station. We were friends.

JOHNSON: Well, was Lee then a fireman?

J. JOHNSON: No, he was a veterinarian. He was a vet for the zoo, and also he had the contract for feeding hogs down on the river, the garbage. That's how he started his politics.

JOHNSON: Okay, that's Doc Johnson. That was what time, the early '20s?

J. JOHNSON: Yes, it must have been the early '20s.

JOHNSON: That's how he got acquainted with Pendergast?

J. JOHNSON: Yes, that's when he started his politics.

JOHNSON: So, he had that city contract.

J. JOHNSON: I think I've got that someplace. I could look


it up.

JOHNSON: How about his practice as a veterinarian; he did practice?

J. JOHNSON: The zoo was about the only thing; and horses for the fire department.

JOHNSON: Oh, okay, the horses for the fire department. And these were all city contracts, that's why he had to be connected with . . .

J. JOHNSON: Yes, and he got affiliated with [Joseph] Shannon.

JOHNSON: Was it Shannon that helped him get the job then?



J. JOHNSON: This Joe Shannon was a an awful nice old man. He never drove an automobile. So, Clark was his chauffeur--if we had to go to a funeral, or anyplace like that. If he had to go to a funeral, why, he knew we would take him, or we'd go with him to political rallies and things like that. Mr. Shannon liked to eat at Union Station. And those Fred Harvey waitresses, they just worshiped him almost. Of course, then Doc got acquainted with so many of them and I did too. I


knew a lot of them.

JOHNSON: Well, you said that Clark went into the restaurant business after he was a CPA.

J. JOHNSON: Yes. At Lake Venita. It was owned by five cousins, the Johnsons. They built a resort out there on 40 Highway and he ran that.

JOHNSON: How long did he do that?

J. JOHNSON: Oh, about four years until the Democrats got the sheriff's office.

JOHNSON: Okay, until 1929. And this was after you got married?

J. JOHNSON: We got married in 1929, as soon as he got the sheriff's appointment.

JOHNSON: Okay, you got married at the same time that he got this job in the Sheriff's Department.

J. JOHNSON: He got it in January and we got married in February.

JOHNSON: Well, was he sheriff of the county?

J. JOHNSON: No, he was deputy.

JOHNSON: Deputy Sheriff of Jackson County.


J. JOHNSON: Yes. And his badge was number 11.

JOHNSON: Okay, and this was through the influence of Joseph Shannon?


JOHNSON: So, he was a Rabbit.

J. JOHNSON: You talk about politics now, it was . . .

JOHNSON: We're talking about the '30s, the early '30s?

J. JOHNSON: The early '30s, yes.

JOHNSON: When did you first meet Harry Truman?

J. JOHNSON: When he was County Judge.

JOHNSON: Right after your husband became Deputy Sheriff?


JOHNSON: Where did you meet him?

J. JOHNSON: I imagine at the Court House, because I'd go to court with them you see.

JOHNSON: Well, did the