Legacy Inductee (1923-1997) MCHF District 2
Alfred Henry Johnson was born October 9, 1923 and grew up on the family homestead near Plentywood. He had no formal training in the cowboy way of life, or as an artist, but he was born with a natural flair for both. The greater part of his life was spent on horseback. If a task wasn’t horse related, he simply didn’t do it. With his saddle, bedroll, and other gatherings loaded in an old clunker of a pickup, he ran the carefree life of a drifting cowboy, riding his horse to work in the 1940s and ‘50s.
In 1959, he moved to Seeley Lake and went to work for C.B. Rich at the Double Arrow. Here, Al met Betty McNeiley. She had purchased a Double Arrow guided trail ride, and Al just happened to be the guide on the trail that day. As Betty put it, “Al was 100 percent cowboy from the tip of his hat to the point of his boots.” They soon married.
C.B. Rich published two books with Al: Memories from the Mountains and The Life, Times and Poetry of C.B. Rich, documenting and illustrating their cowboy stories. Al’s original oil painting “Running the CBC’S” was used to illustrate the book, Cows, Cowboys, Canners and Corned Beef and Cabbage by Robert W. Eigell, along with his documented accounts of his time gathering cannery horses for the Chappell Brothers. Al published several articles and paintings in the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s in such magazines as True West, Western Horseman, The Frontier Times, Bit and Spur, Montana: The Magazine of Western History, and Guides Magazine, along with numerous newspaper articles.
Yearning to return to the prairie, he moved his family to Jordan in the 1970s. Al and Betty built a log studio off their home, where they both painted, created, and shared their love of art.
Al became deeply involved with the Garfield community. He served as Deputy Sheriff for several years and taught art classes at Jordan High School for eight years. He shared with his students his talent for taxidermy and leather working, along with his love of painting. Together, Al and Betty left a legacy when they painted a dinosaur mural on the Garfield County Museum.
In 1996, Tom Eaton, cowboy poet from Nye, nominated Al to receive an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from Rocky Mountain College. He was humbly recognized in January 1997. The Academic Vice President of the college Susan McDaniel stated, “In a lifetime of painting, Al Johnson has drawn on his experience of the West to depict the land, people, and wildlife of his native Montana. From landscape to cowboys, horses, and historical events, he has recorded a life in the colors and the light unique to this region, creating a legacy for generations to come.”