William "Pussyfoot" Johnson

William E. Johnson was born at Coventry, N.Y., March 25, 1862. Better known as "Pussyfoot," he earned his nickname in the dry crusade. He was educated at the University of Nebraska and spent some time employed as a teacher and a journalist.

A portrait of William Pussyfoot Johnson.

In the early years of his career in Nebraska, Johnson developed some of the tactics that later led him to claim that he had lied, bribed and drank for the dry cause. He joined the temperance forces and posed as a brewer of "Johnson's Pale Ale" in correspondence with the wet forces. He wrote wets and asked them how best to defeat prohibition. He received lengthy incriminating letters from the wets which he published.

During the 1890's, Johnson served as a correspondent for The Voice - a temperance paper, traveled abroad researching stories for the paper and started his own daily in Omaha. After serving for a few years as editor, he resigned.

In 1906, Johnson embarked upon the work that earned him his nickname. President Teddy Roosevelt appointed him special officer in the Indian Service to enforce the law in Oklahoma. He used a hand-picked group of deputies to aid him in stopping the liquor traffic. On one occasion he dumped 25,000 bottles of liquor into the Arkansas River.

His success earned him dangerous enemies among gangs of rum-runners and cattle rustlers. Attempts were made on his life and some of his deputies were killed, but his crusade continued. The president appointed him Chief Special Officer to suppress the liquor traffic in all the Indian territories. Now making enemies in an even larger area, he took to conducting his work at night in a very stealthy manner and was said to "pussyfoot" around at night. Thus, his nickname was earned.

A portrait of William E. Johnson
A portrait of William E. Johnson.

In 1911, he resigned from government service and subsequently threw his lot in with the Anti-Saloon League. He became managing editor of publications for the American Issue Publishing Company and editor of The New Republic. Johnson was also managing editor of the Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem.

A photo of crowd in front of Columbus Chamber of Commerce.

Johnson was a familiar sight overseas as he traveled extensively for the League. In 1919, while he was visiting England, a prank turned ugly and resulted in the loss of one of Johnson's eyes. He came home to a rousing hero's welcome as a martyr to the cause.

During the 1920's, Johnson traveled for the World League Against Alcholism, taking the dry message to numerous countries. For an example of his message, read this pamphlet.

A portrait of Pussyfoot Johnson overseas
A portrait of Pussyfoot Johnson overseas.

Another portrait of Pussyfoot Johnson overseas
Another portrait of Pussyfoot Johnson overseas.

He retired in 1930 and moved back to the state of New York. He died in 1945.

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