James Joseph Johnson, a 77-year-old lifelong Scott Valley native, passed away on May 15, 2011 following an accident just a few miles from his Cheeseville home.
Jim was loved and admired by young and old, family and friends. His wife Cathy was the love of his life, and his many grandchildren held a special place in his heart.
Jim was born in Fort Jones on May 23, 1933. His parents Joseph and Catherine Johnson were strong Catholics and had four more children.
The family owned a cattle ranch in Cheeseville in the middle of Scott Valley.
Amazingly, by the time Jim was 5 years old, he was riding horseback, working cattle, driving teams of horses, working the Jackson Fork to fill the barn with hay and shoeing the big draft horses’ feet. He always liked a horse that bucked and was one of three teens in 1947 to instigate a rodeo between the polo games played by local ranchers on Sundays. Thus began the tradition of the May Pleasure Park Rodeo in Etna.
In high school, he was involved in sports, and after breaking his nose playing football, he engineered and welded a metal bar across the front of his leather helmet to protect his nose. He was also an active force in the Etna FFA Chapter and was proud of his sons and grandchildren following in his footsteps.
Jim graduated from Etna High School in 1951 and then attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. The Korean War was looming, so he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was sent to Korea, serving as a tank commander.
In 1958, Jim met and fell in love with a city girl named Catherine Michael O’Brien. Just two months later, Jim asked Cathy to marry him. The couple was blessed with five sons: Matt, Jim, Mark, Bob and Tim.
Jim was always enterprising, inventive and known for his toughness. He worked the family ranch, logged, operated a bulldozer and drove hay truck. Favorite activities included helping other ranchers with their cattle in the Marble Mountains and buck hunting. During his life, he was involved in several life-threatening accidents, breaking his back while falling a tree; and he endured a long recovery from a car accident.
In his later years, Jim enjoyed his garden, shook-off the stings from his bees while gathering honey and made more than one kind of sausage.
Jim had scruples and was never afraid to take a stand on significant issues. He used his determination to study court documents and government regulations, enabling him to deal with the state to initiate the Scott Valley Fire Protection District, expose incorrect funding practices at the high school, and back “good” candidates in local elections.
Jim is famous in Klamath Falls for breaking open the headgate at the A Canal during the government turn-off of water to the Klamath Project in 2001. He was the second person to break open the headgate and stated he was willing to “sit in jail” if arrested for the alleged offense. He was never arrested, and even a song was written about the tenacious rancher from Scott Valley. His love of America’s values and strong ethics caused Jim to stand against a government, even if it was his own.
Jim’s parents and his brother Larry Johnson preceded him in death.
He is survived by his wife Cathy and his sons: Matt and his wife Brenda, Jim and his wife Clara, Mark and his wife Shelly, Bob and his wife Wendy, and Tim and his wife Michele. His grandchildren include: Pat Johnson and his wife Renee, and his great-granddaughter Bailey; Travis Earls and his wife Jesse, and his great-grandson Owen; Kellie Coefield and her husband Richie, and his great-grandson Chase; and Frank, Will, Gwen, Sarah, Roy, Hank, David, Clint, Kayla, Linda, Kent, Jaylee, Keith, James and Karl Johnson. He is also survived by his sisters, Teresa Naylor, Kathy Hurlimann and her husband Joe, and Veronica Bolstadt and her husband Larry, and his sister-in-law Peggy Johnson.
A Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 19, 2011 at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Fort Jones. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Jim on Friday, May 20, 2011 at 10 a.m. in the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and internment will follow in the Fort Jones Catholic Cemetery with military honors. Following the services, friends and family are invited to a reception at the Catholic Hall on Main Street. Girdner Funeral Chapel is assisting the family.