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Roy P. Johnson


The professional historians at our colleges and universities and of course the State Historical Society do a great job of unearthing and preserving our state’s history, and passing it along to the rest of us…in the classroom, at the State Heritage Center, at one of our historical sights or in several other ways. But there have been many North Dakotans who, although they are not directly employed in the history business, do a great job in preserving and telling our story. One of those people is Roy P. Johnson, who was born on May Day, 1899 and died on this date, February 20th, 1963.

After finishing High School in 1916, Roy worked at a number of jobs, including as a station manager for the Great Northern Railroad, a telegrapher, (a job that’s an interesting bit of history in itself), for Western Union and later for the Fargo Courier News and Fargo Forum newspapers. Mr. Johnson then worked as a reporter-historian for the Forum from 1927 until his death in 1963. Roy Johnson was a member of the North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and Manitoba historical societies and was appointed to the advisory council of the Civil War Centennial Commission in 1958.

Roy Johnson was a collector and the result of his passion for history can currently be seen at the Institute for Regional Studies at North Dakota State University. There, his collection is divided into seven series…seven major categories, including the following.

The George A. Custer Series which is made up mostly of newspaper clippings, primarily on General Custer himself and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. But interestingly enough the collection also features newspaper clippings on related, more modern topics like the Custer Drama and the Custer television series.

The Pioneer Doctors and Medicine series includes Roy Johnson’s own articles on the region’s first doctors and hospitals, including his original research material and original drafts which are interesting historical sidebars in themselves.

Johnson’s Red River Regional History Chronology includes detailed information on the Indian uprising of 1862 and 1863 and the ensuing Sibley expedition that was sent out to hunt down those Indians. If you do get to the Institute for Regional studies to root around for yourself, which by the way, everyone is welcomed to do, you’ll want to take a look at Roy Johnson’s file on the expulsion of liquor dealers near Fargo in 1872 which includes photostatic copies of documents and communications from the US Army and the US Marshall for Dakota. And while you’re at the Institute, don’t forget to browse though the articles Roy himself wrote…a collection of many stories about North Dakota and the Red River Valley, including stories about Theodore Roosevelt, the Manitoba Invasion, and Duke Vallambrosa. If you want to learn more about the Invasion or the Duke, you’ll have to search out the Roy P. Johnson collection at the Institute for Regional Studies at NDSU on your own! Take the time…It’s worth it!

Source: NDSU Institute for Regional Studies

Written by Merrill Piepkorn