Ben Johnson

Born June 13, 1918 at Foraker, Oklahoma / Died April 8, 1996 at Mesa, Arizona

Ben Johnson

WWI was drawing to a close at the worst of times for America when the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 had killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. It was about this time on June 13, 1918, that 16-year-old Ollie Johnson gave birth to Ben Johnson Jr. at Foraker, Oklahoma. Ben’s younger years on the Chapman Barnard Ranch were spent learning how to do ranch work and ride a horse and rope. Ben grew long and lean and tough as leather.

Western movies were gaining in popularity when Ben Jr. was offered the job of taking a string of horses to Hollywood. While there tending the horses, Ben was watching the filming of a movie when a buggy ran away with a woman. Ben, knowing what to do, rushed to stop the runaway buggy. The director asked Ben if he could be a movie star, and Ben replied he did not know, he had never tried it. The rest is history. Ben was a stuntman, and he was good at it. When Ben married, he continued his movie career. While some people dream of becoming a movie star, Ben Johnson Jr. traded his “stars at night are big and bright” to become a Hollywood movie star. Not many actors take their own horse and saddle with them on their road to fame.

Being a rodeo champion roper, and the son of Ben Johnson Sr., who was a World Champion Steer Roper, Ben continued his work to become World Champion PRCA Steer Roper. He once said that he was prouder of that than anything he ever did in the movies. Promoted by the famous Director John Ford, Ben starred in over 200 movies, ending his career late in life with an Oscar and BAFTA award.

Ben always loved children and he had a big heart. He started a charity for kids, and he helped many young kids get a start in life. Ben always loved to come back to Pawhuska, and he did so often. When he returned to Pawhuska, he was always at home in his boots, jeans, ironed shirt, and cowboy hat. He never met a stranger, and he would visit “down home style.” Ben never liked cussing in movies, and he turned down some jobs because he felt bad language should never be spoken around women and children.

Being a favorite son of Pawhuska, the town decided to have Ben Johnson Day and show some of his old movies at the Constantine Theater. Ben spent the day laughing and talking with friends, and just shortly after he returned to visit his mother at their Arizona Ranch, Ben Johnson had a heart attack and passed away. Ben was carried home to rest in a modest grave on the Oklahoma prairie that he loved so much. He is buried in the Pawhuska Cemetery. Around Pawhuska, Ben Johnson’s name stands for all that is good and honorable.

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